“Not Quite There” Moments in Degas

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon talks about the pose of Degas’s Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised on the exhibition audio tour.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised, c. 1882–98 (cast c. 1919–31), Bronze, 13 3/4 x 6 7/8 x 6 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966.

I would say, she must be a modern dancer because it’s not an accurate balletic pose. She’s in demi derrière, her knees aren’t straight, and her arms are relaxed. But it’s very purposeful; it’s very definitely a dance move. You know her weight is over her front leg so there’s no question as to whether this is a pose of relaxation and repose or a dance move. That’s what I would say about that. But again, you know if he was sculpting a ballet dancer, what he’s done is capture the “not quite there moment”. You know this could be a movement that hasn’t yet completed, so the arms haven’t yet achieved the fifth position and the arms, the shoulders haven’t yet come down and the back knee hasn’t straightened. What we also affectionately refer to as New York Times dance photography, which is quite often we’re not there yet, so we, you open the paper and you see yourself in a not quite there position. And for a dancer, it’s just the worst thing, it’s the worst thing. So, but you know, there’s also interest in the movement, so perhaps it’s just something like I said a position that hasn’t yet fully been completed.

Christopher Wheeldon, choreographer

Overheard in the Galleries: Septime Webre on Degas

Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre discusses Degas's Dancers at the Barre. Photo: James Brantley

At a recent Phillips after 5, Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet, provided a dancer’s point(e) of view on the Degas exhibition. At Dancers at the Barre he observed, “You see that this work is not about rehearsal. It’s about the moments in between rehearsals.” For Webre, Degas’s tendency to return to the same subjects ten times, or even a hundred times, reminded him of the dancer’s daily routine and the process of working and reworking movements to achieve harmony in the body. Webre quoted choreographer Merce Cunningham, who famously stated that to be a dancer “You have to love the daily working.”

Backstage Glamour: A Ballerina’s Perspective on Degas

This week, October 12-16, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center celebrates its 10th anniversary with two mixed programs each featuring Balanchine’s Diamonds. In honor of the engagement, principal dancer Heather Ogden shares her thoughts on Degas in this guest post.

(left) Heather Ogden. (right) Edgar Degas, Ballet Rehearsal, c. 1885–91. Oil on canvas, 18 7/8 x 34 5/8 in. Yale University Art Gallery. Gift of Duncan Phillips, B.A. 1908.

This past summer I took a trip to Paris with my husband and one of the many things we saw was a Degas exhibit.  As soon as we arrived at the museum I bee-lined to the Degas section because I knew I would love it.  I have always admired the paintings of Degas because the subject of his paintings is most often about my first love . . . ballet. Continue reading “Backstage Glamour: A Ballerina’s Perspective on Degas” »