"Everyone should live creatively. It is now recognised that the creative urge - other than sex - is manifest in varying degrees, not only in musicians, writers and painters, but in all human beings. Adults as well as children are encouraged to paint and to dance freely, to express themselves and put forward any ideas that occur to them. But creation should go further and mean more in our lives than purely aesthetic expression, important though it is. Creation in the widest sense must surely be adding to what already exists. If you contribute something to others and to yourself you are living creatively". Margaret Morris, Creation in Dance and Life
Yesterday's post focused on freedom of movement, so let's continue the thread by looking at the work of Margaret Morris, a prolific dancer, choreographer, educator, artist and costume designer.
Morris was born in 1891 in London from Welsh/Irish parents (her Father William Morris was an artist). Her parents moved in Boulogne when she was a few weeks old, and she grew up bilingual.
A child prodigy, in 1900 she joined the Ben Greet Shakespearian Company and played 'Puck' in A Midsummer Night's Dream; three years later she played child parts in Drury Lane melodramas and in The Water Babies at The Garrick Theatre.
She trained in dancing with John D'Auban, ballet master at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, but she resented the rigidity of the classic style of ballet and started developing her own exercises to improve spring and balance.
In 1907 Morris joined Frank Benson's company as an actress playing ingenue parts and left two years later. A friend introduced her to Isadora Duncan's brother Raymond and she had several classes with him, learning the Greek Positions inspired to Duncan by the artefacts of ancient Greece, which, he maintaned, were the athletic basics of training and dancing.
Morris started incorporating these movements in her technique. In 1910 she choreographed and danced in Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice staged by Marie Brema at the Savoy Theatre in London and played Water in The Blue Bird by Maeterlinck at the Haymarket Theatre.
English novelist and playwright John Galsworthy suggested her to set up a school to teach her method. She became very friendly with Galsworthy and his wife and wrote "The Galsworthy Story", that became the basis for the writer's novel The Dark Flower.
In the meantime, Morris' school took more of her time: she and her pupils appeared in many productions and, by 1912, she moved to new premises in Chelsea.
During a visit in 1913 with her company to the Marigny Theatre in Paris she met Scottish artist J D Fergusson who later on became her husband. As the years passed, her school and theatre became a mecca for many artists and Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed for her a theatre that was sadly never built.
Her modern dance technique became known as the Margaret Morris Movement. Since she improved the health and posture of her students, she was involved in dance and movement as therapy.
In the mid-'20s her method was shown in London and Paris and her work was adopted in the massage school at St Thomas Hospital in London. The Movement thrived and the artist opened schools in London, Paris, Cannes, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Aberdeen.
Morris' method was adopted by the British Army and taught at the Army Training School at Aldershot. The army authorities, though, refused to acknowledge her publicly by name since the originator of the system was a woman.
In 1939 she moved to Glasgow where the school remained open (other schools closed after the war) and where she became very active in the local art scene. The New Art Club and the Celtic Ballet met indeed in the Margaret Morris school premises of Blythswood Square (in 299 West George Street; it's not rare to find in books about Morris or ballet pictures of her and the students practicing in the square, as Morris had the habit of leading her students out of the dance studio and onto Blythswood Square to dance barefoot).
Morris encouraged this exchange between various disciplines and art forms. She saw indeed the performers dancing on stage as being part of a moving painting: "Anything presented on stage is a picture in a very definite frame," she wrote, " if we admit that stage productions may be considered as 'pictures', then the dancers are part of those pictures and the direction and shape of their movements of the utmost importance to the composition as a whole."
Some of the Art Club members therefore worked on the decor and costumes for Morris' ballets: Andrew Taylor Elder designed the set for The Forsaken Mermaid (1940); Josef Herman created sets and costumes for The Ballet of the Palette (1942), and Louise Annand designed the costumes for St Elay and The Bear (1947). The first two performances of the Celtic Ballet were The Forsaken Mermaid (1940) and Earth Shapers (1941).
In some of the performances groups of dancers created pictures against the artist's back cloth, their silhouettes enlarging upon it. In Morris' works the painter's eye was always vigilant and her method of enlargement of her own solo dancers was helped by the costume and the body that often repeated the movement and rhythms suggested by tree shapes like palm trees.
Some of the performances had a sculptural or architectural quality about them: in some cases the dancers reproduced frieze-like shapes; in others Morris' moving groups formed with their bodies lines and shapes that called to mind alphabetical letters,
During these years Morris collaborated with many artists and, in 1947, the Celtic Ballet became a professional company and started touring Scotland. It was also one of the first British companies to perform in France after the war.
The Celtic Ballet productions were focused on Scottish themes and their movements were a combination of the Margaret Morris method, Scottish country dance and Highland dance.
In the '50s the Celtic Ballet performed in the States and, ten years later, Morris formed a professional company, The Scottish National Ballet. She returned to London after the death of her husband and revitalised the method and school.
By 1984 there were over half a million annual attendances at the Margaret Morris classes in the UK and strong branches in Canada, France, Switzerland, Germany and Japan.
Morris returned to Glasgow in the '70s and died in 1980. In her book My Life in Movement she had written "I am confident my work will be fully recognised and utilised once I am dead; I intend to go on working as long as I can."
In 1991, a centenary exhibition organised in Glasgow celebrated her paintings and watercolours, and also included a few sketches of costumes in bold colours that displayed a taste for oriental style. Last year the choreographer and dancer was mentioned by fashion designer Holly Fulton as one of the inspirations for her Spring/Summer 2015 collection.
The time has come to rediscover Morris' method (her tips about posture and movement would definitely help many of us, especially those ones who spend too much time at the computer or bent on a portable device like a mobile phone or a tablet) and dedicate her a new exhibition celebrating her dance style, method and the costumes for her performances. Thirty-five years after her death, Morris has still got a lot to teach us about creativity, movement and finding harmony in our lives.
As she wrote in her book Dancing (illustrated by beautiful pictures by Fred Daniels): "Movement is the most primitive of the arts, and the most closely allied to our daily lives, therefore the understanding of it not only through physical exercises but through the study of shapes and lines made in dancing must be of great value. In our daily lives we cannot help moving in relation to our surroundings, to some objects or persons, and to a great extent, according to the harmony or disharmony of these relations, our lives become harmonised or disharmonised. The study of movement visually links up the physical and mental control of muscle and brain. Most people have never learnt to use their eyes, and more general study of seeing and moving would lead to a far greater tranquillity and harmony of rhythm than we see around us at present."
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