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Isadora Duncan: The Dances.

Nadia Chilkovsky Nahumck was first introduced to the dances of Isadora Duncan and the theories of Rudolf von Laban in a Philadelphia dance studio in the 1920s. Her book, Isadora Duncan: The Dances, is the result of her lifelong mission to bring together these two major artistic influences. Although the author acknowledges the assistance of others in the preparation of this material--Hortense Kooluris and Julia Levien for the dances, Harry Hewitt for the music--both the introductory text and the actual notation of exercises and dances attest to Chilkovsky Nahumck's highly idiosyncratic approach to both Duncan and Laban. The title page states that the book was fully reviewed by the Dance Notation Bureau. In fact, the notation never went through the normal and thorough review process for a score copywritten or approved of by that institution.

The book is divided into three parts. In "Part I--The Dances of Isadora Duncan," which is subdivided into six chapters, Chilkovsky Nahumck describes her process and the difficulties of transcribing the dances of a deceased choreographer. In language that is often hyperbolic and in explanations that are often difficult to follow, she attempts to clarify Duncan's contribution as well as key elements of her art, but she gets easily sidetracked. For example, in a subsection entitled "Authentic Duncan--How to Decide?" she discusses Duncan as an artist of her time, the illusory simplicity of her choreography, and the role of children in her vision, but there is not a word about determining authenticity, which she had, in fact, discussed partially in an earlier section. Chilkovsky Nahumck is particularly murky when she discusses the concept of Space-Consequent Motion and its application to Duncan's choreography. Again, she skirts the issue, drawing on Aristotle's theories and Duncan's practices, but never clarifying the concept.

One of these chapters is a very cursory Labanotation lesson which includes a glossary of symbols created by Chilkovsky Nahumck that pertain specifically to Duncan's dances. A picture of the rotator chatting with Laban is incorrectly dated 1959 (Laban died in 1958). Part I also enlightens the reader about costume construction-fleshings, tunics, and scarves--and re-creating the curtained backdrop that Duncan favored.

"Part II--Dance Scores" consists of chapters of notated exercises, dances for children, and repertory dances, the last arranged by composer. At the end of each chapter, supplementary notes state when particular dances were choreographed, how versions of the dances differed, and other pertinent information. In some instances Chilkovsky Nahumck states when a particular dance was reconstructed in this country--usually by Kooluris or Levien. Conspicuously absent is any mention of performances by Annabelle Gamson, who was certainly among Levien's most serious students and an artist whose critically acclaimed performances in the 1970s and 1980s initiated a revival of interest in Duncan and her work.

There are over one hundred notated entries--a few have the musical notation printed alongside. At first glance, the dance notation looks old-fashioned. Currently, in the United States, among other places, rotators use the expanded six-column central staff which was adjusted in the 1970s as Labanotation was programmed for computer use. Chilkovsky Nahumck still uses the four-column version. It is not difficult to read the dances, however, and her particular glossary supports accurate nuances of style. As in reading music, the quality of the resulting performance will have much to do with the reader's inherent talent.

There are mistakes in the notation--some of them rather elementary. Forward circular path signs are almost always drawn incorrectly, and some very basic rules--step/gesture, for example--are broken. In the Brahms Waltz #15 section, she uses F for flowers and P for petals interchangeably.

"Part III--Homage to Isadora Duncan" includes dances choreographed after Isadora Duncan by one of the adopted daughters, Maria-Theresa Duncan, and some by the author herself. There are also four appendices and a selected bibliography but no index. There are numerous photographs of older as well as contemporary Duncan dancers, with Gamson conspicuously missing again. There are even some of Duncan.

At 532 pages and over a foot wide, Isadora Duncan: The Dances probably wins all contests for the largest coffee-table dance book ever. This would be fine, were it essentially a picture book to be savored while lounging on a couch. For reconstructors, however, it is impossible to work with the text in hand. The size of this tome prevents even photocopying the dances.

In spite of its limitations, Isadora Duncan: The Dances provides dancers the opportunity to experience physically a version of the choreographer's dances. Chilkovsky Nahumck is correct when she states that in the Labanotation one can see recurring motifs of movement in the body. Studying these scores, one understands the spatial and rhythmic structures of Duncan's work. In the future, there should be other notated examples of her dances with which to compare and contrast this text. For now, this singular approach to Duncan presents itself for our scrutiny.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Thom, Rose Anna
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:809
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