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Not a care in the world: a fluttering Jeanne Bresciani.

Return to Innocence
By Mae G. Banner

Myth and Image in the Dance of Isadora Duncan
Skidmore College, Oct. 2

Jeanne Bresciani does Isadora Duncanís dances as if she were born to them. As she presses her fists into the floor in Revolutionary Etude or summons her wild Maenads in the Ode to Dionysius, Bresciani could be channeling the priestess of modern dance.

Bresciani, with degrees in dance, art history, and something called ďmovement analysis and imaginal psychotherapy,Ē has devoted her life to studying and reconstructing Isadoraís early 20th-century dances and teaching them to new generations of dancers. Based at the Isadora Duncan International Institute in High Falls, N.Y., she also teaches and performs at New York University and the Harkness Dance Center of the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, where her students range from 3-year-olds to retirees.

In concert last Thursday with faculty and students from Skidmore College, she performed dances to music of Schubert and Scriabin, choreographed by Duncan from 1905 to the 1920s. Bresciani has reconstructed them partly from archival photographs and writings, but mainly from the living memory of Isadoraís pupils, who became Brescianiís teachers.

The work, daring in its day, seems simple now, all barefoot skips and little runs. But, there is depth in this simplicity. Todayís dancers, speedy and well-toned, are prepared to hurtle through intricate sets of steps. To perform Isadoraís works, they have to scale back, take a visible, audible breath, listen to the music, and then respond, as if hearing it for the first time. They have to recover their childhood innocence.

Seeing a Bresciani concert is a transformative experience that returns audiences to that age of innocence. Children recognize instantly the spirit of the light and playful airs from Schubert because the jumps and prances and the maypole circles echo their own play on some grassy hill on a summer afternoon.

Sasha Lehrer captured Duncanís purity of spirit in the Ball Dance. She flew across the stage, legs kicking upward behind her, hands fluttering, her brief silken toga floating around her with every step. She was a Grecian princess tossing her golden ball.

In a more tender mood, Marissa Carr danced Lullabye, a contained, focused work in which she places a swaddled bundle on the ground and dances to it attentively, then gently picks it up and exits.

We saw The Three Graces, who looked very like the statues at Yaddo, and two amusing duets in which the taller woman played the satyr and the shorter one the flirtatious nymph. The set of 14 brief dances built to a magical climax: Under the Scarf, a full-ensemble work in which four dancers lift two wide blue silk scarves that seemed suspended in mid-air, like curving canopies, as pair after pair of dancers passed under them.

Brescianiís solos to two Scriabin etudes were weighty and powerful, miles away from Schubertís sunlit gardens. Dressed in a blood-red toga, she strode forward boldly, her arms raised as if to do battle. These arms, and sometimes her whole body, became arrows shooting forward at an angle. Her mouth formed a silent shout; her weighted legs sank to the ground as she pressed her fists downward with all her strength.

These dances, made in Russia, where Duncan opened a school in 1921, are anything but delicate. In their forceful gestures, I could see a source of the modern dance that was soon to follow.

The concert ended with two fairly complex works on Greek themes, Ode to Dionysius and Ode to Artemis, set to the final movements of Schubertís C Major Symphony. Here, Bresciani was the priestess, leading her followers. Dancing for Dionysius, they surged onstage in a frenzy, stamping their feet and bending forward. They jumped and their arms flew upward as if spirits has ignited them.

For Artemis, goddess of the hunt, the nine dancers streaked, one by one, across the darkened stage, then held hands in a V-shaped formation, like a team of ponies pulling a chariot. Running, prancing or leaping, they were, by turns, woodland creatures, archers, hounds, and, at last, free women dashing across the stage in complete abandon.

 

 


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