Movement is Leverage to Language

By Allie Leach

Poetry Off the Page promises to be a spectacle—a whirlwind three days in which audiences engage with poetry as it is being written, performed, and lived in modes that dare to depart from the traditional "page." Poet Julie Carr and dancer K.J. Holmes will perform, as part of an evening event at the Rogue Theater in Tucson, Arizona, a collaboration of text and dance called "This is where we are (or take arms against a sea of troubles)." Poetry Center staff member Allie Leach is both a writer and a dancer herself. She questioned Holmes and Carr about their process of collaboration, and here she illuminates for us what we can expect in encountering this collaboration on May 19.

Picture this: a white wooden chair sits still on a stage. A film projection of wandering women, followed by floating flowers shines on a screen. A dancer plays on a stage, skipping and spinning, rolling and roughhousing in flowy, loose clothes. While one woman dances, in a battle with herself, another woman speaks—no sings—her poem aloud.

To immerse herself more fully in the experience, Carr not only observed the dancers, but also danced with them.

“This is where we are (or take arms against a sea of troubles)” is a collaboration of epic proportions. Part video, part poem, part dance, part music, the performance relies heavily on the history between its two progenitors: K.J. Holmes and Julie Carr. “Julie and I actually used to dance together and write poetry together from our dancing,” says Holmes, an independent dance artist based in Brooklyn. Carr, also an accomplished dancer and poet, lives in Denver and teaches writing at the University of Colorado-Boulder. While much of their collaboration was long-distance—with the artists sending each other videos, music, writing, and ideas—Carr also met up with Holmes and her dancers in New York. To immerse herself more fully in the experience, Carr not only observed the dancers, but also danced with them. “There was a synchronistic sense of both writing and dancing from observation, but also greatly from experientially being engaged,” observes Holmes.

But, as Carr points out, “just one section came from actually watching the dancers dance. They were doing pedestrian movements, dragging stuff around, climbing walls, taking off jackets, running, walking, lying down. And I simply began to describe what I saw. It became a meditation on presence and absence.” Here is an excerpt from that section:

One walks in

One stays out

One takes off her jacket

One climbs on top

One lies down

Two smoke

One eats

One changes her clothes

One takes a picture

The updated performance, which will take place at The Rogue Theatre as part of the Poetry Off the Page Symposium on Saturday, May 19th, will showcase Holmes as the sole dancer while Carr is on the same stage, speaking the text.

The original performance, which took place in New York’s Chocolate Factory Theatre in March 2011, had six dancers and three musicians, as well as a designer and projectionist. The updated performance, which will take place at The Rogue Theatre as part of the Poetry Off the Page Symposium on Saturday, May 19th, will showcase Holmes as the sole dancer while Carr is on the same stage, speaking the text. In addition, they will make use of a film projection by Tom Ontiveros, and that visual element will be factored into both text and movement. “The relationship between all three is a matter of improvisation,” says Carr, “but that improvisation is built upon years of experience.”

As a dancer and writer myself, I often wonder what it takes to create successful collaborations for both professional and personal projects. How can an essay on, for instance, tap-dancing, incorporate both tap and text? How can one balance the two mediums so that they speak to each other rather than create a dissonance? How can the two interact and react, instead of detract and distract? Writing for dance, as Carr points out, should always have a sense of possibility—a sense of openness that the movement can enter into. “Too many words will make it hard for a person to watch the dance and let it enter into their imagination. The two elements, movement and text, must be partners—and it is easy for language to dominate. So my advice is, do less, listen more,” she says.

As for Holmes, in her experience working with both movement and poetry over the years, she says that the more you can come from the body, in both mediums, the more truthful and resonant the results will be. “Movement is leverage to language,” says Holmes. “But language that does not consider or remember the nature of the body just remains intellect. The truest work, for me, comes from trusting in the unknown and the wisdom of our experience. The dialogue between the two creates a sensorial experience that doesn’t divide the source of dance and words, but unites them in something unexpected yet understood.”

Arizona Board of Regents