What’s on Your Nightstand?

By Community Submission


In Dance was curious about what books people are reading that are inspiring, engaging or diverting. To expand your summer booklist, we posed the following three questions to the dance community. Thank you to all who have responded to our queries.

What books are you reading?

Fauxnique / Monique Jenkinson, choreographer: The essays and letters of Oscar Wilde; a book on David Bowie’s album Low by Hugo Wilcken from the series 331/3; Distinction by Pierre Bordieu; Deluxe by Dana Thomas; Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Nina Haft, choreographer: Feelings Are Facts by Yvonne Rainer: a wonderful, candid insider’s take from a Bay Area native on being an artist in the early postmodernist movement. On Photography by Susan Sontag: though written in the ‘70s, this still influences how we see shapes what we believe. Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan: poetry of soil and other delicate observations from an earth scientist. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit: a personal navigation from an embodied theorist.

Keith Hennessy, choreographer: Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance by Janice Ross. This is a gorgeous and inspiring book about one of the most influential dance artists of the 20th century. Ross introduces us to Halprin’s life, which means we get to reconsider dance, architecture, Happenings, Beats, dance as personal and collective healing, dance as communal ritual, the body in nature and nature in art, the gendered and raced body, and so much more. A deeper understanding of Halprin’s work is heartily encouraged for all dancers.

Rowena Richie, artistic director/performer: I’m currently reading the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (the author of The Kite Runner). It’s portrays the lives of three generations of women in Afghanistan from the 1960s to the present day. It is so painful and intense at times that I have put it down crying and not wanted to pick it up again. But it draws me in. I’m near the end now, and I’ve grown accustomed to the abuse and degradation. I’m less sensitive to it now; I have a thicker skin, which is a little disturbing to me. As a woman and an artist living in America, this novel has given me a great deal of perspective on just how privileged we are.

Ariel Osterweis Scott, choreographer, writer, PhD candidate, Performance Studies, UC Berkeley: I am reading Screening Sex by Linda Williams. I would recommend this book to others with an interest in the relationship between visual/sexual culture and spectatorship. While dance studies texts also address questions of spectacle and spectating, I find that references to popular sexual culture (in film and TV)—due to its explicit nature, which brings the body forth in a manner more extreme than most choreography—further informs an interest in bodies and consumption.

John Harris, producer, Azahar Dance Foundation: Inmigracion y Lengua Nacional by Sergio Valdés Bernal. As a flamenco aficionado and producer, I am acutely aware of the links between culture, language and art. Flamenco comes out of the culture of Andalucia in southern Spain, and more specifically from the culture of the gitanos (gypsies). The flamenco style of the guajira was brought from Cuba about a hundred years ago and is named after the word for “farm worker” in the dialect spoken in the Guantanamo province of Cuba. In the other direction, the language and culture of Cuba has been much influenced by the fact that many of its early colonists were from Andalucia, and some of them were gitanos. The first to sight the American continent from the masthead of the Santa Maria in 1492 was Rodrigo de Triana (Triana is the gitano neighborhood in the city of Seville). Any honest production of flamenco music, song and dance must be aware of the deep culture of the art. Bernal’s book may illuminate a corner of that culture.

Kelly Kemp, kelly kemp & company: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Denzil Meyers, theatre artist, contact improv mover, clown: The Moving Body (Le corps poétique) by Jacques LeCoq.

Deborah Slater, choreographer: Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Amazing use of language and image. A great (re)read.

What books have motivated your art-making?

Nina Haft, choreographer: Other books that continue to inspire me are My Body the Buddhist by Deborah Hay, and Meredith Monk: A Monograph edited by Deborah Jowitt.

Keith Hennessy: Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments, edited by Mark Rosenthal. The essays and images in this big-format book directly inspired events in my recent solo “Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal…).” Beuys (1921-1986) was a German artist and teacher of massive influence in the areas of visual, performance, and conceptual art. He was motivated towards democracy, ecology, and the transformative power of art. Matthew Barney (creator of the Cremaster Cycle, Drawing Restraint, and Björk’s husband) quotes Beuys in much of his work.

Raissa Simpson, artistic director, Push Dance Company: Making Multiracials by Kimberly McClain DaCosta. When I began reading this book, it opened up a new historical, social, and political collection of information on how a few activists made known the grievances of a mixed race community, which ultimately lead the change of state policy on racial classification. The book asserts the notion that mixed race people should not have to choose between the dominate race associated with their mother or father.

Ariel Osterweis Scott: Anne Carson’s Decreation and Men in the Off Hours, and Robert Grenier’s Phantom Anthems. When it comes to choreography, I am most inspired by poets or writers who experiment with prose. I thoroughly enjoy the work of Anne Carson and also that of lesser known poets such as Robert Grenier whose experimentations have taken him from sparse text to text that is no longer legible to most. I love to stumble upon pointed, idiosyncratic uses of words. Whether textual or choreographic, I am always looking for alternate modes of meaning-making (or un-making).

Dana Lawton, choreographer: Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightmen. A series of short stories regarding time and the variety of different ways we perceive time. This book was the basis for my newest solo “Coasting.”

Recommend one book for all dance/art makers to read.

Lorelei Bayne, dance coordinator, Sacramento State: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book comes in handy and can be referred to again and again. We all get off track sometimes, this book helps you get back.

Liliana Cattaneo, artistic director, contACT Arts: The Mission Of Art by Alex Grey. An inspiration for any artist who creates with a deeper sense of consciousness.

Deborah Slater: Oliver Sacks: all his books. A poetic look at neurological dysfunction. They make you look/think again about life experiences and how you interpret them.

Dorothy Finnigan, environmental and movement educator, juggler, community organizer: What the Body Wants by Cynthia Winton-Henry with Phil Porter. An entertaining and wisdom-packed book that reveals the practices and philosophy of InterPlay through short stories about a diverse collection of people. Using these simple embodied tools on their own and within community, these individuals were able to reclaim their inner authority, find ease in the face of struggle, discover immeasurable joy, and unlock the courage to live their life’s path. I recommend this book because there is a profound difference between walking our walk and feeling that we are alone in noticing what we notice in our bodies in this world, versus feeling the support that comes from the lightly-held principles and casual wisdom that an increasing number of people celebrate using inclusive language like “an ethic of play,” “being a body intellectual,” “experiencing the physicality of grace,” and “using our easy-focus.”

Nina Haft: A Director Prepares by Anne Bogart. This book summed up the journey of an artistic director for me in ways that resonate with making work in community.

Ariel Osterweis Scott: I find it difficult to recommend a scholarly dance studies text to dance makers, but I think one dance studies book everyone should read is Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. It does a great job of tracing the Africanist influences in American dance and culture, from Balanchine to Yvonne Rainer to Martha Graham to minstrelsy. In a more philosophical vein, I always get a lot out of reading André Lepecki’s Exhausting Dance. He deals more with contemporary European choreographers and issues of temporality, ontology, and politics.

Kyle Griffiths, choreographer: I’d recommend John Janovy Jr.’s On Becoming a Biologist to other artists for its moving take on living a life motivated by values.

Denzil Meyers: Impro by Keith Johnstone. With sections covering Status, Spontaneity, Narrative Skills, Mask & Trance, Johnstone emphasizes an artist’s experience of her own emerging creativity, and explores the dynamics of collaborative art-making.

This article appeared in the June 2009 issue of In Dance.

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