Sunday, July 13, 2008

Maya Deren

At Tate Modern today I watched Meshes of the Afternoon, a 1943 film by Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid. Deren (1971-1961) was to say the least a very interesting character - Jewish refugee from the Ukraine, sometime trotskyist, dancer, anthropologist, avant garde film maker and vodou practitioner.

Meshes of the Afternoon is concerned with dreams, shadows and reflections. It is not a dance film as such, but it certainly features dancerly movements - see for instance the section from about 4:30 in this extract where Deren ascends the stairs and then moves around at the top of the staircase (this is part one of the film - the second half is also on Youtube here).

Dance is more central to Deren's Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946 - discussed
by Erin Brannigan here), with the second half of this silent film featuring an extended dance in the open air. The party scene includes appearances by Gore Vidal and Anais Nin.

Deren was particularly interested in the relationship between music, dancing and states of apparent possession - it was this interest that led her to Haiti to study vodou. In a 1942 article, Religious possession in dancing, Deren wrote:

“just as various mechanical devices such as crystals and light are employed in hypnotism, so, I believe, drum rhythms are extremely important in inducing possession. As we know, rhythm consists in the regularity of the interval between sounds. Once this interval has been established, our sense-perceptions are geared to an expectation of its recurrence... Even more important, sustained rhythmic regularity and the fact that the source of it is outside the individual rather than within, means that consciousness is unnecessary, as it were, in the maintenance of concentration’.


Martin said...

I saw "Meshes..." yonks ago, but is this the entire piece? I seem to remember a hooded figure with a mirror face stalking around her apartment and her eventually smashing it with a hammer...

Transpontine said...

Yes you're right, this is just part one - I'll add the link to the rest of it.