|Michel Fokine, 1936. Photo by Howard Coster. © National Portrait Gallery, London|
I wish to talk about Isadora Duncan in some detail. She was the greatest American gift to the art of dance. Duncan proved that all the primitive, plain, natural movements - a simple step, run, turn on both feet, small jump on one foot - are far better than all the richness of the ballet technique, if to this technique must be sacrificed grace, expressiveness, and beauty. It is true that one should not sacrifice beauty or grace to the execution of technical difficulties. The error is in the supposition that technical difficulties could not be executed with grace, as if beauty and expressiveness may be associated only with simple movements.
Not only in the dance, but in all art forms, the pursuit of perfection should not lead to complication of form, overlooking the purpose for which the art form exists. One must be reminded of this.Duncan reminded us: Do not forget that beauty and expressiveness are of the greatest importance.
The new Russian ballet answered: Do not forget that a rich technique will create natural grace and expressiveness, through the really great art form.
Artificiality and naturalness are always competing with each other. But there is no art without artificiality, and there can be no art which has severed its connection with naturalness.
The technique of the ballet dance offers an innumerable variety of movements, develops the sense of rhythm and of the plastic line, and adds a charm to movements. The dancer not only moves on her
two feet, she glides on her toes, moves on one foot. or is flying in the air in a high leap. She is turning not only on her two feet, but also on one foot or on her toes. And all this is in different directions, and in endlessly different attitudes. If such movements seem unnatural, they are in reality the development of natural movements.
I called the rejection of ballet technique by Isadora Duncan a mistake on her part. I shall be more exact. Duncan ignored ballet technique, not by mistake, but because she was far removed from the
evolution of the artistic dance. She was unable to get the superior schooling of the ballet, as was also the case with the other dancers in America. But Duncan, who has given so much to the art of dance
by virtue of her own talent and guided by her own intuition, realized well that one should net stop in the progress of an art form and limit oneself no naturalness.
In 1909, after the first performances of the Russian Ballet in Paris, she asked me to become instructor of dance technique in her school. Deepite my admiration of her gifts as a great dancer, I was unable to accede to her request, because of my post at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg. I mention this to make it clear that Duncan fully realized that the art of simple movements must develop and grow to enrich and perfect the forms of dance.
In a book by Constantine Stanislavslty, the great Director of the Moscow Art Theater, I read about Duncan:
When she was asked with whom she had studied dancing, she replied,
A very beautiful answer. What a temptation this holds for all who do not wish to study dancing, yet dance as their hearts desire, presenting their “evenings of dance," and who open schools!
Few of these “innovators” have sufficient common sense to realize that net everyone is entitled to proclaim himself a pupil of the goddess Terpsichore. They fail to realize that words for the lips of a
genius like Isadora may be beautiful and wise, while the same words may sound pretentious and ludicrous when they come from her imitators. I greatly value Isadora Duncan, but the beautiful propaganda for freedom carries with it, am only blessings, but also great
Freedom from outgrown traditions, freedom from prejudice, freedom from cheap appeals to the crowd - such freedoms I welcome. Freedom from preparatory work, from discipline, from study - such freedoms are tempting and, therefore, doubly harmful. Dilettantes see no reason for study, when, without studying, they are able to express anything by the use of “movements." They forget that, in art, the important thing is nor what is expressed but how it is expressed.
The followers of the “free" dance undertake to transmit the “Universal Rhythm,” the “Cosmic Rhythm" - nothing less. But when we carefully examine them, we find that they cannot perform the simplest of human rhythms. Frequently, I have to listen to highly philosophical conversations about the rhythmic movements of heavenly bodies, about the rapid dance of electrons. But I cannot believe that, in order to learn the dance, it is necessary to arm oneself with a telescope or a microscope. The dance is much nearer to us than this: it is our very bodies. Therefore, I do not take my intellectual dancer to an astronomical observatory, or into a chemical laboratory but into the dance studio.
Instead of cosmic rhythms, I ask him to do the simplest human rhythms: the march, the waltz, the galop, the mazurlta, etc. To perform these elementary rhythms and their combinations will prove too much of a task for the intellectual representative of the “free" dance. His error is obvious; he was searching for the dance in heavenly spaces, while in reality the dance was very close to him - within him. The more helpless the bodies of the dilcttantes are, the more they seek the protection of superfluous terms, such as “worldly problems,” “cosmic," "abstract," and so on - all of which are smoke screens under which dilettantism may hide is ignorance.