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The Sixth Sense of the Avant-Garde

Irina Sirotkina and Roger Smith

DOI: 10.5040/9781350014343

ISBN: 9781350014312

The touch and movement senses have a large place in the modern arts. This is widely discussed and celebrated, often enough as if it represents a breakthrough in a primarily visual age. This book turns to history to show just how significant movement and the sense of movement were to pioneers of modernism at the turn of the 20th century. It makes this history vivid through a picture of movement in the lives of an extraordinary generation of Russian artists, writers, theatre people and dancers bridging the last years of the tsars and the Revolution. Readers will gain a new perspective on the relation between art and life in the period 1890-1920 in great innovators like the poets Mayakovsky and Andrei Bely, the theatre director Meyerhold, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the young men and women in Russia inspired by her lead, and esoteric figures like Gurdjieff.

Movement, and the turn to the body as a source of natural knowledge, was at the centre of idealistic creativity and hopes for a new age, for a 'new man', and this was true both for those who looked forward to the technology of the future and those who looked back to the harmony of Ancient Greece. The book weaves history and analysis into a colourful, thoughtful affirmation of movement in the expressive life.

‘This book is a treasure chest of personages and practices-everyone from Kandinsky to Blok, from Scriabin to Shklovsky, and multiple souls in between; everything from Dalcroze Eurythmics to the Foxtrot. It offers dynamic new ways to view the cultural history of this time. It all but exhorts its readers to go out and dance themselves. Many sources were crunched to make this book's chapters, and many exciting roads lead out of them into future projects.’ – The Russian Review

‘This volume examines kinesthesia-the sense of movement-as a foundation of personal knowledge and cultural innovation, claiming primacy of kinesthesia over the other senses in that it affords unmediated contact with the world. Grounding their analysis of this “sixth sense” in historical context, Sirotkina and Smith reference the attraction of late-19th-century Europeans to ancient Hellenic life, citing a joyful universalism that particularly appealed to late czarist and revolutionary-era Russians. Evidencing the spirit of “exuberant modernism,” movement-particularly dance-is seen as central to avant-garde culture, infusing poetry, mysticism, literary analysis, graphic art, and theater. Andrei Bely's acute sensitivity to gesture becomes his verse, and Vladimir Mayakovsky is seen to compose “posters, like poems, with his whole body.” The celebrated artistic union of Sergei Yesenin and Isadora Duncan comes to life as a shining instance of the primacy of movement across the arts, and Vsevolod Meyerhold develops his biomechanical exercises for training actors. The concluding chapter projects the avant-gardists' primacy of movement to present-day validation of kinesthetic experience as a vital source of knowledge. The translation is labored in places, but the extensive notes and suggestions for further reading compensate and make the book invaluable. Summing Up: Recommended.’ – CHOICE