|The first meeting of Charles Didelot and Avdotia Istomina|
The first meeting of the future ballerina Avdotia (Evdokia) Istomina and Charles Didelot took place in 1805, when Dunya was only 6 years old. The diminutive, dark-haired orphan was apparently dropped off at the St. Petersburg ballet school by a certain mysterious army flautist, who believed she had talent. Dance became Istomina's father and mother, her food, drink and shelter. Dancing and Didelot launched her into the eye of the public. At age nine, she made her debut, appearing onstage, astride an enormous swan, in the ballet, Flore et Zéphire, as a member of the corps. A few years later, she would prance onstage as a soloist in the role of Flora en pointe: the first ballerina in Russia to do so.
(A portion of a re-enactment of Flore et Zéphire by Yuri Soloviev and Natalia Makarova--alas, without a swan.)
According to the choreographer Lyubov Ryuganova, Charles Didelot was fond of conducting experiments on his students, and his young pupil Dunyasha became a favorite subject. He studied the origins of dance in ancient documents and legends. Once, in some half-forgotten archive, he found a manuscript on Dionysian rites. He brought it one evening after sunset to Istomina, on a tray, together with a glass of wine and a bunch of grapes. After a short explanation, the girl agreed to participate in her teacher's ritual. She sat at the table with him, drank the wine, and began to read the manuscript slowly, not entirely comprehending what she was reading.
Silence filled the room. Then, Dunya began tapping the table, as if in synchronization with a drumbeat heard by her alone. She beat the table faster and faster, until she sprang to her feet. She grasped the cluster of grapes, and tossed them one by one onto the floor, then trampled them with her bare feet. She ran to and fro, laughing, crying, and leaping madly, as if possessed by the twin forces of creation and destruction.
Whenever Istomina appeared on stage in one of Didelot's theatrical dance-spectacles, she delighted and surprised audiences by her technical skill and her ability to serve as the embodiment of a myth, to convey a story without words.
In this short life-time I have spent more time studying the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite than I have the rites of Dionysius.
But lately, I have been sensing the small hand of Dunyasha tugging at mine. "Let's dance," she begs. "I am too tired," I shrug apologetically. When I go out and sit on the stump in my garden, musing, head in hand, I hear the trees whispering: "Dance," they seem to murmur.
Will I be able to muster up the courage to join in the circle of maenads whose holy presence is haunting me? Or do I merely need to let go of what we would normally describe as reality?
Perhaps I am not so tired, after all.
|Dance (Mark Chagall)|
"We pray that we may come unto this Darkness which is beyond light, and without seeing and without knowing, to see and to know That which is above vision and above knowledge,"
--Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.