PEOPLE, artists and non-artists alike, have tended to look on artists and their work as something very special, something very much out of the ordinary humdrum existence most of us lead. In truth, artistic creation is no more mystical or magical an experience than setting up equations, and almost as easy to understand. The subject matter--and perhaps even more important, the artistic process--is intrinsically bound to everyday life. The relationship between life and art should be a symbiotic one--art feeding on life and vice versa. This realization, philosophy professor Nelson Goodman argues, is essential, and essentially lacking from our general cultural background.
For this reason Goodman has set up a program at the School of Education to provide America's future teachers and school administrators with a more intimate introduction to the arts. His first offerings were two "lecture-performances" this month of the Ina Hahn Dance Company.
For their first performance Miss Hahn's company appeared on an empty stage, against a dreary beige backdrop minus all lighting effects. The dancers began without music, illustrating the materials of dance while Miss Hahn provided the verbal explanations. They started with the most basic component: movement. Movement for dance, Miss Hahn said, must be defined in its broadest sense. "To limit oneself to certain movements which are supposed to be correct or beautiful [as classical ballet does] is to bar oneself from an infinitely varied world. The richness of dance lies in its ability to draw from the real world."
To demonstrate, dancer Joan Blackmer--next to Miss Hahn, the troupe's most mature and accomplished performer--rudely pushed a chair across the stage. Then she repeated exactly the same gesture without the chair: we had passed to mime. Finally, again without the chair, she abstracted the gestures, exaggerating them, extending the slow, speeding up the fast, using her whole body to carry out a movement which her foot or her arm had performed alone. Now we had dance. The company passed through the same elaborations to show the use of space, time, and energy. Finally, combining these elements and varying the combinations, they had developed a nearly complete dance.
MISS HAHN introduced music in her second performance, and once again showed her bias against traditional form, toward freer--perhaps more hazardous--interpretations of dance. The Company concentrated on pieces in which the relationship of sound to movement was abstract. Miss Hahn used sound to create a very general field in which the dance took place; or, at times, she refused to define the relationship. Movement and music followed their own tracks and the connection was left to each member of the audience. Sound and movement sometimes had completely separate existences coming together only at crucial moments.
The second performance, however, was mainly concerned with the problems of creation. The four pieces performed that night were all in one way or another unsatisfactory to the Company. They had not, as Miss Hahn expressed it, taken on a life of their own; they had not told her what they wanted to say. The idea that a work of art is somehow master of its creator and can dictate to him the terms of its existence is a difficult one and one the Company did not really come to grips with in its explanations. What is boiled down to that evening was nothing more (and nothing less) than a feeling that the work was not right. It is this same feeling that provides dancers with the rules and the strucure in pieces as "free" as those Miss Hahn and her troupe are working on.