Educational Concepts: Eurythmy – Part 1?

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Eurythmy was started at the turn of this century by the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. He was asked by one of his pupils about a new form of dance movement just about the same time that many new things in the dance world began to happen. Isadora Duncan had shocked the theater world by her free form of movement based on Greek styles. Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham, Mary Wilgman were all breaking new ground. People were looking for new kinds of expression beyond classical ballet. Rudolf Steiner suggested movements that follow the patterns of spoken speech sounds and musical tones. For example, the eurythmy gesture for “B” follows the movement made by “B” in the breath stream. The discovery that sounds produced patterns had already been made by the scientist Chladni with his famous Chladni plates.

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What does eurythmy look like?
The eurythmist, a man or woman, wears silk veils that enhance the gestures of the flowing arms. “B”, for example, becomes a much larger gesture when the veils move with it. One is struck by the use of vivid colors. The silk gowns or loose pants are carefully coordinated with the large silk veils. The choice of colors is based on the mood of the piece to be performed. In the Overture to the Herbrides by Mendlesohn, the stage is filled with 12 to 20 dancers in beautifully modulated shades of blue and green. Sometimes, for instance in the performance of a fairy tale, the silk veils are shortened and draped, head pieces are added, tights are used to give a more costumed effect. The movements can be very quick and dynamic, but the general impression is of flowing movement.

Modern dance is anything but flowing. Where does this flowing come from?
The flowing quality appears for several reasons. One: For most dancers the center from which they move is the center of the physical body, the naval. This center is important because it controls the balance of the body as it moves through space. The eurythmist, however, takes the center in the larynx and uses the space over the head to great advantage. This center assumes the use of sheathes around the body. The Kathakali Dancers of India still indicate this region over the head by wearing their elaborate, tiered headdresses. The colorful feather headdresses worn by tribal people are an indication of the aura of the human being that was once a common perception. The second reason for the flowing quality is that everything which is alive is permeated by water. Life requires a fluid condition. The eurythmist is trying to move with this fluid, life-giving substance as opposed to movements which arise solely from the nervous system and look jerky.

Is this fluid-life element something new?

No, one notices it in some oriental dances and also in Hawaiian dances. Steiner called it the etheric element.

Are the eurythmists inventing as they go along or has the dance been worked out before?
Traditionally, each piece is choreographed and the gestures have been decided by the group or the artistic director. For a piece that might last three minutes on the stage, hours have gone into the rehearsal. Each piece is rehearsed weeks ahead of time. There is just beginning now in the eurythmy world experiments with improvised eurythmy. Just as actors have to be very skilled for good improvised work, so it is for eurythmists. After all, this is a new art form. We have a lot ahead of us to discover.

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