The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Renewal of Education
GA 301

A1. Introduction to a Eurythmy Performance

15 May 1920, Dornach

Today we offer you a performance of eurythmy. Through this art we want to place something into the spiritual development of humanity. We can view eurythmy from three perspectives: from the purely artistic, the educational, and the hygienic.

As an art, eurythmy represents a kind of voiceless, visible speech. Although it takes the form of gestures and movements, either in groups or individually, you should not confuse it with mime or pantomime or with some form of artistic dance. Eurythmy uses the entire human being as its language; this visible unvoiced speech is developed through a study of the laws of voiced speech.

Voiced speech is a way of expressing what lies within the human being. Schiller was right when he said, “When the soul speaks, then, sadly, the soul no longer speaks.” Language carries the human soul to the external world — or at least it should. It is also the means of communication between one person and another, and is therefore subject to convention. In a certain sense language is a social artifact. The more language must serve as a means of communication and of expressing thoughts, the less it can serve as a means of artistic expression, since art must arise out of the whole person.

Language has two sides. The first is the social side. The person must bow to the social world when speaking. Only in that way does language retain something that is intimately connected with the entirety of the human being. Young children do not learn language from their dreams. They learn it during that time when they need to adjust their entire being to their surroundings. This natural adjustment protects language from being just a means of communication.

When a poet — that is, an artist with words — wants to express something, he or she needs everything that hovers behind language. A poet needs pictures and, above all, musicality. True poetry, that is, the artistic aspect of a poem, is not at all found in the direct content of the words; rather it is in the way the content is formed. In poetry we need most of all to take into account what Goethe said in Faust: “Consider the what, but even more so, the how.” The way the poet shapes the poem is what is most important in poetry.

You can see this much more clearly if, when you express yourself artistically, you do not use a means of expression that is too strongly permeated by thoughts but instead use your entire being. For this reason we have used both sensory and supersensory observation to study the way the human larynx, tongue, and other organs of speech move when people express themselves through voiced speech. We studied the movements that are transformed into sounds, into vibrations in the air through normal speaking. We transferred those movements to other human organs, particularly those that are most comparable to primitive organs of speech: the arms and hands.

When people first see eurythmy, they are often surprised that the performers use their hands and arms more than their other limbs. You can see this as an obvious outcome if you consider that even in normal speech, when someone wants to express more than simple conventions, if someone wants to express his or her own individuality or perception or feelings through speech, that person finds it necessary to move into these more agile, more spiritual organs.Of course eurythmy takes the entire human being into account, not just the arms and hands. Eurythmy uses the expressiveness of movements in space, whether of groups or of individuals.

The most important thing to remember is that those movements, whether they are done by individuals or groups, are not at all arbitrary. They are the same movements that are the underlying foundation of what we express through voiced speech, transferred to the entire human being.

I need to emphasize once again that what we see on stage is essentially the entire larynx, represented through the whole person. What we present is the function, rhythm, and tempo of the larynx. It represents the musical and the pictorial aspects, as well as what is poetic when poetry is genuine art. The entire group reveals it all.

What is presented in eurythmy as voiceless and visible speech is also accompanied by music or recitation. Since music and speech are just other forms of expression for what lives in the human soul, we need to use that good old-fashioned form of recitation that Goethe had in mind when he was working with actors. He kept a conductor’s baton in his hand so that they would not only understand the content of the words but would also learn their rhythms. In our case, we need to avoid precisely the things that our inartistic age sees as important in recitation, namely, the emphasis upon the literal content of the words. We need to go back to what was artistic in more primitive recitations. This is rarely seen today, particularly if you live in a city. However, much of it is still alive in people my age, who can remember the traveling speakers of their childhood who recited their street ballads. They drew pictures on a blackboard and then spoke the text. They never spoke without keeping time with their foot, and at an exciting point in the story, they marched up and down or did other things to indicate that the tempo of the verse and its inner form were as important as the inner content. They wanted the listener to be aware of that. You will see that we attempt at every turn to emphasize this deeper aspect of art. Even on those occasions where we attempt to present poetry in humorous or fantastic ways through eurythmy, we do not present the literal content through such things as facial gestures or pantomime. We do not present the content of the poem through musical or poetic forms expressed solely in space but not in time. Instead we present what the poet or artist has shaped from the content.

These are a few things I wanted to mention about the artistic aspect of eurythmy. Since the human being is the instrument, not a violin or piano, not colors and shapes, eurythmy is particularly able to portray what exists within the microcosm of the human being of the ebb and flow of cosmic forces.

The second aspect of eurythmy is that of education. I am convinced that ordinary gymnastics, which developed during a materialistic period, focuses too much on anatomical and physiological aspects. In addition to physical development, there is also a development of the life of the soul and the will. We very much need these things, but mere gymnastics does not develop them in the growing human being. In the future, when people can look at such things more objectively, they will recognize that such gymnastics can strengthen human beings in a certain way, but that this strengthening does not at the same time strengthen the soul and will.

From a pedagogical perspective, we can see eurythmy as ensouled gymnastics, ensouled movement. In the small example we will present to you today with the children, you will see how those movements are carried by their souls.

We also need to say that although we are presenting some children’s exercises here, the children can study eurythmy only during those few hours available during school time. However, that is not really right. The education lying at the basis of our efforts in Dornach — which the Waldorf School in Stuttgart has realized to a certain extent — has the goal of not requiring children to attend any lessons outside of regular school time.

For that reason, it is especially important that we clearly understand the educational significance of eurythmy and completely integrate it into the school curriculum. Then the children will have everything that can serve them for normal spiritual, soul, and physical development, particularly the content of eurythmy.

Third is the hygienic element. The human being is a little world, a microcosm. All ill health essentially stems from the fact that human beings tear themselves away from the great laws of the cosmos. We could represent ill health by saying that if I removed my finger from my organism as a whole, it would no longer be a finger; it would wither away. My finger retains its inner function only in connection with my organism as a whole. In the same way, the human being realizes its inner nature only in connection with the universe as a whole. What happens in human beings really is connected with the entirety of the universe. People are not merely enclosed within the boundaries of their skin. Just a moment ago the air you now have within you was outside of you. After you have inhaled it, it becomes part of your organism, and what you now have within you will be exhaled. As soon as you have exhaled it, it will be outside you. Even if we only lived within our skin, we could not prove we are only that which is enclosed by our skin. We are not just a part of the air but of the entire cosmos.

We can therefore see that everything unhealthy results from things that people do that are not appropriate, that are not befitting of the entirety of human nature or the age in which we live, and that do not support the harmony and fulfillment that must exist between human beings and all creation. However, since every movement in eurythmy naturally comes forth out of the entire human organism, just as the movements of the larynx and its associated organs do for normal speech, everything done in eurythmy can bring the human being into harmony with the entire universe. We can certainly say that what a person, even as a child, can gain from the movements of eurythmy has a healing element. Of course, it must be performed properly and not clumsily. This is something we can certainly consider as an aspect of soul, spirit, and physical hygiene.

These are, then, the three perspectives from which we should see eurythmy and from which we have placed it in our spiritual movement.

Even though many visitors may have been here often and may have seen our recent attempts to move forward in our forms and utilization of space in the groups, we still need to appeal to your understanding for today’s presentation. Eurythmy is at its very beginnings. This is an attempt at a beginning, but it is an attempt that we are convinced will improve and become more perfect. Perhaps others will need to join in and take up what we can accomplish with our weak forces and develop it further. Nevertheless it is certainly possible to see our intent from what will be shown today. Eurythmy opens the artistic wellsprings at their source, because it uses the entire human being as its means of expression, because it pedagogically develops the soul, spiritual, and physical aspects of the child, and also because it places human beings into movements that have a health-giving effect. Therefore it is an art that can be justifiably placed alongside the other, older arts, especially when our contemporaries turn their interest toward it.