I spent some time trying to draw dancers last semester, and since the drawing dance seems relevant to Trisha’s work and our experience dancing in the art gallery, I’d like to explore this idea further. Trisha drew body parts, patterns to represent dance movements, and she even drew with her feet—a sort of dance in itself. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of drawing dance, and I seem to be in good company. Many visual artists depict dance, from Degas to Warhol. Recently however, I’ve I started to wonder—why dance? What makes drawing dance different from drawing other things?
Dance involves three-dimensional space, sound (even if there is no music—the sound of breath and footsteps) and passing time—things that a drawing (two-dimensional, silent, unchanging) cannot reasonably be expected to express. Yet artists try to draw dance anyway. Maybe they’re drawn by the challenge of attaining the unattainable.
Or perhaps there is something to be gained not just from striving for the impossible (accurately drawing dance) but from simplifying the impossible into something that can be drawn. Dance overpowers us with sensory experience, but drawing dance could allow us to appreciate specific aspects of dance. Freezing the movement could emphasize a dancer’s lines or the way her muscles stand out. Drawing multiple movements at once could reveal patterns in the choreography that are harder to see in real time and space. In Trisha’s drawings, patterns of movement across the floor suddenly become clearer in drawings that look like fractals or Celtic knots. This abstracts the movement from the physical body, but simplifies it by showing the path as a line.
One day I brought my sketchpad to our YDT rehearsal and tried to draw the dancers doing Trisha’s choreography. Any kind of dance is difficult to capture because dancers don’t usually stay still for long, but I think I had more trouble capturing Trisha’s movement than I would have with ballet, since ballet follows a vocabulary of (to me) familiar positions. I was forced to observe more closely, since I couldn’t rely on preconceived ideas of what an ideal attitude, jeté, etc. should look like. Sometimes I still tried to capture poses. Sometimes I just let my pencil follow the dancer’s lines and movement paths without holding on to specific shapes. This gave me a page of scribbles, but maybe those scribbles were a good representation of the movement…?
As a dancer, I have the added possibility of combining what I see with what I remember. When I brought my sketchbook to a YDT rehearsal, I drew from a combination of observation, visual memory and muscle memory. Although I couldn’t rely on my familiarity with ballet to sketch positions, if I could imagine or remember my own body in the position of the dancer, I found her easier to draw.