I’ve been thinking about perception and movement a little, about how we come to interpret the world through our formative lenses, and how, thanks to many years of dance, I still see a lot of the world around me in movement and its beauty or ugliness (which is still beautiful). I still remember a perfect moment on the Piccadilly line at night, a few years back, when I was traveling out to the far reaches of London to meet someone. The train had just surfaced from the warren of the Underground and was moving quickly through some sort of industrial yard, a wide expanse of railroad tracks and large empty vehicles. I was standing at the far end of the quarter full carriage, looking down the length of it, as the rails or train or something made that locomotive sway a bit more intense. At the same time there was electrical arcing happening between the wheels and the tracks, creating bright strobing electrical crackles that lit up the night outside the window for a few seconds, then a few more, while causing a dimming of the internal lights, punching an image of an electric-blue industrial wasteland into my head. As all this was happening I was listening to my favourite song of the time, Old Artist by Archive, and the softly violent jerk and lurch of the train was being transmuted by everyone in the carriage into an unconsciously fluid pulse and flow, all surrounded by lightning blue, the people’s movement in perfect time with the beat coming through my headphones. A perfect synchronicity.
I have rarely been happier than in those 10 to 15 seconds.
This is how I see a lot of the world. Movement. I don’t know how many times I have become mesmerized by someone walking in front of me, how many times I have followed someone an extra block or two just so I can witness the marvel of their physical cadence. Sometimes the beauty I see in a kid’s game of tennis, or a sudden moment of seemingly choreographed basketball, makes me gasp. I annoy people I’m with or talking to by the irrepressible need I have to watch, be it on a walk on something caught by my eye on a television in the corner.
Once I realised that my brain had been so beautifully corrupted by dance I became entranced by the way others perceive the world. Musicians are remarkable, physicists, archaeologists, artists… it beggars belief the difference in fundamental perception of the immediate world by those around us. Listening to these people describe the world is a wonderful and almost incomprehensible experience. I’ve love listening to my friend Jess describe the noise and motion around her through the lens of her musical brain. Hearing Emmanuel describe his joy through the way he thinks the world functions. It brings a new vitality to everything. Coming to understand Sara’s love manifested through her vision of the world, despite and maybe because of what she knows of it.
Sometimes it makes me want to cry, and I’m not sure why.
Watching Sylvie Guillem ply her body (how intense must her vision of the world be?) got me was thinking about Ballet as a metaphor for societies vision of itself. Ballet is all about control, its graceful beauty defined and expressed through a strength and physical repression that takes years and years to burn into you. Ballet itself really didn’t become what we know it as today until fairly recently, repopularised in the early 1900’s by the Ballet Russes, who took the beautiful innovations and genius of Jean-Georges Noverre and made them real. I think it served as a perfect expression of our cultures’ vision of it’s self: beauty through control.
The timing of Ballet’s surge in popularity was important too, as the world descended into conflicts never before imagined it needed things to prop up its belief in itself. Ballet was one of those things (though probably not that major), representing high achievement through many of the things – control, beauty, discipline – that we consider vital aspects of civilisation. This can counter the horror we inflict on ourselves through warfare and economics, apparently.
Ballet’s lack of evolution, in many ways, represents this too. The ballets that everyone goes to watch aren’t those created recently, it’s the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Giselle, etc. The old expressions of ballet and empire? I remember reading about the horror and rage and the riot that greeted Stravinsky’s & Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring. It so upset the classical forms of both ballet and music that people couldn’t cope with what they considered pure art forms of beauty manifesting a description of the world they couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, comprehend.
New forms of dance are fascinating exposes of our world – Guillem’s transition to contemporary dance fascinates me, that she seeks expression and order through a more chaotic and emotionally confronting form. The violent and undeniably expressive krumping. And so many spaces in between – and that’s just the west. It’s so easy to forget, through the cheapening of dance’s meaning by music videos, how powerful it is as an expression. These music videos that saturate the television, capture us for a very good reason. The same reason Bollywood includes dance in all their films, only their reasons are more articulate than ours, dance is still a stronger narrative there, expressing a history and mythology that we in the west have lost in our daily lives.
But I digress. Quite a lot.
The world moves me through my understanding of it. I love that one of my understandings is so inarticulate and basic as movement, an expression and meaning I don’t have to speak of if I don’t want to. It’s these things that bring comfort to me when I’m struggling with so much else.
Have a think about a universe defined through dance:
Nataraja – Hindu cosmic lord of the dance, controlling the motion of the universe and the flow of time. He dances on the demon of ignorance, his four arms extended gracefully around him, one foot on the demon’s back, the other lifted in the air – it is said that when Nataraja brings this foot down, time will stop.