You will recall that Partisan Review’s chief art-critic since its rebirth in 1937 was George L.K. Morris (you might have a look at an earlier blog post from January 7, 2017, “The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy….”that is mostly about Arp, but in which I also try to give a flavour of Morris’s place in the geography of PR.) In ISSUE 3,1938, Morris writes about the Hindu “founder of India’s modern dance”, Uday Shankar (1900-1977).
Shankar was born in a distinguished Bengali family: his father was a sanskrit scholar and a barrister who came often to England for his work,and his son Uday, older brother of Ravi Shankar, had studied art in Mumbai, but when his father moved to London and began to introduce Indian dance troupes to the UK, Uday moved as well, studying first at the Royal College of Art, and then dancing. Shankar met Anna Pavlova, and she encouraged his dancing and worked with him on a number of pieces; her approval was very important to his commitment to dance.
Shankar’s achievement, exciting to Morris and to the developing aesthetics of Partisan Review, was that he was able to integrate aspects of European and Modernist dance technique into traditional Hindu dancing. So Modernism shows its respect for the past and the past benefits from the inventions of Modernism.
Shankar’s troupe was in England in 1937, and Morris, snob that we have seen him to be (see earlier blog entry, cited above), names him as “one of the great aristocratic personalities of our time.” So Morris manages to soften the dancer’s actual class position while alluding to the Noble Savage, Natural Aristocrat theme of much Western Orientalism.Morris also says how “sophisticated” Shankar’s “intelligence,” ignoring both how the term sophistication might be understood here, as ‘corrupted from simplicity. But the evidence for this intelligence is that he studied painting in Paris (bien sur) .. I know that last sentence sounded sort schoolmarmish…..So, it must also be said that Morris’s careful delineation of Shankar’s choreography: “The mere turn of a finger, the bending of a wrist, will lead the line back from infinity to the centre of the radiating masses. The conscious harmonizing of every anatomical segment right out to the tips of the fingers, the facial expression, the glances, the weird neck motion that apes the striking cobra, combine with a controlled coordination that is tellingly abstract.” Its an important point. What the ancient and the modernist dances teach is not so much narrative as it the geometry of abstraction. It makes me think of the ways in which Balanchine did something similar with his post-human abstractions in the ballet.
Morris concludes: “And finally, in the Shiva-Parvati NrittyaDwandva, we are confronted with the awful illusion of six-armed Shiva dancing:
NEXT: MIRO…. THIS POST is PUBLISHED THURSDAY,FEB 23,2017, BECAUSE I AM GOING AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND. NEXT WEEK WILL BE BACK ON SATURDAY SCHEDULE.