In 1913, photos of the Nataraja bronze from the Chennai Museum inspired Auguste Rodin’s Text “The Dance of Shiva”. Written at the end of his life, this vision of Shiva, “Lord of actor- dancers”, revealed the underlying links between Rodin’s dance sculptures (1910), the Cambodian dancer drawings, his private collection of antique Venus and Buddha sculptures and wood carvings from India.
Through his androgynous vision of Shiva the cosmic dancer, Rodin invites us not only to a new reading of his work but also opens the door to a new vision of Indian theatre and dance. The connections that he suggests between sculpture, poetry, dance, theatre, music, photography and architecture have a particular contemporary resonance.
In this book historians, artists, poets, both French and Indian, Bring us a new international vision of Rodin’s work.
Katia Legeret Manochhaya Professor of Aesthetics and Art theory in the Department of Theatre at Paris 8 University, France and Director of the Laboratory of researches EA 1573/EDESTA – Aesthetics, Sciences and Technologies of the Art, Her main field of research comprises the twentieth- century European playwrights, stage directors and choreographers inspired by Asian performing arts, specifically from India. She is the author of many articles and books about Indian dancesand theatre, including Les 108 pas du dieu Siva: Danse sacree de I’ Inde, Manuel traditionnel du Bharata – Natyam: Le danseur cosmographe and Dance contemporaine et theatre indien un nouvel art? She is also a professional artist in Bharatanatyam style and has an international career, starting at Chennai with Swarnamukhi (Tamil Nadu’s state Artist) and, since 1986, she interprets Natyacharya K. Muralidhar Rao’s repertories (Karnataka, Pandanallur style). “Shiva-Rodin” (2013) and “Panchatantra/ La Fontaine” (2010-2015) are among her stage creations with her company.
In 1911, at the height of his fame, Auguste Rodin received 27 photographs of bronze sculptures, images taken in southern India at the Government Museum in Chennai. The sculptures represented Shiva, god of dance, embodying the Nataraja, "King of Dancers and Actors". These snapshots came from Russian archaeologist Victor Goloubeff, director of the Paris-based review Ars Asiatica, He requested that Rodin write a text about the bronzes. Rodin subsequently wrote a few pages in the form of poetic fragments-"The Dance of Shiva". But these writings remained unpublished until four years after his death, when they appeared in the third issue of Ars Asiatica in 1921. However, it would be many more years before the French readers would truly discover these writings, virtually ignored despite their status as one of Rodin's rare texts on the subject of dance. A later republishing of these texts in 1998 was quite understated, unaccompanied even by the photographs of the Shiva sculptures.
The uniqueness of these writings is rooted in the fact that they explore two art forms virtually unknown to Rodin, as he had never viewed these Indian sculptures in person, nor had he seen the live dances that they have evoked to Hindus over the centuries. This dance posture of the god Shiva is an integral part of the traditional repertoires of Indian actor-dancers, with 108 different variations (the karana), particularly in pieces, depicting cosmogonic myths. Rodin would never have been able to see these works, given that the first traditional-style performance by an Indian troupe in Paris did not take place until 1938-a work of bharatandtyam under the direction of the famous dancer Ram Gopal.
How could a sculptor of such renown become a poet describing in his poetry a dance form heretofore unknown to him? And why did he place such importance at the end of his life on this particular connection between dance, sculpture, and poetry?
As he cultivated his interest in dance, Rodin had the opportunity in Paris to discover two styles from the Far East, both deeply inspired by Indian dance-theatre: that of the Javanese dancers at the 1889 World's Fair, followed by that of the Cambodian dancers at the 1906 Colonial Exhibition in Marseille. The Javanese performers were official dancers from the heart of their nation, performing the repertoire of the Sultan of Solo's own ballet corps. Rodin sketched them very little. By contrast, he made 150 drawings of the Cambodian performers from the royal court of Sisowath, stating, "They are beyond the beauty that we or that I, can grasp.” In addition to his exposure to these authentic performances, Rodin later developed a certain "exotic" concept of Indian dance via his relationship with the dancer Dourga, known in Paris as "The Hindu". In the world of French music halls, Dourga was a rarity: a dancer from the Far East with quite a dazzling career.
What connections did Rodin weave among these so-called "exotic" dances, Indian sculpture, and his own sculpture? In what ways does the Indian concept of a cosmic dance, incarnated by the actor-dancer, approach Rodin's artistic concepts of life-"this thing that penetrates you in every sense"-and of nature-"a perpetual ravishing, a boundless intoxication”?
His poetic vision is based upon the photographs of sculpted gods, rather than upon the presence of live dancers. The art of photography is necessarily limited; in a fortieth of a second, it isolates and freezes a single pose from a full movement, rather than revealing or suggesting (like Rodin's sculptures) the potential next movements in space. Rodin showed, for example, how snapshots of his Saint John the Baptist (1878) suggest a man hopping on one leg, while what he had sculpted was the continued movement of a stride, the “movement as a transition from one bearing to another”, an imperceptible shift between “one part of what was” and the partial discovery of “what is going to be.” Consequently, how can one analyse the dancing body of the god Shiva based on simple Photographic reproductions?
A key to interpretation is found in Rodin’s text on Shiva, as he compares a movement captured in the Shiva bronze with one of his Venus of Medici, a copy of which he had in his studio. Rather than directly establishing a connection between the two antique statues, he mentions the method of observation that he renews each time he seeks inspiration. In Rodin’s interviews with Paul Gsell, he explains that if one passes a beam of light from an electric lamp over the details of a sculpted human figures, the mineral seems to transform into a near-living flesh, making the shapes surge as if they were “Projections of inner volumes”. Thanks to this “prodigious symphony in black and white,” Rodin evokes a dancing movement by holding the light source. This shows “sections so finely shaded that they seem to dissolve in the air”. The dance seems to become inherent to the sculpture, defined by an arrangement of several types of movement: the body, the materials, and the micromovements. It also includes the perception of a spectator-actor who participates in the “performance” via the mobility of his own exterior gaze and by the type of lighting he select. Might Rodin have been thinking of Loie Fuller, one of the great dancers he often saw? Beginning in 1892, Fuller invented a scenography in which electric lighting became an essential aesthetic element, illuminating the whirling movements of the dozens of meters of white fabric she wore on Parisian stages. Technicians were placed at various locations in the theatre; each held a spotlight in the left hand and turned a glass disk of various colors with the right hand. As they all directed their lights upon Fuller, her image was multiplied ad infinitum.
We can also see how “The Dance of Shiva” hints at a staging invented by Rodin, as if the bronze became a model, not to replicate another sculpture but rather to be set into motion in a work of poetry. The reader gets caught up in it, as the mobility evoked by the sculptor's words erases the frozen vision of so many images of this cosmic dance god. Rodin goes so far as to forget the series of photographs that divide up the body, concentrating on a food, a hand, or a facial detail. Rodin himself enjoyed mixing the profiles of these Indian statues in his descriptions. To compensate for the double immobility of a posture in both bronze and on paper, Rodin elaborated in his writing upon an original poetic conception of rhythm, seeing in this sculpted body a precious instant in which multiple forces confront each other. Shiva becomes the model of this. In addition, in a number of Rodin's drawings we will see dance positions analogous to those of the Natyasdstra, the ancient Indian treatise on theatre and dance, as listed in its karana, poses which later inspired the dances of Cambodia and Java.
The research laboratory on "Knowledge and the Stage" at Universite Paris 8 includes a group of young researchers and artists trained in the Indian classical dance forms of kutiyattam, bharatanatyam and odissi. In this book, this group presents a study of "The Dance of Shiva", transposing Rodin's poetic prose into the non-verbal language of their respective styles of dance. Following a performing arts renaissance inseparable from the complex phenomenon of transculturation, why should this writing of Rodin's attract attention a century later? What are the aesthetic, linguistic, political and transcultural considerations of its translation into several Indian languages and of its adaptation for the stage in France and India?
How is Rodin's text received by contemporary artists, researchers and audiences, both French and Indian? Indian actor-dancers communicate a text by transposing it into learned gestures (mudra et hasta) that alternate rhythmic movements with sculptural poses; how does this non-verbal language contribute to an understanding of Rodin's text? Do the inter-and intra-semiotic experiments within such poetic and artistic translations of "The Dance of Shiva" propose a particular form of resistance to a dominant language or ethnocentric model? Can they contribute to the enrichment or transformation of certain elements of codified language unique to the contemporary Indian artist, to the extent that certain words chosen by Rodin to describe Shiva are practically untranslatable? Can we discuss (speak about) the current interfaces among the artistic categories- sculpture, poetry, dance, theatre, music, photography, and architecture- suggested by Rodin's text? Given the particular importance that he placed at the end of his life on the relationships among the different arts, we will be able to see how poetic writing permitted him to connect sculpture and dance in such a way-never does one illustrate, nor obscure, nor risk to erase the other.
Rodin sought to comprehend the inherent meaning of the rhythmic interplay among moments of equilibrium, disequilibrium and tension characterising this dance posture of Shiva's, without getting caught up in symbolic and mythological ornaments. Does this resonate with some of his own pieces when he draws or sculpts successions of acrobatic forms, suggesting their incompleteness or disappearance? What does this text teach us about the manner in which Rodin cultivated the memory of Antiquity and the desire for an original, ephemeral event? In this unprecedented meeting between ancient sculpture and Indian dance, and their eventual staging in poetry, Rodin invites us as contemporary readers to see his own body of work anew, and to regard these distinct arts differently. In his text, he shows us a unique alliance between interpretation and invention, between the reconstruction of the past and the arrangement of new forms.
The full Rodin text follows this introduction; this represents its second publishing in English, following a first in 1998. As we seek to understand the sources of Rodin's inspiration, we add an Indian perspective on the sculpted image of Shiva that Rodin had contemplated: that of H.S. Shiva Prakash, poet, playwright, and professor of aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Benedicte Gamier, scientific manager for Rodin's collection of antiques, explains Rodin's passion for another genre of antique sculptures influenced by India: those of Southeast Asia. Rodin discovered the art of Cambodia and Indonesia at the 1900 Universal Exposition in the Dutch East Indies pavilion, which displayed castings from the Borobudur temple sculptures.
This volume represents the proceedings of the one-day conference on 17 October 2012 at the Musee Rodin in Paris, co-organised by Universite Paris 8 (Research Laboratory EA 1573-The Stage and Knowledge) and the museum. It incorporates several elements of the original work "Shiva-Rodin", a staging of the text of Auguste Rodin's "The Dance of Shiva", produced by Katia Legeret-Manochhaya and presented a few days following the conference at the Parisian theatre La Reine Blanche.
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