Skip to main content

In lesser terms, it is generally measurable when a point of reference is visible; a projected linear boundary or an enclosed volume. A dot in space can be near or far. What is beyond it is farther. That which is beside it is either close to or distant from. When boundaries qualify the space then we may begin to identify the shape of space. It may be circular, square, oblong, triangular, or three dimensionally, a sphere, a cube, a pyramid. Space is characterless until relative reference is possible, like time which too has no identity until there is a consciousness of reference to it. Yet in a mysterious way both space and time play havoc upon life by virtue of their both being major canvasses upon which all living reference is made. Each is relentless in the sense of its continued presence, whether or not consciousness of them exists. We age and deteriorate whether or not we count our hours or years. It is not that time ages us. It merely measures the temporal continuity of our deterioration in relation to human and personal sociodynamics. Although we might accuse it of wreaking the havoc of longevity, it is merely an innocent cavity in which we measure our span of vitality. We conceive of space and time as forms to be measured. Describing what happens within them however does not describe them. Description mostly furnishes adverbs and adjectives. Even when the description becomes a noun, such as a square or sphere, these indicate the nature of the boundary -- not what the boundary contains.

Still our reactions to space and time can be definite -- and qualifiable.

Both are measurements or sensations of relativity existing in many different dimensions and forms. We understand them mainly through a recurrent pattern of happenings or of boundaries occurring either in nature or in artificial structures made for the convenience of reference. In nature we have the rise and set of the sun and our natural environment. In artifice we have the clock and yardstick. We have the recurrent breath and heartbeat. We have the presence of the corporeal body occupying its volume in space.

Dance is commonly defined in dictionaries as rhythmic movement, implying that rhythm is an essential ingredient. This is the usual "quicky" definition and its implication are incorrect and misleading.

Although rhythm is understood as a regular recurrence of emphasis, it does not necessarily mean mathematical exactness of time spacing. However, even in this freer term of definition it is questionable whether rhythm as such is an essential ingredient in dance.

In musical terms rhythm usually implies the regular recurrence of an emphasis during a regular succession of pulses or beats. A pulse is simply real or implied division of time of any duration just as an inch or a foot or a yard is in linear measurement. In sound an emphasis on every second pulse implies a two rhythm; one on every third implies a three rhythm. Rhythm or meter, therefore, implies a recurrent blocking of pulse beats.

Music's tradition and use of notation has long ago set a system of time analysis and writing which dance relied upon heavily. This is firmly imbedded in dance tradition because of the interrelationships of the two arts in the historical development of both. Dance has long been the slave of this musical system which actually is devised for the ear rather than the eye.

Rhythm implies recurrent emphasis, mathematically precise or not and we may seriously question whether or not such dynamic recurrence is essential to the definition of dance.

For decades music has been trying to relieve itself of this somewhat primitive limitation as has dance within the last decades.

Both dance and music are reevaluating their concept of time and experimenting in new areas which cannot be described, notated or conceived in terms of the traditional sense of rhythm of music. As there is musical time there is also dance time.

The art of painting and sculpture, both sight arts, have always had their own implications of rhythm. Although these are not temporal arts such as dance and music, their freedom in dynamic interpretation of time can be applied to dance and extended into actual temporal concepts. This is now in the process of development and use, but perhaps not so consciously realized in visual terms as it may ultimately be.

As dance reevaluates its concepts of time, the consequent construction of choreography becomes based upon a sense and perception of time rather than in the mechanical beat and rhythm.

The musical system of time analysis is fairly elastic and purposely far less mathematically precise than is usually implied by the insistent metronomic associations we make to it.

There have been some scientific experiments which have revealed that often the great musical artist takes more freedom in time within the mechanical boundaries than the stilted academic performer who does not stray from mathematical precision.

Time, for the artist, is basically a sense and perception of change or evolution. Thus when there are no sensations or realization of change, monotony, doldrums, lethargy, rest, peace, quiet, relaxation and the like, we feel that time passes all too slowly. And at the opposite pole, of course, perceptions of quick change alters our sensation of time in terms of linear speed. All this computes itself in relation to a universe of happenings which we guided by temporal phenomena about which are still known very little.

Even within the human body there are constant evolutionary changes brought about by biochemical as well as psycho-physiological change. Even in this we retain a degree of control as the Yogi may govern heartbeat and metabolism to achieve the minimum of change required for continued life. The mathematical computation of all these relationships of time are far too vast and subtle to document or to practice within the confines of a beat or rhythm.

The dancer whose skill demands his control of time, is left either with a mathematically incomputable morass of time happenings or with the dubious comfort and meagre esthetic result of metronomic measurement.

Dancers are dependent upon their ability to sense time. We operate on faith for little is known scientifically about our manner of sensing time. We do not know whether or not there are actual organs or coordinations of organs which allow us this perception. We know only that we do perceive the progress of time -- some more acutely than others.

Time to the human mind is one of the aspects of change of evolution. As such, it is a sensation. But although we speak of a "sense of time," we are as yet unable to explain, except in very general terms, precisely what sensory organs contribute to this perception.

We know animals and insects have such time perceptions, that a bird can migrate and arrive at its destination with amazingly accurate schedule. Perhaps in the process of evolution man may have obscured this sense to some extent, and the artist must reassert its function to that quick point which enables him to adjudge to the fraction of a second the exact moments of time evolvements.

We ride the time of nature. The human being carves time spans within a time-band permitted him by his powers and invention. Yet each individual has his own variance within that span. So too each object and element in nature carves its own unique time-space volume. Man has the facility to perceive this and evaluate it through his empathetical and meta-kinetic powers. Because we ourselves have the power to create fictional time-space we can metaphorize almost anything in nature, including mankind.

The artist is a specialist in sensation and perception and the artist dealing more directly with time must sharpen his time wit to the highest degree.

A dancer may expect more artistry from a sense of time than from a skill of rhythm. It is paradoxical that the latter makes for the broadness of generalization -- the former for specifics. A sense of time lends semantic dimension impossible in strict rhythm.

Isolating and manipulating time as an experience to be felt and remembered becomes an illusive problem. We customarily associate time with an audio or visual boundary. Most often the boundaries become more evident than what transpires between them. As there is a difference between time and motion -- so there is a difference between time and pulse. Consequently the practice of accurate metronomic pulse does not necessarily create sensitivity to time itself -- time is not pulse, meter or rhythm. These are designations of measurement. The substance of what is measured is not necessarily revealed by the measurement itself. Two miles does not describe the journey. An inch of string is not the same as as an inch of wire or wood or copper. The supposed attributes of "I've got rhythm" may mean only that -- and that is insufficient for the artist.

The artist is constantly concerned with a reality which he in turn must recreate into a vision or illusion. Out of the reality of time the dancer must recreate the illusion of it as a dimensional substantiation of, his subject.

Beginning with reality we are faced with the difficult creation of immediacy -- that is, to place ourselves actually and wholly within the transpiration of the immediate happening.

We return to that enlivened act of stillness where, so that we may be still, we place ourselves within the ongoingness of time, like a thing floating in the current of a stream. In this case we are a sentient thing, aware of its speed by virtue of our keeping acknowledged pace with it -- with no temporal anxieties of what's ahead or behind it. Here there is no time segment, pulse, meter or rhythm -- only the horizontal transpiration of time. This is the essence of dance -- a sustained lyricism without interruption of dynamic emphasis -- lyricism in stillness -- lyricism to achieve the purest sense of change, continuity and evolvement.

The implications of this act are considerable. When we say that in this instance, we stand sentiently alive within the ongoingness of time, we mean we stand upright, totally in definition of mankind, for to be sentient to this happening we must fulfill every molecular particle of our being in terms of all the primal energies out of which man defines himself.

Any action out of this immediacy places the dancer in a state of relative time. Being on the current of the time stream either going faster or slower than the stream itself. It is within this new relativity of time that other definitions may occur. Here begins the drama of life -- the operation and happenings of all things as they manipulate phenomena towards their needs and ends.

We become aware that many different clocks operate. We slow the clock of the ear to intensify the time of sight. We stay the urge of hunger to reach a different sensation. We reverse speeds to equalize. Perhaps there is never a moment when all our clocks are in agreement. As our needs arise, our perceptions are intensified within the particular senses allied to those needs.

At this point of social history we find demand for more sentient experiences. Painting becomes sculpted. Sculptures move. Moving things add sound. A total theatre art involving more sense participation is increasingly evident. Perhaps our age of communication illustrates to us that reportage from only one sense does not offer as much substantiation as the combined reportage of several.

Space is that in which time evolves. Time is the essence of change -- not time in the traditional metrical or clock sense but in its relentless, uninterrupted, lyrical, monotone of flow. Although we may chop it up in our minds, its evolvement is constant. Through time we have the fact of space which offers us a limited liberty to shape that time to our needs. Our bodies are privileged to carry out some of this shaping of time in space. Our dreams shape space and time beyond the capacity of the body. Our inventions in space travel extend us physically into other remarkable time possibilities.

We rhythmatize time so that we may better comprehend its evolvement. That time itself is of rhythmical essence is certainly not within the scope of our contemporary knowledge of time.

We are privileged to speed ahead or slow down in time. We may retreat into past time. We may vacillate between advance time and past time -- our memories store past times which we may choose to delve into, alter or mix at will.

Dance is a temporal art. It exists in the performer's skill to alter the time of now, to recreate any time conceivable and necessary to illuminate that thing which he wished to expose in the now.

Time is the dancer's most vital tool, for only through and with it does action becomes computable.

The inspection, study and analysis of anything requires one to place one's self in some area of sensory reception as the thing to be studied. Time is one of the most illusive abstract factors and how one studies it from the point of view of sharpening one's perception of it is not a matter of precise knowledge (although there is the everlasting practice of rhythm). We know that the fine artist has an acute sense of timing which often gives him the liberty to ignore mathematical precision in favor of a richer and usually uncomputable use of time evolvement in his performance.

Unless the experience of time has some form, the security of the event is lost. We would not have any realization that it happened in the first place.

However if we think of this elastic definition of time from the point of view of its study, we are left with an undefined time limbo into which we will place the student with little hope of tangible results. The other choice is to set a boundary -- a time limitation -- a segment of a kind of time to be tasted. But since time consumes itself, the practice of repeated tasting of the same segment is essential in order to sharpen one's impression of it.

I spent the entire period between 1957-'58 exploring time. What constituted fast, what was the sensation of slow. The how of how long was a stop and the when of when did one begin again. All practiced and sensed for their own sentient identity.

On one concert I had a remarkable experience. I set three black panels across the center of the stage. In front of each I had focused a spotlight with a filter that eliminated the usual afterglow when switched off. Each light was individually controlled within a rigid time structure in which the choreography also occurred. After the curtain rose a single figure was illuminated in the center panel. The light was shut off. It went on again illuminating the same figure in the same attitude. Again a black-out. Now in the dark the figure dashed to one of the end panels where that light revealed him again in the same attitude. Again black out and within three seconds revealed another male dancer in the same posture as the first but in a different colored unitard. Then continued an appearing and disappearing game using these same devices. Replacing dancers in dance attitude but in different color and ultimately changing attitude. Finally I added motional motifs. It was interesting to note that one critic remarked that in the ballet consisting of eight pieces, this one was only one in which kinetics were foremost. What she did not know was that in this particular segment the dancers for most of the piece were rarely seen in actual motion. The piece succeeded in destroying the common concept of time. Here I created a false illusion of time which suited my choreographic intent. It was as if the time barrier had been broken. In talking later with the Gestalt psychologist Rudolph Arnheim he mentioned an experiment he had made. In a completely darkened room he placed three people, each with a shielded light. They pressed their lights on but never at the same time as the other. Onlookers were invited in for their reactions. Their unanimous reaction was that these were in reality only one light which darted around with great speed.

I do not mean by these examples that in dance training the musical treatment of time in the musical manner should be ignored. On the contrary, it is an essential basis. But pulse as a framework of time must be carefully and extensively experienced. Within the structures of musical measures there should be the beginning sense of time boundaries as qualities. The student should sense the reason for the choice of a 3/4 or 5/4, a 6/8 or a 2/4. The musicality they each represent. As there is musical musicality, so too there is dance musicality Within these time structures there are sensory qualified definitions and a time measure cannot or should not be chosen willy-nilly. By consciously participating in the time sensation, be it pulse or free, the dancer harnesses one of the universal forces.