Dance theater, to me personally, means that there’s no hierarchy
of materials you can use to make a piece. Movement is not more
important; text and narrative aren’t more important. I feel this complete free range as I try to express something, to use a whole variety
of theatrical elements, like relationship, cause and effect, clothes,
dance, singing, talking, found text, plays, literature—this cornucopia of theatrical possibilities.
Having said that, the contradiction is that I think dance is the
most important thing. Dance is sacred. So even though everything’s
equal, what really needs to be preserved is dance, because it’s the
most fundamental element at hand.
I don’t know why dance and theater ever separated in the first
place. Since the ancient Greeks, they’ve been united. That theater
became this thing where people sit on couches and move their
mouths—to me it’s insane, so unexpressive. One thing that attracted
me to Samuel Pepys [the 17-century English diarist and inspiration
for Big Dance Theater’s new work, 17c] is that when he went to the
theater, he described the dances. He’s seeing Shakespeare, first- and
second-generation Shakespeare, and he’s saying, “Well, the play was
bad, but the dances were really good.” It didn’t look like theater
does now. They danced!
See her work: The Road Awaits Us, Sadler’s Wells’ Company of
Elders, London, June 23–24; previews of Big Dance Theater’s 17c,
Sept. 7–10 at FringeArts Fringe Festival, Philadelphia
I don’t call my work dance theater, but I am borrowing super-
liberally from both disciplines. Both have to do with language,
embodied language, these multiple utterances that have different
forms and shapes that I hope will collide with each other.
Generally I start with text. Once I’ve written something, I try
to think about particular gestures or if there’s some kind of movement that resonates with what I’ve been writing. In working on my
piece Bronx Gothic, I came out with this vibrating gesture, something related to a twerk and a twerk gone wrong and the question
of how long can that be sustained.
When I move away from written language and go into a space
of movement, it’s a very open and yummy space where I just follow my body, but it’s anchored somewhere in this text that I have
When Dance Becomes Theater
AS TOLD TO SIOBHAN BURKE What is “dance theater”? Is it Pina Bausch’s raw
examinations of everyday life? Is it performance that
mixes movement and text? Is it dance that tells a story?
Dance Magazine talked with four choreographers who use
elements of dance and theater—but whose work escapes
easy categorization—about playing with narrative,
integrating movement and words, and what “dance
theater” means to them.
Directed This Play:
her Poor People’s