Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful.
Funds and circumstances havent allowed me to step outside of Britain for 18 years. But last week my daughter was blessed with a very special gift from her 91-year-old fairy Godmother. A weekend in Paris. A date with the Ballet Onegin, Palais Garnier. And whilst they were in my prayers, I had my very own ballet blessing. A complimentary ticket to Degas at the Royal Academy, courtesy of a friend whose husbands company sponsored the exhibition. For two solitary hours I was lost to a world of reality dreams and aspirations, curved from beyond my life’s once possibility, into another world. The dancer within lives on, never having left the God bestowed acknowledged and once captured gift of an unconformed talent.
It was for me, breath-holdingly magical. From the moment you passed through the almost secretly guarded double doors in to mysterious darkness, all but a towering projection of three white lights, where sitting on a leather sofa I was transported by a silhouetted model of a dancer pivoting in triune, to the classical music of The Ballet. Perfect. The audio sets were an absolute necessity for this exhibition, they landed you direct in the Royal Opera House, Palais Garnier, and thus brought the magic of what can only be described as a tangible transcendental experience, capturing the magical world of beautiful dance.
I giggled to myself as I proceeded round the first hall backwards, as the first two sketches that I happened upon were the study of three nuns in habits seductively dancing as they appeared through the trapped floor in Meyebeers Opera Robert le diable.
Degas (1876): “Ballet of the Nuns” from act 3 of Robert le diable (1831)
I Love Degas. I Love the fact that even if you have never seen a ballet or a tutu, just from his paintings alone you would know that they were made of netting, as you can tangibly feel it brush your skin, even just by looking at the paintings. Now that’s amazing. Each and every floorboard perfectly glazed is created by adding linseed to the oils. The blues and indigos which pick out the grain of the wood or the black of a dancers hair bring to life the reality of the x-ray vision that this very special artist possessed. His prefered medium of charcoals, pastels and oils were perfect for catching the atmosphere of the ballet whose ancient classical routes were of Greece and Rome.
The wonderful thing about Degas is with his intimate ‘behind the scenes’ studies, we are blessed with seeing the dancers in their less transcendental, less graceful positions, relaxed, bending over, sitting legs apart etc. against the formality and grace of performance. We see the tangible transformation from that of the humus, to that of the soul, to that of the spirit in sublime flight. One is an impossibility without the other.
He studied the dancers ‘movement in its exact truth’ in the flesh. Naked, with ‘exceptional frankness’ resembling that of an ‘analyst’ or ‘physiologist’ later making sculptures from wax, only after his death were they cast into bronze.
Inspired by both the french scientists Marey and the English photographer Muybridge, both known for their contemporary study on humans and animals in locomotion, Degas eventually embraced the photography which he once mocked saying “The dancer is nothing but a pretext for drawing”. When he eventually experimented with photography he claimed “What I want is difficult, the atmosphere of lamps and moonlight” which of course he captured so perfectly by charcoal and pastels.
It was so impossible to pick a favourite work out of this whole collection, I Loved them all. I Loved the movement in the wide shallow canvasses, perfectly capturing the activity of the rehearsal studio, your eyes scanning from the foreground into perspective. I Loved the bronzes in each room. I Loved the vibrant colours and the sketches. I Loved the nudes and was delighted at their strength and stature, unlike the petite waifs of today. I Loved his photography especially the extremely contemporary one below.
But as I came to the the very end, I think this beautiful (1896) vibrant intense Amber coloured, dry plate negative sealed it. It was all-powerful and huge and penetrating and radiant and ….
….. In the end “Like Degas himself his models seem to have aged and come to terms with their mortality, occupying a shadowy poetic space more contemplative.”