Lecture : The Suppression of the Powerful Feminine

On Thursday, March 14 Dominic Walsh presented the lecture The Suppression of the Powerful Feminine at the Jung Center. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear Dominic share his thoughts, ideas and the creative process that led to this recent work Camille Claudel.

It was a wonderful evening and in a particularly revealing moment Dominic said, “I often feel compelled to pay homage to the artists who feed my own imagination, whose work ignites a desire to create a story and a vocabulary of movement. I think of it as a timeless, space-less exchange. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to those who dedicated their lives to their artistic work, and hope my work, in turn, honors what they have given of themselves during their short time on earth.”

It was such an inspirational evening that we have included the text of the lecture in its entirety for you. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did and to watch an excerpt of the beautiful work scroll to the bottom page. Enjoy!

 

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Thank you to Lise Liddell, Lucie Dunwoody, Sean Fitzpatrick and everyone here at the Jung Center.  It’s a great honor to be invited to speak with you all today.

I thought I would first speak a little about some ideas on equality of women and duality of the masculine and feminine energies. Then, speak about why I was drawn to Camille’s story and a bit about who she was. I’ll speak a little about my process in creating this work and then show a 13 min. video that quickly takes us through the dance theater work.

Then we can conclude by opening up to Q&A and discussion.

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Feminism

I would like to start with a few Jungian comments and quotes:

Because a man’s sensitivity must often be repressed, the anima is one of the most significant complexes of all. It is said to manifest itself by appearing in dreams. It also influences a man’s interactions with women and his attitudes toward them.  Jung said that “the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development…that with the anima is the ‘masterpiece’”.[1] Jung viewed the anima process as being one of the sources of creative ability.

I thought this was interesting and appropriate as well:

The masculine/male aspect is action – our ability to do things – to think, to speak, and to move our bodies.  It is the outflow end of the channel.  The feminine receives the universal creative energy and the masculine expresses it in the world through action – this giving us a creative process.  Our female is inspired by a creative impulse and communicates it to us through a feel, and our male acts on it by speaking, moving, or doing whatever is appropriate.  The union of our feminine and masculine energies within the individual is the basis of all creation.  Our female intuition plus our male action equals creativity.  In order to live a harmonious and creative life, you need to have both your inner female and male energies fully developed and functioning correctly together.  To fully integrate the inner male and female, you need to put the female in the guiding position.  This is her natural function.  She is your intuition, the door to your higher intelligence.

I think this idea of ‘higher intelligence’ is also related to ethical consciousness and our constant struggle for that balance.

I don’t know that I can add much insight as to the reason for Claudel’s suppression.  Or why powerful women are perceived as threats.   I see this as a reoccurring human rights’ theme that we still battle with today. I see we have addressed a few of the symptoms, but have not really evolved from the core issue of equality.

What I can say- is that I know a thing or two about boys needing to repress their sensitive nature; and a trait that feels like a curse as a child, can prove to be a great attribute in adult life.

I will speak more about the biography on Camille Claudel in a minute, but I thought this review from the book was worth sharing while on the subject.

Book review comment: in 19th century Paris, Camille’s actions labeled her insane, remember a woman who chose to wear pants was considered a criminal unless they obtained special permission from the police to do so and it was a popular thought at the time that talented women possessed genitalia very similar to men! I think society was more insane than Miss Claudel and I will forever wonder what she could have contributed had she been born in this century.

I do find that I am often drawn to women’s stories.  When we created our Romeo and Juliet in 2006, I remember reading that Juliet was Shakespeare’s first heroin.  Often in the classical ballet versions she can come off as delicate and vulnerable.  I re-read the text and found a great hero in the role.

Our version of Sleeping Beauty, 2007, tells a story of Aurora as an obstinate teenager hanging out with a bad crowd.  Our story focuses on her struggles and her journey into adulthood and parenthood.

In 2011 Addie Tsai and I co-conceived a dance-theater work called “Victor Frankenstein”.  This was a 40-minute work that was more about Mary Shelley, and her story and what she might have been saying with the novel of Frankenstein.  Her mother was the feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, who was an 18th Century British writer, philosopher, and advocate for women’s rights. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.

Addie has a beautiful theory that Frankenstein was written as a love letter to her mother who died at 38, just 10 days after giving birth to Mary Shelley.

Addie has jokingly said that I am a feminist in a man’s body.

The great indie folk poet, Ani Difranco, has a great lyric from a poem called Grand Canyon:

“why can’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists? Out of respect for those who fought for this. “

What is interesting about Camille is that she was a woman of contradictions and cannot be labeled. I don’t think Camille was a typical feminist:

  • The wearing of pants on women was vulgar to her.  She continued to dig for clay and climb ladders throughout her career with the huge heavy petticoats and dresses.
  • She was not active in women’s rights.
  •  She did not trust women (and her Mother and Sister relations were not good.)

So, Why Camille?

My resonance with Camille can simply be summed up in her quote about Movement and Art.

The most essential task of art is to capture movement. On this point I differ from Rodin. For him, the modeling is everything when it comes to sculpture. He attributes only secondary importance to movement. Certainly movement deforms. There is an essential difference between the rapidly turning wheel and the stationary wheel: the stationary wheel is round and its spokes are equidistant from each other; the rapidly turning wheel is no longer round and has no spokes at all. Movement has, in a sense, devoured the anatomy, the very skeleton of the wheel. And a similar thing happens with the human body when it elongates or retracts, changing proportions and destroying its equilibrium. The artist cannot hesitate between what has been and what will be. He must choose. The Chinese and the Japanese have been astonishingly deft at the art of indicating the mobility of beings and things.

I often feel compelled to pay homage to the artists who feed my own imagination, whose work ignites a desire to create a story and a vocabulary of movement. I think of it as a timeless, space-less exchange.  I feel a deep sense of gratitude to those who dedicated their lives to their artistic work, and hope my work, in turn, honors what they have given of themselves during their short time on earth.

I first became familiar with Camille Claudel in 1988 with the film directed by Bruno Nuytten, based on the book by Reine-Marie Paris, granddaughter of Paul Claudel with Isabelle Adjani as Camille and Gerard Depardieu as Rodin.

I then found myself using the imagery of Rodin’s work, (later I discovered these were in fact influenced by Camille), to create my first ballet for Houston Ballet, Flames of Eros.  As I continued to create a vocabulary of movement, I found that the use of sculptural imagery contributed to the voice of the movement.  I continued to use these sculptures for a starting point of movement and in 2009 I create a new version of Afternoon of a Faun based on Rodin’s Nijinsky.

Since watching the film in 1988 I had wanted to make a narrative work about the artist, but felt equally excited and apprehensive about the challenge.  The topic of Camille, and Camille and Rodin, is a charged topic and people have passionate views on the subject.  I knew I needed to tread softly and find solutions to telling parts of this story.

I started speaking with my narrative collaborator, Addie Tsai and she pushed me into setting a date for the debut.  We read and discussed the biography: Camille Claudel-A life, by Odile Ayral-Clause.  What I really liked about this particular biography is that it focused more on her work and on actual letters that were to, from, and about Camille.

The author describes the biography this way:

Camille Claudel (1864-1943) was a gifted 19th-century French sculptor who worked for Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), became his lover, and eventually left him to gain recognition for herself in the art world. After she crumbled under the combined weight of social reproof, deprivations, and art world prejudices, her family had her committed to an asylum, where she died 30 years later. Although Claudel’s life has been romanticized in print and on film, a fully researched biography has never been written until this one. The book draws upon much unpublished material, including letters and photographs that confirm the brilliance of her sculpture, clarify her relationship with Rodin (who did not exploit her, but, in fact, supported her work throughout his life), and reveal the true story of her confinement in a mental institution. Claudel’s fascinating life touches many aspects of women’s issues: creativity, struggle for recognition, conflict with social values, and art world inequities. Illustrated with personal family photographs, this is an intimate and moving tribute to an artist whose life and work have, until now, been misinterpreted and undervalued.

So the author’s description of the biography very much mirrors my desire for creating the dance theater work.  I only differ in opinion about Rodin.  It does seem to me he supported her until her creation -Age of Maturity-, where he felt exploited by the composition.  After this point he did not want that piece of work shown along side his work.  His support did wane after that moment. Unfortunately, this action by Rodin further supported the reasons for her paranoia about Rodin and his gang trying to destroy her.

 Summary

  • I hope this work that we have made will keep the conversation going about her and what she represents.
  • The work she gave the world is thought provoking and stimulates complex and profound emotion.
  • Camille knew her medium, tools and materials from the inside out.  Camille worked in very difficult stones such as Onyx and marble, most sculptors would not even attempt these challenges, but Camille got to know them, listened to them and, I imagine, negotiated with the elements, really understood them coming from the point of view as a fragment of earth herself.
  • This very quality is what I look for in dancers, an intimate and researched relationship with their instrument, the body.  Ultimately, dance and sport are the human experience, magnified.  We as dancers are sculptors working with a difficult medium, the human body. We are sculpting our bodies, negotiating with it to acquire a specific line, shape, and esthetic.  Then within that esthetic there are the great technical abilities required that will remind us of our humble limits.  We will undoubtedly injure ourselves in the process, and have set backs, but hopefully come back smarter and stronger.  We work both in narrative theater, traditional mime, the art of gesture, and abstract theater.  We cross the planes of literal communication to the forms of communication and dialogue that cannot be linked to verbal explanations.

About Camille

Camille Claudel channeled an unmistakable genius in her work.  This talent was a great threat to the belief that men had superior skill to a woman, and Camille made it know that she had no interest in listening to such ignorance.  She stood firm in her beliefs and possessed great confidence in herself and her work, yet, she never got into theory, she said, “I don’t understand theoretical questions about art.  I’ll leave that to others- who don’t understand more than me- to discuss these pointless matters.  Please believe in my sincere ignorance.”

When Camille was only 13 years old Alfred Boucher, world-renowned sculptor and mentor, expressed “this is very surprising, the contrast in the shadows, low lights, and the strength, she has the gift of life.”

Alfred Boucher also said “This student is not like the others, a bit difficult to tame, a wild animal if she doesn’t trust somebody. But once she does, she shows infinite generosity and gentleness. If she does like you, she’ll give you everything”.

This takes me to who she was as a child.  She had an organic and sensitive approach to the elements of the earth.

Who Camille as a child and what informed her before Rodin?

  • Camille was a replacement child, like Van Gogh, Dali and Beethoven. She was born 17 months after her brother Charles Henri died at 2 weeks old.  Her mother never accepted her.
  • Camille was a bit of a tomboy.  The ambiguity of her name remains a part of her behavior, her independent lifestyle and her choice to become a sculptor.
  • She grew up in Villeneuve, France, and her environment there had a huge influence on her.  It was the playground for her imagination.  The earth symbolized creation, and process of creation came from the earth.  This is why she put all of her energy into translating the living, and movement into her sculpture.
  • The Devil’s basket legend.  In Villeneuve, near her childhood home, there are rocks made of sandstone that hold very unusual shapes. It is said that Camille was deeply drawn to these stones and was informed by them.  You can see the shapes and direction of energy in some of her best know works such as Sakuntala, The Wave, and The Waltzers.
  • Her work was compared to Rodin and some thought she trained with him before she even met him or knew who he was.  But Camille did have her own expression.  With La Valse (the Waltzers) she introduced movement by creating an imbalanced position.  The art nouveau drapery added a very modern style to her work.  Camille did not allow her lovers to make contact, but still at this time a woman could not create compositions with nudity or showing any kind of erotic love.
  • Another great influence on Camille was the work of the Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849).  He is known for his 36 views of Mount Fuji; this included the internationally recognized print “The great wave of Kanagawa”.  Camille’s “The Wave” takes a similar shape and feel to Hokusai’s, but also is reminiscent of one of the rocks from The Devil’s basket near her home in Villeneuve.
  • The wave is an important work.  It has been explained as a resignation to fate, an image of destiny preparing her for the tragedy of imprisonment, which hit Camille like a tsunami.  Although Camille was an uncompromising person, she believed her fate was written, and she accepted it.  “As part of the elements that you cannot master” she wrote.  Fatalism is a part of Camille’s artwork and destiny.

Creating the Ballet

Libbie Masterson – set
Domenico Luciano – Costume
David Deveau – Lighting
Kinley Lange –added musical compositions
Addie Tsai – Narrative Collaborator

5 aspects that needed to be addressed for the Dance Theater adaptation.

  1. Text was important to me:
    • There is an interview she gave that sums up much of her humor and sarcasm as well as her strength.
    • Her quote on movement and art is the very core of why I resonate so deeply with her work as a dancer and dance maker.
    • It was important to include the text from the French Government, promising commissions and support, only to later refuse to follow through.
    • So, we pre-recorded the text and created double roles out of the musicians.  Our cellist was the biographer, and our Soprano was a shadow figure of Camille.
  2. She was the master of movement/life, so it was important to interpret and develop what might be the movement of her works.  I chose, Prayer, Inclined Man, Sakuntala, Age of Maturity, The Gossips, and finally The Waltzers.
  3. Her family relationships played a huge part in both her success and misfortunes.  Her brother Paul and her mother Louise Cerveaux, bookend the ballet for the impact made on her in the beginning of her life and certainly at the end with their choice to hold her in the asylum for the last 30 years of her life.
  4. Then Rodin, this was a tricky relationship to write.  I believe they influenced each other greatly, and this exchange was essential to the genius of both their works.  I chose to have the role of Camille’s mother/Rodin/and La Valse played by the same artist, demonstrating comments Camille made about Rodin and her mother conspiring against her, and the positive impact of the love affair she and Rodin once enjoyed, represented in La Valse.  La Valse could also simply be interpreted as her love affair with her gift.
  5. And finally, Her mental instability.  This was even more difficult for me to touch on.  I am not a fan of how her mental instability was portrayed in the 1988 film.  Yes, Camille suffered from paranoia, which led to some mental health, but I would challenge anyone to endure similar set backs without grasping for some reason, or looking for someone behind it who is conspiring against her.  She wrote eloquent letters to her brother and friends begging them to help her out of the asylum. The head doctor recommended releases often.  So, instead of the hysterical mad woman the film portrayed, she was simply the ‘implorer’ asking for her freedom, or for a visit from family as she did repeatedly in her letters.  She is also the implorer through the Henry Purcell aria, “Dido’s Lament,” from Dido and Aeneas, so beautifully interpreted by Soprano, Nancy Curtis.

My process in any work is not linear in the way that I often first have an instinct that informs my choice of direction (of a step, how it is to be executed, or in stage direction and character) then evidence of  ‘why’ is later reviled.

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