Lesson: Daria Martin: Body as Language

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Visual Arts, Dance, Theater, Music, New Media
  • still from "Minotaur."still from "Minotaur."
  • still from "Minotaur."still from "Minotaur."
  • still from "Minotaur."still from "Minotaur."


Written by Anouk Soufer, Education Intern.
Daria Martin’s 16 mm film, Minotaur reflects her collaboration with Anna Halprin, a renowned choreographer who created a dance especially for this film. Inspired by August Rodin’s sculpture Minotaur, Halprin’s interpretation of the narrative focuses on the interactivity of body and object. Exploring the universal qualities of dance, Halprin intends to unite people through an emotional and physical experience that recognizes its healing and therapeutic qualities. Martin’s role as a filmmaker reinforces this as her work incorporates blurred and cropped images of the following: the sensual movement between a man and woman; the sculptural work of Rodin; Anna Halprin herself; and a wooded landscape – all to a powerful musical score created by Matmos. The result presents a magical layering of senses, heightening the aesthetic qualities in each medium, while challenging viewers to acknowledge the complexity of human relationships as well as the definition of storytelling, dance, film, music, sculpture, and photography as contemporary art forms.


  • Students will consider the power of artistic inspiration and interpretation.
  • Students will learn how to create movements that illustrate a narrative without the use of language.
  • Students will discover how their bodies act as vehicles for self-expression.
  • Students will explore the nature of collaboration and examine the role of the filmmaker in their editing process.


Choreography is the process of creating an arrangement for movement or dance.
Collaboration refers to working together in a joint effort to create a unified result
Minotaur is a half-man, half-bull creature from Greek mythology that was kept in a labyrinth where he fed on human flesh.


Daria Martin’s images from the digital archive
1 CD or MP3 player with speakers
Electrical outlet, extension cord

  • “Bolero,” by Ravel, (slow, lyrical, sleepy)
  • “Dance of Frenzy,” by Messiaen, (mathematical, playful, light)
  • “Maple Leaf Rag,” by Joplin (jolly, busy, clunky)

4-8 Rodin books with images of sculptures and watercolors to use for inspiration
8 crates or stools (about 2 of different sizes per group)
8 pieces of lightweight cloth, such as scarves
4 rolls of masking tape (to mark places on the ground)
Video camera, tripod for taping
Optional: stack of blank paper and pencils for brainstorming and session (time spent with Rodin books)

Lesson Strategy

The lesson will begin with the viewing of the film. Initially, the group should briefly discuss myth of the Minotaur, the role of mythology as inspiration for a variety of artists, and, finally, how and why artists collaborate on projects, specifically mentioning the role of the choreographer Anna Halprin and the filmmaker Daria Martin. After viewing the film, an inquiry-based discussion will follow, leading to an activity where these concepts of inspiration and collaboration are explored through group movement projects.

Open discussion:

  • What do you know about the Greek myth of the Minotaur?
  • Why might mythology be a source of inspiration for artists? (Discuss all different types of artists, including, dancers and filmmakers.)
  • Why and how might artists collaborate on projects?

View the Film or look at Minotaur images from the digital archives.

Post-viewing questions:

  • Describe the body movements of the man and the woman? (Do they seem deliberate or spontaneous? Erotic or violent? Subtle or exaggerated?)
  • What do their movements suggest about their relationship to one another and to film as whole? Who is in control? The filmmaker/choreographer/dancers/viewers? Why do you think this?
  • Are there physical features or entire images that remind you of a beast or beauty? Or is the myth more metaphorical?
  • How might this wooded landscape and the sequence of dance movements relate to the idea of the myth, or more specifically the labyrinth? How does a seemingly recognizable place and familiar myth become unfamiliar?
  • How do the cropping, layering and blurring of images effect our perception of reality? What is real and what is imagined? Is this a reflection of someone’s memory or fantasy?
  • How does Anna Halprin’s interpretation of the myth reflect larger social issues? (Feminism, etc.)
  • What might Halprin’s smile at the end of the film suggest?

This lesson will connect dance to a broader idea of networks. Understanding the role of networks (as a way to connect people through the layers of communication) in the context of Minotaur, a film with many layers, we begin to think of dance as Halprin did – as a way to connect people. Simply, dance is a form of communication. Halprin’s choreography encourages viewers to see how this art form is both universal and personal. This concept also relates to the idea of mythology as inspiration. What we define as real and imagined depends upon the individual artist’s interpretation (choices). Why is the myth of the Minotaur such a powerful one? How have other artists used this same myth to convey varied realities or fantasies? How would you?

Key Words: (theme):

We will work to discover how artists interpret narrative and collaborate, layering multiple art forms such as dance and filmmaking, and also to understand film as a material that allows artists to explore different techniques with the camera (i.e. focusing or blurring our vision) that challenge us to question reality. We will also explore dance as a personal, often emotional expression of the dancers, intended as more than a performance for others. Extending the concept of music as a mere collection of sounds, we will consider it as a medium connected to emotional and narrative expressions.


Open discussion:
Using sculptural images as inspiration, movement, music, and basic material, how can a small group collaborate to form a performance that communicates the essence and narrative of their inspiration?


  • How can we translate our response to sculpture as inspiration for collaborative movement?
  • How can this movement alone convey a narrative? How is this different than using our voice?

The students will become choreographers in this exercise. Like Anna Halprin, they will use Rodin as their inspiration for their dance. Students will be instructed to create a narrative with their chosen Rodin images during a brainstorming session with the Rodin books. Then, the participants will be challenged to express a narrative (based on the images) physically and emotionally through a choreographed dance. While language is not permitted as part of the performance, music, fabric, and stools will be introduced and distributed by the instructor to the groups separately and sequentially, to distinguish and emphasize their significance within the overall performance.

This is an exercise in self-awareness as well. Initially, students might appear self-conscious and hyperaware as they create collaborate movements. However once they get started, this initial anxiety disappears and the result reflects a transformative experience. Suggestion: Model movements before as a way to begin.

Activity Intro:

  • Walk the group over to the activity space, and introduce the activity as is explained above.
  • Instructor should first choose image(s), then demonstrate a variety of interpretative movements with another instructor.

Workshop Activity:
1. All students will be asked to remove shoes [instructing this first immediately indicates this is a physical activity and this will also help students feel more comfortable creating movements].
2. Divide students into groups into no more than five students.
3. Groups will be handed Rodin books and asked to find images that will serve as inspiration
4. Groups will spread out in designated areas with their image and discuss the sculpture in some of the same ways the class had discussed the film. The group must decide: What kind of mood does this sculpture evoke? How will they illustrate this in their movements? Who will assume what role? Will another role be added?
5. Instructors will demonstrate movements.
6. Students will begin experimenting with choreography, using masking tape if desired to help define placements of group members.
7. Instructors ask all the groups to pause. Instructors announce that three music selections will be played. Each member in each group should change their movement in a way that they believe helps them interpret the different sounds they hear.
8. After all three music selections have been played and explored with by the students, the groups have to decide which piece fits most appropriately with the ideas they expressed in the first step: What musical interpretation does this sculpture evoke?
9. Groups continue to practice their movement, imagining their chosen music. Instructors will hand out two to three scarves per group. The challenge is now to change their movements once again with the use of added material.
10. Groups are then given one to two stools or crates, allowing them to explore perspective, distance, and the theatricality of their movements. How might this raised element relate to the initial sculpture they chose?
11. When complete, all groups come together.
12. Each group will share their dance with the chosen accompanying music (as indicated to instructors). After each group performs, members should reveal and discuss their inspiration (Rodin images).
13. The presentations are videotaped and uploaded to the attendant’s e-mail addresses.


Think about Daria Martin’s statement in regards to this film, “We move from drawing to sculpture to photography to dance, from two dimensions to three, and these different dimensions are akin to different perspectives on the same story.” Now let’s translate the 3D experience to a 2D one: Ask children to map out their movements (abstractly or realistically) with paper and pencil. Color should be used as another way to express emotion. It can vary from dots of color to more explicit representations, depending on how the mapping is executed. The mapping can also develop into a painting.


  • How did your source of inspiration influence the narrative as well as the choreography you created?
  • What are some of the challenges you faced creating a performance without scenery or language?
  • How did music and movement as intangible elements affect your choreography?
  • How did the collaboration with your peers help or hinder this entire process (beginning with the brainstorming)?
  • How difficult was it to imitate the sculpture’s figurative poses? What did you discover about the way your body moves? Think about the collaborative process as well. Discuss your self-awareness.

Extending the Lesson

  • Musical choice: The instructor can ask each student or group to come up with a contrasting playlist. This can be a personal choice or based on an era of music they are studying.
  • Costume: The instructor can ask each student or group to bring in an accessory or clothing item to use as a prop for the movement exercise.
  • Translation of mediums: Now translate your 3D piece into a 2D representation using paint, charcoal, or clay.

Additional Resources

www.cca.edu (Daria Martin lectures)