Sunday, July 24, 2011

Writers on Dance: Lorca on "La Argentina"

Spanish Civil War-era writer Federico Garcia Lorca's searing poetry and tragic life has been covered many times. A favorite portrait of mine is one that ran in the New Yorker many years ago, "Looking for Lorca" by Elizabeth Kolbert. In his short book of essays, In Search of Duende, he offers an introduction he gave for the famous Spanish (Argentinian born) dancer "La Argentina," who was visiting New York City. (Butoh master Kazuo Ohno also danced a tribute for her.) The excerpt below from: "In Praise of Antonia Merce, La Argentina," his specific and poetic imagery and his identification of her real name (which many others don't do) keep it from falling into the traps of cliche that often comes when portraying dance.

Whereas Said, in writing about Tahia Carioca, defends culture and dignity, the poet in Lorca focuses on the search for harmony in this dancer's art:

"...In the art of dance, the body struggles against the invisible mist that envelops it and tries to bring to light the dominant profile demanded by the architecture of the music. Ardent struggle, endless vigil, like all art. While the poet wrestles with the horses in his brain and the sculptor wounds his eyes on the hard spark of alabaster, the dancer battles the air around her, air that threatens at any moment to destroy her harmony or to open huge empty spaces where her rhythm will be annihilated...The dancer's trembling heart must bring everything into harmony, from the tips of her shoes to the flutter of eyelashes, from the ruffles of her dress to the incessant play of her fingers. Shipwrecked in a field of air, she must measure lines, silences, zigzags, and rapid curves with a sixth sense of aroma and geometry, without ever mistaking her terrain. In this she resembles the torero, whose heart must keep to the neck of the bull. Both of them face the same danger--he, death; and she, darkness.

" She must fill a dead gray space with a living, clear trembling arabesque, one which can be vividly remembered. This is how she speaks, this is her tongue. And in all the world, no one is as good as Anotonia Merce at inscribing the drowsy air with that arabesque of blood and bone. She combines her intuition of dance with a rhythmic intelligence and an understanding of bodily forms possessed by only the great masters of the Spanish dance. . . [She] is a heroine of her own body. She is a tamer of her own facile desires, which are always the most tempting. She has earned the reward of pure dance: double vision. I mean that when she dances, her eyes are not trained on herself; they are looking ahead, governing her movements, making her expressions more objective, and helping her receive the blind, impressive bursts of pure instinct. "
Photo from Wikipedia: La Argentina

(In my previous post featuring Edward Said on Tahia Carioca, I mentioned these two sections were written in response to a teaching assignment given me by Wah Ming Chang for her class at Barnard. Thanks, Professor Chang!)

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