DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN CONTEMPORARY AND TRADITIONAL DANCE AESTHETIC:
ANDROGYNY OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY DANCE
Faculty of Arts in Kosovska Mitrovica (Serbia)
Faculty of Arts in Kosovska Mitrovica (Serbia)
Citation: Obradovic, Vera. 2016. "Differentiating Between Contemporary and Traditional Dance Aesthetic: Androgyny Of Modern And Contemporary Dance." Accelerando: Belgrade Journal of Music and Dance 1:2
In modern, contemporary, performed dancing, androgynous dancing bodies have become an all-pervasive and dominant phenomenon. Deconstructionalists of modern dance techniques, developing in the early twentieth century and breaking the strict form of classical ballet dance, restored the naturalness of movement, i.e., freedom of performance and expression, and what’s more – breathed new life to ritual elements. The dancing body, the dancing self, is begging to lose the qualities of gender and through dance aspires towards a kind of androgenization of habitus and movement. Needless to say, today, modern, contemporary dance, in its aesthetics, becomes a distinctive dance of Rebis, which is a symbol of androgyny, a homogeneous male and female whole.
Keywords: contemporary dance, androgyny,animus/anima Rebis
The beginning of modern dance
Modern dance as a distinctive form of dance and choreography in the artistic practice, appears for the first time in the early XX century. The concept of modern dance, in this text, shall be equated with the concept of contemporary dance, since the contemporary dance movement, in its practice, interpolates the performing techniques of modern dance. Modern, that is, contemporary artistic dance, in terms of deconstruction dance strategies, develops as a kind of an antipode to the long ballet tradition and for some time breaks away from it. By bringing about a true revolution in the field of dance art, it established a »new trend« in dance poetics and aesthetics. It stood up to schematic interpretation, decorativeness, artificiality, as well as to undulating-surreal visions of ethereal female figures that were the supreme feature of classical ballet. Dancers like Martha Graham (1894 – 1991) and Doris Humphrey (1894 – 1958) were accused of extremely viral dancing. Needless to say, the modern dance movement, already in its making, strives to decisively break away from the dance traditionalism that originated in the time of Louis XIV. The stage language it speaks is new and so are performing technique and theory, while its approach to the dancing body is novel. Rejecting the authority of the classics and interlacing with the general tendencies of contemporary art and the way of life, it gradually establishes its own dance structure, poetics and aesthetics. It is reflected as the emanation of a modified human sensibility and spirituality, motivated by a myriad of technological innovations that necessarily dictated different movements in the so-called ordinary, everyday life.
Androgenization as a new idea based on gender non-relativity
The creators of the new XX century dance, out of fear that the technical civilization will entirely subordinate the human body to machines and consequently dehumanize it, offer the return to nature, as the harmonious conception of establishing a connection between art and life. Their work is a genuine quest for the entity created within archaic consciousness and unconsciousness simultaneously. Obviously, over time, the modern, contemporary stage dance has gone in a completely unexpected direction i.e. towards the "adrogenization" of physical appearance and movement on stage, and in doing so evoked in a man the »memories« of his origin and original-being. Modern dance bodies become distinctly androgynous, and so do their movements. Male and female dancers become difficult to tell apart. There is no difference between men's dance force and women's ancient ethereality and tenderness. Everyone dances with an equal masculine force and feminine subtleness and softness of movement.
Today, dance has become increasingly androgynous in its symbolism, gesture and energy, movement, costume, stage expression, etc. The creators of contemporary choreodrama and dance performances often strive to totally depersonalize and erase all gender features. On stage one cannot tell the difference between male and female dancers. Traditional roles have been eliminated along throughout centuries, markedly different male and female dance styles. The distinctive process of overcoming the disintegration of male and female principles resembles an unconscious unification of modern man and his roots. This refers both to the creator i.e. the choreographer, and dancers themselves. Man by his nature strives for perfection and eternity. "Human perfection can only be in the image of God. Whether in the past or the future, it is presented as an androgynous state" (Chevalier and Gheerbrant 1989, 11).
Cosmic gender interpretation of self-being correlated with animus/anima
My interpretation of the androgyny of physical appearance and androgyny of dance is that of unconscious ritual behavior that takes developed Hi-Tech world, alienated from nature, back to the mystical union of absolute cosmic harmony, i.e. to the united opposites. At first glance it may seem that the contemporary theater of movement is extremely urban, with often politicized subject matters and far away from any kind of ritual. It even gives an impression of something completely opposite of the ritual. However, things are quite different. The ritual seems to be an indelible feature that is also deeply present in today’s choreodrama theater, though with one significant difference. Man once knowingly and intentionally performed the ritual dance, devoted himself to it, surrendered himself completely and believed in its effect. However, today he seems to be doing so out of suppressed needs dictated by his instinct, his archaic consciousness and archetypal potentials of an individual. The ritual element comes to the fore, but without original faith in its effect. Today's man does not equate himself with the role he performs in the manner in which his distant ancestors did. Today, man establishes the necessary harmony, perfection and unity with nature, the cosmos, God, by dancing as an androgynous being, which seeks to unify the traits of both sexes within himself! He dances like a single original being that stands above the genders, and his dance becomes a prayer for the cosmic gender connection. Today’s "mask" which a dancer takes and identifies himself with is androgynous persona ( Persona – a mask worn by an actor in the past.), which Jung (1984) describes as the mask of collective psyche, through which the collective psyche speaks.
Jung (Ibid.) regarded the concept of bisexuality as a development principle of the species, which plays an important role in the functioning and dynamics of a personality. He believed that every person, on the one hand, has a bisexual nature, stating that each man carries the female archetype, anima, as the unconscious part of his personality, and likewise women have the male archetype, animus. Furthermore, it seems that bisexual personality traits are the most evident phenomena among artists. In his book, Philosophy of the body, in the chapter dealing with erotic creativity, Mikhail Epstein discuses that artists have traits of the opposite sex and sees this as a particular type of a condition which is essential for artistic creativity. Men's artistic personality is characterized by feminine traits, while women have pronounced masculine traits.
A modern dancer, according to his external physical appearance and aesthetics of movement, more increasingly and more clearly becomes an impersonator of the androgynous, who also awakens and raises the awareness of the opposite sex that lives inside himself - anima in a man and animus in a woman. In fact, through modern dance productions the remarkable "self-birth" of the primordial being takes place on stage. Mikhail Epstein (2009, 238-239) develops two more terms: corpora and corpus as the counterpart to Jung's. The man's body contains corpora, a psycho-image, the projection of the beloved female body, just as in the woman's body exists corpus, the image of male habitus. Hence, we may add that in modern dance we are witnessing the unification, the wholeness of corpora and corpus the psycho image of two different bodies in one. Theater of movement, as a kind of a social symbol, through modern and contemporary dance, acquires new characteristics, which is characterized by the process of individuation, creating androgyny as the most complete actualization of self and as an existential dimension.
In a word, the archetypes of anima and animus, i.e. corpora and corpus, in the culture of contemporary dance theater, embody and manifest their unity in the dance body showing the extent to which the collective subconscious is in the specific pursuit of androgenization.
Dance as a revocation of freedom
The modern man (who no longer goes hunting to eat, but goes to the supermarket to buy pâté) will not dance Dodole (a traditional pagan rain dance) to invoke rain nor stamp his feet to invoke the fertility of the Earth. Neither will he go back to any other form of ritual dance in the urban environment. Nevertheless out of his eternal, endless quest for cosmic harmony his collective unconscious will speak out through the appearance, movements and power of the androgynous. Unlike in the distant past, man doesn’t identify himself with nature through the new dance, but rather gets closer to his memories which reunite him with nature and restore harmony with it. Ultimately, man tries to return to ancient times through his own body.
The development of modern dance, which is asexually, completely devoid of traditional attitude towards the female body as an object, led gradually towards the conquering of homo totus, a being which is not divided into male and female components, the being of awakening and re-conquering of the androgynous state. Back in the day, producing modern dance, in some of their choreographies Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham went beyond the limits of the female body’s distinctive qualities. The movements were initiated from the torso, in a struggle to influence the audience’s perception of female dancers as sexual objects, to destroy the stereotype that had until then existed in the domain of classical dance. They were among the first to win a social space for their gender-free dance. In fact, when they finally asserted their right to work they left the door open for the unique fusion, gender non-discernment in dance, a self-birth of an androgynous body out of modern dance. The archetypal figures of the psyche - anima and animus – spoke out from the habitus, from the "dance being".
Classical ballet dance clearly portrayed and set the opposites of sexual polarities: male-female. The overcoming of sexual duality and presenting the non-duality of dual is initiated through the genre of modern dance. The liberated dance, which identifies the opposite sexes, and encompasses a certain kind of a relationship with the universe, has shaped the new awareness. This dance allowed one a glimpse of the future that will be characterized by the state of primordial psyche, a cosmological unity, dual sexuality, the integration of male female dance force and energy. Modern dance becomes a sort of dance of Rebis (Rebis is for alchemists like an egg of wisdom, a cosmic egg) a conquest, a synthesis of male and female elements, movement, and expressions in a single body. Hence, the modern dance is an inspiration and self-realization through the sum of two opposite principles - masculine and feminine - which in this case do not exclude one another, but discover a path for achieving the harmony of the opposites, by attaining the state of coherence in the dance i.e., "performative" body. Animus and anima, as the archetypal figures of human psyche, unified through the androgynous body of dancers, in a certain way, strive to perform the "ritualisation" of dance in the urban culture. Man goes back to the relationship that connects him with the universe, using dance as an instrument to first achieve harmony in his body, his physical nature.
Myth as a basis of future dance aspects
Androgyny is known to all ancient cultures. The myth speaks of Androgyny's arrogance and his attempt to outdo, surpass Zeus, who will in retaliation divide the androgynous creature into two opposite sexes. What Plato saw in Eros is the embodied power of the divided halves that aspire towards unity. And the indispensable part of the dance, a constantly present factor in every art, dance, ballet is in fact - Eros, with his eternal aspiration toward creativity. Today through modern dance as the embodiment of artistic, spiritual creativity, the man is able to more clearly "beat", overcome the sex within himself. Modern dance becomes, among other things, a clear way of re-directing gender free energy, in an attempt to go back to the wholesome male-female gender existence, energy, renewing attempts to prevent its break up. It represents a stage of symbolically restored undivided unity.
The rituals performed some time in the past were aimed at returning to the original form of unity, i.e. ritual orgies, initiatory androgenization, ceremonial castration, undivided wholeness, symbolical assimilation of male and female characteristics. Today, ritual bisexuality is mostly reflected through contemporary choreodrama dance, representing the symbolic unity of Heaven and Earth. "The new birth of a man as a being with androgynous trait will entail the acceptance of the whole nature, true discovery of man’s microcosmic qualities" (Berđajev 2001, 151).
The ritual androgyny tends to transcend and overcome the common profane man and seeks to communicate with the sublime. However, in the domain of contemporary dance, the man of today does this instinctively, intuitively, unconsciously.
In ancient Greece, androgyny was a ritual reality, and ritual bisexuality as well as asexuality was, in some way, the indicator of communication with gods, especially since sexual ambivalence was interpreted as the consequences of a sin. Through the unification of sexes in one’s own nature one would become a whole human being, which would presuppose the return to the sinless age and fusion of earth and heaven. In fact, it seems that contemporary dance lays ground for a distinctive reintegration, which proves the hypothesis that the man of today, through choreodrama, that is through modern, contemporary dance, goes back to the ritual act and expression, i.e. in this way recreates the ritual in the urban environment.
Nevertheless, it is important to point to another significant difference. The ritual dance was performed so that the man could achieve harmony with nature and its forces, and today he is looking for the harmony first in himself, in his own body and being. Naturally, contemporary dance is a distinctive kind of an act that evokes fertility. After all, dual-sexuality has long been seen as a divine virtue, and divine dual-sexuality is related to the deities of vegetation and fertility. In fertility rituals androgyny is symbolically materialized.
In a word, man has a natural tendency toward perfection i.e. the coexistence of both male and female attributes in one ideal being. Considering that human perfection is trying to model itself upon the imaginary image of God, the dance itself is the first and perhaps the most convenient way of the return, because it makes use of the instrument available to everyone - the human body. In fact, dance is a ritual with one’s own body.
Contemporary approach to androgyny
As the example of a piece that is markedly characterized by the androgynous performance of its dancers and which can also boast a significant interdisciplinary approach let us mention the visit of British group Random Dance, with their performance "Entity", at the sixth Belgrade Dance Festival. The performance took place in Belgrade Sava Center in April 3rd, 2009. Choreographed and directed by Wayne McGregor the performance began by showing a still image of a dog in motion. The projection immediately prompted the audience to associate it with the photographs of Edward Muybridge (1830 -1904), his study of motion and movement, and ultimately, with the metaphorical deliberation (shown on the canvas) of a theatrical sign - lifting the feet off the ground. In fact, during the 19th century, E. Muybridge’s commitment to record with his camera every single movement of a galloping horse paved the way for the meticulous analysis of movement. By setting up a line of 12 cameras Muybridge wanted to prove that a galloping horse, at one point, raises all four hoofs off the ground. In the end, the same photograph, i.e. the black and white film of a running dog, closed the festival night. The beginning and the end of the choreographic concept revealed the intention to research human movement and dance just like Muybridge did. The dance piece "Entity" (Fig. 1) constitutes only the final part of McGregor’s choreographic research triptych, which received the support of a team of scientists and was funded by the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge University.
When a choreographer tries to find a common ground for two disparate branches, putting together the exact scientific knowledge and the art of ballet dance, he uses the language of ballet movement to analyze the relation between the body and the brain, the body and the technology. He, then, promises to subordinate art to the non-artistic purpose, and yet to introduce some innovation to dance aesthetics. In addition, even before seeing the performance and observing the extraordinary artistic and scientific-research project, the viewer was able to deliver a completely logical and hypothetical conclusion: that in the experiment art was assigned an exclusively instrumental role, and that the dancers "became" potential algorithmic functions, and that using abstract geometric movements should take us toward uncovering of something, so far, unknown.
Throughout McGregor’s choreographic piece "Entity" one was under the impression that the research that should have focused on cognitive activities boiled down to a kind of raw, physical-mechanical process. The deviation and unification of McGregor’s markedly asexual movements of dance lexicon contributed to this. The choreographic idea was dominated by deliberate, visual bend of androgynous dancing bodies, in addition to excessive extension of extremities, "a dislocation" in the positions of dancers’ legs and arms. In many choreographic sequences the extraordinary Random Company performers, developing dance sections – by undoubtedly exceptionally talented choreographer – with an incredible kinetic energy and flexibility of first-class gymnasts, resembled the asexual creatures without bone tissue. In McGregor’s scientific choreographic quest, which was undoubtedly one of the strongest (whether positive or negative) impressions of the festival, the author clearly declares himself as someone who wants to discover who we are by using the body and its expressions and get to the very essence of the problem of man’s identity and social behavior.
Classical ballet clearly outlined and set differences of gender polarities: male-female. The overcoming of gender polarities and representation of the unity of the polarities began to emerge in the modern dance. A new conscientiousness was made through dance liberation and unification of gender polarities, encompassing with it a certain relationship with the Universe. In that kind of dance the future was felt, which would designate states of original psychological and cosmological unity, bipolarity, the unity of male and female energy and power in dance. Modern dance became the so-called dance of Rebis, and its subordination and synthesis of male and female elements, movements, and expressions in one body. Rebis is the symbol of androgyny, the homogeneous totality of male and female. For alchemists Rebis is something as an "egg of wisdom", a cosmic egg. The unity of male and female principles was a symbol of self-consciousness in all traditions. Andre Breton considered it of substantial significance. In dance, more than in other places, is felt the need for establishing the original being, the original androgyny. Accordingly, the modern dance is an inspiration and self-consciousness made up through interacting of two opposite principles - male and female - which do not annul each other in that synthesis but discover the true path of creating the harmonious totality of polarities, making the coherent state of the opposites in the dancer's body. Animus and anima as archetypal figures of the man's psyche, united in the dancer's androgynous body, were taking, in a certain way, ritual turns in the modern dance of the civil culture. A human being returns to original relationship with the Universe, trying to reach the harmony in his body, in his physical form, through dance. The appearing of the modern dance, firstly as un-sexualized, completely free from the traditional relation towards female body as an object, leads to creation of homo totus, of not-divided self-conscious being which united male and female components, and consequently to reestablishing of androgynous state.
NOTE: This paper is presented at the 40th Congress of Dance Research CID UNESCO: