Sunday, May 22, 2011

a dance

Henri Polles (Wikipedia Image)
Friday night there was a flute concert at La Maison de la Grande Vigne.  The house is just as Yvonne Jean-Haffen had it when she lived there, so they just set up rows of folding chairs with red velvet seats in the sitting room.  It was nice to be up on the hillside in the evening, looking out over the valley through the big wavy-glass windows.  The flutists, two young women, were very talented, and they set up their music stands in front of the fireplace. Behind them in the corner was Yvonne Jean-Haffen's chaise longue with a round, lace-covered pillow that I really liked, and I'm going to try to find one like it.  It was a lovely evening except for the fact that I don't like the flute very much.  It's such a cold and eerie instrument... without any warm resonance of wood.

Saturday I went to Rennes to walk around and explore, but I forgot my camera, so I don't have any pictures.  I saw an interesting exhibit on the Breton writer Henri Polles.  Aside from being a writer, he also collected books, and gave 30,000 of them to the city of Rennes.  The books and bindings and photographs on display were so exciting... I think prowling around his house would've been paradise.  I'd like to find English translations of his books, but I don't know if there are any.

But the best thing of all was the dance I went to last night.  A traditional Breton ball called a fest-noz.  It was held in a room like an elementary school auditorium.  Except the walls and floor were all black. And there was smoke, and whirling lights... I guess to appeal to the young people of Brittany who want to keep the traditions alive.  But there were plenty of old and middle-aged people there too.  Everyone was concentrated, enthusiastic and sweaty, and the music was loud and went straight to your bones.  I think the dances originated during a time when the church forbade face to face dancing, so many of the dances were done with everyone standing in a big ring and locking pinkies.  It's a funny feeling, but it grows on you.  And then there are lots of rhythmic steps and everyone moves their arms in and out and the circle goes around and around.  There are also other dances in which everyone intertwines arms... I think the chain is supposed to alternate between men and women, and the men lock their fingers together and the women lace their arms through the men's, and the chain winds snake-like all around the room.  It's all very repetitive and choreographed, (I think the original purpose of the dances were to prepare the ground for the foundation of a building... so imagine a deliberate, tramping-down-the-earth type of dance) but the tribal nature of the music makes the repetition very exciting and satisfying, and once everyone is whirling along to the rhythm, the energy is very strong and your heart is soaring.  There are also some beautiful dances for pairs, where the girls hop around like fairies!  More than reading a Henri Polles novel, I want to figure out how I'm going to  learn these dances once I get home... and how I'm going to attend another one!  Maybe I'll try to start a traditional Breton dancing club in Orange...


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