MA Movement student Viola Bruni participated in the Rodin research project and what follows is her response, originally created for a blog on the Courtauld Institute website.
Contortion is not an art that everybody can practice, but Alda Moreno was definitely gifted with the extraordinary flexibility necessary to practice this ancient technique. In the fascinating exhibition “Rodin and Dance: the Essence of Movement”, the Spanish model is captured on paper and in clay in a series of movements which demonstrate her ability to bend in extreme ways.
When I look at these sculptures I can see that not all of them are realistic. To my eye, Rodin was playing with exaggerating movements by composing impossible poses. Nevertheless, some of the movements are also realistic, and look similar to movements of the circus discipline of contortion, of Yoga and of gymnastics.
Myriam Peignist in her article "Histoire anthropologique des danses acrobatiques", suggests that Alda Moreno worked at the Opéra Comique in an environment where dance and circus melt to create the professional figure of the danseuse-acrobat, a sort of hybrid performer in between dance and circus.
By taking part in a collaborative project led by the MA/MFA Movement: Directing and Teaching course leaders at Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, and exhibition curator Dr. Gerstein, it was interesting to note that many of the movements seem to be preparatory ones rather than finished poses. Having a circus background, it was clear to me when certain poses could lead to further acrobatic movements.
Differing art historians suggest that when embarking on a series of drawings Rodin used to watch carefully chosen models moving for hours. When he saw something interesting, he was quickly capturing it on paper. Most of the time he did this without interrupting the flow of the models’ movements by asking them to stand still in a pose. Being an acrobat and model for artists myself, I experienced being captured both in stillness and motion. If I imagine being one of Rodin's models, with others moving around me for an indefinite amount of time, I know that I would reach a state of flow, being liberated from time constraints and the pressure to create a pose. Such a state enables one to find one’s own personal rhythms and ways of exploring movement. Maybe this also happened to Rodin’s models, allowing him to capture normally unseen movements, warm-ups, and transitions. In my experience as performer, these moments retain more intimacy and subtleties than a perfectly finished pose.
If we look closely at Movement A (fig. 1) we can see both hands catching the lifted feet. This pose could be finished in itself, or it could be caught at the middle stage of a ‘back catch’ or ‘leg in hand’ pose. If that is the case, the hands grasping the feet have the function of helping lift the leg until it reaches the maximum extension.
What makes Movement A interesting for me, is its versatility. Both the movement as Rodin portrayed it, and the final pose it could lead to can be performed in a variety of ways. This means that Rodin might have seen Alda Moreno performing Movement A in a number of different orientations: standing, lying on one side, lying on the chest, in a split (fig. 3).
Movement A can also originate from Movement B (fig. 2): one arm catches the opposite lifted leg, creating a hole for the other arm to pass through it. If the flexibility permits, as in the case of a contortionist, the lifted leg can be rotated to reach a back catch pose, with the shoulder involved in the rotation and the knee of the floor leg bending then extending again to allow the movement.
Movement B could also simply lead to the pose in fig. 4 which is also part of the rhythmic gymnastic vocabulary. In this case, in order to reach the finite position, the shoulder of the free arm passes through the hole. It is then positioned close to the knee, so to lock the torso in a stable pose. The arm is then stretched on the side, and can potentially hold an object. For example a ribbon in rhythmic gymnastic, or be positioned according to various expressive functions.
Artist: Claudia Hughes
Photographer: Despina Photography
 Peygnist, Miriam. Corps 2/2009, (n° 7), p. 29-38
To my eye, Rodin was playing with exaggerating movements by composing impossible poses. Nevertheless, some of the movements are also realistic, and look similar to movements of the circus discipline of contortion, of Yoga and of gymnastics.