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Articles / Gedeon P. Dienes
Gedeon P. Dienes
"Isadora and modern dance in Hungary" 
5th Dance Research Congress 1, 41-50
Athens, IOFA, 1991
     It is by now common knowledge that in the eastern part of Europe, in what used to be called the socialist countries, the art of dance was restricted to ballet and folk dance for some forty to forty-five years in post-war times. As far as Hungary is concerned, by the late forties every kind of theatre dance - except the genres entioned above - had to be discontinued. The collective term used to denote these styles was “art of movement” after the German Bewegungskunst which came to be officially banned, prohibited, consequently neglected and despised in most of these countries. Thus the representatives of the art of movement had to change their course of life and thinking, if they wanted to survive. Some went into ballet, others started to study folk dance, again others switched over to sports /“Rhythmical sports gymnastics/ and some withdrew and settled for dance theory and/or history.
     Now in the late eighties, after the crumbling down of various physical and theoretical, political and cultural walls something new was born or perhaps something old was reborn which came to be called modern dance in this part of the world adopting a term used in the West. “Modern” or “contemporary” is used now to denote almost everything non-balletic and on-folkloristic in dance, a plethora of movement manifestations of human culture encompassing highly different ways of dancing, ways of social and artistic expression, like the many facets of American contemporary dance, the European contemporary dance, expressionistic, Central-European, gymnastico-acrobatic trends, break, eastern forms/buto/ dance theatre, the neo-styles of the pre-war reformers or revolutionaries/the neo-Wigmanites,
the neo-Duncanites/and many others. Now, when in our country the non-balletic and non-folkloristic trends start reviving, a serious confusion emerges in artistic and educational values, in assessments, in terminology, to distinguish what is what and who is who, to realise the differences between jazz dance and free dance, between break and dance theatre, between the Laban style of “movement choruses” /“Bewegungschöre”/ and Isadora’s individualitic, educational dancing. This colourful scenery raises problems of terminology - and not only in the East - and we feel that international co-operation would be needed to “come to terms” in
terminology. In the seventies we made a start in the ITI Dance section and I suggest to carry on this work which has since become an imperative necessity if we want to understand one another when speaking about dance.
     This is the general historical background against which I want to tell you about Isadora and Raymond Duncan, about Valéria Dienes, my mother, and her theory and school of orchestics in Hungary.
     Valéria Dienes, who had Ph.D. in Philosophy, M.A. in Aesthetics and Mathematics - went to study philosophy to Paris when she became Henri Bergson’s pupil between 1908 and 1912 and during the last year of her studies she saw Isadora dance on several occasions and went to practice “Greek gymnastics” to Raymond Duncan’s classes. Back in Budapest in 1912 she maintained contacts with Aia, the hub of the Dunan Colony in Paris, meeting several times before Valéria Dienes again joined the Duncan Colony in the early twenties. These two occasions - Bergson and Duncan - philosophy and dance - prompted her to start thinking and
inquiring into the scope, the rules, the possibilities, in fact, the laws that necessarily underlie the movements of the human body and to establish a scientific background of the dancing / or - more generally - moving / body. She chose the word “orchestics” for this discipline / from the Greek oι ορχησις or oι ορχημα “dance” / which was born in Paris and came to be developed in Budapest.
     The enthralling beauty of Isadora’s dance gave her inspiration and Raymond’s “Greek gym” gave her food for thought and provided her with the rudiments of a would-be system. Valéria Dienes’s mathematically, aesthetically and philosophically trained mind set to analize the rudimentary movements first into relative and absolute kinetics / as she was to call these parts later /: the displacement of any part / limb/ of the body in relation to the body itself yielded “relative kinetics”, while the displacement of the entire body in relation to the environment yielded “absolute kinetics”. In relative kinetics Raymond taught two arm scales, the rectangular one and the straight scale. / Let me show these poses if the cassette is not available. / - In absolute kinetics - when the body travels through space - he used three basic elements of displacement: the step, the leap and the skip. / Let me show them /. We used also combinations therof, namely two secondary formations: the skipping spring and the leaping spring / let me show them /, and two tertiary formations: the skipping swing and the leaping swing/ let me show them /. I remember these were called “les élans” in French.
     These movements were governed by the overall principle of what Raymond called the Law of the profile, a law underlying any human movement or displacement of the body, provided equilibrium is to be maintained. To put it in plain terms, one of the upper limbs - arms - on one side should always be in opposition to the lower limb - leg - on the other side. This law is derived from the observation of the simplest movement / the travelling / of the body in space
- walking - or its dynamized form - running - during which the right leg and the left arm, then the left leg and the right arm are put forward alternately. This is the natural condition of balance which seems to have been known to the Greeks, as is testified by the relics of fine arts representing moving human bodies and was “rediscovered” in what we refer to as the “contraposto” in the iconography of the Renaissance.
     Let me cite a few passages Raymond has said and written to pinpoint the inception of the attitude to life which has engendered the science of movement / orchestics or perhaps today we would say choreology /. “...j’ai commensé mes études de gymnastique naturelle, non pas seulement en faisant des mouvements, mais en faisant des recherches pour comprendre ce que peut être la gymnastique. Ces recherches m’ont dirigé vers la Grèce, dans les musées. Là, j’ai trouvé sur les vases peints des séries et des séries de mouvements dont certains m’ont paru ressembler à mes propres mouvements, lorsque je monte ou je déscends une monatagne”. This is an obvious allusion to the law of the profile governing the body in motion. And on the next page: “Ce qu’il y a de particulièrement intéressant dans ses procédés de décoration sur céramique c’est la notion exacte qu’ils nous offrent des grandes lois naturelles.” / La danse et la gymnastique pas R. Duncan, conférence faite le 4 mai 1914 à l’Université hellénique. Paris. Another source for observing movement was labour, daily work, down-to earth activities. In
a later conference Raymond said : “...l’inspiration, c’est l’esprit humain en pleine vitalité, en pleine activité, en pleine concentration sur la vie réelle.” Speaking about the Muses, in Les Muses, he says : Je crois qu’elles donnent l’inspiration mélodique au peuple pour que le peuple, en chantant, puissse bien apprendre les mouvements rythmés du travail, je crois qu’elles donnent la danse aux hommes pour que les hommes puissent apprendre en dansant les mouvements qui sont aussi la danse, mais la danse encore plus belle, plus digne et plus noble que la danse pure: le travail.” / Conférence à l’Université philosophique, Paris, le
30 mars 1919. / Raymond, as you may have noticed from these few quotations, was a shrewd observer of movement, whether pained on vases or performed by people at work / which was something Rudolf Laban was to do some decades later /. Raymond was heavily intuitive, deeply committed to the truth and beauty of the Greek way of life going far beyond dancing, deep into handicrafts like weaving on loom for our khitons, designing characters for printing
his thoughts, painting huge canvases with either geometrical or representational figures of humans, of animals, of plants, of mountains, of the sea and of man-built cities / see the wall curtains of the hall of 34 rue du Colisée, Paris /. But let us come back to dancing.
     Relying on the elements of human movements taught by Raymond, Valéria Dienes started to establish her science of movements which led her to distinguish four main criteria that are both indispensable and sufficient for defining any kind of human movement / whether ballet, or Greek gymnastic, or sports or everyday movements etc. / These are plastics, the study of movement in space, rhythmics, the study of movement in time, dynamics, the study of movement governed by force - the three “physical” criteria, and symbolics, the study of the meaning of movement, which is the psychological criterion. These are the four chapters of
orchestics, which - obviously - did not evolve overnight. The theory of orchestics evolved parallel to practical work, namely to both educational and artistic. In the school of orchestics hundreds of pupils learned the Isadora Duncan style, or free style of dancing - or more generally of moving the body - which was always coupled with freedom of the spirit and the peace of the soul. The school existed until 18 March 1944, the eve of the occupation of Hungary by the nazis on 19 March. - Parallel to educational work Valéria Dienes staged historical and biblical mystery plays and choreographed self-written fairy-tales for children
between 1925 and 1944. The first of these dance plays was called “Waiting for the Dawn” composed to the Greek melodies learned in the Duncan colony in Paris, with texts in then modern poetic style. The biblical plays included The Eight Beatitudes, /1926/, The Ten Virgins /1934/, the major historical plays were St. Emeric or Hungarian Fate /1930/, The Children’s Read /1935/ with some thousand participants on an open-air stage. All these were produced in co-operation with the Hungarian composer Lajos Bárdos.
     When “modern” was banned, Valéria Dienes settled to develop and write up her theory of movement where there was nothing against ballet or folk dance and could thus be published in several instalments, though the entire theory has never obtained a regular and final form which - Valéria Dienes said - was no problem because what she had done - a systematic analysis of the moving human body - deserves a study going far beyond the life span of one single person. “My theory - orchestics - is a scientific analysis of what the human body can do in space, in time, in dynamics and in conveying meaning, i.e. in communication, and is left open to those who wish to carry on” but she did not say “who wish to finish it” because - in the last analysis - movement or in a wider sense - motion - underlies the very existence of both the micro- and the macrocosmos and there is no existence without movement, no communication without movement, - and who can finish such a tremendous analysis. Dienes developed her communication theory at a semiotic conference at Tihany /1974/, a study of what she called “evologic”, explaining the laws underlying the interaction between humans, along a two-way mind-to-mind trajectory conditioned by movement. And this exactly tellies with what Raymond Duncan and Henri Bergson said about existence and movement.
     Valéria did not live to see the rebirth of orchestics for she died in 1978. Some little trickling of orchetics was miraculously maintained by Mária Mirhovszky / who also died in 1989 / but her pupils have now started to practice and teach, though it is not that simple to start something, an articulate form, a way of life, after forty-five years of death. The pupils of the pupils are few, (Mária Tatai, Ágnes Osztrogonácz, Ildikó Kerestes) and the interest is great yet no art can survive or even just live without either some outside support or some self-sacrifice. Now the political conditions are favourable but the economic conditions are definitely unfavourable. Art and culture have aways depended on subsidies. And what is happening now is that the freer we are, the poorer we become.
     The actual situation is that we have set up a Society of Orchestics and also a Foundation of Orchestics. We also wish to establish courses for training teachers in this form of dance and to maintain courses for educational purposes and try to introduce orchestics into schools. To conclude let me remind you that Isadora’s very first public appearance of her own is bound to Budapest: On 19 April 1902 she started a tour at the Urania Theatre which ran into some thirty performances with untold success. And next year is the 90th “début”. We feel indebted to her and wish to commemorate this event in one way or another.
     Don’t you think that this is a good idea?
Budapest, May 25, 1991.
Dr. Mr. Gedeon P. Dienes
Levendula u. 12, HU-1124 Budapest
Tel. (361) 156-4209
Paper presented at the conference “Dance and Ancient Greece”.
I.O.F.A., Dora Stratou Theatre, Athens, 4-8 September 1991.


Monday the 24th. . Isadora Duncan Pundect
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