Sunday, December 13, 2009

the maestro

"Equestrian art is the perfect understanding and harmony between horse and rider."
--Nuno Oliveira
Enraptured, I watched in amazement, and could only feel that this must be the epitome, the ultimate expression of equestrian artistry -- its complete embodiment. Nuno Oliviera (1925 – 1989) personifies effortless elegance in this rare footage from his earlier years. Horse and rider are seamlessly inseparable – he transcends their duality, creating a palpable demonstration of oneness. Where does one being end and the other begin?
The creation which results is it seems greater than either could achieve alone – the horse has become a willing partner, allowing the man to experience a physicality impossible without his mount. And while a horse’s movements at liberty are undeniably beautiful, somehow the rider is able to draw out and reveal to us unimagined potentials in the horse. Their synergy positively takes our breath away.
The caption of the video “travail d'un cheval” or “work with a horse” describes not a choreographed artistic performance but rather the patient, precise and utterly consistent process of communication by a master training a pupil. The addition of the wonderfully complementary musical track may enhance the aesthetic impact, yet as I watch again in silence I find it even more magical. This masterful rider seems able to place the center of himself lower than his physical body, somewhere inside the horse – creating the effect of the mythical centaur.
What is he actually doing, I feel desperate to understand -- he is leading and following at the same time! How is he able to do this? I sense an utter absence of muscular willfulness, an infinite patience and what must be great sensitivity to every nuance of the horse’s response. And, sure enough, I perceive not just the rider’s spine but his whole head and torso being used as a tool with energy directed both upwards and downwards, and often in both directions at the same time. As I watch I feel a vague kinesthetic resonance in myself – we all must have had certain experiences -- pure and unfettered, at some point before we began accumulating our many habits of movement and reaction.
The riding is really just too exquisite – I soften inside, release my preoccupation with understanding how, and surrender to the sheer ecstasy of simply knowing that someone has lived who experienced this depth of understanding and this relationship with horses.
Apparently, as he worked, Maestro Oliviera often listened to arias from the operas he so loved – the Italian masters Verdi or Puccini. Watch the footage above with and without the soundtrack and you will find all the qualities of musical expression even in silence: lyricism, drama, the dynamic shaping of a phrase through accumulation of energy and its release, rhythm and tempo, and of course harmony, and even – harmonic dissonance! Do you sense it?Click HERE to view another much shorter video clip of this incredible master.

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