On Dance, Story, Myth, and Humanity

The dances I make have a more than usual emphasis on story. Dance is a directly human art form; it is body language ritualized. But modern and postmodern dance have become so interested in exploring the possibilities of the body, in abstracted movement, that audiences today are often left after shows feeling as if they’ve missed something. There is little worse than leaving a show and feeling like you’ve missed the point.

There is, of course, a lot of value to a choreographer in these abstract studies. The problem, I think, is that many choreographers these days fail to bring their human subject matter full circle–they fail to make the humanity in their dances apparent. Humans experience the world through story, and our nonverbal communication should be furthering the plot. Or the character development. Or at least the descriptions of the setting.

Our culture lacks a Unified Mythic Story. I am sure that most pagans will agree. And all the conflicting mythic stories aren’t getting along. They’re fracturing into fundamentalisms–some religions take their mythic stories so seriously that they lose track of the truth, and some atheisms take their truth so seriously they lose the story. And they’re shouting out loud over all the people who want to see the story in the truth, or who want to learn the truth by learning the story.

If you want to know about a person, you ask them or someone else for their story. So why, in trying to learn about humanity or about the planet or the universe are we asking for objective facts and not for the story? It’s basically impossible to learn any kind of meaning out of dry objective facts just on their own, but make them a story, and suddenly you’ll never forget.

During the late seventies, as the modern dance movement shifted into the post-modern, choeographers became suddenly interested in exploring the body as an object.

Personally, I take retroactive offense. The human body as dancer is not an object to be explored, it is a whole universe of stories to tell. Find a new shape or movement that the human body can make, and there you are finding the climax to an undiscovered story.

All stories are mythic stories. All stories tell something about the universe. And I want my dances to teach people the story of the universe. I want my dances to help people hear the world as I hear it, not as human bodies moving through an inanimate space, but as stories weaving in and out of bodies and minds and spaces and matter and thought. I want to give a mini-mythology to parts of the “inanimate” world by telling its story through dance.

The last dance I made was the story of The Water Cycle. I told the story of the clouds floating awkwardly in the sky, becoming Santas riding T-Rexes and toasters making popcorn and people who turn into fish. I told the story of the rain, writing a lonely letter to the lonely people of the world, the sky crying. I told the story of the water in runoff that hides its clear blue surface in the mud and flows relentlessly downward. I told the story of a lake holding a woman’s history and reflecting it back to another woman. And I told the story of evaporation, of molecules dancing with one another back and forth between liquid and gas as they rise to return to the clouds.

These are the stories the Water Cycle has to tell me. They are far from the only stories the Water Cycle has to tell. It also tells of snowfalls so serene and beautiful on a winter’s day, of hail that destroys homes, of glaciers that move an inch a year, or that melt despairingly in the growing heat of the Earth. The world is made of water. It’s also made of stories.

 

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