Monday, June 22, 2009

Style and the Stylized

I’m late to the parade on Edwin Denby, but glad I finally got there. Almost everything he says about dancing translates to writing, or any of the arts involving humans, because he’s really less interested in this or that piece than in art as a kind of teaching of living. The Denby ethos includes clarity, sincerity, unpretentiousness, enjoyment, youth, unselfconsciousness, expression over perfection, and individuality within a collective of others allowed to develop as individuals. Part of the fun of reading his reviews of performances over half a century gone is the way he connects dancing to other registers of life—movies, lindy-hopping at the Savoy, basketball games, musicals, that new billboard in Times Square—so that everything seems part of one thing: “Civilization is really a great pleasure.” More O’Hara than Ashbery, but you can see how Denby set the stage for both.

Here’s Denby on the “stylized”—the artifice that paradoxically makes everyday life more visible (and makes individual “style” accountable to collective social life.) He’s talking about motion, but it’s not much of a jump to move from there to poems.
“What is a ‘stylized movement’? It is a movement that looks a little like dancing but more like nondancing. It is a movement derived from what people do when they are not dancing. It is a gesture from life deformed to suit music (music heard or imagined). The pleasure of watching it lies in guessing the action it was derived from, in guessing what it originally looked like, and then in savoring the good taste of the deformation.”

—Edwin Denby, “On Meaning in Dance,” July 18, 1943 in Dance Writings


Kasey Mohammad said...

I picked up a copy of Denby's Collected Poems recently--that deliberately a-metrical rhyme thing is so weird! It's almost like Ogden Nash at times, without the breathless rollicking effect.

It makes me think as well of what Eugene Ostashevsky has been doing with rhyme for the past decade or so.

rodney k said...

Hi Kasey,

I've got a hold on the poems from the library. From what I've listened to on PennSound, and read online, he seems a little stronger on instruction than execution. But I'm rusty on Ogden Nash, and kind of lame with rhyme. I appreciate it more in Ostashevsky, because I tend to kind of assume he's doing "rhyme." Anyway, I'm anxious to read Denby's poems.

Mac McGinnes said...

Glad you are on the Denby bandwagon, Rodney. He is a total favorite of mine -- especially the dance writing. As you know, Edwin was a remarkable presence in the New York art/poetry world, and influenced most everybody. You can't read Schuyler's art criticism without feeling Denby's presence in the background.

He was a terrific performer, as well. If possible see if you can locate Rudy Burckhardt's "Money." It has a scenario by Joe Brainard and Edwin plays a John D. Rockefeller type with mean-spirited glee.


Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

Ostashevsky rocks.

You have got to get Ogden Nash for Auden, I'm telling you, because maybe then he will stop hating poetry. Get "From the Sublime to the Ridiculous."

I love Denby's dance writings.

Some of the best writing on dance, though, is Paul Valery's. Maybe later I quote for you.

Hey I have a belly dance recital this Friday. Wanna come? I will be dancing with a gaggle of other women for roughly one minute.

Nada Gordon: 2 ludic 4 U said...

OK, yes, here it is, Valery's great essay:

rodney k said...

Hi Mac,

Glad for your comment! I often think about your description of choosing between ballet or a movie after work in the New York of another era. Hope we can talk Denby next time we meet. Will look for "Money"--appreciate the rec.

rodney k said...

Hi Nada,

Thanks for the link--will follow it soon.

Of COURSE I'd like to come to your belly dance recital. They just have to squish the coasts together.