From the Theoretical to the Practical: Tracing the Synthesis of Valentine de Saint-Point’s Artistic Theories in her Performance La Métachorie (1913)

By: Shannon Neal, an English major.

The following work was created for ART 394: Women Artists.

Brief description: “As is the case with most futurist women artists, little scholarship has been written on the multimedia performance art of Valentine de Saint-Point. When she is mentioned, the focus is on her two notable manifestos published in the 1910’s for the purpose of comparison to more famous male futurists such as F. T. Marinetti. This tendency to neglect Saint-Point’s practical expression of her artistic ideals and theories is unfortunate. This paper explores how Saint-Point expressed her theoretic ideas concerning futurism, women, and lust through her elaborate dance and poetry performances. Saint-Point’s La Metachorie, performed first in Paris and then later with revisions in New York, is the key performance studied along with Vivian Postel Du Mas’ illustrations of La Metachorie and Photographs of Saint-Point.”


Valentine de Saint-Point is most well known as the main woman artist of the otherwise male dominated Futurist movement and for her two notable Futurist manifestos. Saint-Point was a French artist who participated in the Italian Futurist movement, which desired to abandon traditional artistic and social practices for something new, violent, fast, and virile. Saint-Point interacted with the main figures of the movement, such as F.T. Marinetti, as an active artist and as the host of well attended literary soirees. She developed many theories concerning the Futurist woman, art, and choreography, which exist in her surviving writings. Delving into the practical expression of those theories and ideas presented in her manifestos is difficult, however, as much of Saint-Point’s works of art no longer exist or are difficult to access. This is the case for her multimedia dance performance La Métachorie, or “Metachorus” (1913). While video documentation of her performances does not exist, the impressive sensual whirlwind of Saint-Point’s Metachorus can be imagined and interpreted through the study of photographs, drawings, and various written sources that do survive. Metachorus did not just combine an impressive range of art forms and media (it incorporated something to activate all senses), but the thought behind Metachorus incorporated many components of Saint-Point’s various theoretical ideas. As an active member of the Futurist movement, Saint-Point contributed to the theoretical groundworks of the movement as well as the practical artistic expression of those theories. Saint-Point’s dance performance Metachorus incorporates traceable components of her Futurist theories of art, choreography, and women to create a complete expression and synthesis of those theories. Study of Valentine de Saint-Point’s theories must be done alongside study of how those theories were practically expressed so that her contributions to the movement are not overlooked in favor of the more well-known contributions of the male Futurists.

Metachorus was a multimedia performance put on once in Paris in 1913 and once in New York in 1917 that incorporated Saint-Point’s poetry spoken aloud, perfume, elaborate costume and lighting, and modern dance based loosely on intricate geometric patterns. Those geometric patterns were shown in the background during each dance of Metachorus and formed the physical and conceptual groundwork for the creation of her dance.[i] Saint-Point derived the pattern of her movement across the floor from the pattern that appeared behind her during each dance. The specific dance movements used to navigate this pattern did not matter as long as she followed the pattern. These geometric patterns were selected to relate in spirit and in meaning to her poems. In fact, the amount of meaning that Saint-Point attributed to these geometric patterns was extensive. In her writings from the period, “she refers to the ‘absolute serenity’ of the square, the shape being ‘too definite’ to incite anyone to violence, while the circle suggests ‘a perpetual tour of one’s self’. ”[ii] Her poems were also read before each dance and not during “so as to avoid the suggestion of pantomime,” something which she detested in traditional forms of dance.[iii] In a similar fashion, with the help of Marinetti, Saint-Point sought out and requested the musical score of Metachorus from various Futurists, so that it matched well with the overarching spiritual meaning of the dance and poetry with which it would appear.[iv]

The three main components of her performance were poetry, music, and geometric figures brought to life with dance, however, Metachorus also incorporated a variety of other components designed to activate the senses. Saint-Point engaged the sense of smell, something usually neglected in dance performances, with the perfumes with which she infused her performance venues. The lighting and costume design—done by French artist Vivian Postel du Mas a fellow Futurist who worked with Saint-Point on Metachorus performances—also worked to enhance the experience of the audience. Saint-Point appeared in a variety of costumes, some with medieval themes and others with Orientalist themes, as can be seen in photographs of her posing in costume (Fig. 1). The physical material of her costumes complemented the lighting, making her body appear, in the words of Günter Berghaus, either “glistening [in] armour-casing” or luminous and connected to the flow of the light when in her more “diaphanous” drapery.[v] The way in which her costume interacted with the path of the light bridged a connection between light, which represented the lines of energy moving through the performance space, and the geometric floor plan, through the movements of her body.

Postel du Mas’s lighting and costume choices for Metachorus are the focus of the numerous drawings he made of Saint-Point (Fig. 2), in which there is no specific floor or background on which the figure of the dancer is placed. Instead the figure floats in a field of light, in which curving lines of light interact with and seem to generate from the movement of the figure’s body. Art historian Nancy G. Moore wrote in her analysis of Postel du Mas’s drawings of Saint-Point: “what occupies his attention is the dancer’s projection of energy, as well as the external forces that act upon her.”[vi] The light, both in his drawings and ostensibly in the actual performance, was a visual manifestation of Saint-Point’s energy and a continuation of the geometric pattern she acted out on the stage. Every part of the performance, including costume and lighting, was aimed at creating a complete sensorial artistic experience that combined the physical and the metaphysical to achieve something spiritual.

With a basis of knowledge of what Metachorus performances were and what Saint-Point intended to achieve with them, we can now turn to Saint-Point’s published Futurist theories in order to trace their presence in Metachorus. Saint-Point’s Futurist manifestos, “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman (Response to F.T. Marinetti)” published 1912 and the “Futurist Manifesto of Lust” published in 1913, called for women to return to instinct, abandon sentimentality, recapture cruelty and cunning, and to use their place in the world to reap power from men and all those who are weak. Saint-Point desired a reawakening of power for women, entreating them: “[Woman], for too long diverted into morals and prejudices, go back to your sublime instinct, to violence, to cruelty.”[vii] Additionally, she called for an embrace of lust as a “force” of art that combined the physical and spiritual into one triumphant sensual experience. The first manifesto of 1912 was written literally as a response to Marinetti’s invitation for her to write a manifesto of the Futurist woman, and also as a refutation of the image of woman Marinetti produced in his own manifesto, “The Manifesto of Futurism” (1909), which founded the movement.[viii] In the eyes of Marinetti and his fellow male Futurists, “woman embodies the antithesis of everything they value. Woman is passive, parasitical, peaceful, pacifist, and therefore past-oriented rather than future-oriented.”[ix] In other words, women as a whole were characterized as useless to the Futurists (beyond their necessity for procreation) and inherently sentimental and weak. However, male Futurists such as Marinetti did welcome Saint-Point into the Futurist movement and engage with her as an artist. Her friendship with Marinetti, and the prominence she gained through the literary gatherings she hosted placed her firmly within the circles of the Italian Futurists.[x] The reason for this acceptance may be due more to Saint-Point’s Futurist theories, which were aligned with other Futurist thought, than to their acceptance of her as a woman.

Saint-Point did not just refute Marinetti’s conception of women, but presented a radical idea of womanhood and even called into question gender essentialism. In “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman” Saint-Point wrote, “it is absurd to divide humanity into men and women. It is composed only of femininity and masculinity.”[xi] In this case, femininity and masculinity are not qualities inherent to two opposing genders but exist on a spectrum; in her words, they are “culturally and historically variable and subject to change” and present in all humans.[xii] In this way, Saint-Point did not settle for forging a place for women within the Futurist movement, but went on in her manifesto to propose the androgyne as the ultimate Futurist being. The ultimate Futurist, in the words of Saint-Point, “is composed at once of feminine and masculine elements, of femininity and masculinity: that is, a complete being.”[xiii] For Saint-Point, this being would both surpass the wholly masculine virile male that Marinetti and other Futurists idealized and the sentimental domesticated woman that Futurists despised. Saint-Point’s theoretical fascination with the synthesis of seemingly disparate qualities to create a more perfect united state resurfaced in other areas of her work, such as in her dance.

In the “Futurist Manifesto of Lust” published in 1913, one year after her “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman,” Saint-Point expanded on the ideas presented in the earlier manifesto, this time with a focus on lust as a force of life and art that must be embraced and celebrated.[xiv] Saint-Point’s argument for lust echoed the parts of her earlier arguments for an equal embrace of the feminine and masculine that focused on synthesis. In her words, “a people exclusively spiritual or a people exclusively carnal would be condemned to the same decadence—sterility.”[xv] Lust, fashioned as an opposing force to sterility, she wrote, “is the sensory and sensual synthesis that leads to the greatest liberation of spirit” and should be practiced not just as a part of life, but as a form of art.[xvi] Once again, the ultimate form of life and art for Saint-Point is something reached after a synthesis of seemingly distinct separate components, whether they be femininity and masculinity or the spiritual and the carnal.

Studying Saint-Point’s theories of the Futurist woman allow for a better understanding of how women were justified in being part of the Futurist movement that publicly despised women. For one, Saint-Point’s theories of the Futurist Woman were based in an exaltation of collective violence, and the erasure of the individual, for the sake of a homogenized, mythic, new form of woman that would be key to radical social change.[xvii] These ideas resonated with the fascist ideology that many Futurists held, including their leader Marinetti. Additionally, in advocating against sentimentalism and preaching cruelty, Saint-Point justified violence against women, characterizing it as normal and healthy. In “The Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” for example, she argues “it is normal for the victors, proven in war, to turn to rape in the conquered land, so that life may be recreated.”[xviii] With this, Saint-Point supported the Futurist ideal of virility enacted through violence. Her refutations of Marinetti’s misogynistic depiction of women in his “The Manifesto of Futurism” did not practically challenge the Futurist’s conception of women.

Similar to her Futurist theories, Saint-Point’s theories of modernist dance are focused on a synthesis of art forms that distinguished her project from that of other contemporary innovative modernist dancers. Most modernist dancers of the time, such as Isadora Duncan, were endeavoring to free dance from the limits of hyper structuralized ballet.[xix] Saint-Point participated in this push to expand dance as an art form and denounced traditional conventions and styles of dance, believing them to have no greater meaning than that of empty entertainment in which the dance itself was subordinate to its accompanying music.[xx] Significantly different from practitioners of traditional dance, Saint-Point was not concerned with individual steps and predetermined choreography. She found value in them only so much as they related to the grander scheme of the dance.[xxi] She hoped to expand dance “beyond the sensuality and sentimentalism still in force in classical dance.”[xxii] Saint-Point did not want her dance to simply be interpretative of music or literature, she wanted dance to be its own art form. That is why in her multimedia performance Metachorus, dance is one of the many forms of art present and does not rely on the music or the narrative of the poetry spoken during the performance. The influence of Ricciotto Canudo, with whom Saint-Point was in a romantic relationship with for about a decade before World War I, can be seen in her desire to stage a performance synthesizing multiple art forms into a total art experience. Both Saint-Point and Canudo shared an interest in androgyny, occultism, sex as a driving force of society, and a total synthesis of the arts; this led the two to participate in many literary gatherings and on small publications together.[xxiii] Canudo’s cerebrist theories saw cinema “as a synthetic, anti-mimetic fusion of the spatial and the temporal dimensions.”[xxiv] Saint-Point considered these theories while developing her own theories of dance, and created Metachorus.

The theoretical components of Metachorus relate back to her Futurist manifestos, which were published around the time of the first performance in 1913. The influence of her Futurist theories is present in the way that the purely sensorial parts of the performance blended together with the spiritual. In the case of one of Saint-Point’s costumes, Günter Berghaus wrote in his work on Saint-Point: “The colour symbolism of her costume was meant to indicate the mixture of feminine (blue) and male (red) traits grounded in her instinctual world (orange).”[xxv] Through this use of color in her costuming, in which femininity and masculinity are symbolically mixed, Saint-Point incorporated her Futurist theories of femininity and masculinity into her performance. The color orange, portrayed as grounding the components of masculinity and femininity in a being that is instinctually neither, show the ideal Futurist performer to be androgynous and exhibiting equal parts feminine and masculine.

Saint-Point’s choreography also played a part in incorporating her Futurist theories on gender into Metachorus. Certain dance pieces in the performance, such as La guerre, or “The War” in English,emphasized the masculine through sharp staccato movements. In other pieces, Saint-Point’s movements and gestures were gentle, soft, and flowing in such a way that the feminine was emphasized.[xxvi] The end result of equally portraying both the feminine and the masculine in her choreography is that Saint-Point found a way to enact a practical expression of her theory of the ultimate Futurist being that possessed a harmony of the feminine and masculine.

The drawings and writings of Postel du Mas help to illustrate this point. In his drawings, the figure of Saint-Point is vaguely feminine, but the focus is not on her as a sexualized woman, rather Postel du Mas focuses on her as a dynamic force in the space of the performance. Postel Du Mas’ drawings portray what was his “ideal form of the dancer, where feminine and masculine differences resolve in a magical equilibrium.”[xxvii] Saint-Point’s practice of wearing veils during her performance, influenced by Symbolist performance techniques, in order to “depersonalize the performer” by hiding the traits of an individual revealed by the face, also worked to force the attention of the audience away from her as a distinct individual performer and towards a closer attention to her movements.[xxviii] The woodcuts that Saint-Point made herself, based off the drawing of Postel Du Mas further eliminate definite marks of gender as to focus more on the motion of the dancer through short thick lines (Fig. 3).

Italian artist Gino Baldo’s line drawings of Saint-Point’s Metachorus, which were published in the magazine Montjoie!, further exemplify Saint-Point’s theories of gender expressed in Metachorus (Fig. 4). The gender of the figure he portrays is impossible to discern. In fact, the figure’s human form is barely discernible. His bold interplay of curving and sharp lines portrays the shape and form of the dancer, and suggests the dancer’s purely mechanical geometrical range of movements. These drawings have much in common with Futurist sculpture and figural works. The Futurist element of her dance performance can be clearly seen in his drawings, as they create a dynamic form from lines and shading, reducing the body to a geometric form. The curvature prominent throughout the drawing calls back to the circular geometric floor patterns that Saint-Point adhered to in Metachorus.

Metachorus also allowed for a practical expression of Saint-Point’s theories of dance. In scoring her dance and basing her movements off of geometric patterns she pushed them beyond the merely physical and added intellectual and spiritual element that she found lacking in traditional dance. The idea of synthesis, which is present throughout her Futurist manifestos, is present in Metachorus. All the distinct physical and sensorial components of the performance were meant to come together in order to evoke a greater metaphysical meaning. Nancy G. Moore writes that Saint-Point believed “that even a merely “attentive” spectator would experience a magnificent resolution of geometry, poetry, music, and dance in a single idea.”[xxix]

This was not always successful for the uninitiated audience member. One New York Post critic described Saint-Point’s dance as “walking or capering more or less grotesquely and absurdly around the vast space of a stage” and saw little connection between the dance the geometric pattern displayed on the backdrop.[xxx] However, for others Metachorus was interpreted as a successful synthesis of Saint-Point’s Futurist theories. In Montjoie! edited by Canudo who understood the theoretical basis for Metachorus, various essayists referred to the metaphysical meaning of the performance and its geometric figures, showing it to be a success for fellow Futurists.[xxxi]

The success of Metachorus in communicating the theories behind it and its intended viewing experience to the audience is hard to gauge with only limited records from attendees. However, the success of Metachorus for Saint-Point, as a piece of art that made real all her Futurist theories, is immense. As the major face of women Futurists, it is important that the practical expression of Saint-Point’s ideas are studied, as her work and place within the movement sheds light on Futurist thought concerning women. The physical works of her more well known male contemporaries can be easily studied alongside their theoretical ideas of Futurism. This allows their works and theories to be the most readily understood and recognized productions of Futurism. Studying Valentine de Saint-Point’s Futurist theories without exploring how she intended for them to be practically expressed allows her contributions to Futurism to be somewhat overlooked and ignored for the theories and works of male artists that dominate the narrative of Italian Futurism.

Endnotes

[i] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 43.
[ii] Leslie Satin, “Valentine De Saint-Point,” 3.
[iii] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 44.
[iv] Nancy Locke, “Valentine de Saint-Point and the Fascist Construction of Woman.” 87.
[v] Günter Berghaus, and Valentine De Saint-Point, “Dance and the Futurist Woman: The Work of Valentine De Saint-Point (1875-1953),” 33.
[vi] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 43.
[vii] Valentine de Saint-Point, “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman (Response to F. T. Marinetti),” 4.
[viii] Günter Berghaus, and Valentine De Saint-Point, “Dance and the Futurist Woman: The Work of Valentine De Saint-Point (1875-1953),” 29.
[ix] Lucia Re, “Futurism and Feminism,” 254.
[x] Nancy Locke, “Valentine de Saint-Point and the Fascist Construction of Woman.” 84.
[xi]Valentine de Saint-Point, “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman (Response to F. T. Marinetti),” 1.
[xii] Lucia Re, “Valentine de Saint-Point, Ricciotto Canudo, F. T. Marinetti: Eroticism, Violence and Feminism from Prewar Paris to Colonial Cairo,” 52.
[xiii]Valentine de Saint-Point, “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman (Response to F. T. Marinetti),” 1.
[xiv] Valentine de Saint-Point, “Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” 1-4.
[xv] Valentine de Saint-Point, “Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” 2.
[xvi] Valentine de Saint-Point, “Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” 2.
[xvii] Nancy Locke, “Valentine de Saint-Point and the Fascist Construction of Woman.” 78.
[xviii] Valentine de Saint-Point, “Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” 2
[xix] Ann Daly, “Isadora Duncan’s Dance Theory,” 25.
[xx] Günter Berghaus, and Valentine De Saint-Point, “Dance and the Futurist Woman: The Work of Valentine De Saint-Point (1875-1953),” 35.
[xxi] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 45.
[xxii] M. Barry Katz, “The Women of Futurism,” 4.
[xxiii] Nancy Locke, “Valentine de Saint-Point and the Fascist Construction of Woman.” 79.
[xxiv] Lucia Re, “Valentine de Saint-Point, Ricciotto Canudo, F. T. Marinetti: Eroticism, Violence and Feminism from Prewar Paris to Colonial Cairo,” 47.
[xxv] Günter Berghaus, and Valentine De Saint-Point, “Dance and the Futurist Woman: The Work of Valentine De Saint-Point (1875-1953),” 33.
[xxvi] Günter Berghaus, and Valentine De Saint-Point, “Dance and the Futurist Woman: The Work of Valentine De Saint-Point (1875-1953),” 35.
[xxvii] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 45.
[xxviii] Leslie Satin, “Valentine De Saint-Point,” 4.
[xxix] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 41.
[xxx] Leslie Satin, “Valentine De Saint-Point,” 9.
[xxxi] Adrien Sina, “Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism,” 42.

Figures

Fig. 1. Valentine de Saint-Point in Costume, 1914. Photograph. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

Fig. 2. Vivian Postel du Mas. De la tragédie et du vers tragique (Tragedy and Tragic Verse),

1909. Chalk. Adrien Sina

Fig. 3. Valentine de Saint-Point. Figure Metachorique (Metachoric Figure), 1913-1923. Woodcut. Adrien Sina Collection.

Fig. 4. Gino Baldo. Valentine de Saint-Point, 1914. Ink. Jerome Robbins Dance Division

Bibliography

Berghaus, Günter, and Valentine De Saint-Point. “Dance and the Futurist Woman: The Work of Valentine De Saint-Point (1875-1953).” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 11, no. 2 (1993): 27-42.

Daly, Ann. “Isadora Duncan’s Dance Theory.” Dance Research Journal 26, no. 2 (1994): 24-31.

Katz, M. Barry. “The Women of Futurism.” Woman’s Art Journal 7, no. 2 (1986): 3-13. doi:10.2307/1358299.

Locke, Nancy. “Valentine de Saint-Point and the Fascist Construction of Woman.” in Fascist Visions: Art and Ideology in France and Italy, edited by Matthew Affron and Mark Antliff, 73-100. Princeton University Press, 1997.

Re, Lucia. “Futurism and Feminism.” Annali D’Italianistica 7 (1989): 253-72.

Re, Lucia. “Valentine de Saint-Point, Ricciotto Canudo, F. T. Marinetti: Eroticism, Violence and Feminism from Prewar Paris to Colonial Cairo.” Quaderni d’Italianistica 24, 2 (Fall 2003): 37–69.

Saint-Point, Valentine. “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman (Response to F. T. Marinetti).” 1912.

Saint-Point, Valentine. “Futurist Manifesto of Lust.” 1913.

Satin, Leslie. “Valentine De Saint-Point.” Dance Research Journal 22, no. 1 (1990): 1-12.

Sina, Adrien. Feminine Futures: Valentine de Saint-Point: Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism. Les Presses du Réel, 2011.


Shannon Neal ‘19 is a senior English major with minors in Hispanic Studies, Creative Writing, and Gender Studies. During her time at Washington College she has been an intern at the LGBT Community Center National History Archive in NYC and the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She conducted research as an assistant to Washington College Professor Elena Deanda in the British Library and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. Most recently, she acted as a poetry screener for the fifth issue of Cherry Tree.

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