Image

The Diction of Dance (Excerpt)

by Wendy Lesser

…Like poetry, choreography speaks to us about the familiar, but in a way that makes us see it anew. The materials, in both cases, are part of everyday life (speech, movement), but these materials need to be transformed in a way that makes them more than merely documentary. So a certain level of stylization (whereby the real gets stripped of its excess, turned into something clearer and sharper and more shaped) is required in both art forms for them to be art forms. At the same time, the ever-present danger is that stylization may interfere with feeling—may get between the artist’s expression of something and the audience’s reception of it.

To combat this danger, poets and choreographers remain eternally alert to the sensibilities of their own times. Just as Wordsworth revolutionized the poetic diction of his time by bringing it closer to ordinary speech, choreographers must continually replenish their known storehouse of stage gesture with movements that they observe in life: on the street, at home, in offices and playgrounds and parks. Yet to abandon the languages and gestures of the past entirely would be not only silly but impossible. Poetry and choreography both derive from all the work that has gone before them, even as each maker tries something new and special with the form…

MORE: Read “The Diction of Dance” by Wendy Lesser in its entirety at poetryfoundation.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Lesser is an American critic, novelist, and editor based in Berkeley, California. Lesser did her undergraduate work at Harvard College and her graduate work at University of California, Berkeley, with time in between at King’s College, Cambridge. She is the founding editor of the arts journal The Threepenny Review, and author of ten books, including one novel, The Pagoda in the Garden (Other Press, 2005), and her latest nonfiction book, Why I Read (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dedalus Foundation, and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, among other places.

IMAGE: “Fred and Ginger” by Mel Thompson. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.