Monday, November 26, 2007

Jump Thoughts

I have been working with the ideas and movement explorations in this week’s Podcast lesson for a number of years. I would like to share the background, for it has to do with a story I once heard about Nijinsky.

When I was training to become a Feldenkrais® practitioner, the Educational Director of my program, David Zemach-Bersin, showed a video of a lecture given by Moshe Feldenkrais on Nijinsky. I was not able to obtain a transcript of the lecture, as it was under copyright, so I contacted David afterward to see if he might be able to provide further information. He was only able to provide some basic context, the essence of which, is that Moshe was introduced to a family member of Nijinsky, who let Moshe look at Nijinsky’s private journals.

In his lecture, I recall Moshe talking about how Nijinsky was able to “fly out the window.” He never clarified this point further; I assume he was referring to a moment in a specific ballet, but as I am not a Nijinsky scholar (and have never studied his journals), I am not sure what he was referring to exactly. The more important part of Moshe’s lecture had to do with how Nijinsky prepared to “fly out the window.”

Moshe said that Nijinsky would sit quietly in a chair and gently lift his feet off the ground. He would do this for some time. Then, he would get up and “fly out the window.” What interested me about this story was not the part about flying out the window. It was the part about sitting in a chair and gently lifting his feet. It was the glimpse into Nijinsky’s process.

Much of what we do in dance is an extension of what we do in daily life. It is a more exaggerated, dynamic, faster and stylized extension of daily activities. As learners and teachers we forget that underlying the most complicated or virtuosic dance combinations are some very basic movement and body organization patterns.

Think about what a jump—out the window or otherwise—really is for a moment. It is an extension of standing up. For a very young child it is often a very joyful extension of standing up. In dance we limit the expression of those basic patterns according to stylistic requirements, but by returning to the basic functional patterns from time to time, we can help to reorganize ourselves in such a way that our dance patterns improve.

In this week’s Podcast lesson we will see if we can figure out what Nijinsky seemed to intuitively understand. How, by sitting quietly in a chair and lifting our feet, we can improve our jumps. Enjoy!

IntelliDANCE Podcast 4: Jump Thoughts

© Andrea Higgins 2007


Anonymous said...

Feldenkrais was referring to the ballet "Le Spectre de la Rose," one of Nijinsky's most famous roles, in which he personifies the spirit of a rose. At the end of this ballet, Nijinsky exits the bedroom of a young woman (whom he had visited in a dream-like reverie) by performing a grand jeté leap through an open window. Known for his astonishingly-high leaps and amazing "hang-time," this passage is part of what launched Nijinky's legend in western Europe.

In his famous 1918 - 1919 journals (which must have been shown to Feldenkrais by Nijinsky's widow Romola, the last family member to have possession of it), Nijinsky makes no mention of preparing for high leaps by sitting in a chair and gently lifting his feet off the ground. Nor was he, as far I know, ever observed by others performing such an exercise. He was, however, observed to enter deep meditative states prior to performances, which struck western Europeans in the early 1900s as a very odd thing, possibly even a sign of craziness.

Asked how he managed his amazing leaps, Nijinsky is famously quoted to have said, "You have just to go up and then pause a little up there."

Daniel Gesmer
Nijinsky scholar

Andrea Higgins said...

Hi Daniel,

My heartfelt thanks go out to you, for sharing your knowledge of Nijinsky with us. I have been curious about Moshe's story for such a long time. Thank you for identifying "Le Spectre de la Rose," as the ballet, as well as your insights about how Nijinsky prepared for performance by entering a "deep meditative state."

I do not know what to make of Moshe's story now, in terms of the source of his information. If anyone out there can comment further, please fill us in. I can say, however, that in my personal and professional experience of the Feldenkrais Method®, I have found that Awareness Through Movement® lessons bring me (and my students) into a deep meditative state. The difference being that instead of repeating a mantra or an affirmation to arrive at this state, one repeats a series of gentle movements.

Imagination also plays an important role in ATM lessons. During my training, we did many lessons in which we would do a movement with one side of the body and just imagine doing the movement with the other side. Very often, the side on which the imagination was used showed greater improvement. I believe there have been studies done with athletes in which visualization was shown to improve performance. The distinction that I would make here is that in ATM one imagines not just how an action will look, but also how it will feel.

I wish that it were somehow possible to know what Nijinsky experienced in those deep meditative states--if he used visualization, or a process that evoked sensation in the way ATM does. I wish as well that Moshe were still here, and could discuss with us the genesis of his comments about Nijinsky. But whatever the genesis, I am grateful that he planted an idea in my mind, and out of that idea grew a lesson process that helped me to heal and to know the joy of leaping once again. Thank you again, Daniel. I truly appreciate your insights.