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Art People: Rodger Blum / Choreographer

  • Rodger Blum teaches a dance class at Smith College Nov. 14.
  • Rodger Blum teaches a dance class at Smith College Nov. 14.
  • Rodger Blum teaches a dance class at Smith College Nov. 14.
  • Rodger Blum teaches a dance class at Smith College Nov. 14.

While visiting a friend a couple of years ago, Smith College dance professor and choreographer Rodger Blum happened upon a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, and began to thumb through it. His interest piqued, he delved deeper and perused the artist’s famous notebooks (they’re in the public domain so are free on eReaders). Eight-hundred pages later, he was hooked, mesmerized by the genius of this ultimate Renaissance man, who was an artist, an architect, a musician, a scientist, a mathematician, an engineer, an inventor, an anatomist, a geologist, a cartographer, a botanist and a writer.

“His mind was just an attic of stuff,” Blum said. “He’d get into this and then he’d get interested in something else. ... This man who was into anatomy and dissection to the point that he thought he could dissect the human body and find where the soul lived in the body, he was designing war machines, and his patrons were the church, and he was doing these religious paintings and at the same time he was pushing forward knowledge of oil paintings. He was 400 years before his time.”

The artist’s writings inspired Blum to create a work of his own, “More Clearly in Dreams,” a one-act dance/theater piece that premieres this week at Smith, where he is the chair of the dance department.

As Blum read da Vinci’s notebooks, he began to identify themes that intrigued him.

“What kept popping out was what he wrote about line, what he wrote about shadow, what he wrote about light and what he wrote about aging,” Blum said.

And while those musings have been instructive for artists for centuries, Blum says, he began to realize that da Vinci was speaking not just to fellow painters, but to humankind.

“He’s writing about how to be a creative person and how to live and how to grow old, and do that gracefully,” Blum said. “When he’s writing about shadows, he’s writing about our personal shadows that we carry around as much as he is talking about how shadow works in painting, because really they are the same thing.”

Blum concentrated on those themes when creating “More Clearly in Dreams,” in which text from da Vinci’s notebooks is spoken onstage, while the movement he created for, and with, his dancers illuminates and responds to those words

“It’s not a visual representation of the language because that would be god-awful. ... It’s an abstraction of the language that I think clarifies it,” he said. “When he writes, “Look on light and consider its beauty, shut your eyes and look again. That what you see was not there before and that which was no longer is,’ he’s encouraging us to look at something ... close our eyes and then look at it again and reconsider it. That’s something we should do in life. That’s how we should work as artists.”

— Kathleen Mellen

“More Clearly in Dreams” will be performed tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. as part of the Smith College Fall Faculty Dance Concert in Theatre 14, Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts, Green Street, Smith College, Northampton. Tickets cost $9; $5 for students and seniors. To reserve, visit www.smith.edu/smitharts or call 585-ARTS.

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