By SAMANTHA BLANCHARD
This post was written as an assignment for Professor Cindy Shearer’s CIA 7091: MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop. As part of a community of artists working across art perspectives, students in this course get the chance to present their work and teach each other about their art form(s), practice, lineage and influences, and are challenged to inquire into the interdisciplinary arts as well as forms new to them.
"Inspired by Isadora Duncan's approach to music, [Ruth] St. Denis developed the music visualization, which she defined as '...the scientific translation into bodily action of the rhythmic, melodic and harmonious structure of a musical composition without intention to in any way 'interpret' or reveal any hidden meaning apprehended by the dancer.' Meaning, movement was set strictly to music without reading into anything emotionally. If the music swells, the body swells: if the music grows quiet, the body comes to rest."
-Jane Sherman, from "Denishawn: The Enduring Influence"
As a former Marion Rice Denishawn Dancer, one of the last pupils of Ruth St. Denis, I am inspired by Denishawn’s development of music visualization. During my time with Mrs. Rice, from ages 7 – 17, we never counted the music, we were asked to feel the music and interpret the choreography in harmony with the music. This was a problem when I got to college and was asked to count the music. Feeling the music involved moving to the rhythm, melody, and harmonious structure of the composition so that their peaks and valleys matched. Miss Ruth and Mrs. Rice always choreographed to the music; the music was the inspiration and the driving force behind the dance. The repertory, or dance choreography, was written but rarely videoed, so interpretations could vary, however, because the movements were in direct connection with the music the dance became a part of us, a complete embodiment. If I hear the music of “Soaring” or “Red Radiance,” I can recall the choreography effortlessly. My muscle memory takes over and the dance just flows through me because the movement is so attuned to the music. Unfortunately, there are no video clips of these dances, so I have Ruth St. Denis’ "Brahms Waltz" (1922) performed by Cynthia Gregory at Jacob’s Pillow.
There is something about the fusion of movement and music that gives each discipline more power than it could have had otherwise. The collision of these mediums creates a whole new experience of the dance, both for the viewer and the dancer. It gives it a magical life of harmonious expression and adds textured information to the storyline. I have detoured from this idea, experimentally, but find that I always come back to the structure of music visualization, maybe because it’s familiar or organic, but mostly because it feels right. My most recent music visualization piece, Magdalene (2006), was inspired by a festival at ODC Theater, Underserved POP II, asking the artists to dance to a favorite pop song.
We can and often do visualize; a new job, making more money, health, but to visualize music is to see the color and texture of each note. To see someone else’s soul through they’re music and then to interpret it through the soul of my dance is very primal. It gives me a sense of completion that no other collision of mediums has because they are so compatible and that is probably why so many modern dance makers, such as Mark Morris, still use it today. My favorite Mark Morris music visualization, Waltz of the Snowflakes, is more like glitter visualization.
At CIIS, it is this sense of somatic-musicality that I wish to learn to bring to my students and my company members. Also, it is my vision to find this synergy of music visualization with colliding the mediums of dance-theater. I would like the harmony of the collision to be so fluid, so seamless that doing the movement will recall the script and vice versa. I look forward to my adventures into this inquiry as I expand as an artist.
Here is a little taste of Miss Ruth's musicality, dancing at 70. Enjoy!!!