In “L’outil photographique et l’étude de la danse antique” (https://journals.openedition.org/inha/468, 2013) the French researcher Audrey Gouy illustrates a method of investigating, the “Reconstructionism”, (thanks to a particular photographic techniques chrono-photography) by putting the individual postures of ancient Greek dance in the right sequence, it is possible to reconstruct the whole dance with a good approximation. The comparison from the reconstruction is contemporary classical dance. The thought process consists of comparing similar postures, both ancient and contemporary. This method allows the scholar to visualize the phases that precede or follow the moment in which the dancer’s gesture is fixed in the image. The postures represented in Greek figurative art – A. Gouy states – are considered reproductions of reality, and the photographic instrument appears as the experimental means used for the analysis of the ancient choreographic movements and the reconstruction of dance”.
The first to apply the reconstructionist theory to the dance was the French scholar Maurice Emmanuel (La danse grecque antique d’après les monuments figurées, 1896). The starting point of Emmanuel’s theory is that the intuition that the choreutic movements represented in the ancient works of art are the same that characterize the contemporary French classical ballet. Germaine Proudhommeau (La danse grecque antique, 1965) continued the master’s work by going into detail on the gestures and movements of the Greek dance, elaborating a wide typology totally free from any chronological reference and making a systematic comparison between the ancient figurative movements and the lexicon of modern ballet.
In 1970 T.B.L. Webster was among the first to express doubts about the retraining method. According to Webster, the procedure developed by Emmanuel and refined by Proudhommeau, however attractive, “carries with it the obvious danger that the modern steps belong to a completely different dance tradition which may be largely misleading” (The Greek chorus, 1970), introduction, xi).
In 1997 the reconstruction method was also questioned by Frederick G. Naerebout who judged it “a somewhat confused account of the positions, steps, and gestures of the ancient Greek dance” (Attractive Performances: Ancient Greek Dance: Three Preliminary Studies, Amsterdam, 1997, page 62).
In the 1990s Marie-Hélène Delavaud-Roux was the author of some important essays on dance in the ancient world (among many: “Les Danses en Grèce antique”, 1998) to distance herself from her predecessors, she introduced a comparative approach that has opened the way to new interpretations of dance movements and functions.
For A. Gouy “the use of contemporary classical dance as a reference point for understanding the postures of Greek dance seems risky. Associating and correlating two types of dance so distant temporally seems to be an anachronism. A dance belongs to the culture that produces it and can only be understood in its context “(Gouy, 2013).
Over the last few years, I have often wondered how it is possible to understand Greek dance by noting a formal correspondence between the bodily movements of ancient dance images and a photographic sequence of modern ballet movements. I tried to analyze the question in the light of the ‘Archeology of Knowledge’, the cognitive criterion to which the Blog danzadelleorigini aligns itself, finding in tune with the observations of A. Gouy. In fact, according to the criteria of the ‘Archeology of Knowledge’ *, the most important aspects of reconstruction make it difficult to understand the objectives for which it was designed in the first place. The idea that the analysis of ancient dance can be performed outside a chronological context is incorrect, because we would be forced to accept an inexplicable cognitive vacuum of about two millennia between the historical periods we are comparing. Secondly, an excavation of Archeology of Knowledge, like all excavations, has its starting point in the countryside plan. On the contrary to the reconstructionist method which takes into account a similarity criteria that develops entirely at the anatomical and bodily level, between the two choreutic schemes, ancient and modern. There is an exclusively aesthetic connection that, taking place outside of space and time, does not take into account the archaeological layers that separate the only two levels considered. The ‘Archeology of Knowledge’ also adopts a comparative method but has at least for the moment a few but clear rules. In fact we get a greater understanding if analiser and the object being analyzed are part of the same macro-horizon. Furthermore I see no comparison between the anthropomorph adorant of alpine rock art (4th millennium BC) and the so-called “squatting figures” of the American Indians or the “frog figures” of the peoples of Oceania (Pericot Garcia, Lommel, Galloway, 1967). A comparison between such spatiotemporally antithetical horizons is destined to produce unconvincing results. The path that, starting from the gestures of the celebrating priest in the revealed religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), would be more walkable, would come down to identify the analogies found in the gestures of the adorant between the Greco-Roman antiquity and the protohistoric age.
* An excavation of Archeology of Knowledge is a hermeneutical process that starts from the inside as a form of knowledge in which the subject who knows and the known object (at least in part) come to coincide with the approach to the “text” that you want to know (an image, a script, a dance, a piece of music) is possible because in the studied object there is still a core of knowledge that is shared. Even if only in partial form and mediated, with the subject analyzing. Interpretation is the act by which, through the recovery of the lost code, the meaning is returned to a historical fact that our cultural memory has not yet been completely removed. Once the object of our investigation has been identified, we can trace back in time, from one historical junction to another, until the moment in which it is reunited with the controls, we can then judge whether or not, to the cultural reality that he produced it. But the identification of the interpretative code is only possible if a map of it is still available in the pre-understanding that our historical-cultural tradition has made available to us.
In “L’outil photographique et l’étude de la danse antique” (https://journals.openedition.org/inha/468, 2013) la ricercatrice francese Audrey Gouy illustra un metodo di indagine, il “Ricostruzionismo”, in base al quale, grazie ad una particolare tecnica fotografica, la crono-fotografia, mettendo nella giusta sequenza le singole posture della danza greca antica, è possibile ricostruire con buona approssimazione l’intera danza. Il termine di paragone utilizzato dal Ricostruzionismo è la danza classica contemporanea e il procedimento cognitivo consiste nel confronto tra posture simili, quella antica e quella contemporanea. Questo metodo mette lo studioso nella condizione di visualizzare le fasi che precedono o seguono l’attimo in cui il gesto del danzatore è fissato nell’immagine. “Le posture rappresentate nell’arte figurativa greca – dice A. Gouy – vengono considerate riproduzioni del reale, e lo strumento fotografico appare quindi come il mezzo sperimentale utilizzato per l’analisi degli antichi movimenti coreografici e la ricostruzione della danza”.
Il primo ad applicare la teoria ricostruzionista alla danza fu lo studioso francese Maurice Emmanuel (La danse grecque antique d’après les monuments figurées, 1896). Il punto di partenza di Emmanuel è l’intuizione che i movimenti coreutici rappresentati nelle antiche opere d’arte siano gli stessi che caratterizzano il balletto classico francese contemporaneo.
Germaine Proudhommeau (La danse grecque antique, 1965) ha continuato il lavoro del maestro entrando nel dettaglio dei gesti e movimenti della danza greca, elaborando un’ampia tipologia totalmente svincolata da ogni riferimento cronologico ed effettuando una comparazione sistematica tra i movimenti figurati antichi ed il lessico del balletto moderno. Nel 1970 T.B.L. Webster fu tra i primi ad esprimere dubbi sul metodo ricostruzionista. Secondo Webster il procedimento elaborato da Emmanuel e affinato dalla Proudhommeau, per quanto attraente, “porta con sé l’ovvio pericolo che i passi moderni appartengano ad una tradizione coreutica completamente differente, fatto che potrebbe condurre a conclusioni ampiamente ingannevoli (The greek chorus, 1970, introduzione, xi).
Nel 1997 il metodo ricostruzionista è stato messo in discussione anche da Frederick G. Naerebout che lo giudica “un resoconto piuttosto confuso di posizioni e gesti dell’antica danza greca” (Attractive Performances. Ancient Greek Dance: Three Preliminary Studies, Amsterdam, 1997, pag. 62).
Negli anni ’90 è stata la volta di Marie-Hélène Delavaud-Roux, autrice di alcuni importanti saggi sulla danza nel mondo antico (tra i tanti: “Les Danses en Grèce antique”, 1998) a prendere le distanze dai suoi predecessori, introducendo un approccio comparatistico che ha aperto la via a nuove interpretazioni dei movimenti e delle funzioni della danza.
Per A. Gouy “l’uso della danza classica contemporanea come punto di riferimento per comprendere le posture della danza greca appare azzardato. Associare e correlare due tipi di danza così distanti temporalmente sembra essere un anacronismo. Una danza appartiene alla cultura che la produce e può essere compresa solo nel suo contesto” (Gouy, 2013).
Nel corso degli ultimi anni anche il sottoscritto si è spesso chiesto come sia possibile ricavare un criterio di comprensione della danza greca rilevando una corrispondenza formale delle immagini antiche con una sequenza fotografica che schematizza i movimenti del balletto moderno. Ho provato ad analizzare la questione alla luce dell’Archeologia del Sapere, il criterio cognitivo a cui si allinea il Blog danzadelleorigini, trovando sintonia con le osservazioni di A. Gouy.
Infatti, in base ai criteri dell’Archeologia del Sapere*, gli aspetti portanti del metodo ricostruzionista lo rendono inadeguato al conseguimento degli obiettivi per cui è stato progettato. In primo luogo l’idea che l’analisi della danza antica possa essere condotta al di fuori di un contesto cronologico è quantomeno poco corretta, perché dovremmo accettare un inspiegabile vuoto cognitivo di circa due millenni tra i periodi storici ed i fenomeni culturali che stiamo mettendo in relazione. In secondo luogo, lo scavo che l’Archeologia del Sapere intende operare, come tutti gli scavi, ha il suo punto di partenza nel piano di campagna, mentre il metodo ricostruzionista tiene conto di una somiglianza tutta sul piano dell’anatomia, di un semplice collegamento di natura estetica che avviene fuori dallo spazio e dal tempo, tra piani stratigrafici distanziati tra loro da altri piani di cui non si tiene conto, senza che possano essere utilizzati criteri culturali di valutazione. Per l’Archeologia del Sapere anche l’adozione di un metodo comparativo ha, almeno per il momento, poche ma chiare regole. Infatti una comprensione è tanto più possibile quanto più il soggetto conoscente e l’oggetto da conoscere fanno parte dello stesso macro-orizzonte. Inoltre, non vedo possibilità di confronto tra l’orante antropomorfo dell’arte rupestre alpina (4° millennio a.C.) e le cosiddette “squatting figures” degli indiani d’America o le “frog figures” delle popolazioni dell’Oceania (Pericot Garcia, Lommel, Galloway, 1967). Una comparazione tra orizzonti così spazio-temporalmente antitetici, è destinata a produrre analisi poco convincenti. Più percorribile sarebbe la via che, partendo dalla gestualità del sacerdote celebrante nelle religioni rivelate (cristianesimo, ebraismo, islam), scendesse ad individuare le analogie riscontrabili nei gesti dell’orante tra l’antichità greco-romana e l’età protostorica.
* Uno scavo di Archeologia del Sapere è un procedimento ermeneutico che parte dall’interno come forma di sapere nella quale il soggetto che conosce e l’oggetto conosciuto vengono, almeno in parte, a coincidere. L’avvicinamento al “testo” che si intende conoscere (un’immagine, uno scritto, una danza, un brano musicale) è possibile perché nell’oggetto studiato è ancora presente un nucleo di conoscenze che sta in condivisione, anche se solo in forma parziale e mediata, con il soggetto che analizza. L’interpretazione è l’atto tramite il quale, mediante il recupero del codice smarrito, viene restituito il significato ad un fatto storico che la nostra memoria culturale non ha ancora rimosso interamente. Una volta individuato l’oggetto della nostra indagine, possiamo seguirne le tracce, procedendo indietro nel tempo, da uno snodo storico all’altro, fino al momento in cui esso viene ricongiunto, i controlli giudicheranno poi se debitamente o meno, alla realtà culturale che l’ha prodotto. Ma l’individuazione del codice interpretativo è possibile solo nel caso in cui una mappa di esso sia ancora disponibile nelle precomprensioni che la nostra tradizione storico-culturale ci ha messo a disposizione.
The Ghillie Callum is one of the oldest Scottish sword dances. The myth tells that Prince Ghillie Callum, the Celtic hero of the Battle of Dunsinane (1054), after killing one of the enemy commanders placed his sword on the ground and crossed it together with that of the defeated enemy starting to dance over it. Soon this act of dancing on two crossed swords was repeated by all the highland warriors, becoming an essential moment before any battle. In the beginning, the dancer performs a series of steps around the swords keeping the back straight, the arms raised and the hands in a particular pose. At this point he turns to the swords while two living beings and ask them for permission to dance above them. The dance continues with a repeated jump in and out of the four spaces created by the crossing of the blades, avoiding standing with their backs to their swords and moving counterclockwise along what is called “the witches’ path” (widdershins). The dance requires great dexterity because, despite the speed with which each step is performed, the dancer must not touch or move the swords, under penalty of death (yesterday, in battle) or penalty (today, in the games). It is possible to give an interpretation of this dance if we analyze the matter starting from two indisputable facts: (1) the geometric shape on which the dance is performed is the image of a diagonal cross, a very common symbol in Western iconography since prehistoric times; (2) the dancer moves between the blades according to a strict sequence of steps whose importance is linked to the cosmological value attributed to the shape of the space. We are allowed to think that what happens outside and inside the geometry drawn by the swords is not at all random. The intriguing hypothesis consists precisely in attributing to the diagonal cross, and to the choreutic act that takes place in that space, a deeper and much more ancient cosmological meaning than the legends that attribute its beginning to the Middle Ages. In other words, the warrior who dances in the spaces between the blades moves rhythmically within a miniature cosmos, just as the child does when jumps into the Hopscotch game boxes and pays a pawn when he puts his foot on the line. Therefore, the geometric symbols that appear in prehistoric iconography express a specific orientation towards those points on the horizon to which a special value has been recognized. The geometric figures are archetypes that have crossed the millennia and have come to this day after having lost the original symbolic value or having adapted it only to the times.
The cosmic symbols of the center (axis mundi) – the most suitable place for the manifestation of the transcendent – which express a strong idea of passage (anodos) between the levels of the cosmos, constitute the spatiotemporal foundation of the sword dance. These characteristics can probably be found in all european Swords Dances, but in some of them, like Fenestrelle’s “Bal do Sabre“, they are even more evident. Harlequin also participates in this dance, a nice and spiteful creature halfway between the earth and the underworld that, after being put to death, returns from the underworld on the earth passing through the star made with the swords of the dancers, a clear reference to nature that is renewed at the beginning of spring.
A similar path can also be found in some Spanish, German and French armed dances, such as the one performed in Quevaucamps, around which a fun half-man and half-wolf entity moves, which, after its killing, is reborn and travels along the path of elevation.
|Left: (Castelletto Stura, Cn) the Bal do sabre of Fenestrelle. Detail of the Harlequin lifting. Right: the moment when the head of Harlequin passes through the cross of swords which is the passage that allows Harlequin to return from hell to earth.|
Curt Sachs states that each circular dance has a magical object in the center. In the case of prehistoric matriarchal cultures in the center lies a pit, but also a bowl, which according to Neumann, is a symbol of the mother’s womb and fertility of the earth. In this case the material element is strictly implied to the spiritual one, in an incredible contamination of form and matter. The Hora (from the ancient Greek Koros, Horo in Bulgarian) is a circular dance very common in the Balkan area that is performed during the most important ceremonies and weddings. Many archaeologists (Gimbutas, Garfinkel, Dragomir) have recognized one of the oldest circular dance in a class of ceramic artefacts found in some Romanian Neolithic sites (Frumusica, Beresti, Grenovka, Luka Vrublevetskaia, Draguseni, Trusesti, V millennium BC). If we analyze the object called “Hora” of Frumusica, from the formal point of view four female figures arranged in a circle are recognizable, of which only the anatomical features of the buttocks are clearly distinguished; from the functional point of view, the object was probably used as a support above which a container (a bowl?) was placed in which the votive offering was placed. In our hypothesis, the artifact/dance is related to the container/offer above and the center of the dance corresponds to the cosmic axis on which the bowl is placed with the sacrificial offering.
From the whole it is possible to deduce that the only purpose of the prehistoric artist was to create a dancing mechanism with a precise idea of movement in order to produce energy. The artifact does not reproduce a rhythmic dance with large movements and quick enlargements or narrowings of the circle. This is confirmed by the fact that the dancers are tightly connected to each other at shoulder level. So we can assume that the circular movement is very slow and not skipped.
While during the dance the movement produces energy and magic, in its fixed two-dimensional (image) and three-dimensional reproduction (artifact), the simple form carries out a symbolic transformation of reality.
As the mask concretely expresses “the other dimension”, that of magic and myth, so also the ceramic object of Frumusica, while preserving its nature as a material object and its supporting function, is in all respects a dance that, according to the magical-religious thought that has elaborated it, produces the same effects of the original act made concretely in reality. With one difference. While a dance performed in three dimensions, develops itself in space and time, from beginning to end, and the energy produced by it over time is destined to run out, its copy, image or artifact, is subtracted from the dominion of the natural and human laws and adheres to an absolute space-time dimension. In this way, the dancing figurines of the Hora of Frumusica never stop dancing. The artifact then performs a perpetual dance, whose magical effects will be felt forever.
Reading the book “Morphology of the fairy tale” (Vladimir Propp, 1929), my attention was prompted by some passages of 20th century European popular literature, in which we can find the same conception of the tripartite universe (or quadripartite) that according to the scholar Dumezil constitutes the cosmological and social foundation of European civilizations at least since the fifth millennium BC.
In the fairy tale of Brunella, for example, the breaking of the cosmic levels puts the community of the living in direct communication with the world of the dead, to whom the function of “helpers from the other world” is recognized. The hand of the deceased mother who stretches out of the grave, the tree planted on the grave, the bird perched on the tree, a well known symbol of the soul of the deceased, express the belief, still alive in the popular tradition, that the deceased could cross the threshold that separates them from the world of the living and enter into communication with their descendants. In Finland, on the day of the dead, each family deposited luminous candles and offers of food on the surface of the rocks, some of which were covered by rock carvings, in the belief that the dead came from the afterlife to meet their relatives. (J. Hautala, Survivals of the Cult of Sacrifice Stones in Finland, Temenos, 1965).
Using an “Archeology of knowing” procedure (see post 6), the data provided by stories and popular traditions are an interesting contribution to the understanding of some prehistoric images. I refer above all to the anthropomorphic figures who, assuming particular postures, take on the role of mediators between man and the regions of the Cosmos.
In the Western tradition are told many stories that speak about sacred spaces, such as the surface of some rocks or a rift in the ground, which Claude Berard calls “chthonian passages”, where there is a link between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In the figurative imaginary the work of mediation between man and the underground world, place of the seeds and the dead, is conducted by the Chthonian Man with his arms pointing downwards.
The rituals performed in these places had a dual purpose: on the one hand, through gesture, dance, music, men addressed to the deity a request for prosperity and fertility; on the other, in some cases it was necessary to protect the community from negative entities that, after crossing the threshold, disturbed the life of the community, causing drought, ruin, and poorness. The iconography has provided us with a good number of examples that confirm our hypotheses on the beliefs of prehistoric man. On many engraved rocks of Valcamonica are represented warriors armed with shield and spear (with the cusp facing down to the ground) in a guard position near symbols such as the spiral, the concentric circle, the cup mark, or near a fracture in the rock, elements that indicate the presence of a chthonian passage.
Some stories dating back to the most ancient Western tradition also describe man’s concern for the occurrence – in the most delicate moments of the year, when the time comes to bury the seeds or collect the harvest – of the ascent from the underworld to the human one of spirits good or infernal entities.
The rituals that took place in these sacred spaces, therefore, had a twofold purpose: on the one hand, through gesture, dance, music, men asked the spirits good protection, prosperity, and fertility; on the other, in certain situations it was necessary to protect the community from those infernal entities that, after having crossed the threshold, disturbed the life of the community, causing drought, ruin, and hunger.
Like the gesture of the Cosmic Man in which the arms are turned to the sky, even the gesture with the arms open and parallel to the ground, which the French esoteric philosopher René Guenon attributes to the Universal Man, is widespread in every time and place.
This gesture is connected to one of the most important symbols of the primordial tradition: the sign of the cross, which is hierarchically governed by the principles of Harmony and Conformity and ordered in the sense of Amplitude and Exaltation.
Assuming the gesture of the cross the anthropomorph on one side superimposes the arms on the horizontal axis, thus expressing the maximum opening of the body in space (Amplitude), despite the limits imposed by the conditions in which the world manifests itself. According to Guenon, the extension of Amplitude, which is a passive and feminine principle, does not concern only the body, but includes all the modes of the human being, of which the bodily condition is only one aspect.
The expansion along the vertical axis (Exaltation), is a principle (active and masculine) that implies the loss of individual consciousness and, through the overcoming of the multiple states of being, that is, of the various levels of existence, leads to identification with the Whole. This practice consists in arriving at the effective realization of the totality of being, that is, at the attainment of what the Hindu doctrine calls Liberation.
If in the rock art of Valcamonica the Cosmic Man has been represented only on rocks that emerge from the earth, the Universal Man is represented primarily on horizontal supports like the steles and shares the particular cosmological context of them. In the rock art of the first metal age (Calcolithic, 2900-2500 BC), the Universal Man is rendered in a schematic style that could express, as in the case of the anthropomorphs we encounter in the repertoire of “primitive” art, “a regression to the spirituality and essentiality of the world of the dead “(Neumann, The Great Mother, 1981). In the following period (first bronze age, 2500-2200 BC) the Universal Man assumes a more elaborate form, with the triangular body as the blade of the dagger.
Compared to the pose of the adorant, arranged on the vertical axis that connects the celestial reality to chthonic, the man with horizontal arms shows interesting potentialities and dynamic openings: a) introduces the frontality as a mode of manifestation of the sacred; b) constitutes the basis of the rotation movement on its axis (see the dance of the Whirling Dervishes) which produces vertigo and leads to loss of consciousness; c) is the basis for the simulation of the flight of birds, well known pose and also used in children’s games.