Dance and Poetry: A Symbiosis

By Caitlin McCarty

I’ve always been curious about the way words can construct and deconstruct our lives. I love you – construct. I think we should go our separate ways – deconstruct. Words have the ability to build us up or tear us down and sometimes, they do something in between. When I was in college, I became more inquisitive, experimenting with the way my poetry affected my dance-making, and vice versa. My poetry was a direct reflection of my struggles as a dancer, one poem about the struggle of dealing with an eating disorder reading, “It was the old sycamore in the front yard/Swaying like a modern dancer, that reminded/Me of the year that I met you.” I toiled over that poem, both at my desk and in the inherently cold dance studio at the university, and I discovered that for me, dance and words weren’t separate entities but instead, were part of the same cell, the same artistic process. Like two lanes on a highway, dance and poetry were the cars darting back and forth, constantly entangling themselves in one another.

Out of the grant awarded to me by Sierra Arts Foundation and Rose and John Ascuaga in 2015, comes The Poetry Movement, a production I envisioned nearly five years ago. The Poetry Movement  is a site-specific dance show featuring the poetry of published Nevadan poets, local choreographers, and dancers. The Poetry Movement reimagines poetry as dance, placing the words of poets and their ideas on the human body.

The idea of placing words on the body or using poetry and verbiage to inspire movement and bring to light other available artistic choices, is often a difficult idea for a person to tackle. Where do I start? Do I choreograph the poem literally, stanza by stanza? Do I explore one idea that the poem conveys?

When I reviewed dance performances throughout  New York City, it was through words and poetry that I viewed dance, that I wrote reviews, that I explained my own experience, that I created my own work. I began associating everything that I saw with poetry and my choreographic work continued to bloom out of my own poetry and the poetry of others. After one performance, I wrote a poem that described the performance as employing an “adroitness, an effortless dexterity of the soul.” It was through the words of that poem that I completed my review of the dancing I had just witnessed.

There are no right answers to the questions above. What does it mean to make poetry into dance? Re-envisioning poetry on the body is as much an art as writing poetry and choreographing. The two are symbiotic and sometimes disobliging. This is the beauty of having poetry as an impetus with which to create movement, or movement as an impetus with which to create poetry. The process is never one-sided, the construction isn’t without toil, and the creation isn’t without words and movement as inspiration to explain it all.

Caitlin McCarty Headshot.jpg

Caitlin McCarty is a writer, dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer based in Reno, Nevada. Caitlin’s dance reviews and writings about dance have been featured on the Dance Enthusiast and in Dance Magazine’s online publication. Her dance company, Collateral&Co., is a producer of The Poetry Movement alongside co-producer Around the Stage, which is part of the upcoming Nevada Humanities Salon: The Poetry Movement on July 20 at Sundance Books and Music in Reno.

Images courtesy of Sienna Shane.

Maren Rush