“Where bodily endeavors assume the status of forms of articulation and representation, their movements acquire a status and function equal to the words that describe them. The act of writing about bodies thereby originates in the assumption that verbal discourse cannot speak for bodily discourse, but must enter into ‘dialogue’ with that bodily discourse.” – Susan Leigh Foster (Choreographing History, 9)
“Desire of the beautiful requires that writing seek to exceed its own constraints, to present what is ‘beyond’ the word by and through the word.” – Judith Butler (Critical Terms for Literary Study, 374)
I have chosen to begin this introduction to Walker Art Center conversations about dance with quotes that highlight two interrelated challenges involved in translating articulations from bodily to linguistic realms. Judith Butler, writing about desire, brings forward an issue at play in attempting to speak about encounters with the performing arts as well, encounters that although at times experienced as emotional or visceral, “beyond the word,” are conveyed into words to be shared with fellow spectators. Susan Leigh Foster’s work describes a different perspective, emphasizing that the body is producing meaning with its every movement, it is creating a language all its own, which the audience is left to imperfectly translate into words. Both authors write of an inherent gap between the body and its maneuvers (the body that describes) and the words that can be used to draw out this meaning (the body that is described).
These challenges can be frustrating, but they can also inspire a longing for a deeper understanding of dance and an opportunity to share this exploration with others. Taking this into account, the Performing Arts Department has created a new opportunity for dance audiences to engage with performances and one another through the format of post-show discussions. Speakeasy was tested during the Walker’s Out There series and will continue in conjunction with this spring’s dance season. The program is a collaboration with the Walker’s Tour Guide Office and pairs a tour guide with a community expert for informal open discussions in the balcony bar following Saturday performances. The guide and expert are in-place to instigate a conversation about the evening’s show, with audience members invited to participate and voice their own comments and questions.
Responses to dance can vary greatly and whether one is incited to animated verbosity or rendered speechless is both about the performance itself as well as the individual. The goal, then, in creating a forum for talking about dance is not to arrive at a united conclusion, but rather to learn from the disparate opinions and interpretations that arise from this shared experience. Through the process, the hope is for each of us to hone our individual abilities and increase our comfort to speak about this art form that in many ways defies attempts at description.
For our next Speakeasy on February 13, I will be joined in the balcony bar by Max Wirsing, Walker tour guide and performer with choreographer Morgan Thorson, to discuss Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua de Niteroi’s H3. We hope to see you then!