Harmonic Gymnastics and Pantomimic Expression

Any idea what that phrase means? Well, most of us could probably guess at “pantomimic expression”, but “harmonic gymnastics” (or “aesthetic gymnastics”, its other name) is something you don’t hear everyday. I certainly hadn’t until just over a week ago, when I got my assignment for a theatre history project due next Tuesday: “Steele Mackaye and Aesthetic Gymnastics.”

I put off research for a week, as I was busy working on a project for another class. Yesterday I buckled down, however, and started Google-ing and looking for books in the library. What I found was that while there are lots of articles online or references to Steele Mackaye and his strange brand of movement, there are not a lot of printed books readily available. As I dug deeper and found the few books I could in my university’s library that seemed relevant, I’ve learned why it’s so difficult to find texts on the subject: neither Steele Mackaye nor his artistic mentor, Francois Delsarte, published anything regarding their theories or works. This makes for interesting search tactics; I’ve found several full or partial-text articles or books online, meaning that for the purposes of this project, technology (specifically, Google books and related sources) is a godsend.

Thankfully, I’ve also found a helpful little book called “Every Little Movement”, published in the 1950s (and, on an interesting side note, hasn’t been checked out of the library for nearly seven years). Shawn seems to have done most of the dirty work for me – sifting through old articles, letters, and even lecture notes from Mackaye and Delsarte’s students in order to put together a coherent overview of their theories, which, apparently, had a major influence on the development of modern American Dance.

Still, I feel like a bit of an historical detective; clicking on obscure links in hopes of finding a few pages of relevant text that someone had the wisdom to scan onto the internet; noting the names of other books referenced by Shawn and searching for those (again, many are only available in the libraries of Germany or France, and therefore won’t be found on my university’s shelves); keeping my eyes and proverbial “ears” out as I’m reading and researching for any tidbit that I can use in my presentation. While it was stressful at first – as yet another book turned out to be a dead-end today when I realized it was apparently misplaced in the library I started to get anxious, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to finish this project on time – now that I’m reassured by the info I have found, it’s sort of fun.

It helps that this is a particularly easy week for me: two classes cancelled and no homework due tomorrow. I’m glad for the time to delve into this project.


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