Saturday, 3 October 2015

Adaptations and the Metropolis Conference - How did it go?

Senate House, London.
After years of absence from conferences, attending the 10th Association of Adaptation Studies Conference in London last week (24-25 September) has been refreshing and exceedingly stimulating. Titled Adaptations and the Metropolis, it was devised to explore the interconnections between literature, films, videogames, dance, theme parks etc. and metropolises, because “through the presentation of the metropolis in past, present and speculative adaptations we are able to understand aspects of our changing lifestyles, the effects of urbanisation on literary and visual art, national identity, social inequalities, territorial displacement, environmental destruction, utopias and dystopias, and our social and psychological relationship with architecture and city development”.

Image from 1984 film.
The place where the conference was held, was Senate House, a building I was used to visit very often during my PhD research as it is the home of one of the best academic libraries in London, Senate House Library. In an eerie and uncanny way, the building was also the object of two fascinating papers, one by Nicholas Ruddick and the other by Elena Nistor, who both talked about its almost disturbing connection with literature and film (the meat of the matter in Adaptation Studies) in George Orwell’s novel 1984 and its 1984 film adaptation.

Start of the conference.
The keynote speaker of day one, Graham Holderness, gave a stupendous paper on the adaptations of Sweeney Todd, leaving us wondering about Fleet Street in London and Todd’s barber mechanical and diabolic chair. The panels I managed to attend were all interesting and in some cases also fun, like Joyce Goggin’s “Adapting the Moneyscape: Las Vegas and the City Theme”, Nico Dicecco’s “Adaptive Play: Scott Pilgrim and the Pleasures of a Violent City” or Ana Coelho’s “(Dis)placement and fantasy in Lost in Austen”.

In other cases, they took an unusual perspective on the topic, like Marta Frago’s “The city as mirror of dreams in the new political biopic”, which dealt with the connection between the city and representative figures (kings, queens, politicians) as portrayed in films like The Queen and The Iron Lady, or Johannes Fehrle’s “The Post-Apocalyptic City as Jungle in SpecOps: The Line” which focused on a videogame adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

Slide from my paper.
There were many papers I was interested in but could not go to, like Dario Lolli's "Tōkyō, Capital of Postmodernity?”, Christophe Collard’s “Refracted Remediation: Pyncheon’s Brussels As Liminal Milieu”, José Duarte’s “Everything becomes chaos – Gotham as vision of the contemporary city” and Laura Fryer’s “Absorbing the world of others: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s adapted screenplays and presentations of cities”.

The conference programme.
What about my paper, “Kinetic lines, embodied perspectives: Martha Graham's Lamentation and the City of New York”? Well, I am pretty glad about it. It was scheduled for the afternoon of the first day in a beautiful room on the third floor. I had some problems with my powerpoint and was a little nervous, but I talked through all its most important aspects, was able to show all the photographic and audiovisual material I intended to show, and received cool and at times thought-provoking feed-back.

On day two, I was particularly mesmerized by the conversation between two historic figures, screenwriter Andrew Davies and former Head of BBC Drama, Jonathan Powell. It was like listening to history directly talking to us, and very informative of the way things work within television programming. The conference dinner was at Antalya Restaurant, a Turkish restaurant nearby and the buffet lunches and coffee breaks at Senate House during the two days were delicious.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Adaptations and the Metropolis - my paper

Lamentation is a solo Martha Graham created and performed in New York in 1930. At the 10th AAS (Association of Adaptation Studies) Conference, Adaptations and the Metropolis, I will present the paper "Kinetic lines, embodied perspectives: Martha Graham's Lamentation and the City of New York", focusing on its profound connections with New York both in terms of content and form. The above mute video portrays Graham dancing some parts of the solo in 1943, here is the source I have taken it from.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Adaptations and the Metropolis, 10th AAS Conference


On September 24th and 25th, 2015, at Senate House, London, there will be the 10th Annual Association of Adaptation Studies (AAS) Conference, whose theme is Adaptations and the Metropolis. I will take part with a paper titled "Kinetic lines, embodied perspectives: Martha Graham's Lamentation and the City of New York". Here is the full programme. I am very excited about this event and about my paper. I will soon add more info.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Letter - Review

The magazine Danza&Danza has published a nice review of my book Letter to the World: Martha Graham danza Emily Dickinson. The review was written by Maria Luisa Buzzi, whom I thank a lot, on the July/August number (263) of the magazine.

Letter - Review

Another review of my book, Letter to the World: Martha Graham danza Emily Dickinson has been published a while back by Leonilde Zuccari in Il giornale della danza. Here a link to the page. (The first one was by Krapp's Last Post by Stefania Zepponi, here the link).

Aperitivo in danza (aperitif and dance)

Semiserious dialogue between words and gestures on dance as a poetical and democratic art
Organised by Rosella Simonari, dance scholar, and Stefania Zepponi, choreographer and artistic director of Hexperimenta
Part of Inteatro Festival
2 July 2015, h 7 pm, Raval, Ancona

If I say dance, what do you say? This was the opening question that Rosella Simonari and Stefania Zepponi have asked to the people who came at the Aperitivo in Danza (aperitif and dance), event which was part of the Inteatro Festival.  Talking about dance is important, doing it during an aperitif 

is also enjoyable. Simonari and Zepponi have talked about some aspects of the choreutic art, starting from the questions they asked the audience. And the audience replied with stimulating reflections

that have become brief debates:  dance as a passion, dance as energy, dance and music, dance in theatres, dance on the street.

The bar which has hosted the event, Raval, has reserved some tables outside and this has allowed some of the Hexperimenta dancers to kinetically comment what was being said on dance performning
short variations in place or across space.

The nice evening ended with a group choreography made of everyday gestures suggested by some of the peopel present after Zepponi asked for them.

Dance can in fact be made of simple small gestures belonging to our daily routine, gestures that repeated in a sequence can create a splendid piece. The video fo the performance has been published on facebook, here is the link.
The photographs are by Chiara Scarponi.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Modernism's Mythic Pose

Carrie J.Preston, Modernism’s Mythic Pose –Gender, Genre, Solo Performance, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.

As I delved into Carrie Preston’s book, one iconic pop song refrain kept coming to my mind, “strike a pose” from Madonna’s Vogue. The song and the video both focus on posing and more specifically on vogueing, a dance style born in Harlem in the 1980s and characterized by sophisticated arm movements. Madonna inserted these moves in her video, stylishly choreographed by Karole Armitage, and vogueing became a world-famous phenomenon. Interestingly, the video opens with dancers clad in elegant clothes posing among paintings by Tamara de Lempicka and what looks like a classical marble statue. The word ‘pose’ today may recall the act of posing as for a portrait or a photograph (what is inherently implied in the “strike a pose” line, in that the flash of a camera is probably going to flash out) and also an artificial posture, something you construct maybe to impress somebody else (again the video is clear about this).

These aspects may sound quite distant from Preston’s groundbreaking study, but they are not. They resemble its focus on the significance of body posture in the art world, in this case, the popular art world. At the centre of Preston's research is the mythic pose which is clearly defined (unfortunately only in the afterword) as “a bodily attitude imitating an ancient statue, a poetic pose that repositions a character from myth, or an interpretative paradigm posing myth in analogical relation to current life”. A remarkable example can be found in Emma Lyon Hamilton’s performances. In the 1780s and 1790s, she was a famous tourist attraction in the English embassy in Naples where she lived with her husband, Sir William Hamilton. In her attitudes, she wore long tunics and was usually barefoot, holding one pose for a while and then moving on to the next one. The mythical figures she interpreted spanned from Mary Magdalene to Medea and exemplified “the tension between motion and stasis, the illusion that she was frozen in motion, but at any moment, the statue might become a living woman again”. Lyon Hamilton was a precursor of that same statue posing which blossomed a century later.

Between the 1880s and 1920s, in fact, the art of posing fervidly grew, contributing to feed the rise and growth of modernism. It did just not mean people assuming the posture of a classical statue but included a multifaceted set of expressive performances, like attitudes, dramatic monologues, and solo performances and encompassed numerous fields like literature and dance. Preston’s analysis of the dramatic monologue in the culture of recitation is quite rich and positions the mythic pose “in various modernist venues and their influence on other forms of poetry”. In this sense, the Poetry Bookshop, which was opened in 1913 in Bloomsbury, London, by Harol Monro, a member of the Poetry Society, advocated the practice of reading aloud and organized numerous events that contributed to influence the work of poets like T. S. Eliot and Amy Lowell. According to Lowell, poetry should be considered a “Spoken Art” where the aural quality of words are paid a special attention, “Lowell understood recitation as the most contemporary pursuit of poetry”.

Where did all these genres linked to the mythic pose come from? Where did they originate? Lyon Hamilton was a renowned precursor, but François Delsarte was the pedagogue, theorist and actor who gave the phenomenon substance and meaning in the nineteenth century. He believed in approaching the body in relation to expression and developed a complex body topography “based on a series of trinities: three human ‘states’ (mind, life, and soul), ‘three organic apparatuses’ (thinking, loving, feeling), and three ‘languages’ (speech as language of the mind, song as the language of love and life, and gesture as the language of the soul)”. Delsarte’s writings did not survive him in a consistent manner, but his disciples widespread his findings both in Europe and in the United States.

In the States, Isadora Duncan, the protagonist of a revolution in dance and culture, was highly influenced by his theories and her performances imbued with his approach. Preston devotes an entire chapter to Duncan and her “motor in the soul”, an image that recalls the Futurists’ celebration of the machine and that embodies her “attempt to make dance ‘new’ by turning back to a mythical past”. Preston’s analysis is beautifully weaved in that it presents Duncan in a fresh and layered light, by focusing on her dances, her approach to movement and her writings. With regards to her dances, their reconstructions deserved perhaps a more careful attention, as it is important to contextualise and give background to the dancers, teachers and choreographers who are carrying on her legacy: how was it done? How was her work reconstructed? What were its main problems? And so on.

Preston concludes her analysis with another case study dedicated to H.D., poet, model, writer, and actor, showing how “an antimodern critique unites her work: the search for a mode of being that unites body and soul and the use of myth to encourage readers and audiences to participate in a similar search”. Preston explores H.D.’s poems, photographs, films and her study becomes particularly captivating when she talks about montage. H.D. worked on the editing of films like Borderline but montage also influenced her poetry. For example, her poem Trilogy  “depicts dream-visions through montagelike juxtapositions of ritual traditions and modern events, including alchemy and the London blitz”.

Preston's book is an outstanding achievement that purposefully moves between disciplines and across time to present a neglected picture of mythic posing and its multiple ramifications. Posing was a meaningful art and today's definition comes more alive thanks to this study because it gives it a fundamental background. Even Madonna's "strike a pose" can be seen from a richer perspective as a way to capture attention in liaison with a mythical past, in this case embodied by the celebrity figures mentioned in the song. 

The volume also deservedly won the 2011 de la Torre Bueno Prize, issued by the Society of Dance History Scholars.