Fanny Fiat and Diana Cuni: two new Socii Honoris Causa in the Society for the Advancement of the Ideas of Auguste Vestris
May 1st 2007
As the fifth year of the founding of the Vestris Society bears down upon us, there will be two new Socii Honoris Causa of the Vestris Society.
Today happens to be May Day 2007, Journée du Travail, and the two new Socii are the very epitome of how far labour, as opposed to mere natural ability, will take one.
A decision purporting to speak on behalf of a long-dead dancing master, though irreverent, may not be entirely irrelevant. As early as the year 3017, perhaps even 3014, the Vestris Society may enjoy the same esteem as the Society of the Cincinnati under the American Revolution ...
But, I digress.
Indeed, we have only just got to 2007, and although the world boasts many a fine dancer, the laurel wreath may grace the brow only of someone whose dancing exists in "le temps de tous les temps". To the eye of a dancer two hundred years ago, two hundred years hence, and in our own day, it must be classical, self-evidently.
No schnick-schnacks, no mannerisms, no athletics.
Real dancing becomes a thought-object, as craggy (and often as solitary!) as a rock.
That is why there are no brilliant teenagers or starry twenty-three year olds among the Socii.
And why, to date, there had been but two Socii Honoris Causa, and they are both men.
Appointment of the two original Socii was self-evident. Appointment of the following two has taken several years of mulling it all over, because of the generally unsatisfactory state of the ballerina, waving her tentacles about in a throng of fellow sea-anemones.
Innate technique is that which relies upon a potentiality in one's own body, to create an effect that requires no special effort. Female dancers are now chosen for hyper-laxity. Waving a tentacle about one's ear is today, therefore, innate technique.
Acquired technique means mastering what does not come naturally. For example, it is quite wrong to imagine that the arqué dancer be a "natural" jumper. The studios are full of pot-ugly, arqué "natural" jumpers - their jump may be high, but it is harsh, bounding and disruptive, while their batterie looks, and sounds, like a chain-saw operating at full throttle. The end-product is not classical dancing.
A decision has now been made.
The two new Socii Honoris Causa will be Diana Cuni and Fanny Fiat, masters of acquired, rather than innate technique, and, in a pessimistic age, incorrigible believers in Man.
Holding nothing back, caring nothing for the effect, Diana Cuni delivers herself up to the choreography of Auguste Bournonville in the way suggested by Schubert's lied 'Ganymed'.
No-one can teach you that.
Bournonville's steps are so integral to her being, that she can take risks and make 'mistakes', that will be righted by the wave of motion itself.
This kind of dancing will never look as glossy, as polished as that of today's international stars, who dance from pose to pose. For which, there is a very good technical reason. When dancing with the oppositions in the torso as does Miss Cuni, one gets from one pose to another through releasing the opposition. In the moment of the releasing, the previously-held form melts away and its line dissolves into sfumato, as the new shape emerges. Fascinating, yes. Tidy, no. All curves, no straight lines.
Not a fashionable approach. Today, we are taught to believe that the plastique means striking a pretty, sculptural pose, and holding it. Then what? How to get out of it? Dancing is not sculpture. The plastique is generated by the movement of dancing, nor should it wear the stolidity of sculpture.
Well, if there be a guerre de mouvement, there is a danse de mouvement, of which Diana Cuni is the upstart, iconoclastic General.
In another age, Miss Cuni would have been considered a major ballerina. Today, her international reputation is that of a 'niche' artist, superlative in a supposedly narrow 'fach', but not physically attractive enough to become a star. That the 'niche' happens to be that most challenging of all techniques - Bournonville - well, let that pass.
The forms produced by Diana Cuni are uncanny - melting, emerging, whirling, surging up and vanishing again, and nothing like them has, in fact, been seen since Lis Jeppesen left the stage ten years ago.
This mastery of the Forms through movement, not through positions, is one of the rarest things in the classical dance today. It is, definitely, the mark of a great dancer.
Unlike Mlle. Cuni, Fanny Fiat is operating in an environment - France - that is frankly hostile to the classical dance. If the current stalemate endure, we shall probably never see her in a classical lead, and therefore, must content ourselves with tantalising glimpses of what might be.
The dancing of Fanny Fiat is characterised by Objectivity, and by the exultancy of technique.
It is to be enjoyed, indeed, exulted in, for its own sake.
No injecting Little Me, no winning ways, just the innate majesty of the dance.
The intelligence of her work over time is remarkable. The strong wiry body of the arqué dancer often produces harsh forms - hers are delicately feminine. The foot of the arqué dancer tends to evert - her pointe work is a model of placement and precision. The tremendous ressort of this type of body is wont to provoke a jump as jagged as the batterie is ragged - she is renowned for the exquisite quality of the jump, and batterie that is lightning-swift, regular and perfectly legible. No layman would guess the enormous strength of that frame, nor realise that she jumps as high as a man, nor, indeed, would he ever notice that she is arquée.
When Fanny Fiat goes down onto the stage, one knows that it will happen. Mastery, detachment from the Ego, unforced joy in the actual substance of dance technique, borne by the wave. Let the dancing speak for itself.
In a theatre where the crass Nureyev productions have ironed away all sense of historical time, and where an emphasis on modern dance infects many with trivial, aleatory or 'Freudian' elements, Fanny Fiat has restored to each variation the freshness, the objectivity of Petipa's original idea, even where Nureyev has tampered with the steps. The sordid aspects of the Imperial Ballet fall away, leaving only a scintillating vision, etched onto the page with utmost clarity, purity and sense of purpose, by our own Queen of Variations.
At the time of writing, no commercially-available film exists of Fanny Fiat, a most regrettable state of affairs.
As for Mlle. Cuni, the reader may wish to view the following clips:
At the Bournonville Bicentenial in 2005
Wilhelm Tell (chor. Bournonville), with Thomas Lund
And from a recent performance of Napoli,
Variation, Pas de Six, Act III.