Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent essay on writing a sentence is a rich metaphor for the process of choreography :
[S]urely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time…A perfect sentence is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery,.. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet…..Style and personality are irrelevant. Sentences can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates… Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar. The motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone and set the pace.
Lahiri’s description reaffirms my belief in the value of developing distinctive movement vocabulary based on one’s own body. The risk in sharing this power with others (the c-word: collaboration!) is that the resulting larger work of choreography may lack aesthetic coherence. Of course, that risk is worth taking.
Lahiri also writes, in the same essay, that “To write [a sentence] is to document and to develop at the same time.” Choreography shares (and suffers from) a similar twin consciousness. We are inside our bodies and yet always aware of the audience’s gaze (real or potential). The dancer’s desire to be authentic must outweigh the weight of that (felt or imagined) gaze if we are ever to realize our potential as artists.