Thursday, August 28, 2014

June 4th: Characteristics of Modernism

      I.         Challenge of Tradition
a.     Rite of Spring
b.     Millepied’s “Daphnis et Chloe”
c.     Isadora Duncan
d.     Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio
e.     Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon

    II.         Experimentation with Language
a.     Gertrude Stein

  III.         Technological Revolution and Innovation
a.     Eiffel Tower: Sense of engineering and perspective
b.     Corbusier
c.     Man Ray/ Henri Cartier Bression/ Charles Herschel
d.     Napoleon III and Haussmann’s Plan

  IV.         Self-Consciousness

    V.         Conversation and Collaboration Across Art Forms
a.     Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Moulin Rouge”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

June 5th: Millepied's "Daphnis and Chloe"

The medium of dance is unlike any other artistic form. It combines several styles of artistry in order to craft a single performance. Additionally, every piece of dance pays homage in some way or another to the greater history of its medium. It is important to view dance 
 through this lens, so that a viewer can fully grasp the complex nature of its form and craft.

Benjamin Millepied’s new production of “Daphnis and Chloe,” which debuted at the Opéra Bastille this June illustrated these unique characteristics of dance distinctively. Millepied’s choice of work originates from the foundational pieces of the Ballet Russe. Specifically, Michel Fokine originally choreographed the work in 1912. The piece was comprised of a musical score developed by Maurice Ravel and featured the work of Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina. Fokine conceived the piece in hopes of reforming elements of the classical ballet. Like other choreographers of his time, he wanted to move away from maintaining a pristine form of movement. Thus, he played with concepts like pantomime and visual balance. 
Ultimately, Millepied’s production of “Daphnis and Chloe”
honors Fokine’s revolutionary ideas 
and creates a captivating work of dance.

             Millepied’s production of “Daphnis and Chloe” is simply a piece of divine artwork. It is an artwork comprised of fluidity and complexity. However, like most art, it has its moments of confusion and obscurity. The first movements of Millepied’s “Daphnis and Chloe” are soft and entrancing gestures to welcome the viewer into the story. These gestures are seemingly effortless and showcase the precision of each dancer’s dexterity. They are simply beautiful.Specifically, Millepied’s principle dancers illustrate a unique caliber in their movements. Hervé Moreau, who portrays Daphnis in the piece, demonstrates the unwavering love of his character in an unending solo. In this solo, Moreau alternates from extremely slow and fast movements, which symbolically represent his character’s bliss upon meeting Chloé and finding love. The honesty of Moreau’s movements create a truly  sublime moment.

As the story of the piece progresses, the movements and gestures of the dancers are slowly lost to the story. Encapsulating images and colors are introduced to the piece like Daniel Buren’s sculptures and bright costumes. The dancers soon are objectified by these elements. It is difficult for the audience to absorb the clash of color, movement, and abstraction, which all reach a head at the climax of the piece. After this clash occurs, it’s almost impossible for the audience to regain understanding of the story. The story isn’t completely lost, but the finale lacks the clarity necessary to offer the viewer a sense of conclusion.

Millepied’s production was an experiment similar to Fokine’s initial production of “Daphnis and Chloe”. Both Millepied and Fokine meant to challenge and alter the way dance was viewed and perceived. Such challenge isn’t always accepted well. For example, Igor Stravinksy’s “The Rite of Spring” first debuted in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.  At this performance, the new language of the work horrified the audience to near riot. Yet, such language instilled evolution across the dance medium. It inspired dancers and choreographers to create a new movement from the old, which is a fundamental principle of dance now. Therefore, Millepied’s production of “Daphnis and Chloe” may not have completely succeeded artistically. Yet, it did succeed in moving dance forward, which is an accomplishment within itself.


June 6th: The Photography of Cartier Bresson

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. This colloquial saying isn’t always true. The picture that my friend just instagrammed of her freshly made Starbucks’ Frappuccino isn’t worth more than a 150 characters. The “selfie” that any stranger takes in any given moment is worth even less characters and words. Yet, each of these acts of photography directly and indirectly documents and captures a narrative. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook are all outlets for this new age of photojournalism. The field of photojournalism, however, was founded upon greater principles than Frappuccinos and “selfies”, which is important to acknowledge and understand.

In the early 1930s, young photographer Henri Cartier-Bression pioneered the first acts of photojournalism. These remnant photographs were extensively exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou this past June. While at the exhibit, two photographs resonated powerfully with me. The first image, juxtaposed the figure of artist Alberto Giacometti with the elongated form of one of his sculptures. The image was striking because Bression did not make the famous Giacometti the centralizing subject. Instead, Giacometti is, in fact, a completely unfocused blur in the image. Rather, the captivating part of the image is the dialogue between the artist and his work. Giacometti is engaged with the subject of his pieces as Bression engages with him. Additionally, the viewer of the photograph feels like they have been given the chance to step into Giacometti’s studio, which is amplified by the artist’s movement in the frame. The experience isn’t static. The viewer experiences the studio as Bression and Giacometti experienced it through movement, yet they experience that movement through a simple photograph. This technical use of framing and movement showcases the revolutionizing format of photojournalism. Ultimately, Bression incorporates technical framing and movement in combination with diverse perspective in his images in order to capture the complexity of every scene. 

For example, his image “ Défilé de mode, Rhénanie-du-Nord” captures a scene between a runway model and her spectators. The model is in the process of walking down the runway, while her spectators look on in amazement. Interestingly, the figure of the model is distorted so that only her body is visible and not her face. Additionally, she models a glowing white gown, which is contrasted by the dark exterior of her surroundings. Bression’s choice of perspective here is unique. He reverts from taking a typical photograph that focuses purely on the model. Instead, he frames the image in order to capture the entire moment and each participant’s involvement. It is this precision that allows the viewer of the photograph to be actively engaged with Bression’s subject matter.

Bression’s images unknowingly created an entirely different genre of photography. Bression’s craft calls upon aesthetics from other photographers like John Herschel and Man Ray. Like these photographers, Bression was focused on using photography to capture an unseen perspective and depth. His work stands as a legacy for the beginning of photojournalism—which hopefully will inspire modern photographers to look beyond Frappuccinos and “selfies” for inspiration.

June 7th: Haussmann's Plan of Paris

Paris is one of the most popular places in the world to travel to. It offers a wide-range of historical and modern attractions. Yet, the city did not always function as successfully as it does now. In fact, Paris was once an array of ancient and overcrowded districts. The city was poorly organized and lacked proper circulation, which led to the spread of disease and epidemic. Ultimately, Paris stood as a vestige of its middle ages’ past and suffered from its lack of modernization greatly.


            In 1852, Napoleon III became emperor and demanded change for the city. Napoleon was inspired by the Industrial Revolution and called for a modern city that reflected the new age. He partnered with Baron Georges Haussmann in order to accomplish his new plan of Paris. Haussmann molded the city into a geometric and axial grid. New streets and boulevards ran either east and west or alternatively north and south. This axial planning divided the city into organized sections. Haussmann then proceeded to modernize Paris by using these new organized sections to create urban districts. The original plan called for twelve districts. However, in 1860, Paris annexed additional surrounding communities and divided Paris into twenty districts. The districts started inward, on the banks of the Seine, and spiraled outwards.

Haussmann’s plan brought symmetry to the city, which it had lacked beforehand. Additionally, the widening of streets into boulevards was a technical strategy that was employed to rid Paris of disease and illness. The widened streets relieved the disorganized city and allowed for citizens to get around more easily. It also allowed for an increase in the height of the buildings, which provided more room for the citizens of Paris to live within as well.


After making these imperative changes, Haussmann focused on building a new unified architectural language for the city. Additionally, Haussmann supported the construction of new public buildings, such as L’Opéra and many other neo-classical structures. Haussmann settled on a neo-classical façade to represent the city because it offered stability, cohesion, and refinement to Paris. To this day, the architecture of Paris helps to define the character of the city. Ultimately, the work of Napoleon III and Haussmann revolutionized Paris from a medieval city to a notable world capital.