François Alexandre Nicolas Chéri Delsarte (November 19, 1811 – July 20, 1871) was a French musician and teacher. Though he achieved some success as a composer, he is chiefly known as a teacher in singing and declamation. He went on to develop an acting style that attempted to connect the inner emotional experience of the actor with a systematized set of gestures and movements based upon his own observations of human interaction. This “Delsarte” method became so popular that it was taught throughout the world, but particularly in America, by many teachers who did not fully understand or communicate the emotional connections behind the gestures, and as a result the method devolved into melodramatic posing, the kind in response to which Constantin Stanislavski would later develop his inner psychological methods.
Delsarte was born in Solesmes, Nord. He was a pupil of the Paris Conservatory, was for a time tenor singer in the Opéra Comique, and composed a few songs. Having studied singing at the Paris Conservatory, he became unsatisfied with the arbitrary and posed style of acting taught there. He began to study how humans actually moved, behaved and responded to various emotional and real life situations. He achieved this by observing people in real life and in public places of all kinds. Through his observations he discovered certain patterns of expression, eventually called the Science of Applied Aesthetics. This consisted of a thorough examination of voice, breath, movement dynamics, encompassing all of the expressive elements of the human body.
Towards the close of the 19th century much was said and written in America regarding Delsarte gymnastics. But François Delsarte was a teacher of emotional expression through voice and gesture, and not the inventor of a system or method of gymnastics. "Relaxing" exercises and training in poise and in control of the breath form a part of the necessary preparation for effective appearance on the platform or the stage; but complete physical education of the growing child and youth could never be accomplished by such means, and the adult requires a much broader range of motor activities. Therefore, Delsarte gymnastics was an improper American application of the theories of François Delsarte.
Influence and impact
Delsarte's work inspired modern dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Rudolf Laban and F. Matthias Alexander also studied Delsarte's teachings until they later developed their own methods.
Delsarte never wrote a book explaining his method firsthand, and neither did his only protégé, actor Steele MacKaye. However, MacKaye's student Genevieve Stebbins did write a book in 1885 titled The Delsarte System of Expression, and it became a wild success.
Ironically, it was the great success of the Delsarte System that was also its undoing. By the 1890s, Delsarte was being taught everywhere, and not always in accordance with the emotional connectivity that Delsarte originally had in mind. It seems that no certification was needed to teach a course with the name Delsarte attached, and the study regressed into empty posing with little emotional truth behind it. Wangh concludes, "it led others into stereotyped and melodramatic gesticulation, devoid of the very heart that Delsarte had sought to restore." Despite this, modern Anglophone yoga classes closely resemble the Delsarte "gymnastics" as taught by American Genevieve Stubbins. Arguably, the fad may be an uncredited forerunner of postural yoga as taught today, as speculated by Mark Singleton in "Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice".
Delsarte was the uncle of the composer Georges Bizet.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
- Ted Shawn, Every Little Movement, a Book about François Delsarte, the Man and his Philosophy, his Science and Applied Aesthetics, the Application of this Science to the Art of the Dance, the Influence of Delsarte on American Dance, 1963
- Wangh, Stephen. An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.
- Williams, Joe, A Brief History of Delsarte
- Franck Waille, Corps, arts et spiritualité chez François DELSARTE (1811–1871). Des interactions dynamiques, PhD in history, Lyon, Université Lyon 3, 2009, 1032 pages + CDROM of annexes (manuscripts, interview of Joe Williams, video reconstitutions of body exercises) (the last and longer chapter of this thesis concerns Delsarte training for the body).
- Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter, "The Delsarte Heritage," Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, 14, no. 1 (Summer, 1996), pp. 62–74.
- Delsarte system of expression, by Genevieve Stebbins; public-domain, online version on Google Books.
- Singleton, Mark, "Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice” Oxford University Press February 10, 2010.
- Eleanor Georgen, The Delsarte system of physical culture (1893) (Internet Archive)
- Oxford Dictionary of Dance (subscription)
- Laban Biography and Method
- "Delsarte, François Alexandre Nicolas Chéri". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.