Fundamentals of Rhythms

Topics: Tableau vivant, Isadora Duncan, Dance Pages: 5 (1655 words) Published: April 20, 2013
There was a frequent use of paintings and sculptures showing naked bodies as prototypes for tableaux vivants. Nakedness was usually not allowed on stage, but an exception was made in certain cities, for instance in New York, for suchlike in the tableaux vivants (McCullough 1983). There are, however, important differences between a naked body in a static pose and moving on stage. The view of a naked body in a painting, a sculpture or a tableau vivant provides information about both the surface and the threedimensional form of the body. The view of a naked body in movement, however, may reveal both the differing resistance of the body’s superficial layers to changes in posture and the existence of bones and organs deeper inside it. This is probably why a moving body in the nude appeals more strongly to the tactile sense than static nudes. The indecency of the former is much to do with the heightened liveness of a naked body when it is in movement. Examples in the contemporary press show that the short moments when a static group of figures in a tableau vivant was transformed into another tableau brought special notice (McCullough 1983). It is possibly no coincidence that the heydays of the tableaux vivants coincided with the invention of early cinematic techniques: behind both is the same urge for liveness.

Motionless postures, in themselves as well as in photographs, may show a readiness or a disposition towards moving. Such an omnipresence of impulses to move has been noticed and discussed by some leading stage artists of the 20th century. Rudolf Laban indicates that even when brought to complete immobility, a person still feels the flow and the qualities of the movement just performed. As a prolongation of this feeling, it is natural to let it continue in a new movement (Laban xxxx). This idea gives the clue to quite another view of the immobile body. It is true that in one sense it is characterized by an absence of movement, but in another sense, it is a playground for potential movements.

In his idea of what we experience in stillness, Laban comes close to Vsevolod Meyerhold, another victim of the repression of free art on stage in the 1930s in Europe. Meyerhold stressed the importance for actors to clearly mark the end of each action (tochka or stoika), both its where and its when. But this does not mean that the very movement through which the action is channelled is totally erased. The situation has been compared to the bringing of a car to a full stop in front of traffic lights. The engine is idling, at the same time playing down the full action and being prepared to regain momentum (Kubik 2002:8-9). Likewise with an actor’s body: its former movement and the more or less sudden cessation of the motion still vibrate within the body. At the same time, the next action is prepared. It is not a static condition.

Meyerhold advocated this as part of a general theory of human action, although such a theory must be difficult to uphold. Especially the idea that every action (posyl) is prepared through a movement in the opposite direction (otkaz) (Kubik 2002:7-8) can neither be a law of nature, nor a common practice. Dancers will certainly affirm that movements are not launched in this way. However, in many contexts, it is still an important observation, in some situations also valid for dancers. And these might have a lot to learn from Meyerhold, not least about giving movements a clean and unequivocal stop.

Meyerhold’s observations thus may rather be seen as elements of a project for actor’s training, with the aim to instill in actors a stylized way of moving and acting. Independently of this striving for stylization, there are in Meyerhold’s methods a lot of ideas that may come to use in today’s performance training. The progressive style of acting, characteristic of his theater, was certainly an important reason for Meyerhold’s clash with the authorities and cultural policy of the Soviet Union, just like Laban’s...
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