Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - Dance






Dance is fundamentally a subject of aesthetics. But the artistic culture  of the body that it involves requires us to include this subject under the  scope of this book.

One of the greatest dancers of our modern times was Anna Pavlova,  and a few glimpses of her personality can be gathered from the extracts  that we are presenting below from a book written by Agnes deMille.

Agnes deMille was born in 1909 in New York City. Her father was  the playwright William deMille, and her uncle the famous film director  Cecil B. deMille. As a young girl she saw the great Russian ballerina  Anna Pavlova perform, and from that moment onwards her life was  devoted to dance. Agnes deMille grew up to become a well-known  dancer and an important choreographer of ballets and dances for  musical drama. Some of her most famous works include Oaklahoma!  Carousel, Brigadoon, and Paint Your Wagon. She was as well a prolific  writer, and Dance to the Piper, from which we take the extracts below,  is considered a classic in its genre. Agnes deMille was the recipient of  numerous awards and honorary degrees and in 1965 became the first  president of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

In 1975, at the age of 66, Agnes deMille's life took an unexpected  and potentially tragic turn, which her devotion to dance and unswerving will turned into an inspiring victory. She relates the story in a television interview:

"On May 15, 1975, I was about to give a dance concert  which consisted of a lecture and my whole company, the  American Heritage Dance Theatre, demonstrating the best



of dance in the United States. Everybody in New York was  coming and it was sold out. I was sitting in the dress  rehearsal, and one of the dancers couldn't go on — this  happens — and a substitute arrived and I said, 'I'll sign  you a contract and make you legal, otherwise the union  won't let you cross the stage. So I picked up a pen and the  contract and then said, 'Well, this is odd, I can't write!

Within the hour, as a doctor was being summoned, Agnes deMille  remembered her body becoming cold and numb. She lost all feeling, all  energy, throughout her right side. In the ambulance she became paralysed and intermittently unconscious. At the hospital her husband was  informed that she would probably not live another day.

"The one thing that was astonishing-about it all was there  was no pain — no sensation, nothing startling, nothing  surprising. You would expect that when your life alters, a  thunderclap or something drastic would happen but there  was nothing. This is deadly. ".

On the night of her admission, to the hospital a CAT scan of her  brain revealed a haemorrhage on the right side in areas associated with  motor control, language and vision. Two nights later, another scan  revealed that the haemorrhage had vanished almost completely. She was  left half paralyzed on the right side.

"There were two difficulties and frightening sensations: one was not knowing how far the paralysis was advancing  and what it was doing to me. I couldn't feel at all on the  right side of my body or my face, and the right hand would  do absolutely wild, outrageous things, I couldn't control it.  I also found I didn't know where it was."

Her doctor relates:

" Not knowing where that hand, that leg was, she re learned to walk and to use the hand and to function by  looking with her eyes. She would pass the hand, pass the



leg, watching it, using her eyes as feelers. Most patients  with this kind of a defect find it so hard to re-learn that  they give up. It was her determination which got her so  far. It is very touching."

Says Agnes deMille:

"Well you know, I think I kept on going because it's in my  character and what I was brought up to be in my family. I  am a trained dancer as well — and dancers go through a  regimen of exercises and self-control all their lives long. It  was instinctive. I did whatever I had to do. And then a little later I began thinking about doing some performances  and of my work, which is of very great interest to me."

The doctor continues:

"Sometimes I wonder whether enthusiasm and joy and  interest in the world and just plain determination don't  form connections between nerve cells faster than nature  takes them away as we grow older. That quality of hope, of  drive, of walking ten steps as if you are running a one  hundred yard dash — that has something to do not only  with the quality of life but I am really confident with the  length of life and the recovery from severe illness. One can  will oneself to die and one can certainly will oneself to be  better."

Agnes deMille went on to walk, and to work. In her mid-80's she  was still choreographing new dances and writing books. Looking at  her life, a life of such commitment, such generosity of spirit and such  love of one's art, we cannot but feel that Agnes deMille is a worthy disciple of her great mentor, Anna Pavlova.

In the following extracts, Agnes deMille speaks of her meetings with  Pavlova, and then of the rigorous training young boys and girls must  undergo to become classical ballet dancers.


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