A Dance – In Ten Movements

A Dance – In Ten Movements
By Alexander Barabanov
Jonathan Cape – £40.00

For as much shimmering eloquence and splendour that A Dance – In Ten Movements bestows, there are indeed, equal amounts of photographic wit and grit that certainly go the distance (and some) in relation to dance as an art form.
But like so much contemporary art, one man’s Turner is another man’s toaster, and such questionable, erudite induced equilibrium, goes a long way in explaining why not even one area of the Arts remains immune from such idiosyncratic, idiotic invasion. Be it a shark in a case (Damien Hurst), a penis too far (Gilbert and George) or the idea and acceptance of dance being reduced to nothing other than tired, redundant tossers, twisting the so-called night away on Strictly.

Forgive them Fred, for they know not the difference between a top hat nor a Topic, let alone a mambo, a merengue or a moonwalk. To be sure, marketing and money has infected dance to such a callous and cancerous degree (Rhianna, Lady Gaga et al), that in order to be even momentarily touched by the scorching, potential beauty of dance, one has to nigh traverse the earth to find it.

Is this how it should be?

Ought we, as a so-called civilised society, to have allowed such a powerful and pulchritudinous medium as dance, to have degenerated into what is quite often a mere collection of dodgy slappers on poles?

As author, Alexander Barabanov, writes in this book’s Introduction: ‘’Dance is one of the oldest art forms on earth. From the 12,000-year-old rock engraving of ritual dance in the Addaura cave in Sicily to Le Sacre du Printemps in the twentieth century or the innovations of the twenty-first century, extraordinary dances have been inspired by human emotions.’’

Various forms of dance have indeed ‘’been inspired by human emotions.’’ It’s almost impossible to quantify such unarguable qualification – especially within the ever-changing modes of dance, which in this instance, includes it’s recording by way of photography: ‘’[…] Dance, as physical expression, liberates us. Dance photography provides a further level of art, which is perfectly attached to the original creation, yet exists independently within its own medium. As it guides the eye, the photography focuses the viewer’s attention on particular concepts. Photographs reveal those powerful moments, which remain fixed like passages of prose or of music, that can be recalled long after a novel is closed or a symphony completed.’’

Herein, we are entrusted to embrace and understand the reasoning behind A Dance – In Ten Movements, in as much as how it came into being – which from the offset, is both candid and commendable. For how very true the above is, especially in relation to many of the photographs themselves (that cover many an eclectic combination of technique and style), all of which span assorted centuries and continents. For instance, Barabanov guides the reader through the formation of Diaglilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909 and effortlessly glisses his way though the various experimental dance movements, choreographers and performers – among them: Laban, Nijinsky, Nureyev and Balanchine to name but a few.

A succinct and interesting start to this book of untold beauty (in the form of dance photography) continues with Barabanov proceeding to write of the varying experimentation within choreography, and of course, costume – or in some instances, no costume at all. This is then followed by inevitable changes within the sphere of photographic technology, whereby it’s not only possible to capture a millisecond movement of a grand jete; but a camera can now invariably be set up, to trail an entire movement from beginning to end.

Thus providing for a wonderful arch of blurred legs and such a feeling of movement, one can almost feel the energy: ‘’Dance encompasses more than the movements of the body, since it involves the visual elements of the staging or enacting of the performance. The perfect language of classical dance evolved into crude metaphors of free movement, which in the nineties was transformed into deconstructivism, ‘non-dance’ and artevivant. This progression has brought more emphasis to the role of the photography, which in some cases is the ultimate medium of the performance.’’

On a rather more personal note, I have to confess to preferring the more traditional ballet images. Some of the more contemporary imagery amid these 122 Prints leave me a little cold, and on occasion, perplexed as to the intention behind their meaning. I might add that a number of images are a little disturbing, controversial even; but hey, that’s Art.

In all, a very intriguing insight into the history of dance and the actual art of dance photography: stunning photographs of stunning dancers. The final result of which, is the eventual morphing of the beautiful body into living art itself.

My only request, should there ever be a follow up, would be that there are less naked men and perhaps more ballerinas.

David Marx

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