Dancing with text

During a discussion on this year’s Spring Forward Festival, in preparation for our ‘Critical Issues’ session, the following question came up: “Have we reached the limit of what we can say with dance?” The question was referring to the multitude of Aerowaves pieces in which text played a leading role. The issue posed was that dance artists were, instead of using movement, resorting to language to carry their work. An explanation would be that they had lost trust in the extent to which dance could communicate their message, possibly because what they wanted to say was too dense, too political, or too complex. A rather depressing thought, don’t you think?

On the contrary, I found that text in this year’s Aerowaves pieces was used in highly imaginative and boundary-pushing ways. Take Chiara Bersani’s piece, Seeking Unicorns. Bersani’s performance is accompanied by a sheet of paper, adorned with prose. The text starts as a short, biographical story and deviates into beautifully phrased reflections on desire and suspense. She ends with the words “I will wait for you here.” and signs off: a gesture that works well in parallel with the seductive pose she assumes, her hair long and loose, at the centre of the room. It is as if the text lies in tension with the performance and hereby opens up another avenue of interpretation.

In her lecture-performance-style work, The pure gold is seeping out of me, Renata Piotrowska-Auffret uses language to refer to a different point in time and space, allowing her audience to travel. Mid-way through her speech from behind a pedestal, she states “I was in the studio, doing this” and proceeds to demonstrate her movement research. Although literal, she uses the text to frame the performance, and then disrupts the established frame with dance. The text and the movement constitute two sides of her experimentation with form.

New Creation by Filipe Pereira and Teresa Silva starts with a clever dissection of a sentence. The two performers hurry across the stage with projection screens, catching words that are thrown at them by the beamer. Their conversation is dependent not only on the phrases, but also their capacity to reach them in time. Their movement is instrumental in making the words visible. The function of the words is not only to provide the conceptual underpinning of the piece, but also the rhythm and patterns of movement. The display of text becomes a physical act, and the words are used like building blocks.

So – all is not lost! The use of text in performance, from the standpoint of dance, is proving to be an exciting new crossover. Dancers are not using text like actors or theatre-makers, who traditionally memorise an entire script before even setting foot on stage. Nor are they assimilating the practice of poets, who in live poetry readings are more concerned with the language itself than its delivery. Rather, they are making decisions that originate in a body practice, and the result is sparking exciting new discoveries. It is not that dance, as a medium, falls short, but rather that it has ever more to offer.

Beatrix Joyce