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Leontine Iliou

Eurythmy - The modern art of movement

Iliou, Leontine: "Eurythmy - The modern art of movement", 16th International Congress on Dance Research, Corfu, Greece, 30/10-3/11, 2002.

1. General

Everywhere around us, creative laws are at work. We experience them in the forms and rythms of nature and in the movements and dynamics which have shaped us as human beings. It is these same principles which live within language and music and provide the starting point for the movements of eurythmy. Therefor in eurythmy we discover the dynamic laws of harmony which have created us.

1.1. I sing the song and the song sings me - The movement is the song

1.2. There are several reasons why eurythmy may be called the Modern Art of Movement. In the first place, it uses movement to express both music and speech, whereas other arts of movement – such as ballet and mime – confine themselves (with very few exceptions) to music alone. But much more important is the fact that the relation of movement to sound in eurythmy is quite different from that in these other arts.

1.3. The aim of eurythmy is to express in the movement and gesture the actual sounds which form the words we use in speech and the actual notes and intervals which compose the melody we hear in music. This is something quite different from representing a story by means of appropriate gestures, or accompanying music with steps and other movements suitable to its mood and rhythm. A brief explanation may therefore be helpful to a new audience in appreciating any performance they may see.

1.4. Eurythmy has its origin in the work of the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, Rudolf Steiner. It is based on the creative and formative power of sound. (It will be recalled that the tradition of most religions is that forms of the visible world were created by the Divine Speech or Word). The sound of both of music and speech has in it an incipient formative power which can be captured and expressed by the gestures and movements especially of hands and arms. For it is with the hands and arms that man naturally expresses both his feelings and his meanings: and indeed in most parts of the world gesture is a natural accompaniment to speech.

1.5. It requires much study and an intuitive sense of language – such as Steiner posessed – to discover these gestures and to penetrate fully into their nature. Most people however, will find that they have a natural sense for them and can appreciate them when seen, and indeed can even begin to discover them for themselves. In music, for instance, there is an obvious and immense difference in quality between the completeness and finality of the interval of a fourth and the disruptive experience given by a seventh. It is evident that these intervals call for totally different gestures to express them. Similarly in poetry the quality of a vowel is quite other than that of a consonant: among the vowels themselves an O produces one effect, an E produces another: among the consonants the soft sound M has one quality, the hard G another, the lively and yet gentle L a third. These qualities also all call for different gestures to express them.

1.6. In eurythmy the essential matter is not that the body itself is beautiful , but that it can be played upon as an instrument. We allow our whole being - body and consciousness- to become permeated by a sound of speech or music, by the dynamics of a straight or a curved line, so that our gestures and the surrounding space are alive with these qualities. We “retune” our individual instruments and so release the music and speech into movements.

1.7. The varied rythms in speech and music are also expressed in eurythmic movements, not mechanically and tied to the beat but rather impulsed by the dynamic of the sounds of speech or the melody of music. Other eurythmic choreographic elements are contrasting qualities – which always correspond to soul experiences – of forward and backward movement from above to below and vice versa and many other elements.

1.8. Furthermore, as eurythmy is the experience of the invisible, inaudible but yet very real soul and spirit of the human being, there are gestures and movement for the 12 qualities of the zodiac, for the planets, for the 4 elements and for all the elemental beings like sylphs, salamanders ( fire spirits), dwarves, etc.

1.9. Conclusion to Section 1

We may say therefore that eurythmy is a metamorphosis of the dance of the ancient mysteries. In the ancient mystery centers people, after undergoing initiation , learned to know the creative forces hidden behind the great Veil or Illusion which is spread over the material world around us. In our present time, the mysteries are everywhere, accessable to everyone at any time, and eurythmy is a way of knowing, feeling and dancing the mystery of creation.

2. Eurythmy for adults - Lay Eurythmy

More and more people are experiencing the joy which movement can give. If we have a chance to do even a small amount of eurythmy in a public class or during our working hours, the benefits can soon be felt.

3. Eurythmy on stage

There are performing companies of eurythnists all over the world. Some productions are small, perhaps an evening of poetry and music or a fairy tale for children. Larger productions may tour major cities and involve an orchestra, specially trained speakers reciting the poems, and lighting technicians. The programmes vary greatly in theme and content often including both modern and classical works, texts is various languages with both serious and humorous texts. Eurythmy can also be combined very effectively with drama. Eurythmy is always performed to live music and recitation. The emphasis is not on the individual stars but on what is created in between the performers. Stage lighting is not with spotlight but with coloured lights bathing the stage in varying moods of colour. Free-flowing costumes of very fine silk help to extend and trace the movements into the space, bringing the invisible into visibility. Costumes for characters in fairy-tales and other dramatic pieces are more like those seen in the theatre, yet are not naturalistic. They are designed to help the movement capture the essence of the role: bear, frog, prince or fool, as the case may be.

4. Eurythmy as therapy

Eurythmy therapy has been developed in conjunction with doctors and is practiced in hospitals and in homes for the mentally and the physically disabled. The exercises are specifically prescribed to address the roots of illness and not just the symptoms. They are used to treat both physiological and psychological disorders, and years of experience have shown that they are effective in bringing about lasting effects. Eurythmy therapy is offered on a one-to one basis. The therapist begins with the doctor’s diagnosis and in the first session carefully observes the particular individual. Eurythmy therapy is based on the insight that the sounds of speech which are made visible through corresponding Eurythmy gestures are directly related to the formative healing forces of our bodily organs and are active in all the processes of our physical body as well as those in our soul life.

In doing Eurythmy therapy we achieve a greater self-awareness and are provided with a practical way of changing ourselves. Thus we become active participants in our own healing process.

5. Eurythmy in education

Eurythmy works with the natural grace and creative imagination present in children. It is part of the school curriculum in Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools for children of all ages. The center of this method of education lies in the life of feeling. To acquire ideas without an experience and enlivening them, to act and to move without Feeling is not true education. Here, we do not mean personal feelings into which feeling often degenerates, and which has given rise to the idea of art as personal self-expression. We mean here objective feeling which links us to the world, to the divine and to our fellow men.

Through enacting stories in Eurythmy, young children practice in a playful way a wide variety of movements. This promotes coordination, self-confidence, concentration, spatial awareness, social skills and especially the healthy development of speech.

For older children Eyrythmy also helps to retain a living quality in subjects which demand abstract thinking. So, e.g., geometrical shapes moved in space help children make geometry enjoyable and tangible. Right up to the teenage years, Eurythmy can channel emotion into an artistic form and help young people to develop inner harmony, self-control, unity of thought, feeling and action, as well as motivation and creativity.

6. The author

Leontine Iliou, born in Indonesia 1954 of Dutch and Hungarian parents, grew up in South Africa, trained in Eurythmy in England (4 years basic training plus 6 months pedagogical Eurythmy) as well as 2 years stage eurythmy at the Eurythmeum Stuttgart in Germany. She has been teaching and performing eurythmy since 1990 in English, German and Greek. She has made Greece her home since November 1999.

Leontine Iliou

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