I came to this through fairly peculiar circumstances.
This is an excerpt of Passion - a 2012 “erotic thriller” directed by Brian De Palma. Rachael McAdams’s preparation for a fatal encounter is set beside Polina Semionova’s performance of Jerome Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun. The device of the split screen articulates - almost too earnestly - a common aesthetic basis in the erotics of the gaze, grounding either scenario in its sense of atmosphere. As the film elaborates, it is a relationship of time that connects them. A murder is about to occur, though we are left to guess as to whether the victim and the dancer receive the gaze of the viewer simultaneously as the events in question transpire.
The film - an international co-production between France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom - is in fact a remake of the late Alain Corneau’s 2010 film Crime d’amour, starring Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas. The original is a gripping French psychological thriller - a genre that I have found myself drawn to as I have been making my most recent dance. I will be writing about the original, the remake, and the failures of aesthetic transference elsewhere. For the purposes of this Tumblr, I am sharing this particular clip as something relevant to my own process of creating work.
This Tumblr will act as a repository of various objects - be they written, sonar, pictographic, videographic; be they found or produced originally - that speak in some way to my present process as a maker of dances.
My current piece is currently untitled. I hope it will have one soon. I am waiting for the call.
But it is a dance about dancing, a dance about dance.
For that reason I am drawn to this clip. It is the most lushly documented performance of Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun that I have been able to come across (Elaonora Abbagnato’s performance in 2013 of the same role was filmed on a shaky camcorder, though the clip does offer the only full-length version of the piece available on YouTube). Robbin’s ballet is a dance about dance and dancing, but more significantly, about male and female bodies dancing, construed in their dancing as figures of man and woman, respectively. The significance of a ballet such as Afternoon of a Faun being reprised and reimagined by so many choreographers is the potential of the work to chart variances of critical approach to its pertinent questions across contexts of time and location. Robbin’s ballet reimagines Nijinsky’s 1912 ballet as an encounter between the figure of the male dancer and the female dancer in the delicately sparse setting of the dance studio. His interpretation of the work makes no significant detour from the original in terms of casting. He maintains the pairing of male and female bodies to the point of inscribing them as man and woman, though in the original we deal in the inscription of the male dancer’s body as that of a faun - a creature that is part “man”, part “beast”. Robbins’s ballet, ever-delicate in its choreographic choices, ultimately reinforces a traditional procedure in Western concert dance where the optic sphere is configured as masculine and the objects of reception as feminine. In this case, the latter is invested in the body of the female dancer. Her entrance brings her fleshy figure into a space saturated with the dreams of a male dancer rising from sleep. Their invisible images burden her dance. They are a load that any choreographer should approach critically as something that must either be borne or shirked, and for some particular reason. Robbins chooses to let them sit upon and seep into the female dancer’s skin. She is made to offer her body as an image of what a ballerina can do, first to the eyes of the audience, and eventually to the eyes of the Faun - realizing, perhaps, that the gaze of the audience had already come to identify with the projective visions of the Faun, well before her appearance. Hence her weary gaze towards the viewer, who may wield as much control over her figure as the that of a gloved murderer in the night.
I recall seeing still photographs of some artist from Europe whose name I do not recall who had reimagined Afternoon of a Faun as a solo for a male dancer. Clad in a pair of white briefs, posed atop a bed dressed in white sheets, his dance was a dance of masculine fantasy, extending from a male body grieving its absence of a corporeal interlocutor. The images made it clear that the artist employed direct references to the gestures of the Faun in Nijinkski’s original; I do not know whether he interpreted the original movements of the Nymph as well, though that would make for something more complicated and potentially more radical than Jerome Robbin’s adaptation. (To be clear, I think that Robbin’s ballet is highly problematic.)
I am not endeavoring to produce anything resembling the aesthetics or politics of gender that are manifest in Robbin’s piece. My own dance inquires into the idea of explicit bodies dancing as such. The piece is danced by five performers, though the principal action is delivered by two dancers, one male-identified and the other female-identified. We are not working to produce individual idioms of gendered dancing; we aim, rather, to forge a common approach to movement that can elucidate various manifestations of sameness and difference across a spectrum of dancing bodies. They dance naked, though covered by transparent rain ponchos. They complete a series of dance phrases of varying aesthetic styles, interspersed with moments of sustained, subtle gesture. Their practice is both common and idiomatic, promoting a vision of an immanent politics that allows for fluid convergence and divergence on the aesthetic plane.
At least, that is our hope, and our intention.