Part I The Libyan Sybil – The Critical Moment
If you look closely at some of the large figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you may notice something peculiar. A good number of them have books in their hands. It seems they want to read. Perhaps Michelangelo wanted to read too, but had no time.
When I was a modern dancer, I wanted to read too, but I was either in technique class, or rehearsing. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, I’d rather be dancing. I knew, straight away, that person was not a dancer. If they were a dancer their bumper sticker would have read, I’d rather be reading.
There was one figure on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that mesmerized me, that possessed me, that became my muse, and eventually the logo for the Alexander Alliance. She was the Libyan Sybil. When I began using her image as the logo for the Alexander Alliance, students wondered why, why her. And as I often do, and did then, I answered their question with a question.
Why do you think?
She’s got a great back.
Once I feel my students have seen what they are going to see then, if there is more that I want to direct their attention to, I will.
Notice how Michelangelo figures often appear androgynous. I like this. Often as men undo their culturally acquired masculine holding patterns, they feel more feminine. And as women undo their culturally acquired feminine holding patterns, they feel more masculine. I move people away from their acquired gender bodies and into what I call their mammal body, the body that men and woman share, their human body.
Of course, from an Alexander point of view, the Libyan Sybil’s got a great “monkey.” Often, when we think of Alexander’s monkey, we think about a synergetic flexion of the hips, knees and ankles. Of course that’s part of it. We want that happening, but we want it happening in conjunction with an expanding back that is emanating power through the arms into the hands, and through the spine and into the skull. And the Libyan Sybil has got all that going for her.
Something else I love about the Libyan Sybil is her upper appendicular skeletal system, her arms. They remind me so much of Marj Barstow’s arms when she worked with us. Marj’s scapulae were wide. Her shoulders were neither up nor down, more just out and away, one from the other. Her elbows and wrists were articulate. Her elbows were ever so slightly back and out, creating room between her arms and torso, while her wrists were going in slightly toward the mid-line,and forward. It all looked very natural and elegant. Her hands looked at once easy and powerful. Really, Marj’s arms were just like the Libyan Sybil!
Then there’s that exquisite spiraling throughout her body that you’ve noticed. Let’s look more closely at what is going on there. There’s a descending spiral, and an ascending spiral. The descending spiral begins with the head and eyes. Something’s got her attention; something’s turning her attention away from her book. The descending spiral is primarily concerned with orientation; when orientation begins to change. You hear something, or you see something, and your orientation to the world shifts. You can see this descending spiral happening in some of our other readers too. Go and take a look.
Now what about the ascending spiral? From where is that initiating?
From her hips.
From her left foot.
From the ground.
That’s what it looks like to me; from the ground, and then sequentially up through the body.
So if the descending spiral is about orientation, what’s the ascending spiral about?
Maybe action. It’s helping her to hold up the book.
Power to do what she’s doing.
That’s how I see it too. Maybe she was oriented more fully toward the book and then something got her attention, and Michelangelo caught her just at that moment of transition.
Why would he want to do that?
Because it looks cool.
For sure. The cool factor is very important. The Libyan Sybil is a super cool figure. Just imagine how cool the Sistine Chapel was when the first people ever to enter that room looked up and saw these huge three dimensional figures almost falling out of the ceiling. Painting was not Michelangelo’s thing. He was a sculptor. He was forced to paint the Sistine Chapel. So he discovered new techniques for making his two dimension figures appear three dimensional.
Maybe Michelangelo likes that transitional moment because some change is taking place. But you don’t know what she’s really doing or why. It’s mysterious. Is she opening the book or closing the book? What is she looking at? What’s gotten her attention?
Right. Something is going on. There action. She’s in motion. Maybe Michelangelo wants to make a static image move. He’s not just painting form, but motion, coordination, emotion, drama. He’s a motional and emotional anatomist. He’s a story teller.
Now when you really think about it, there aren’t two spirals. There’s just one. Imagine you are holding a wet towel. Get your scarf, or your coat, or a towel, and try this. Hold it in your hands and turn your top hand gently in one direction as you counter that action by gently turning your bottom hand in the other direction. Imagine turning it so gently that no water is squeezed out of it. When we wring out a wet towel our spiral turns into a twist. An area is created where both movements oppose one another and stop each other, creating torsion. But if the spiral is gentle enough, and if it moves through the whole towel, there is no conflict, there is no blockage, there’s just one integrated spiraling motion occurring in two complimentary opposing directions.
The Libyan Sybil, for me, is the symbol of a person who can gracefully transition, change direction, change opinion, adapt, without losing poise, without disturbance. This is what Alexander means when he refers to ‘the critical moment,’ that space between one action ending and another beginning. Imagine being a parent who is trying to do something, like read, or cook, or pay the bills, and your two young children have just started physically fighting with one another. How are you inside of that transition? How gracefully can you shift your attention? How do you adapt to changing circumstances?
To be continued…