The beginning of the 20th century brought significant changes in the way and organization of life. Contemporary civilization, which was urged forward by technological progress, demanded appropriate forms of art. Traditional art forms were no longer able to express new feelings and experiences. The search for new art forms and for new ways of expression led to the destruction of existing systems of art and to the creation of new ones. The arts (painting, theater arts and literature) abandoned the mimetic character which had been canonized through tradition in western European art practice. Within the foundation of western European art tradition there was a concept of mimesis, imitating life through canonized art mediums. A work of art has its own meaning if it conveys some content, if it tells us a story (narration is the center of all art). In literature, narration (a story) is achieved through words, literary genres and styles; in ballet and theater it is achieved through stage effects, music, words and movements which express the flow of the plot and the emotions of the actor.
The determined forms of presentation coded by tradition in the art of ballet led to the culmination of a formal aspect of dance in which, in addition to narrative aspects, the highest value was placed on the performing skill of the ballet dancer. The reformist stream of modern dance sharply opposed the classicist-formalist virtuosity of the dancer. The reformist spirit in art from the beginning of the century resisted the narrative nature of art as being essentially utilitarian (from the time of Horatio it was believed that the basic role of art was to entertain and educate). Reformers wanted to change the role of art in society, the role of the artist, as well as the illusionist or realistic (mimetic) nature of western European art. The emancipation of art demanded "pure" art, art which relies on its own means and explores them, expressing nothing but itself. The discovery of new foundations of dance was linked to the realization that the art of dance is self-sufficient, that it is not necessary for dance to have music and scenography conjuring up an environment in which the plot takes place, nor is it necessary to tell a story of any kind. The reformers of new dance also abandoned the virtuous movements of ballet dancers and the entire system of training by which classical virtuosity was achieved. They believed that formalism should be rejected in favor of more natural movements which originate from the body itself, restricted by its natural abilities and limitations. The most important reformers at the beginning of the century, in addition to the Americans Lois Fuller, Isidora Duncan and Ruth Saint Denis, were Emile Jacques Dalcrose, Rudolf Laban and Laban's student Mary Wigman.
The liberation of art from western European ballet tradition was part of the effort to free life itself from society's norms. The aim was unrestricted development of the individual and the establishment of new relationships between society and the individual.
Susan Au writes that Isidora Duncan was more than a dancer, she was a symbol of women's desires, hidden or sometimes subconscious, for emancipation from the traditional roles of wife and mother, for sexual liberation and personal emotional and professional achievement.
Rudolf Laban variedly explored dance and movement, which led to the development of expressionistic dance. His innovations were the result of an interest in physical culture which was then popular in Germany. Laban broadened the field of dance and increased its importance in recreation, education and therapy. In 1910 he founded a dance school in Ascona, Switzerland where he developed the prototype of the moving corps, a form of recreational dance which allows trained and untrained dancers to move together harmoniously. At that time in Ascona, on Truth Mountain (Monte Verita), there was a community of people who tried to reform life and art and thereby achieve utopia. In Zurich during World War I, Laban created dances for a dadaist production. He developed a form of dance which incorporated a wide range of human movements; he believed that dance grows out of the time in which it appears and that it reflects everyday actions. The most important component of his dance form was movement which flows, this being a result of his belief that this is essential for the understanding of movement in daily life.
Laban founded numerous schools in European cities. His most important students were Mary Wigman and Kurt Jos. Wigman came to Laban via Dalcrose's school in Dresden and Helerau where she studied eurythmics, a system which combines the study of music and movement. Her "Witch dance" of 1914, where she dances the largest part in a sitting position, is well-known. She wore a mask which displayed the demonic features of her face. A feeling for evil and animalism are emanated from gestures; the sluggishness of the dancer's body connected to the earth was, as Susan Au says, far from the superficial grace of contemporary ballet, from the emphasis of the harmony of Isidora Duncan or the glamour of Ruth Saint Denis. In later dances, Wigman dealt with the dark side of human nature, the devastation of war, aging, death. Wigman is linked to German expressionist painters who used actions of emphasizing and deforming in order to convey strong emotions.
Dalcrose and Laban's techniques are bases of performances which unfold without words, based on archetypal concepts or mythological stories. Eurythmics is Dalcrose's system of exercise of movement, concentrated on emotions which arise under the influence of musical rhythms which he translates into a position and gesture. Laban's theory of eukinetics reduces all movements to opposing pairs of stylized "shapes" - for example, centripetal as opposed to centrifugal. After they are stripped to the basic elements, such movements bear strong psychological associations. Laban's dance-drama group demonstrated and established his ideas, repeating variations of "pure shapes" in order to clearly express defined emotions such as anger, joy, love or fear, until all the dancers reached a "universally celebrational state".
The ideas and work of Maga Magazinović have belonged to this international culture since the beginning of the 20th century, whose roots embrace a weave of ideas, of behavior and art ideologies close to the utopian idea of an entire art work (Wagner's idea of Gesamkunstwerk). She belongs to the artists and reformers who strove for the harmonious development of the individual and the community. Research of art and societal processes developed parallely. Emancipation of life was shaped in communes or work communities, established in order for people to live and work together. In The History of Dance Maga Magazinović writes of Laban: "There is one more important characteristic of Laban's dance, distinctly contemporary, sociality. Laban, in his attempts and the achievements of his dance troops, was totally social: he lived in the same manner as the youngest and most insignificant member of his dance community, without any material privilege for himself. Each individual in his groups had to adapt to the whole and to support it in San Morris, Munich, Ascona, Essen and Hamburg. Such spirit originates from Laban's understanding of the dance community in which there are no differences in salary between 'stars' and members of the corps, because they are all valid members of the whole". According to Maga Magazinović, the academic significance of dance also appears in Laban's discovery of the "moving corps", workers and students who, according to Laban's plans, aimed "to replace national dance for contemporary working people", thus making national dance a museum exhibit. Maga Magazinović writes: "The most important part of the work of the moving corps is for people to learn and to get used to adapting their personal movements with the movements of the community, to learn to consider themselves in relation to others around them, colleagues while at work; each person should put effort into the success and the expression of the whole."
The books of Maga Magazinović are unique in Serbo-Croatian speaking regions. The author directly participated in the movements which reformed dance and produced emancipatory energy. The books Exercises and Studies in Contemporary Gymnastics, Plastics, Rythmics and Ballet and Physical Culture as Education and Art resulted from the study of a then already huge amount of literature, as well as from direct art experience in researching and reforms of contemporary dance or an even wider movement which includes physical culture (various systems of gymnastics and exercises for the body), plastic and new dance as a new type of art. In Maga Magazinović's work, movement is analyzed in all aspects beginning from unconscious movements performed during daily activities (moving, standing, sitting, running, work and recreation). Maga Magazinović explains the entire culture of movement, observing movement in daily situations as a sphere of being civilized. In that regard, enlightenment speaks about the civilization level of a culture of a certain society. Theoretical treatment of movement in daily life opened the possibility for it to be treated as an art material in the construction of dance arts.
Maga Magazinović functions as an educational spirit which, through theory and practice, brings to its environment contemporary accomplishments of the most advanced world communities. Already at the beginning of the century, through her papers on body culture and new dance, she was developing an important aspect in the activity of contemporary artists - that art can be spoken about on high theoretical bases, and that contemporary art cannot exist without a discursive establishment of its foundations and explanation of its intentions. The theory of dance was developed by Isidora Duncan, Rudolph Laban and most of the world's most significant dancers. Traditional art and the more modern forms of art which domesticate (alleviate and exploit) elements of radical art practices, combining them with traditional aspects of art, due to the system of family and global Eurocentric traditionalistic and humanistic education, are self-evident, "natural" and normal. i.e. normalized. Radical art practices violate the "naturalness" and "normalization" of art which are stated by tradition; these practices point out that art can be thought about, practiced and based on totally opposite or differently valued systems. By her work, Maga Magazinović established this differently valued system of artistic dance in the framework of Serbian and then Yugoslav culture. One of the most important constant structural characteristics of her work are persisting feminist attitudes. They mark the work of Maga Magazinović and are a part of an emancipatory approach to art and life. She speaks of body characteristics and functions of the female body in relation to types of exercise most suitable to one's body constitution, as well as about the most appropriate exercise attire. She supports emancipation of the nude human body which, in western societies, is looked upon with scorn. According to Maga Magazinović, the nude human body should not be looked upon only in relation to gender and sexuality. She emphasizes the significance of the nudist movement which wishes, through nudity, to reach ethic elevation of the masses in relation to the body. In her own work, Maga Magazinović took a radical feminist stance which incorporates the emancipatory position of the woman in society, the development of intellectual abilities and the active position of the artist who performs in society and creatively and intellectually expresses and develops herself. Opting to deal with new dance expression, she consciously took a radical stance in relation to dominant art values of traditional culture. These two radicalisms are connected with implicit political radicalism which is visible in the book The History of Dance, published in 1951, when the dominant discourse of theory and science was Marxist thought, obstinately lasting until almost the end of the 1970s. In her book there is not an ideological interpretation of dance, within the spectrum from classical ballet to new dance, so characteristic for the post-war era.
Combining Dalcrose and Laban's techniques, as well those of Isidora Duncan and Mary Wigman, Maga Magazinović built an interesting plastic expression which could be reconstructed through a photograph of her realizations of that period, published as an appendix to the book Body Culture. Maga Magazinović researches plastic aspects of movement which are pure and abstract and aimed at incarnating the harmony of the individual, achieved through pure forms of movement. Characteristic clothing and transparent white fabrics, which remind one of Greek togas, point to the influence of Isidora Duncan. As with Isidora Duncan, Maga Magazinović's dance fragments incarnate and emphasize natural female beauty and spirituality. Figures of the performer often aim their gaze upward which, on an abstract level, might symbolize a person's striving for spiritual worlds, achieved outside the traditional, religious and Christian rituals. We will mention that Ruth Saint Denis sought the roots of human spirituality in Christian science and reformist Christian theories. Jasmina Zagajeski Vukelić writes that Emile Jacques Dalcrose collaborated with the mystic and reformer Rudolph Steiner, founder of anthroposophy which, at the foundations of modern dance, established a dance system of eurythmy (also written about by Maga Magazinović in Body Culture) for therapeutic and meditative (spiritual) purposes. Dances/exercises which are performed in nature are a part of the ideology of harmonizing the strengths and energies of human bodies with the strengths and energies of natural environments. As nature has the most different forms in water, stone, animals, so a person builds the most diverse ritual forms, based on new forms of spirituality, complimentary to a new era, flowing into great rhythms of natural cycles. Maga Magazinović also explores the darker side of human life when she approaches the expressionist dance art which Mary Wigman developed. The relationship of the individual and the group is explored in many aspects. Group dynamics develop through matching of different individuals, with their psycho-physical constitutions, to the dynamics of the group. The same dance paradigm shows different individuals who, in keeping with an individual feeling for their space in the group dynamic, carry out movements. Movements of the arm, leg and head vary and enable freedom for the individual to participate in group dance/exercise, developing his/her own dance/plastic expression. Pure dance expressions, freed from a mimetic story, speak of the abstract categories of human existence, through the relation of dance elements. We will remember the suprematism of Kazmir Maljević, who, through pure painter forms, expressed a pure supremacy of feeling. We will also remember Vasilij Kandinski and Alma Af Klimt who expressed spiritual worlds through abstract art, or Pete Mondrian with his neo-plasticism, who, through pure geometric relationships of colored surfaces and a vertical-horizontal relationship, expressed the harmony of the world and its spiritual foundation. In revising national dances, Maga Magazinović includes the folklorist experience of the Serbian and South Slav dances, filtered, cleansed and transformed through the experience of modern dance.
This interpretation is enabled by a wide contextual weave of different artists who were active at the beginning of the century and who, through their texts, built a fairly heterogeneous system or microsystems in the framework of global tendencies of that period. They worked directly through forms of work which incorporate the relationship toward society and gender, founding the theory and practice movement, as well as background or explicit art ideology. All these aspects emanate, or we include them, in formal elements of dance art - from scenography, music, costumes, to the system of gesticulation, movements and the entire performance.
Pure art forms imply that in dance the movement itself is a sufficient reason for existence and that music or a story are not essential in order for it to fulfill a meaning. Interest in movements during daily work, and its treatment by the artist at the beginning of the century, will create a space for the use of daily movement in postmodern, above all American, dance of the 1960's. The dismantling of dance as art of movement served to further remove the sacredness of art of the 1960's, its root being in reformist movements from the beginning of the century. The possibility for amateurs also to participate in dance expanded the scope of dance, removing its sacredness as an art and enabling a step further in the research of the art of movement. Insistence on the fact that dance can be performed in natural space allowed dancers of the 1960's to choose different atypical spaces for performing: garages, elevators, streets, galleries, parks and other public or private places. The role of the auditorium as a passive patron of the performance which performers perform for an audience was already reformed at the beginning of the century, first by abandoning the stage as a place where dance is performed and the auditorium which is separated from the performer. The postmodern dance of the 1960's did away with the idea of the stage as a place for performing and spectators as passive observers. By allowing amateurs to perform, dance is incorporated into daily life, daily activities into art, and just as the reformers strove for at the beginning of the century, the difference between art and life is lost.
Translated by Gail Long
(Text was published in ProFemina magazine, no. 5/6, 1996, in Serbian)
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