Re: language/ dance

Scott deLahunta (
Thu, 23 Oct 1997 04:59:18 +0200

At 07:25 PM 10/23/97 +0100, you wrote:
>Hmm. I can't see movement as a mode of communication equivalent to speech,
>which I think you concede by the use of quote marks. But the idea of
>speaking 'through the body' is, perhaps, indicative of a belief in
>equivalence between speech and dance which seems quite prevalent.
>Speech allows communication of ideas using a well-established symbolic
>system forming complexes whose meanings are generally agreed upon. One
>might disagree about the meaning 'behind' words, but their explicit meaning
>as individual and differentiable concepts remains. No such condition
>obtains for dance (or music or painting or other non-literal art form, for
>that matter).

Yes David -- thanks very much for elaborating on communication and speech.
The equivalence between speech and dance is sometimes a sort of "metaphor
into method process" so that 'writing' for example is something William
Forsythe uses as a kind of mental trigger to get his dancers moving in
space, but in fact it's also 'architectural/ spatial' in that the dancers
literally move certain points of their bodies along, say, the outlines of
the letter A. They could just as easily be tracing the outline of an
elephant or a toolshed or a television... but I suppose the idea about
writing provides some simple link to the idea of the activity of
communicating which maybe gives Bill the sort of presence of mind (in the
performer) he's looking for. He talks about being able to 'see' his dancers
think. So, I suppose, writing, words, thinking, moving and articulating are
all sort of conflated here into dancing/ performing.

>>4. Writing on the body, writing with the body
>Writing what? Where is the trace of that? And can such a trace make
>explicit reference, as writing of spoken language can?

So, you can see from my reference to Forsythe above what this might be. But
you mention traces -- there are interesting improvisational techniques which
deal with focussing on the space you leave behind and not the space you are
moving into. The idea of 'traces' is also in the work of many dance writers
in trying to articulate how the performing image moves from moment to moment
and what sort of information/ image is left behind in the space (as traces)
which might be returned to later in the dance, or recalled in some way. So,
more a memory thing for the viewer?

>With regard to the rest, I find such statements prone to promoting
>obfuscation over clarity. So I was pleased to read...

But, many of those statements could be clarified from different positions in
the dance field, people thinking and writing and making dance come up with
all kinds of rhetorical devices for naming what they are seeing and doing.
This doesn't mean though that they are not obfuscating... often only clear
in close proximity or context to the dance and then not even so much.

>>As a dancemaker, I tend towards no. 3 -- keeps things simple...
>...except that I don't consider expressivity in dance (or other art forms)
>to be equivalent to explicit meaning inherent in speech. (BTW, I don't
>think you do either, Scott. But until I know what you mean by #3, it's
>hard to tell.)

I certainly don't consider dance nor other art forms to be equivalent to
speech and I think the distinctions you are making are WELL WORTH making so
thanks again (just a brief note about what I might mean by #3. For me, the
idea of "movement speaking for itself" refers more to the confidence I have
in being able to make dance work with 'just' movement, often in silence for
example. Dare we open up the can of worms on 'pure dance' on a discussion
list where the overlap between dance and technology is the focus ;) !!)

Scott deLahunta and Susan Rethorst
Writing Research Associates, NL
Sarphatipark 26-3, 1072 PB Amsterdam, NL
tel: +31 (0)20 662 1736
fax: +31 (0)20 470 1558