The Matter Of Movement

Representing dance and dancers is not infrequent in Romanian art. From the famous Hora by Tattarescu, at the end of the 19th century, to the series of Căluşarii of Magdalena Rădulescu by the middle of the 20th century, various painters aimed at getting something from the irreducible mystery of folk dance on canvas. Yet, in practically all the cases it was nothing more than the rapturous contemplation of only one instance of dancing, the well-preserved, long-praised traditional one. In it, trans-personal, national identity and even some metaphysical, transcendent values were sought after. Contrariwise, the mostly individualistic, deeply personal and original kind of dance developed by modern ballet received virtually no serious attention from Romanian artists. Not only is there no Degas in Romanian art, but there is not even one significant work of art depicting professional ballet dancing.A paradox emerges here, between on the one hand the original artists (painters) who aimed to depict non-personal dance, and on the other the original (ballet) dancers, who induced no praise for their self-expression among precisely those fellow artists who were the professionals of depicting self-expression. This paradox was (and still is) so profoundly rooted in the national psyche precisely because the prominent place occupied by national definition in every field of local culture. It is not surprising that even professional ballet dancers were so frequently under the pressure of this dilemma (self-expression versus group expression). This pressure very often ended in compromise. This is the source of so many Romanian ballet dancers interpreting and reinterpreting, appropriating and re-appropriating fragments, movements, ideas or entire conceptual and technical frameworks from traditional dance. They actually incorporated trans-personal dance elements in their indeed personal expression, carrying out therefore an act of homage and submission at the same time. Thus they acknowledged both the force exerted by traditional conventions and their personal will to insert individuality into some community heritage; traditional dance spread therefore identity onto ballet dancers, while the latter made the former synchronous with contemporary culture via their adaptations. However, this significant cross-border exchange was only of marginal interest to the visual arts. Not even the burgeoning alternative, video art, relatively recent, paid a meaningful homage to cultured dance, i.e. ballet. When dealing with movement, video artists were either praising the geometrical movement of abstract entities, or the chaotic, random buzz of some group of people documenting their (artistic) business as usual, even if those were performances or actions involving movement.One would say that, except for the depictions of traditional dances, there is little room for dance in Romanian art. This is only partly true, and only if one clings to a restrictive definition of dance. If one does not, then an entire area opens up, and its name reads sculpture. Romanian sculpture has little – or rather nothing – except for the wooden groups of dancers by Geza Vida – to do with representing dance as such. Yet it has much to do with the innermost dance, with movement as such. It is not about moving sculptures or external movement, but about the real matter of movement – matter in movement.It is not by chance that the most material-immaterial and static-ecstatic sculptor, Brâncuşi, sometimes used hand-made contrivances to make his works move slowly. That movement has nothing to do with the futurist knack for speed, nor with the constructivist sense of the kinetic, mechanically deploying art. Brâncuşi simply made his heavy material masses dance around, revolving like ballet dancers. Moreover, Brâncuşi himself designed original ballet costumes for a series of ballets performed for a small audience in his atelier by the Codreanu sisters. The ballets were elaborated by Brâncuşi together with his composer friend Erik Satie.Dance itself has much to do with sculpture, the only art that moves three-dimensional bodies. The powerful exhibition of human corporeality in ballet takes its substance from the statuesque. In its turn, movement, be it a human concatenation and group geometries, or the mysterious, whirlpool-like contortions of a ballet soloist, has much in common with the expressive force and rigorous articulation of the space revealed by sculpture.Just like a solo ballet dancer, each of the intriguing bronzes of Dimitrie PACIUREA (1873-1932) plays in front of us a fantastic, partly incomprehensible ritual of a body that succeeds in surpassing its rough materiality into a pure, deeply troubling gesture. Silent, his human-animal composites with a mythological aura deploy their sophisticated, fancy limbs perfectly trained in protruding to the viscera of everyone's imagery. One cannot say that Paciurea's works are static. Although they are only there, on their pedestal, they nevertheless continue their secret movements of reptation, bat's flight or sudden bite, trapping the beholder in a ritual, a diabolic dance emerging between the figure and the imagination.Opposing Paciurea's poetics, the oeuvre of Ion IRIMESCU (b. 1903) resembles the dancing in the lavish exhibition of pleasurable human ideals in full body. His non-mythological, though highly poetical figures resemble those well-articulated, imposing dancers whose stage movement is basically an immediate emanation of their presence as a perfect, ideal being embodied in their features and stances. Static and exquisite, Irimescu's sculptures need not make too much fuss to captivate the viewer. They are there, in front of us, in order to show that perfection has a shape, a round, polished one.Different from both Paciurea and Irimescu, George APOSTU (1934-1986) brings in a keen, more modern sense of movement, the heavy one locked in impressive blocks of stone or wood that apparently are selfless and dull. A more subtle, perhaps essential sense of dance is linked to his works, that is the acting intensity of a relationship in space. The hidden movement weaving ceaselessly between his couples, be them male and female or father and son, is the plastic equivalent of a dancing duo. In a duo (so rare in sculpture, and so frequent in dance), the actual substance of movement is unfolding, that is the built-in consciousness of giving and taking the space, the pitch, the pace for the other.

by Erwin Kessler