Intriguing Work at Joyce SoHo That Perhaps Tests One's Ability to Sense and Intellectualize Simultaneously

(photo by Heinz Peter Knes, borrowed from Philip’s blog).

Last week I was invited along with a couple other bloggers to a rehearsal of an upcoming modern dance piece at the Joyce SoHo, called A LIGHT CONVERSATION, a collaboration between dance artists Wally Cardona (from the US) and Rahel Vonmoos (from the UK).

What was interesting and original about this is that the dancers moved not to music but to spoken word — and not poetry or a rhythmic kind of spoken word, but to a BBC radio-show discussion of Existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, mainly his work and his thought and how it differed or took from Hegel, Socrates, and Kant, and a small bit up front on his personal life.

Well, I had the absolute hardest time focusing both on the visual movement and the words playing over the speakers. I realized about myself that when I concentrate hard on an idea, perhaps when I really use my intellect over my more physical senses (are they two different things?), or my left brain over right (to the extent they don’t work in tandem?), my eyes just naturally veer up and to the right. I guess many people’s do — maybe to varying sides depending on whether one is right- or left-handed. So, I caught myself several times looking up and off and not at the dancers! And, unless someone made a big, sweeping movement (Cardona did a few times, more often than Vonmoos, whose actions were generally much smaller), I had a really hard time focusing on the stage. And then when I tried to concentrate more on the movement, or when I tried to determine whether the movement informed the words or vice versa, I lost the intricacies of thought being spoken about.

At times they, smartly, either turned off the sound, interrupted it with silences so that you couldn’t hear a large part of the text, or placed another sound over the words, such as loud, booming drums. Then, I concentrated more on the dancers, and when I did noticed that Vonmoos’s actions, small as they often were, were rather mesmerizing in their detail.

But then at points, I’d still find myself trying to concentrate on what words were being left out or negated by the drums, whether that had any meaning in itself, whether I could fill in the blanks myself, etc., rather than the movement.

Perhaps part of my problem was that I took a lot of political philosophy in college and law school and I think I got carried away with trying to remember things, getting angry at myself for forgetting, etc. In any event, I found the whole concept intriguing and original.

Afterward the dancers talked a bit, and Cardona said they were really moving to the rhythms of the words; that he sometimes had a harder time hearing the rhythm of the woman commentator’s voice because it was softer and made such a marked tonal difference between the mens’. Vonmoos was less talkative but seemed to say the ideas expressed were important as well, not only the rhythms. I feel like this is a piece I’d need to see many times to more fully comprehend.

I’d love to hear what others think if anyone is able to go. Performances are next week, September 30-October 5. Tickets are $20. Read Philip’s review here, Taylor’s here (both concentrated more on the movement, so didn’t seem to have the same problems as I), and go here for more info. on the show.


  1. Hi Tonya. I had similar issues trying to focus at the beginning with both the words and the movement. At first I was trying to listen more and then I realized I wasn’t really fully paying attention to the dancers, and then I watched more intently and got lost in the words as merely background noise. For me that’s how I stayed for the rest of the piece, kind of ignoring the words.

    I’d definitely be interested to here other audience perspectives……

  2. For the first few minutes I tried to follow the words but then I started feeling that they were less important than the tempo & patterns of speech (as well as the pitches of the various voices) so I basically tuned out the narrative. It would be interesting to know if Cardona/Vonmoos heard this discussion of Kierkegaard and decided to make it into a dance work or if they sort of decided what the theme of their piece would be and then looked for something to set it to. Of course, I was too shy to ask at the time!

    It looks like we are to have another ‘dancing to spoken word’ work at MORPHOSES this coming week: the Lightfoot/Leon SHUTTERS SHUT. I wonder how the larger, more classically-oriented ballet crowd will take to it?

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