Just a week ago I visited an exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art called “Debussy’s Paris.” The exhibit uses Debussy’s vivid music as a departure point–from this point the curators explored the art, the dancers, the poets and writers that moved with the same feeling and in the same era as his music. The material for this time period (late 19th century, early 20th century Parisian art scene) is rich to say the least, and more exciting: this time period ushered in an overlap between genres of artistic expression, which makes the exhibit all the more amazing
Take for instance, the Afternoon of the Faun. First it was a poem written by Stephen Mallarme. Find the corner in the back of the first room where you can listen to it recited in French–a pleasure even to those who don’t speak the language. When Charles Debussy asked his friend Mallarme if he could translate his text into song form, the poet responded that he felt he had already done it, but that Debussy was welcome. In the corner all the way in the back you can select this song and compare the striking differences but parallel mood of the poem and music. Lastly, Vaslav Nijinski, a Russian dancer performing in Paris, appears in photos and in paintings, all displaying his danced interpretation of The Afternoon of the Faun.
This video is supposedly a lost film of Nijinksi dancing, but no one can be certain since video at the time was so unreliable. (And quite frankly the source looks unreliable!) But nonetheless, it captures the essence and remains true to what the dance would have looked like. And it’s certainly Debussy’s music, to which the production was set (although that would have been added after the film was made, since films of the time were silent).
If you’re still not impressed, let me assure you the material is rich. Odilon Redon’s dreamy work appears twice, there are works by Tolouse Lautrec, Manet, and others. You won’t be disappointed. So take the bus or take a car and go! It’s really a very exciting exhibit and you’ll feel excited afterwards–I know I did. Not to mention there’s an inspiring film on dancer Loïe Fuller, American born woman, who, with no ballet training, entirely captivated artists and critics alike with her mystifying and innovative “Fire Dance”
(This one is just a reconstruction, but you can understand the mystification!)
She wore a long white silk costume and moved herself over the changing lights so that by the end of the fire dance she seemed to be consumed by flames. It is exciting to watch:
Smith Museum of Art Hours:
Tuesday to Saturday: 10–4
Exhibit on View until June (Go see it!)
Love Ya sheBOMBers!