We tend to think of ballet as a field of design effort—not unlike original vintage posters—as a bastion of antiquated ways. We know how inaccurate that supposition is, when it comes to vintage graphic art as whipping up a tornado seriously (along with the rest of the avant-garde) displacing stodgy priorities. Can we, however, bring ourselves to seeing devotees of ballet as a major exponent of kicking ass?
The National Ballet of Canada’s Spring Season includes a bombshell of innovation calling itself, “Physical Thinking,” a term that goes straight to the heart of an avant-garde galvanized by(in complete subversion of the endeavors of the past two thousand years) having the physical pegged as a hideous impediment to thinking, in the form of rational, intellectual discovery.
The priority upon being physical, sensually kinetic to the point of wildly clashing with that sedate sensibility prescribed by rational calculation is graphically enacted by “Spectre de la Rose” (2009), by Marco Goecke. There the lush, overweight sentiment of the nineteenth century musical score by Berlioz with respect to von Weber, in the service of a tidy little melodrama and its “noble” protagonist—an idealistic young girl who dreams about dancing with the spirit of a rose—squats upon players who go through paroxysms of hip-hop and martial arts moves, on behalf of very different dreams.
The dances of today aspire to heights of plenitude; but not rational, personal plenitude. Another power is in the air. And therewith Physical Thinking—the physical driven by consciousness—creates a cause celebre.
The second ballet of the night is called, “Opus 19. The Dreamer,” sounding (as the first one did) as if we were being served some dreamy and rather creaky Romanticism. But it’s a Jerome Robbins ballet (from 1979) stemming from the New York City Ballet, the driver of which, choreographer George Balanchine, wielded ballet as if it were a cyclotron, a very suave and subtle cyclotron. Here the dreaming in marked contrast to the straight-up 1910 version of “Spectre de la Rose,” is a place of uncanniness, a rippling, composed revelation whereby the “dream” eclipses the (rational) reality.
Robbins’ invention here clearly demonstrates that quiet processes involving slight developments, inventive, subtle positioning of limbs and torsos, can send of fireworks as memorable as those emanating from Marco Goecke’s action heroes. The ballet’s concern with the difficulty of meaningful interplay transcends conventional cliché to convey a field of presences that can amount to rich cogency.
Last, and you wouldn’t dare call it least, there was William Forsythe’s classic avant-garde work (originally designed for The National, in 1991), “the second detail.” Here the steam-piston of a material world (an inspired sound design by Thom Willems) induces feats of resilience and composure within a pressure to fall to pieces.
“the second detail”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSXHNPpzdGc
This is ballet withholding hyper-design “excitement” for the sake of a far larger and far more elusive attainment.
How convincingly could graphic design, or any other art form than dance, run convincingly with such matters as these great ballets tackle? For starter there are remarkable, twenty-first century films that address, with astonishing incisiveness and subtlety, the prospect of Physical Thinking. The physicality of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin(2014) represents an extreme close-up of the difficult heart of sensuous consciousness.
Cool Shuffle; Anonymous; 2007; 72” x 48 ½”
From out of hard-science-based fabrication, Steve Jobs, an amazing piece of work himself, saw fit to have surging in our face the readily regarded to be obsolete (as in ballet) graphic fabrications for an iPod campaign between 2005-2009. Bodies so rendered that we can be carried under their skin (the metaphorical and carnal becoming one), to the brave, joyous and large figures we can be.
Struttin’ Her Soul; Anonymous; 2007; 72” x 48 ½”
We call this original vintage poster, “Struttin’ Her Soul.” As such she is a close kin to Glazer’s hapless (but especially lucid) physical thinker torched by resentments but also having imparted a flare-up of finite love, as it has become an obsession to so many artists today.