The Michigan Daily,
Wednesday, September 18, 1991
records the light
by Diane Frieden
A photographer's toughest as-
signment by far is to record action.
Subjects in motion, such as dancers,
are always changing form, and often
the image captured on film is not
the same as the one that the artist
envisions. Yet, with an unerring eye
regarding human form, artist
Barbara Morgan has captured mod-
ern dance immortals such as Martha
Graham and Erick Hawkins in stark
black-and-white photography. El-
egant, sinuous shapes catalog the
evolution of modern dance and make
Morgan's work an innovative cor-
nerstone in the art world.
Currently on display at the
University's Museum of Art is I
See America Dancing: Photographs
by Barbara Morgan, a showcase of
some of Morgan's finest images of
modern dance. The exhibit not only
includes a collection of over 20 pho-
tographs at the UMMA, but has
also been extended to a symposium,
performance and reception, with
Morgan in attendance. The mu-
seum's spacious apse should provide
a starkly appropriate setting for one
of Martha Graham's signature pie-
ces, Lamentation. The dance will
feature Peggy Lyman, a former prin-
cipal dancer with the Martha Gra-
ham Dance Company.
The collection naturally de-
monstrates Morgan's talent within
the realm of her dance photographs.
"She's a very distinguished woman
who made a major contribution to
art," says Deba Patnaik, director of
East Quad and a friend of Morgan.
"Her focus on dance was her... most
singular photographic achieve-
ment," Patnaik adds.
Indeed, some of the photographs
are distinguished by Morgan's
Lord Hamlet's Castle
by Hunter Steele
Did you ever wonder what exactly Shakespeare meant with all his innu-
endoes in Hamlet? If so, you're in luck, for the world now has a brand-new,
no-holds-barred version of that famous Dane's tragic end. Sure, the author
claims that Hamlet actually said "To be? Or not? Vexing!" instead of the
more traditional "To be or not to be, that is the question," but who wants
to quibble over trifles when there's all this juicy sex? Yes, I said sex, and
just about everyone gets in on it. Claudius and Gertrude, Ophelia and
Hamlet, Ophelia and Laertes, Ophelia and a page boy, and, very nearly,
Gertrude and Hamlet. You'll find out that poor Yorick wasn't so poor, at
least when he was in Gertrude's chambers. Even Rosencrantz and Guil-
denstern got into the act. And the best part is that this book, you can tell
your prudish friends, is Literature.
The tale, as Steele tells it, is more a detective story than anything else.
And Hamlet, as one might expect, is the chief detective. His feigned mad-
ness deftly tricks his adversaries into answering questions they don't even
want asked, giving him an excuse to ask anything, anywhere, to anyone, and
generally keeping all off balance. Scotland Yard would be thrilled to put
this Dane on their payroll. Hamlet even has a faithful, if somewhat
unimaginative, sidekick in Horatio. The mystery, of course, is to figure out
who killed Hamlet's father. But you know the story.
So why make a thriller out of a story that everyone knows? Nobody
(except those who bought it because it said "Coolly pornographic" on the
cover) is going to be too hung up on suspense. And since Steele knows this,
he elects to pour on the sex. In the introduction, he claims that "the bones
of the story, the subterranean struts and motivational frets, in all their
lustful viciousness, their erectile sensuality, have never been completely
If the author's only goal was to bare these things, there can be no doubt
that this book is a success. The number of similes he can rattle off for vari-
ous not-so-oft-mentioned body parts is truly astounding. However, it does,
at times, seem to get in the way of things. Steele should be praised for do-
ing an admirable job of proposing solutions to many of the riddles of
Hamlet, but one can't help wondering if Steele's only criterion was "How
many pornographic scenes can I write if I accept this bit of conjecture?"
The most vivid difference between the original play and this book is
that the obscuring haze of iambic pentameter and 17th century English has
disappeared. Steele has written a pleasantly straightforward novel which,
while undoubtedly pornographic in parts, is mostly drawn from Shake-
speare's play. The novel also includes "interlude" chapters, in which Steele
steps a tad more behind the scenes than Shakespeare did, describing events
that are only hinted at in the play. These are nice to see, despite Steele's
tendency to add a bit more than can possibly be justified by Shakespeare's
original. But this is, of course, Steele's own interpretation, and if the story
has nothing else going for it, it is fun.
Everyone is out for sex and power, and all ends justify any possible
means. Ophelia is portrayed as a lascivious hussy, Gertrude as a ditz,
Claudius as a clumsy megalomaniac and Laertes as a "mere pansy in stud's
clothing." Hamlet remains the hero, but he, too, is given his share of
character flaws. How better to stage Hamlet for late 20th century readers?
Barbara Morgan shoots Edward Hawkins in El Penitente (1940). While many veiwers will see nothing but
Hawkins' drop-dead beautiful, muscular, sinewy, tight-bunned, flying-in-the-sky-like-an-angel-sent-by-God
body, Morgan's skillful shooting also captures that sensitive, I'm-not-afraid-to-cry-in-public side of the dancer.
Hawkins in El Penitente (1940) fo-
cuses on his body with dramatic
lighting. In contrast to the soft
cloud background, his body is
'(Morgan's) focus on dance was her... most
singular photographic achievement'
director of East Quad
Without the face of Bettis, the
viewer must rely on her legs for any
emotional perception. Morgan of-
fers more than just a recording of
the individual moment, snapping the
shutter at the precarious instant
when Bettis' tensed muscles de-
scribe the way she must be feeling.
"It is important," says Pat-naik,
"to note the time the photographs
were taken - mainly the thirties
and forties." Modern photography
was not as advanced as it is today,
and it was rare for women to be
heralded as photographers. But what
is even more remarkable is the
sentiment and strength behind the
breathtaking images on display
within an extraordinary collection.
I SEE AMERICA DANCING:
PIHOTOGRAPIHS BY BARBARA
MORGAN is on display until
November 3 at the University
Museum of Art. The symposium,
performance and reception will be
held on Saturday, September 21.
The symposium is from 3-5 p.m. at
East Quad, and the performance
and reception are from 5:30 through
7 p.m. at the UMMA. All events
are free and open to the public.
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ability to translate not only form,
but also emotion and movement.
The internationally known image of
Graham in Letter to the World
(1940) shows Morgan's eye for
physical shape, visible in the
graceful fluidity of Graham's full
skirt, as well as the feeling and con-
centration in Graham's face as she is
performing. A photograph of Erick
tightly clenched. Morgan high-
lights the inner strength Hawkins
exudes, like a coiled spring.
Even when the face of the dancer
is cropped out of the photograph,
thought and feelings are still
present. The image of Valerie Bettis
in an eponymous 1944 photograph
was shot from the waist down as
the dancer leapt across the floor.
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