19 October 2012

Pumpkin Grower III (there will be only one more, honest)

A point I've been meaning to make about theatre, and it was very much at work with my play, is the deeply integrative nature of the art.  To be sure, during any one scene, one element may dominate, may come to the fore:  an actor, a piece of the script, a light cue, a piece of music, a stage set, a prop, a second of choreography, a gesture, or a few seconds of silence and stillness.  But typically, the elements are at play, in play, with one another.

In other collaborative enterprises, some of which I've participated or I've been an audience member,  the contributions might as well have been separate as they were "blended," although the exchange itself might have created new dynamics.  I've seen this separation in my experiences with ArtPoems, where sometimes what the poet and the artist create are discrete works of art (the real joy of ArtPoems is its celebration of creativity).

Last year, when I read a poem for a dance number, one poet complained that I read the poem too fast, that it served the dance and didn't stand on its own as a poem in the performance.  I took pride in that criticism, because that was what I was after with my work with the dancers, that the poem didn't exist as a poem, and neither did the dance exist solely as a piece of choreography.  I was a physical part of the dance, another body in the dance space, and I read as an accompanist, where the poetry served and lifted the dancers, and the dancers, with their bodies, annihilated the poetry itself.

Let me offer another example, not my own.  The Canadian poet Anne Carson is one of my favorites--I performed in her translation of Agamemnon as well, and her multi-genre, multilingual Nox is one of the best books of poetry this century.  In any event, I came across this video of collaboration she undertook with the outstanding choreographer Jonah Bokaer at last year's wonderful O, Miami Poetry Festival, a work called "Stacks."


While there's much to commend to the performance, the echo-y reading, the crisp and deeply intentional dance, the elements remained fundamentally discrete, which isn't surprising because the poem was produced separately from the poem--Bokaer choreographed the dance on the poem.  Nowhere is the choice made for the poem to serve the dance.  The text, Anne Carson's unwaving voice, stands firm, essentially unchanged by the dance itself; at worst, the dance becomes illustrative, and at best, the pauses and deliberate voice serve as measures for the dance phrases.  At some point, I want to see the voice, the poetry, sacrificed for the dance; I think these individual parts must die, a little, in order for the integration to occur.  

What they have in this work is awfully good, and I envy the audience for having such a treat, but to me, it felt like a poetry reading and a dance performance.  It's not what I'm after.

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