The Other Mind : A study of Dance and life in South India with 128 illustrations by Beryl de Zoete
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New York : The Theatre Arts Books, 1960. Hardcover. 256 pages ; b/w photographic images ; 25 cm. Tattered dust jacket. Pages toned and unmarked. Binding is firm.
THE OTHER MIND
In the island of Bali the ecstasy into which the dancer's own movements sweep him is called 'the other mind', and the author has chosen this phrase, which so well describes the entranced state common to dancers all over the world, as the title of her present book. The Other Mind deals with dancing in South India, in particular with the two main forms of classical dance: Bharata Natya, a women's dance, descended from that of the dedicated temple-dancers, and Kathakali, the famous dance drama of Malabar, in which all the parts are taken by men, and masks are replaced by a most elaborate traditional make-up. Considerable space is also devoted to the trance dances or dances of 'possession' by spirits, which form part of every temple ceremony among the lower castes, from whom the 'devil dancers' are drawn.
Beryl de Zoete has studied dancing in many lands and many forms, and has had practical experience of most forms of European dance. She was a pupil of Jaques Dalcroze, and regards his méthode ryth mique as a most valuable part of the education of an ethnologist. She was for some years a teacher of Eurhythmics, particularly to children. She was dance critic of the Daily Telegraph and then of the Nevi Statesman. She is a frequent contributor to Richard Buckle's monthly dance review 'Ballet'.
She studied Arab dancing in Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa, and in 1934 undertook a journey of comparative dance study in the countries of the Far East whose culture had been profoundly modified by the Indian cultural tradition. It was then that she decided to settle in Bali, and to undertake with the late Walter Spies, painter and musician, who knew the island intimately, a comprehensive study of Balinese dance. In 1938 she published Dance and Drama in Bali, a book which has since become a classic. She has paid several visits to India, on the last occasion (Nov. '48 Dec. '49) spending most of her time in South India and Ceylon. Her Ceylonese material proved so rich that she has reserved it for a future book. The present work deals with dancing as seen against the background of social life and religious beliefs. She has dealt very briefly with technicalities, such as the complicated Sanskrit nomenclature of hand-gestures and postures, and has concentrated on drawing a living picture of what she saw with her own eyes during her recent visit and during previous journeys to India. But as Indian dancing is only intelligible against the background of the culture that produced it, she has dealt largely with the beliefs (and particularly the magic cults) which still inspire it, and with the mediaeval courts and dynasties which were the cradle of dance technique, The author feels that writing about dancing, that most expressive language of the body, must have something of the creative quality of translation from one spoken language into another. Her own translations from Italian, notably Italo Svevo's Confessions of Zeno and Moravia's Agostino, have been hailed as among the finest that have appeared in recent years, because of this quality of imaginative vision. The living quality of the book is much enhanced by the fact that large parts of it are drawn directly from the author's own diaries, and describe visits to remote temples, by land and water, to dance-schools and famous teachers in remote villages, and record performances in towns and villages over a wide area of South India seldom visited by the tourist.
Through almost all the dances runs the same epic thread. The author has studied the great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana (she was for a while a pupil of Sylvain Lévi at the Sorbonne), and in this book she tells many of the legends which the dances illustrate, as well as dealing with the unwritten folk-legends of South India. She tells too of her friendship with great living dancers, unknown to the European stage, and of their everyday lives.
The book shows in its writing the same intimate and evocative quality which made Dance and Drama in Bali a literary as well as a documentary event. Beryl de Zoete has described what she felt and saw, not as a European devoutly 'gone native', but as one profoundly dissatisfied with the materialistic civilization of the West and intuitively sympathetic to the inherited culture of non-industrialized 'backward'
peoples, from whom she feels we have so much to learn. The relation which can still be found between the barely surviving folk-dance rituals of the West and the living dance-rituals of the East is often the theme of her lectures and broadcasts in England, the continent of Europe and the countries of the East.
The Other Mind is illustrated by 128 fine photographs, many of them her own. They show not only dance performances, but mediaeval temple sculptures, murals and bronzes, in which dance and dance-postures are represented, as well as scenes of landscape and of village ritual and magic. Thus the illustrations will interest not only lovers of dancing, but also stud nts of folklore and religion all over the world.
"A profound contribution to dance criticism and a pioneer investigation of Indian culture. Composed with wit, charm, and, above all, a pellucid clarity it recreates through clear poetic images the whole cultural setting"—The Listener. "A wonderfully rich book the speculative, descriptive, and story-telling gifts of the author make powerful claims on one's interest. The book is full of legends, fantastic, magical, and often provocatively humorous. It is an album of exquisite literary water-colours . . a most unusual world which Miss de Zoete has brought to life with her words" —Encounter.