Rainer Maria Rilke:
The Dance Gesture in Essence
Among the drawings I was familiar with (or thought I was familiar with, for how new they appear each time; or rather, how new they make oneself feel from case to case), I discovered a scattering of about fifteen sheets from a later period. They were made about a year ago, when Rodin travelled in pursuit of the King of Cambodia's dance troupe, and they contain, captured in the most remarkable way, that most uncapturable thing: dance. The dance gesture of ancient rhythmic cultures in essence, to delineate which with his means keyed to nuance, to that all-important nothingness that links two momentary poses, Rodin had already so longed when the Javanese girls appeared in Paris . Too preoccupied with his troublesome exhibition on Place de l'Alma, he had to forgo those models; but now one senses an outbreak of all of his long-restrained readiness in the rapid grasp and regrasp with which he mastered this astonishing subject six years later.
With an assurance that only apparently casually throws everything into confusion to get a hold on that one key thing, he extracts from the tangle of movements the end of the thread that explains them all. Undistracted by the emergence of ever-new aspects, he has time to recognize how the long, slender arms, formed seemingly in a single piece, extend through the rotund Buddha torso, and, by tracing their motions, he comes quite naively upon the hands, and sees that they, standing up at the wrists like actors just come on stage, are the real dancers for the sake of whose balance and freedom every movement of hips and feet takes place. And in them he now locates, with passionate precision, the dance itself, distilled and contained. Here as always everything succumbs to the impetuosity of his attack, down (or up) to the accident of his selecting a mummy-brown paper to draw on, which when mounted casts itself into countless tiny folds whose corruscations distantly recall the ornamental look of Oriental calligraphy. Onto this or a somewhat lighter ground the central gesture has then been brushed, in opaque, enamellike rose-white, as solemn as an illuminated initial and accompanied by that soft landscape blue or that almost odorous heliotrope familiar from Persian miniatures. Their incredibly frank reds also appear, torn past by the whirl of a pirouette, since they have been inherited and passed on, and also because the dancers wore them; and that transparent, immature tree-green— sensed in a moment of impassioned vision and brushed in blindly with the most primitive rightness.
Pages of an herbarium, one is tempted to say, as one passes from one to the next. Flowers have been collected here and, gently dried, their unconscious gestures have drawn into themselves to assume a final intensity which contains, as though in a symbol, their former existence entire.
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