Poetry dance-lation

I recently had one of my poems choreographed into a dance: http://vimeo.com/93545966. To see how Beth, the choreographer, “translated” it into movement was very interesting: how she embodied the movement of the text, the meaning, the rhythms of it, the confusion, strife, grief, the complicated coming together again and again of peoples, families, societies. The dancers were game for the challenge of dancing not to the regular rhythm of recorded music but the unreliable beats of a person (people, in the end, as I had to corral a couple of pals to help out with the multi-voice parts I created when I got fancy with Garageband) speaking. They learned to hang their movements not on beat counts but on key words. I think it made for an intimate experience among us, as I watched them to try to pace my speaking and they listened for their cues. The video really doesn’t do it justice.

“Ny Verden/New World” arose from my thinking about my genealogy, early ancestors who bobbed across the Atlantic in the 1600s to this wild territory where they might begin again. And even farther back, my restless Celts, some Viking blood, maybe, their reckless venturing. And of the movement of the human species itself: up and out of the African valleys and into the billowing landmasses to the north and east. And the adventures and misadventures with like encounters other, when resources need to be shared. Or not.

When I decided to use the multi-part poem as an experiment in working with poetry and music, I first tried to take a traditional approach to songwriting: setting each word to a note or notes. But everything sounded like a bad show tune or an even worse country-western song. So I again went back to those ideas of earlier ancestors. For the first section I came up with a tune that sounded vaguely Celtic to my mind. For the second section, I thought about the basically percussive nature of speech itself. Plainsong and call-and-response informed the next section. The humming and clapping set against speaking in the next section was an experiment in affecting the tone of speech with other sound, injecting urgency. Finally I was able to come up with a fairly straightforward song for the penultimate section. And the final piece is a hymn, usually sung in parts, that I just set in a round to indicate both the constancy of our outcries to the gods we imagine, the endurance of those ideas and that outcry, but also a kind of cacophony of cry as well.

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