Choreographic poetry: Creating literary scores for dance

Janne-Camilla Lyster, research fellow at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, The Academy of Dance

Introduction
I am a dancer, choreographer and author. I received my BA in Contemporary dance at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, the Academy of Dance in 2006. Through my artistic research project, I aim to develop literary scores for dance, and search for approaches and examine the outcome of procedures connected to writing, composing and adapting such scores.

Historical and contemporary context
My artistic research project has roots of familiarity in the so-called New York School of music, dance and visual arts 1950-ies and 60-ies. The New York School began experimenting with methods for expansion of notation systems and dissemination of information between composer and performer, and between choreographer and performer through what came to be called open form scores. These scores are characterized by their use of experimental notation, such as text, symbols, numbers and so on. 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 imagined or controlled – in creating a gap or a framing a potential for the performer/reader to engage with. In my artistic research project I will investigate how a type of allusive scores I would like to introduce as “literary scores for dance” can be crafted in a very specific way, and without strict instructions or descriptions.

An important artist in this field of work is the American choreographer Deborah Hay. Although Hay’s scores are not necessarily intended as autonomous pieces of work in itself, existing 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.

Main topics of research and project appraisal
I define a choreographic script as a literary score for dance, and in my own writing the main focus will lie on what I call choreographic poetry : poetry possessing a choreographic capacity, written to serve as score for dance, to be read as both poetry and dance, and to be made into a dance. A choreographic script would imply to be an autonomous score – a literary text that can be read and experienced without further explanation from another source. Through the artistic research project Choreographic poetry: Creating literary scores for dance I will search for new experience, development and knowledge concerning:

A. The writing and composing process of literary scores for dance, including: 1) Time as an embedded, indicated, initiated, experienced and found (through practice) component or agent, 2) Space as an embedded, initiated, indicated, experienced and found agent or component, 3) Experienced sound, rhythm and musicality as components or agents in the intersection between time and space, and 4) The resonance of singular words, language and image of the text in relation to the dancer’s acquired, embodied complexity.

B. The process of approaching, adapting and practicing a choreographic script, including: 1) The relation to time as an embedded, indicated, initiated, experienced and found (through practice) component or agent, 2) The reading of space as an embedded, initiated, indicated, experienced and found agent or component, 3) The relation to experienced sound, rhythm and musicality as components or agents in the intersection between time and space, 4) The relation to resonance of singular words, language and image of the text in relation to the dancer’s acquired, embodied complexity, and 4) Adaptation as a way of engaging with a written, poetic material and the potential of this engagement.

The project’s approach to scores suggests that the dance and the text should follow each other as two autonomous, parallel tracks. The text will be written to be transformed – or transcreated – through the dancer’s reading and practice of the score; hence it would not be necessary to be able to trace the exact correlation between the dance and the text at any given moment for the adaptation to be of value or for the viewer to “understand”. The project’s approach to the relation between text and dance can be said to be that of opacity, in the meaning that the project does not claim legitimation through a 1:1-relationship between text and the movement.

Artistic claim and project relevance
Through the specific development of choreographic poetry the project will aim to investigate what kinds of poetic language, imagery and compositions that can serve as a generative and constitutive basis for a dance, and in what ways. Through writing from a dancer’s experience, proficiency and practice, I will produce literary texts 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 and knowledge regarding the potential of poetry’s choreographic capacity, as well as dance’s capacity of producing poetry and trans-creating poetry into dance. Through developing and examining approaches of adapting, interpreting and practicing such scores, the project will search to collect, unveil and articulate new knowledge and experience of relationships between poetry and dance as a mutually informing and engaging materialities and realities, potentially creating new such relationships.

Artistic result
The artistic result of the project Choreographic poetry: Creating literary scores for dance will consist of three parts: 1) A publication: A collection of choreographic scripts, procedures and documented reflection in the form of topographic essays, drawings, images and maps. 2) A series of work demonstrations, showing adaptations, and 3) An exhibition of traces of the research process (writings, sketches, videos) and published materials in different formats, including the collection of scores and documented reflection. The collection of choreographic scripts and documented reflection will be published as a unity (box of books, maps and leaflets) and made available for the public through libraries and bookstores, as well as in the format of a website. The work demonstration series and the exhibition will coincide at a suitable location (theatre, gallery or similar) and be open to the public.

Methods and approaches
Through an organic double practice of writing and performing, I will search for new ways to generate choreography through choreographic poetry in the form of literary scores, and to examine ways to approach, practice and adapt such a score into dance. I will generate and share experiences and new knowledge through seminars, open work demonstrations, presentations, and through initiating a new publication called Journal of New Dance. This publication will serve as a public workbook sharing and inviting other artists to think out loud in a practical sense through text, drawing, images, notes and scores.

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