CHOREOGRAPHIC POETRY: CREATING LITERARY SCORES FOR DANCE
Artistic research fellow Janne-Camilla Lyster, Oslo National Academy of the Arts | Project description
1. Background and motivation
I am a dancer, choreographer and a writer. I received my BA in Contemporary dance at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, the Academy of Dance, where I studied from 2003 to 2006. I have, so far, published six collections of poetry and a novel.
Through my artistic research project, I aim to develop literary scores for dance, searching for approaches and exploring the experience of writing, composing and interpreting such scores. My scores addresses the dancer specificly.
When developing choreography, it is quite common to make use of different types of materials in the creative process; tuning into a certain theme through reading texts or discussing an exhibition, trying out how a certain pair of shoes make you respond movement wise, using images to evoke a certain state of mind, and so on.
Dancers often develop a unique set of imagery and storylines that contributes to constitute the choreographic material while they are dancing – tuning the execution and the quality of the movement. I have been intrigued by the poetic power of these narratives through my experience as a dancer and a choreographer, leading to a curiousness of the potential of combining my practices as a dancer and a poet; by creating poetry written from a practice and experience of being a dancer and choreographer, and for the purpose of being read and interpreted into a dance.
Scores can be a way of collecting, concretizing or suggesting thoughts, ideas, possibilities; of framing potential and creating gaps where something can emerge. A score’s function can be that of a collaborative or collective tool in the creative/choreographic process, a point of departure, documentation, or material for interpretation. With the existence of autonomous (in my project, this means in the form of literary) scores for dance, the dancer is able to engage with a material provided by others, set free of a specific time, location or economic frame; thereby creating an opportunity to break habits and create an experimental friction regarding artistic form and content. Existing independently of local time and place, such scores can also expand the range of working modes and ways of sharing the work.
2. Historical and contemporary context
Historically speaking, my artistic research project has its roots mainly in the so-called New York School of music, dance and visual arts of the 1950-ies and 60-ies and the Fluxus movement of the 60-ies onwards. «The New York School» refers to an informal group of American artists, drawing inspiration from surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movement, with John Cage as a central figure. During this period there was an initiative to begin experimenting with expanding notation systems, and for how to disseminate information between composer and performer through what came to be called «open form scores». These scores are characterized by their use of experimental notation, such as text, graphic notation, numbers and so on.
Graphic notation can be subdivided into pictoral and symbolic. Pictorial notation can be said to encourage a reading mode analogue with viewing an image; while symbolic notation encourages to be read “as language”, in that that the symbols represents something other that itself (resembling an alphabet, for instance).
Text based scores can be subdivided into two main categories: allusive scores, and instructional scores. My main interest lies within the allusive type of scores, focusing on what can emerge that is not yet (fully) imagined – through creating a gap, framing a specific potential for the performer-reader to engage with. These scores can be said to fulfil to the most extent what open form scores can do; in that when not trying to control the outcome, one opens up for something new and unforeseen to happen, not limited by the composer’s/choreographer’s/writer’s capability to imagine one final realization of the score. Hence, the score can generate a vast number of individual interpretations through the meeting of different performers. It takes generosity, braveness, trust and a motivation of curiosity and wonder – on both parts. In my artistic research project, I seek experience of how allusive literary scores for dance can be crafted in a specific way through a poetic use of language, and without strict instructions or descriptions.
The Fluxus movement was an international art movement of the 1960-ies and 70-ies, strongly influenced by the thoughts of John Cage. Some of the work of Fluxus artists consisted of different types of scores, often organized as event kits, with objects and instructions (or “recipes”) for the performer (who was often meant to be “everyman”) to follow. Fluxus scores were often rooted in performance art, and I consider the publication “do it” by visual artist Hans Ulrich Obrist (2013) an extension of this movement, for example.
The experimentation with scores and notation has continued over the past decades, and other more recent examples can be mentioned such as the choreographer Thomas Lehmen’s spatio-temporal score “Schreibstück” (2002), “Dance (praticable)” by Frédéric Gies (solo version 2006, group version 2008), and the Brussels-based performing arts collective “everybodys” collection “everybodys performance scores” (2011).
An important artist who has informed my project is the American choreographer Deborah Hay. Hay was part of “Judson Church”, a group of mainly choreographers and dancers inspired by John Cage, working and performing in the location of the same name in Greenwich Village, New York. The work of this group of dancers and choreographers lay the ground of what we today talk about as post-modern dance. Many of the artists, Hay included, were strongly influenced by Eastern philosophy. Combining the concept of “paradox” (central to Zen philosophy) and poetic language, Hay has developed her own way of using language as a choreographic tool, stating that “editing language is editing choreography” (SPCP, Findhorn, 2012). For a number of years, she developed written scores for dance by developing a solo work by herself in the studio, then teaching this dance to a number of dancers using the written score as a tool. Through establishing a meditative-like relationship to the score, the dancers participating in what was called the Solo Performance Commissioning Project (1998-2012), learned and adapted this score, each making their own version of it through a period of strict practice. I first worked with Deborah Hay in 2012 (SPCP Findhorn, the solo called “Dynamic”). Although Hay’s scores are not necessarily intended to exist independently of an orally transmitted practice, I find her collection of scores to be of great relevance to my project in that they are texts, often of poetic and literary language, written from a dance practice, and addressed to the dancer.
3. Main topics of research and project appraisal
In this project, I use the term “choreographic score” in the meaning of a literary score for dance. In my writing of such scores, the main focus will lie on what I call choreographic poetry: poetry written and composed to serve as score for dance: to be read as both poetry and dance, and to be interpreted into a dance. In this project I also aim for the choreographic score to be a literary text that can be read and experienced without further explanation from other sources, co-existing as a parallel work to the dancer’s interpretation of it – and vice versa.
Through the artistic research project Choreographic poetry: Creating literary scores for danceI search for experience regarding:
1. The writing and composing process of literary scores for dance, including:
- Ways of crafting time as an component, aspect or agent
- Ways of crafting space as an agent, aspect or component
- Ways of crafting movement- and presence articulation
- Ways of relating to the dancer’s acquired, embodied complexity through crafting a poetic text
- The influence of materiality and format of the score
2. The process of approaching, interpreting and practicing a choreographic score, including:
- The relation to time as an component, aspect or agent
- The reading of space as an agent, aspect or component
- The relation to movement- and presence articulation
- Establishing a sensory relationship between the score and the dancer’s acquired, embodied complexity
- Interpretation as a way of engaging with a written, poetic material
- The influence of the format of the score
In this project, my approach to scores suggests that the dance and the text should follow each other as two parallel tracks. The text is written to be interpreted into a dance, through the dancer’s reading and practice of the score. There will be moments of both opacity and translucence. The project does not seek to pinpoint a list of absolutes regarding the relationship and mechanisms between the score and the interpretation, but rather circle in on sharing a rich body of exploration and experience.
4. Artistic claim and project relevance
My artistic claim is to develop literary scores for dance, and to search for approaches, and share the outcome and experience of these approaches, connected to writing, composing and interpreting such scores.
Through the specific development of choreographic poetry, the project will aim to explore ways in which poetic language, imagery and compositions that can serve as a generative and constitutive basis for a dance.
Through writing from a dancer’s experience, proficiency and practice, I will produce literary scores of particular and potentially innovative qualities, both as literature and as scores with a specific purpose. Through the project I will search to produce and facilitate new experiences regarding the potential of poetry’s choreographic capacity, as well as dance’s capacity of producing poetry and trans-interpreting poetry into dance.
Through developing and exploring approaches of interpreting and practicing such scores, the project will search to collect and articulate new experience of relationships between poetry and dance as mutually informing and engaging materialities and realities, potentially creating new such relationships.
Moreover, the concept of literary scores opens up to the opportunity of inviting readers and audience outside the dance field to read dance - and may thereby contribute to expand the out-reach of the dance field.
5. Artistic result
The artistic result of the project Choreographic poetry: Creating literary scores for dancewill consist of three parts:
· A publication: A collection of literary scores for dance, essays and project repertorium
· A selection of realizations of the scores (interpretations by other dancers)
· An exposition of materials from the work process, including dummies, format experiments, drawings, videos and photographs.
The collection of choreographic scores, essays and project repertorium will be published in book format and made available for the public through libraries and bookstores. The work realization series and exposition will coincide at a suitable location (stage, gallery or similar) and be open to the public.
Through an organic double practice of writing and performing, I search for ways to create dance through poetry in the form of literary scores, and to explore ways to approach, practice and interpret such a score.
I develop, write and compose a series of scores and invite other dancers to interpret them. I develop, explore and articulate ways of approaching, practicing and interpreting these scores, in collaboration with the dancers who are invited to interpret the scores I write. I also invite dancers to participate in workshops as a way of exploring unfinished material in the process of writing scores.
I generate and share experiences through seminars, open work demonstrations and presentations.
In this artistic research project, my main focus will be on the relations between the writing process and the process of interpretation and practice.
An interesting point of diversion between music and dance is the use of notation systems. While open form scores contribute with experimental notation for musicians, the very notion of notation is experimental to a contemporary dancer. There are a number of notation systems in dance, but what they all have in common is that they are notation systems meant for the conservation of choreography – and that they are used very sparingly amongst dancers and choreographers of the contemporary field. What sparked my interest in scores overall, was their ability to generate new movement, like the experimental notation we find in open form scores. Notation systems for dance have been in use and development since the Baroque Era. Systems like Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, and later Laban notation have primarily been methods of preservation of an existing choreography and hence sources of reconstruction and interpretation. Forms of notation in recent decades are increasingly used as a tool in the choreographic/creative process.
In the essay The Beginning of Happiness, published in the book Sound and Score (2013, Leuven University Press, p.133) Virginia Anderson writes about so-called ”allusive scores”, quoting Veselinovic-Hofman on that such scores can attain intrinsic value and become independent artworks through their philosophical, literary or poetic content/form; thereby become free of their possible and expected musical fulfilment/realization. An example of such a score is La Monte Young’s Piano Piece for David Tudor #3, which reads in its entirety: ”Most of them / were very old grasshoppers.”
I first heard this term used in an e-mail correspondence with Finnish dancer-choreographer Anni Kaila in 2016. She uses this term to describe her own writings.