Gurdjieff International Review


With Gurdjieff in St Petersburg and Paris

by Anna Butkovsky-Hewitt

In 1922 Gurdjieff arrived in Paris with several of his pupils (after spending some time in Constantinople), and as he now re-established his group here I rejoined it and left my fashionable salon.

While I was with this group we used to spend every morning in the large dance studio where Jacques Dalcroze held his school. We would watch some of these exercises and dances, and I remember one interesting interpretation by his pupils of a Bach fugue in four voices. The first, following the leading voice, would be clad in a flaming-red dress, another voice was in deep green, a third in indigo blue and the fourth in light pink, all dancing to the piano-rendering of the fugue.

Gurdjieff arranged with Dalcroze that his pupils should have the use of the hall from ten till one every morning, including Sundays. We kept our practice clothes in a large room filled with cupboards. They were loose white tunics with thick, red-cord piping and tassels, and very large baggy trousers in the Turkish or Oriental style. When we were ready we entered the hall and formed ourselves into six rows of eight pupils, with about three yards between each of us.

Gurdjieff explained to us about the differences in character between dancers, each of whom as it were ‘printed’ his individuality on his own movements. The predominant centre (of the three centres), he said, showed itself in the expression of these movements.

One that I particularly recall was a very difficult pose which ended in a reclining position of the body like Canova’s statue of Pauline Borghese. The movement was to swing swiftly from a standing position into this reclining one—very hard to achieve. But we were all trying it and repeating it together, and in watching the movements of the others we found we helped ourselves. This gliding, sliding and ‘falling’ on the floor in a single movement was never successfully achieved by some of the pupils who were always frightened of the risk of falling and hurting themselves, and so could never do it.

Another exercise I remember was to dance like a faun holding grapes in his hands, one hand held higher than the other. One girl, I remember, used to try to make all these movements ‘pretty’ or ‘graceful,’ but this was not at all what they were meant to attain; it was meant to be achieved by interior control. And I have a vivid picture in my memory of a young man who tried to hop right round the hall on his own, who was brought up short by a loud shout and told to sit and watch how the others were doing it—like a sheep brought to order by a dog and re-established in the flock.

Gurdjieff formulated the dance-patterns or designs and imparted them to Mr Mironoff, whom we knew as our starosta or foreman. It was he who, following Gurdjieff’s instructions and sometimes his demonstrations, acted as our teacher, having been through them with Gurdjieff beforehand. He helped us back at the house where we were living in Auteuil, and here during the rest of the day we used to practice privately.

Gurdjieff was very anxious to get us on the stage at the Théâtre du Champs-Élysées, but first he insisted on perfection. He himself, he told us one day, had learned the way of the dancing dervishes of the East in one of their monasteries, and some of this went into what he passed on to us. Every movement was a tremendous effort to achieve certain qualities, to surmount the physical obstacles and to develop the will-power. Such a way of dancing was certainly very new.

It used to exhaust us completely, but still we had to go on—to endure and overcome it. And in a way we were living as if in a monastery ourselves. We were given our keep and meals, but had no money of our own. We were each given fifty centimes a day, which was the cost of the tram fare from our house to the Dalcroze Institute and back. And there were certain duties we all had to perform in the household.

In the evenings we all gathered together for discussions with Gurdjieff. Sometimes he talked to us, sometimes he listened while two of the pupils discussed problems or aspects of the dances. Then afterwards we all joined in and asked questions.

Eventually, after we had been living in this way for quite a long time, some of the best pupils were selected to form a final group, and after further rigorous practice these gave public performances both in Paris and New York.

Copyright © 1978, 2002 Anna Butkovsky-Hewitt
This webpage © 2002 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2002 Issue, Vol. V (1)
Revision: April 1, 2002


Excerpt from With Gurdjieff in St Petersburg and Paris, Anna Butkovsky-Hewitt with Mary Cosh and Alicia Street, Weiser, 1978, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, pp. 126–129. A skilled pianist and dancer, Anna Butkovsky-Hewitt was introduced to Gurdjieff in St. Petersburg in 1916 by P. D. Ouspensky, and the two of them became Gurdjieff’s first pupils in Russia. Later she rejoined Gurdjieff and his circle in Paris in 1922, where she ran a fashionable dress salon.