CAN WRITTEN DECLARATIONS adequately express dance? The response: depends on the writer and the reader. Words on a page might be more definitive than movement on stage, yet the former can be misinterpreted as well, in an attempt to reveal the many meanings of a dance. I imagine that the best of dance prose hopes to imbue the reader with perspective to better appreciate the multifaceted scenarios of the moving form.
Assuredly, writing about dance is an opportunity to discover the ways in which choreographers think, translate, refresh and explore an ever-evolving spectrum of ideas rendered physical— with their limitless interpretations.
Creating a dance often starts with words crafted for a grant proposal that describe the seeds of inspiration. This language might explain a new collaboration, a re-staging of a classic work, or a concept that looks to move forward what is a dance. Often, grant proposals are written well before one steps into the studio, which can make the writer/artist nervous, wondering if he/she will still want to make the work in the future.
It’s science that thought impacts future actions, and words, as representatives of those thoughts, are no less potent. Perhaps this is why artists can be reluctant to
state their intent, wanting to safeguard their imaginative impulses, to keep the artistic dreams pure. Yet, the art of crafting a work is formed by practice, laboring deeply and intimately with the chosen form. Anyone who has had the good fortune to make art understands the inherent waves of trial and error and discovery attached to the process. Countless hours spent in a studio will assuredly provide plenty of movement material to consider and, yet, maybe a fraction of that information, the actual steps, the score, will make it to the finished piece.
As you can tell, I’ve challenged myself to consider how the written word impacts dance. While it is both a simple and yet complex concept, the theme emerges within the articles featured this month, that inform on a variety of aesthetics, milestones, new projects and even a book review.
For 40 years, Margaret Jenkins has imbedded the written word masterfully in her dance works. I think she would be the first to admit how blessed she is to work with an incredible array of artists that contribute to her intricate dances. Other than movement, language always seems to make a stellar appearance in Jenkins’ work, and her long-time collaborator, poet Michael Palmer, repeatedly introduces an earthy richness to many of her classics, like my favorite, First Figure. Rachel Howard speaks with Jenkins to reveal how her past is making an appearance within her latest work, Time Bones.
The wonderful part about laying the foundation for a new dance work or project or both, is that the journey—from idea, to the studio, to placing the work in front of an audience—will be formidable, and provide the frame to describe what worked or didn’t and what was discovered that one could never have imagined. This is the information that returns to the page, illuminating a final report to a funder or entering a journal for future reflection and introspection, or provide the launch for a next endeavor.
Dances often end with words that describe what was observed—from critics and the ever-present postings that occur with social media. It’s simplistic, yet important to state, that this writing has power. It can impact and even shape a career. The motivations of writing about dance and seeking the truth to illuminate non-verbal moments are many, and will always be debated as to who holds the truth. Most of the artists I know would assert that they want an audience to have multiple interpretations of their work.
March is filled with hundreds of opportunities to write about dance; make incandescent words that inspire and illuminate.