My apologies for the long break between posts, I had begun two separate posts about two separate choreographers and could not manage to get past the first paragraph with either. So in order to mix it up a bit and hopefully inspire myself somewhat, today I am going to write about a book instead of a dance. (Although, it is a book about dance). I could get all corny and silly and say something like a book is in fact, a sort of a dance, a fluid movement of words and letters, a constant duet of phrases and punctuation, performing an internal image that leaps up from the page but as much I believe performance and dance always intersects with literature and the act of reading, I’m not going to pursue that completely atrocious metaphor.
So I bought this book online, which is still a mildly thrilling event for me. In South Africa, I don’t often buy stuff online because delivery from America or Europe is quite expensive. But if you’re in Europe or America, buying a book online is actually often affordable (said the up-to-date tech savvy genius explaining online shopping to blog readers), especially if they are the sort of books that are tricky to find in your local bookstore.
This book is part of series published by The MIT Press called ‘Documents of Contemporary Art‘ which looks like a brilliant series, with a few titles that I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on. Aptly entitled ‘Dance’, it is edited by André Lepecki, a name I trust endlessly when it comes to dance theory. Lepecki is the author of several papers and one book that drastically changed the way I thought about movement and dance. He is nauseatingly intelligent and so his writing can be a little heavy going with theoretical and philosophical jargon, but for editing a collection you would want someone as well-read and knowledgeable as André Lepecki.
The literature that surrounds the world of dance, I find to be loose and vast and endlessly interesting and exciting. It is intrinsically self-defeating, writing about movement, attempting to capture something that finished so long ago, when you try write about dance, you have failed before you have begun and so it sweetly becomes something else that is not of course anything like the dance you are trying to discuss or explain or comprehend, and so ultimately the whole thing, I believe, is very important. Literature regarding contemporary dance is in many ways a recent body of text and if you are looking to play catch up, this book is perfect as it includes the classic and necessary texts that shaped, and continue to shape, contemporary dance. It is a completely readable piece of non-fiction (and this is coming from someone who desperately believes in narrative and has always struggled a bit with non-fiction). In fact, is it one of the few books that I can read on the metro that is not a novel or a newspaper.
It is divided into five sections (A Choreographic Turn; Positioning Dance/Theorizing Movement; Practices of Embodiment; Choreopolitics; Dancing in an Expanded Field: Image/Object/Score) and it includes interviews, discussions and writings from all the big shots like Pina Bausch, Marina Abramovic, Yvonne Rainer, Bill T. Jones, Jérôme Bel, Susan Leigh Foster, Gilles Deleuze etc. However, it also covers some lesser known artists and writers who also have important things to add to the never ending conversation about dance. The texts are not long, ranging from lists, to poems, extracts from papers and presentations, discussions, interviews and manifestos (my personal favourite, the Maybe Manifesto by Bruno Freire). I began to read it from the beginning to end, like one would read a normal book but I got a little bored with the very important American postmodernists in ‘A Choreographic Turn’, the first chapter that sort of sets the scene. So I began to jump around, which proved to be a most rewarding way to read such a book. You discover new nuggets, re-read favourite extracts, get caught on one train of thought that you find incredibly fascinating and then discover you are in the ‘Choreopolitics’ sections. It’s really a well-designed and thoughtfully created book. There is no such thing as an all-inclusive collection, but this book does pretty well in including texts and artists that come from places other than America and Europe and you’ll notice many of the texts have been translated into English, sometimes by the editor himself. (I warned you he was nauseatingly clever). Also, it was published just last year, so it’s nice and relevant and shiny and new.
If you are interested in contemporary dance and you are keen to know more about the history, about who’s who and what’s what but you are not quite sure where to begin, I would strongly recommend this book. It is not a history book, it is not a reference book, it is not a book aimed at dance academics or theorists, rather it is an un-intimidating and intelligently curated gathering of really interesting texts, writers, choreographers and artists, neatly compiled to give you a broad sweep of contemporary dance as it stands today. It is the perfect thing to start with. Sometimes, when you are interested in something that you don’t know much about, you need names. Names of authors, dancers, companies, this book is full of the names of relevant, clever and interesting people. In fact, the back cover is just names.
So if you’re feeling a little wealthy, a little like learning new things or expanding on things you already know, or just like owning a very pretty book – I would suggest this one.