What is the connection between Professor Raymond Dart, the eminent anthropologist, Alexander Murray, an accomplished flautist, and his wife, Joan Murray, once ballet mistress for London’s Theatre Royal? They seemingly came from different background experiences: Dart with his understanding of ontogeny (the development of the individual) and phylogeny (ancestral and racial evolution); Alex with his specialised experiences in use of breath, jaw movement and head balance; and Joan with her practical experiences in graceful body movement, particularly the pirouette. The connection is, of course, their common interest in the work of F. Matthias Alexander. Both Joan and Alex trained in the Technique in the 1960s and Dart had Alexander lessons with Irene Tasker in South Africa.
Walter Carrington was instrumental in introducing Alex to Dart’s written work, when he showed him The Postural Aspects of Malocclusion written in 1946. Alex’s remarkable desire to learn and understand is illustrated by the fact that he copied out the twenty-one pages by hand and then spent a further week typing them out. Nowadays, photocopying is quicker, but gives us less time to assimilate content. His first personal contact with Dart was in 1967. Beginning from the Beginning
tells the story of what transpired in the following (almost) thirty years.
The book is the transcript of a two-hour conversation held between Alex and Joan Murray, Kevin Ahern and Marian Goldberg in 1994. At the bottom of almost every page are footnotes which are a rich treasure house of historical and observational gems, and references and quotations from the increasingly large body of Alexander and related literature, some of which the reader may not have heard of, but will now be curious to track down (for instance, The Ghost in the White House
(1920), and Invisible Exercise
(1922) written by Gerald Lee, a student of F.M’s). There are thirteen chapters, the last two tantalizingly entitled Everything Connects to Everything: From the Flute to Dart to Hands-on etc. and Process versus Product: Dynamic and Static Perspectives. It is intended primarily for Alexander teachers and teacher-trainees, preferably with a basic knowledge of the Dart Procedures (a service mark owned by Joan and Alex Murray) and of the four papers written on the Technique by Dart (available in Skill and Poise
, published by STAT Books, 1996).
Joan and Alex see the Dart Procedures as a practical learning tool for greater understanding of Alexander’s technique. They need to be done experientially and seen from Dart’s evolutionary perspective. They cannot be understood simply by trying to see the anatomical details. Dart warned that people of advancing age may see them as ludicrous because they are infantile and uncomfortable because the fulcral areas concerned have been forgotten (or perhaps never previously received and transmitted to the central nervous systern). Dart obviously did not suffer from these hang-ups, as there is a marvellous anecdote of him, aged seventy-six, demonstrating in public, on top of a table, the foetal position, which he had not described in his papers. He told Joan and Alex they would meet opposition and I can vouch for that as I was there in the late 1960s when they began to introduce them. The Procedures did, however, have their fans too. Putting things in terms that people other than specialists could understand was important to Dart ever since a singing teacher friend in 1920 had said about Dart’s early work on the structure of the dogfish’s brain, Let me tell you, young fellow, that if what you are doing is so abstruse that it has no meaning and no message for me or your fellow man, it is useless!.
Joan and Alex, for their part, have done a good job in this publication to give simple and practical explanations to any Alexander person who cares to read and try out what they have to say. But as Marcel Proust used to advise, Don’t go by too fast, dear fellow. They point out that one works first at a cruder level with large and less refined movement, then progresses to a more subtle and sophisticated level of skill. It is better to ask oneself, Can I do it any more easily? not, Can I do it any better?. Positions of mechanical advantage are seen to be of great use to the less experienced teacher of the Technique. As teaching skill increases, one gets similar effects with fewer, less extreme positions. F.M. himself is shown to have progressed in this way. In 1910 he used hands on the back of the chair standing, with the whole hand on the chair in a grasping and manipulating mode; but, by 1923, the illustration in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual
is done seated, with more advanced opposition of finger tips and thumb tip, as for use in the skilful manipulation of tools. As Alex Murray points out, by 1930 F.M. was so good at working on people that you could not see how he did it. He was like a conjuror doing tricks. Everyone wants to learn how to do the tricks without doing the practice. Use of the hands cannot be separated from use of the whole self and the Dart Procedures give new avenues for exploration of three-dimensional movement. In the black and white photos at the back of the book, there is a wonderful sequence of sixteen pictures of a four-month old baby moving from foetal into an extended pre-crawling position as her desire to see the world spirals her around. There are other photos showing babies of between six and nine months demonstrating their own spontaneous Dart Procedures and opposite them the adult counterparts. Some photos are of poorer quality, unfortunately, but they still have much to give to the ‘eye of the artist’ that was important to Alexander.
Joan points out, As soon as you put somebody in an unfamiliar position, you can see where they grab to hold on to what’s familiar. She gives various examples of how she learnt to deal with students with difficult habitual muscle pulls. Foetal curve is like a spring coiled for lengthening and stimulating the secondary curves; movement involves the balancing of the head with the tail; the head nods from the occipital joint and the pelvis nods from the hip joints – counterbalancing these is primary; the double spiral is two interwoven spiral sheets of trunk musculature directly attached to the skull; when both spirals are working in a balanced way, then there is general lengthening and widening, when not, there will be scoliosis. There is description and photos of winding up a spiral prior to release into a movement such as a pirouette or a floor roll from foetal to prone. For those with prior experience of Dart work there are the old favourites of belly crawling and hands and knees creeping, upper limb flippering, leg spiralling, squatting and sitting back on the floor from creeping.
For teachers trained at Lansdowne Road there is interesting reference to the thinking behind games activities, and lots of other historical titbits. There is something for everyone in this book, which also begins to fill the gap between the work of Alexander and Dart, and I sincerely hope that it is the prelude to further inspiring and pioneering work from Joan and Alex Murray.
© Jean Clark. Reproduced with permission.
This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.