Journalist Rothay Reynolds visited Hellerau to see what Jaques-Dalcroze’s new method was all about. His report, Higher Culture Gone Mad in Cult of Dalcroze, suggests he was confounded by the encounter.
Published in the Courier-Journal of Louisville Kentucky, the article includes photos with captions such as “Women in Contortions.” Reynolds expresses skepticism that the young men and women attending the institute could continue to study together without strict rules of separation. Their commitment to their studies strikes Reynolds as an unlikely explanation.
“I was anxious to discover why these young people had come to the institute and were giving the years and paying the fees for a very extraordinary course of instruction, when they might, at the same cost of time and money, have been training themselves for useful careers.”
Rather dismissively, he recounts discussions with students.
“We are not here to learn singing, you must understand,” said a girl in a washed-out green robe.
“Nor are we here to learn dancing,” added another girl in a washed-out terra cotta.
“Then what are you here to learn?” I asked.
They looked at me sadly, as if they were convinced that I was without understanding.
“We are learning to be rhythmic,” they said.
Nor is he satisfied with a boy’s reply that, “The only practical outcome of our studies will be to teach the system to other people.”
This is a perennial question. Even now, it is confusing to some that Eurhythmics is not a performance genre. We can still argue about whether it’s a method or a philosophy; a way to teach music or a way to teach teachers to teach teachers to teach teachers; a supplement to art form(s) or an art in itself…
If the Dalcroze work is primarily a process of learning, demonstrating its value through performances of choreography (called spectacles in French) can muddy its meaning further. Although Reynolds says he enjoyed the children’s evening performances, he objects to some of the older students’ presentations.
Perhaps Reynolds had hoped for a prettier visual aesthetic. Under the heading “No Rhythm in Looks,” he remarks that the standard costume of the institute – black shorts and jerseys – “unfortunately, does not suit the figure of the average German young woman.” Further complaints include the “lady of an uncertain age… running about the stage, waving her bare arms and looking intensely serious,” the fact that the students didn’t wear makeup (“which might have made them look presentable”), that the men were “more earnest than handsome,” and that “there were only one or two persons on the stage who suggested charm and ‘allure.'”
The performance included the second act of Gluck’s Orfeo, and Reynolds writes of the Hades scene. (I quoted others’ descriptions of this performance here.) He praises this work, adding, “As nobody knows what people wear in hades the football shorts and jerseys were not inappropriate.”
In conclusion, Reynolds writes:
Before I went away I had a chat with a devotee.
“I am not certain,” she said wistfully, “whether we are being true in giving performances which savor of the theatre. We gave tonight scenes which were almost like little ballets, and we are not here to prepare for the stage, we are not here to study dancing and singing. We are here to learn the beauty of movement, to understand the soul of immortal music,” and she looked dreamily at the moon.
In point of fact, nearly all the students hope to be employed to teach the method in schools. It will do no harm to the children, and may do them good, but the very lofty claims put forward for it by M. Dalcroze seem to me to be a trifle exaggerated, and that is a kind and mild way of putting it.”
While Reynolds may have seen the method as delusional artistic idealism, some of his contemporaries considered it regimented and mechanical. A century later, practices as well as perspectives of the Dalcroze method vary widely. The difference is that it’s no longer new or controversial; and in that sense, it’s not noteworthy enough for the level of discussion it once enjoyed. Audiences may have been confused, reporters may have been critical, but at least people were talking about it.