Photos by Kathy Cassens from the 2009 Venus performance
Like all life on Earth, Venus began life in the sea and emerged onto land.
What story does Venus bring us? What can we learn from her, from love’s body?
dancers / movement artists / co-creators
Kathy Curry Gardiner
E. Elizabeth Peters
Martha RossTobias Mary Van Demark
Rachel Evans, Viola,Violin
Kimberly Kahan, Soprano
Kurt Pragman, Lighting Design
Maggie Pickard, Graphic Design
Anita F. Barbour, Photography
Erik Kiviat, Photography
Virginia Pasternak, Photography
Helen Suter, Sculpture Installation
Notes for Venus from choreographer Elaine Colandrea
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus entered rehearsal one day when I asked a dancer to gesture in a particular way. When that gesture was expressed, suddenly the image of the painting came to me. Until then, the seed idea for this dance had been to explore how context alters bodily experience. But in that choreographic moment, I realized that the Botticelli’s Venus I have loved since first “meeting” her in a college art class was the perfect visual metaphor for what I was exploring through this dance.
Only in recent times has this iconic Botticelli painting from the late 1400‘s been called The Birth of Venus. It was more often referred to as Venus on the Shore or Venus Landing on the Shore. Now her image of ideal beauty can be found in everything from t-shirts to mouse pads. But Botticelli‘s Venus has attained iconic status for more than her beauty. A visual metaphor for the human life cycle, Venus is formed in the sea just as we each begin life within the internal sea of the human womb. Venus is about to step onto shore for her first landing on solid ground. At birth each of us, like Venus, emerges into an environment of land and air where we learn to negotiate movement in gravity and space.
The painting is also a visual parallel of evolution. Sea life, like Venus, evolved to become life that could live on land. We continue to be a part of this ongoing evolutionary process. The womb and the sea are primordial places of potential growth and development. Our bodies are composed primarily of sea-like water and we carry this fluid, adaptable world within us. Bathing our cells from within and without is this liquid substance that connects us to our true nature, that which is capable of renewal, resonance and endless creativity.
Beside lovely Venus with her blowing tresses and glowing skin, Botticelli’s painting has three figures in human form. Before Venus started guiding the development of this dance, I envisioned a duet for “celestial guardians”- guides that would help beings come into form. I nearly gasped when I looked again at the painting. There they were, Zephyr and his companion, known as the celestial winds, blowing Venus to shore on her gold edged shell.
The fourth figure is a woman I call Flora, also known as the Hora of Spring, carrying a robe towards Venus. She and the robe are covered in flowers and leaves, and blend into the landscape towards which Venus is moving. This figure is a reflection of an ancient Greek philosophical influence on Renaissance culture that the beauty of the body and the fertility of the land are one and the same. I see Flora representing the earth providing what is needed, symbolized by the robe, and the flowering that will happen as Venus takes up life on land.
Art historian Bernard Berenson calls Botticelli a master of conveying tactile sense and movement. No wonder I was so taken by this painting on my first trip to Florence and the Uffizi in 1988. For over 20 years I have been fascinated by the feel of bodily tissue in my work as a massage therapist. Looking at Botticelli’s Zephyr and Venus, I already knew how the texture and quality of their muscles might feel in my hands. As a lifelong dancer, student and teacher of movement, I knew exactly how much activation was involved in Venus picking up her right leg, anticipating her first step onto land and the lift in the arch of Flora’s foot as she moves towards Venus. In truth, Botticelli provides such an exquisite sense of movement that it takes no special body of knowledge to experience bodily knowledge.
Here are some questions I invite you to engage in with me as we experience Venus, a dance dedicated to love’s body:
How do we, like Venus, emerge into life on land? How can a fluid, liquid body learn to exist with gravity and space? How can we become simultaneously earthbound and airborne? How do our biology and environment create and inform our consciousness? How does each of us participate in the journey of Venus? What does it mean to live as love’s body? What do we contribute to the mysterious evolutionary process of life on earth
Bernard Berenson, Italian Painters of the Renaissance