“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

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