1. Eurydice’s dancing body makes its presence felt from the very opening bars of Jaques-Dalcroze’s Orpheus, particularly throughout the chorus of lamenting nymphs in Act I. Stunned by the jolting omission of the overture, the audience would have immediately heard the strains of this first chorus, and then seen four groups of nymphs entering from both sides of the hall, moving in front of Appia’s broad set of nine stairs constructed of large wooden blocks.18 The swerves of their flowing Duncanesque robes gracefully reflected the phrasing of the music as they moved towards Orpheus, the famous contralto Emmi Leisner of the Berliner Staatsoper, who sat bent over in front of a singular wooden block symbolizing Eurydice’s tomb.19six lamenting nymmphs gesture to Eurydice's tomb, while Orpheus grieves in front of it
    Thenymphs were not dancing for the sake of sheer operatic spectacle; rather, they exteriorized, and thus made suitable for the theater, Orpheus’s grieving memory of Eurydice. By transforming Orpheus’s grief into recognizable visual and gestural images of Eurydice, the nymphs gave to dance the aesthetically viable dramatic function Isadora Duncan had reserved for it in her earlier choral interpretations of Gluck’s work.20 Orpheus is so absorbed in his thoughts of Eurydice, that his feelings can only embody her, and so she comes alive through the elegiac movements of the fantastically classicized nymphs who move to the rhythm of her name.

  2. The mourning nymphs express Eurydice’s noble character through their slow, simple, and gracefully classical walk. This walk was not only the fundamental activity in Jaques-Dalcroze’s method, but also, according to Maurice Emmanuel, the basis of Greek orchestique.21 In his treatise, La danse grecque antique of 1895, Emmanuel attempted to reconstruct Greek dance by piecing together the movements he found depicted on vases and reliefs. Emannuel thereby brought back into cultural consciousness classical Greek images which subsequently exerted considerable influence on the development of modern dance.
    drawing from Maurice Emmanuel's "La danse grecque antique" of drawing of the position of a woman's feet from Greek vase drawing from Maurice Emmanuel's "La danse grecque antique" showing the position of women's walking feet
    The walk seen here in video example 1 is described by Emannuel: the dancer transfers weight from the arched back ankle to the flat front foot, propelling her movement forward as characteristic of Greek dance after the sixth century B.C. (Watch Video Ex. 1) The nymphs periodically stop to form tableaux vivantes of human grief, using bodily images that Jaques-Dalcroze may well have borrowed from Emmanuel’s chapter on “funeral dances.”ancient greek vase with decoration of woman gesturing with arms in grief Emmanuel described how dancers or “pleureuses” originally sang while walking in rhythmic unison, ripping their hair, beating their chests, tearing their clothes, and scratching their faces, all while accompanied by a solo flute. With time, they replaced these violent actions with more simply figured, symbolic gestures (or what Emmanuel calls “simulacre”), such as the one used by Dalcroze’s first and third mourners (from left to right) as seen in the picture below. Dalcroze’s fourth mourner is likewise symbolically beating her chest—a second Pathosformel of human grief. "pathosformel" of six nymphs grieving with gestures similar to that of the Greek vaseThe Eurydice they portray exudes the same spirit of balance and noble simplicity that Jaques-Dalcroze associated throughout the opera with a harmonious society built on organic values and healthy cooperation. By bringing Eurydice to life through this classical Greek image of walking grace, Jaques-Dalcroze communicates in no uncertain terms that he has rooted his plastique animée not in Nietzschean pessimism, or Schopenhauer’s will, or Dionysian ecstasy, but rather in the Apollonian essence of Schiller’s classicist dictate that “music in its highest ennoblement must become form” (Appia 65).22

  3. Jaques-Dalcroze’s mourning nymphs do not walk naturally on stage to Gluck’s music; rather, they tremble with the music’s emotional essence as expressed through multiple, trained, harmonized movements executed by their entire bodies. Their actions resemble that of a conductor, whose gestural visualizations of music allow an orchestra to understand corporeally the emotional meaning of a piece of music (Jaques-Dalcroze, Le Rythme 42). Jaques-Dalcroze felt that plastique animée worked best with irregular metrical patterns, because these patterns resulted from, and thus better expressed, human emotions.23 He also encouraged his students to respond to spontaneous decisions made in performance. In Hellerau, dancers tested their skill in plastique animée by reacting in performance to the subtleties of Emmi Leisner’s (Orpheus’s) striking rubato. (Listen to Ex. 1)24 Jaques-Dalcroze did not find in Gluck’s opera the irregular meters he later so admired in Stravinsky’s music; yet he did discover a metric play interesting enough to serve as a model example of plastique animée (Le Rythme 79–80).25 He considered this first chorus to be the easiest number in the opera to translate into gestural movement. This may bave been due to the manner in which Gluck played with accents in the opening, two-bar motivic rhythm (mm. 1–2), and how this rhythmic manipulation related to Orpheus’s grief over Eurydice.26 From the beginning of the opera, the main motive’s emphasized second beat (m. 1) vies for attention with the metrical downbeat, which is itself emphasized in mm. 2 and 4 with suspensions (over VII6 and V6 chords respectively). By the time the nymphs enter (m. 15), however, they have diminished the effect of this accent by stressing the downbeat in the motive’s second bar with a longer suspension (a gesture reinforced by a sf mark in the score). In m. 17 they then omit the offbeat accent entirely. When the nymphs first utter Eurydice’s name (m. 19), they return in a striking fashion to the offbeat accent by starting the phrase on the second beat of the bar. Gluck shifts the nature of the metrical accent on the first beat of the next bar (m. 20) by allowing the VII chord to sit for two beats, rather than giving it the quarter-note length it had in the comparable spot in m. 6.

  4. Jaques-Dalcroze’s method would have taught the nymphs to react to this subtle rhythmic shift immediately, reflecting the unsettling outbreak of emotion in Gluck’s music. Orpheus’s exclamation of Eurydice’s name after the cadence on the dominant (m. 25) further derails the motive by sitting on the third beat of the bar (on “di-” of Eury-di-ce), and by shifting mode dramatically at that same moment. Accompanying Orpheus’s exclamation of grief, a choir of unison sopranos sing the original motivic rhythm. The choir begins to divide, if only briefly, as if to spell out the conflict between the first and second downbeats accentuated by Orpheus’s plea. In m. 37, Orpheus’s outburst so dramatically contrasts the cadence and regularized meter of the choir that they do indeed seem capable of waking Eurydice from the dead, as they are intended to do. With his pleas, Orpheus ultimately ultimately seems to convince the choir (or vice versa) and the two cadence together in mm. 44–48: “The Dead cannot be brought back to life, but the grieving are swept away. And so begins the enchantment of the audience” (Kaufmann 155; original). (Listen to Ex. 2; download size 2 MB)

  5. As they aid in Orpheus’s expression of grief, the languorous movements and free, unfettered flowing robes of Jaques-Dalcroze’s nymphs give their bodies the appearance of being natural, unrestrained by corsets, manners, and the technological advances of modern society. Ann Daly has shown in the case of Isadora Duncan, that this natural body, “far from being a tabula rasa, beyond the contingencies of culture and history, …was an artistic invention as well as a rhetorical strategy—a conceptual cipher for an ideal of harmony that embraced the Greeks and rejected ‘African savages’” (89). Jaques-Dalcroze’s nymphs did not express their “natural” inner feelings through personal gestures or revive the “natural” Greek subject; instead, they constructed an image of stylized naturalness on the basis of rigorous, relentless training that taught them to tame and control the deviant and unruly energies of their young bodies. Their muscles had been disciplined individually and in combination in “all the nuances of energy and flexibility, in speed and slowness, in order to assure integral functioning and perfect health to each part of the muscular system” (Appia 8, 10; original). They practiced long and hard in order to become “musical resonators that were so vibrant and faithful that they could transpose into attitudes and spontaneous gestures all the aesthetic emotions provoked by the musical rhythms”—all the while achieving an impression “of naturalness and ease” (Appia 10–12; original).

  6. At first glance, the nymphs’ practiced gestures appear to be symbolic—an impression encouraged by the deceiving photographs of the Hellerau Orpheus, which fix the nymphs in posed, postcard-like, statuesque formations. Indeed, such “statue posing” enjoyed great interest in the early twentieth century, especially as a popularized and “falsified” version of François Del Sarte’s American teachings. The French teacher of acting, singing, and aesthetics, Del Sarte developed a system of expression in the mid 1800s that continued to influence French artists and musicians throughout the late nineteenth century, and even became a broad-based social phenomenon when transplanted to the United States at that time (see Ruyter). As Ted Shawn remembered, these teachings consisted of “amateur entertainers, costumed in bulky, graceless ‘Greek’ robes, whitened skin, and white wigs, [taking] ‘poses’ supposedly expressive of grief, joy, shyness, anger, defiance, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseam” (11).27 In contrast, Jaques-Dalcroze’s nymphs visualized the dynamic flow of the music by remaining in constant movement. Their gestures were not symbolic, but expressive, derived not from watered down Delsartian traditions, but rather from the original writings of Del Sarte himself, copies of which Jaques-Dalcroze possessed in his library.28 From Del Sarte and others, Jaques-Dalcroze developed the idea that bodily gesture functioned expressively and not symbolically, communicating emotions or spiritual ideals much more powerfully than words, sounds, or vocal tone. In the words of an American Delsartian Edward B. Warman:

    Gesture has been given to man to reveal what speech is powerless to express. The gesture, then, like a ray of light, can reflect all that passes in the soul. Hence if we desire that a thing shall be always remembered we must not say it in words; we must let it be divined by gesture … Gestures are [sic] the sense of the heart … Tone [the sounds or tone of voice] expresses bodily conditions and sensations, physical pleasures and pains. Words are arbitrary mental symbols and interpret thoughts and ideas—they describe, label and limit. But gestures relate us to other beings, expressing our emotions, from the highest to the lowest, from spiritual joy to hate, lust and greed. (Shawn 58)

    Jaques-Dalcroze’s understanding of bodily gesture rested firmly on Del Sarte’s much quoted “law of correspondence,” which stated that “to each spiritual function responds a function of the body; to each grand function of the body corresponds a spiritual act” (qtd. in Jaques-Dalcroze, Méthode 1).

  7. Defining transcendental ideas or spirituality as the source of gestural expression distinguished modern dance from ballet, and characterized the work of Isadora Duncan in particular. Like Duncan, Jaques-Dalcroze located the “spirit” in the emotional content of music, or in something equivalent to a musical or poetic idea. Duncan believed in the existence of an actual physical, originating point of spirituality in the body—namely the solar plexus; this “temporal home of the soul” could understand and realize movement corresponding to musical ideas (Daly 137–38). Jaques-Dalcroze, however, thought this spirituality resided in the music, and could only be perceived and realized by human beings who had perfected their aural and gestural abilities. By refining the ability of their entire organism (l’organisme tout entier) to respond to music through movement, Jaques-Dalcroze’s students developed a sensibility that allowed them to establish “an interior state of consciousness and emotiveness” (“un état intérieur de conscience et d’émotivité”) that perfectly coincided with the musical idea (Jaques-Dalcroze, Le Rythme 6, 46–7). As soon as their bodies could respond intuitively to the music, they would feel inside of themselves “a mysterious music that was the direct product of their feelings and sensations” and which Jaques-Dalcroze called “a music of personality,” or later, “an interior attitude” (Dutoit-Carlier 317; original). Jaques-Dalcroze defined the role of the attitude interior in terms of classical expression theory: a feeling inspired by a musical idea and expressible through dance (Franko 75–7). In Nietzsche’s sense, Jaques-Dalcroze would have defined himself as a lyricist, one who understood in music the appearance of the will, and expressed its unspeakable utterings in the Apollonian visual language of plastique animée.

  8. Jaques-Dalcroze’s theory of expression not only countered and redefined common sense notions of human subjectivity, but also ushered in an easily misread modernist notion of impersonality. By situating emotion in the body and defining its relationship to music as unmediated, he seemed to minimize the role of personal reflection in human expression, thereby rejecting the central means by which human beings constitute themselves as subjects. He limited his students’ personal agency by demanding from them “a corporeal state of absolute submission to the rhythm being realized;” this created an atmosphere in which many of his audience members felt subjugated as well (Appia 7; original). Without individually reflected emotional reactions, his students risked becoming impersonal, objectified vehicles for musical ideas requiring stylized bodily representations. Jaques-Dalcroze accentuated his students’ loss of personal agency by training them to understand space through the use of stairs designed by Appia, thus instilling in them the sense that their movement did not originate in their own bodies, but rather plastically related to an objectified space around them.29 Appia further aided Jaques-Dalcroze in transforming individual subjects into objects by designing a system to light dancers only in contrast to their stage surroundings, not on their own terms (Appia 101). The final step in Jaques-Dalcroze’s depersonalization of his subjects occurred when he grouped them in choral formations. Jaques-Dalcroze felt that these formations provided the key to expressing communal sentiment necessary for the new society he envisioned (Le Rythme 8). In such groups, it was necessary that individual gestures “became stylized, and that the movements of chorists renounce their personality in order to subordinate themselves to the ensemble” (Jaques-Dalcroze, Le Rythme 116; original). Stylized movements of the choir become the focal point of Orpheus, to the almost complete neglect of individual gesture.

  9. If plastique animée had merely replaced subjective expression with depersonalized, objective responses to music, it would hardly have touched its contemporaries and motivated modern dancers in the manner in which it did. Its effect was so powerful precisely because it created an unsettling ambiguity about the nature of automization and its consequences for human spiritual development. On the one hand, Jaques-Dalcroze’s method seemed to issue directly from late nineteenth–century studies of human and animal mechanisms and psychological automization initiated by Etienne-Jules Marey, Edward Muybridge, and (in Geneva) Pierre Janet. These studies suggested the possibility of scientifically dissecting and defining every aspect of human gesture with the aim of creating a grammar of human movement with the depth and aesthetic potential of human speech or music. The physician at Hellerau, Dr. Weber-Bauler, thought that Jaques-Dalcroze’s method directly related to the psychological automatisms of Pierre Janet. In 1924, Weber-Bauler suggested that the automisation of human movement best be understood in terms of a “law of economic movement” (“loi d’économie”) that gives the least in order to obtain the greatest result.30 Jaques-Dalcroze himself never allowed this automization to take the upper hand, always insisting that its ultimate purpose was the release of joy, a feeling of spiritual fulfillment, or the development of personality (Le Rythme 97). His method remained unclear about how mechanization related to the attainment of transcendental truth—an uncertainty reflected in Jaques-Dalcroze’s vague, shifting notion of what constituted musical rhythm. Whereas he frequently defined rhythm as meter, thus emphasizing its measurability and easy translation into mechanized human movement, Jaques-Dalcroze at other times equated rhythm more with an inner pulse or free rhythmic flow, something which could not be measured or translated scientifically. This inherent contradiction in his method between mechanized movement and metric rhythm, as opposed to free psychological time and spiritual essence, was not lost on his audiences. Their conflicting reactions to his work reflected their own uncertainty about how to appreciate aesthetically human movement in time.

  10. By sculpting their movements in order to express a transcendental musical idea, Jaques-Dalcroze’s choir of nymphs gave their performance a spiritual dimension that distinguished them from what many people in 1913 understood to be the dry, mechanical exercises of traditional gymnastics or Turnen (Marsop 364). Their state of half relaxation, or what Jaques-Dalcroze called “detente,” realized itself in luxuriously slow movements that allowed the dancers to gather their creative energies.31 Jaques-Dalcroze believed the spirituality they exuded resulted from the improved communication between the brain and body, brought on by the physical training of rhythmic gymnastics and the resulting perfected sensibility. As the muscles learned to resonate more perfectly with the music, dancers physically realized rhythms analyzed by the brain more rapidly, thereby increasing the functional capacity of the brain. In this manner, the body learned to communicate with the brain, thereby ceasing to obstruct its thoughts and allowing for a full flowering of the soul, the “necessary” spiritualization of the human body and music.

1    2   3   Works Cited    Endnotes



In the Footsteps of Eurydice

Ubiquitous Listening

Draughon and Knapp:
Mahler and the Crisis of Jewish Identity

Photo Essay

Review Essay

Allen Forte