~ Dance ~

Walking in Plastic by Bandile Gumbi

Another unique video collaboration from South African artist, poet and filmmaker Kai Lossgott, who sets it up for us as follows:

Slums are rapidly becoming the defining landscape of the twenty-first century, both in the developed as well as the developing world. One out of every three city dwellers worldwide nearly a billion people lives in a slum. Performance artist Mduduzi Nyembe presents a memory of a wounded woman, a dream for an absent father, and a dance in a street market for survival. They are ritual stories of the heartache of the slums substance abuse, violence, gender inequalities, chronic unemployment, families incapacity to provide for and protect their children. Each of Nyembe’s characters, taken from his daily interactions in the township, is left, in the words of poet Bandile Gumbi, “a constant wanderer / always at the beginning of complete circles”, trapped in the existential cycle of poverty.

For more on Bandile Gumbi, see her page on the Creative Africa Network.

outside my black hole by Steven McCabe

This film offers more proof that Steven McCabe is one of the most accomplished videopoets out there. Here’s the description on Youtube:

outside my black hole (2011) is a visual poetry film juxtaposing urban traffic, ink drawings, and dance.

Screened at Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts (Toronto) in Oct./Nov. 2011 as the installation component of Steven McCabe’s exhibition A Cathartic Document showing 66 new ink drawings created during 2010-2011.

Video editing & technical support @ A Cathartic Document by Konrad Skręta

outside my black hole
A film by Steven McCabe

Steven McCabe

Paula Skimin

Music composed and performed by
William Beauvais & Barry Prophet

Director of Photography
Eric Gerard

Konrad Skręta

enough by Kai Lossgott and Mbali Vilakazi

A marvellous video collaboration produced for a 2009 poetry festival in Cape Town called Badilsha Poetry Exchange, sponsored by Africa Centre, whose description of the film at YouTube is worth quoting in full:

Sometimes you’ve had enough. And sometimes you have enough. A fusion of sound and light, video poet Kai Lossgott’s and performance poet Mbali Vilakazi’s authentic and intimate multimedia poetry performance enough takes you into the dream cycles of obsessive behaviour and uncomfortable truths in the search for wholeness. It is about the breakdown of society, and people at breaking point.

In a lyrical conversation of experimental music and cinema, the poets draw their self-portraits only to erase them, through testimonies that become ciphers in the round-trip between abundance and gratitude, lack and self-pity. Through spoken word, dance, and gesture, they journey with the audience through breathing rhythms of take and give, where insecurity comes up for air and we open like blossoms.

For more about the poets, see their websites: Mbali Vilakazi and Kai Lossgott.

Once by Cecelia Chapman


Cecelia Chapman shows how to turn a folktale into a compelling videopoem. (Is that a sickle in the moon-dancer’s hand? Nice touch!) The credits only appear on the screen for a nanosecond, but according to the notes on YouTube, include: “Grat Bodkin music. Christa Hunter. Tara Naqishbendi. Kara Chan. Fancy the dog. Jeff Crouch image.” Chapman also mentions that this was originally featured in The Houston Literary Review, and is part of her video series “Signs, Wishes & Wonders.”

Walking & Falling by Laurie Anderson

The video is titled “Step,” filmed by Pascal Rekoert and released as a podcast by NYC’s Flexicurve Dance Company in 2008. Anderson recorded the spoken-word piece for her 1982 album Big Science, and that’s the recording featured here.

Rebels of This Timeless Town by Niki Andrikopoulou

Natasha Pantazopoulou and Gerry Domenikos (uncut productions) made the film for This Collection, where you can read the poem. According to the description on Vimeo, this is

A film and dance response to Niki Andrikopoulou’s poem about Edinburgh— The Athens of the North. The experimental interpretative dance with performer Vanessa Spinassa was filmed in the Ancient theatre of Ilida, Peloponnese.

Unlike most videos in the Dance category here, the filmmaking is as experimental as the dance, which gives this full videopoem status, I think.

Epilogue (from Requiem) by Anna Akhmatova

This film is an artifact from a performance called Black Over Red, “a multi art-form choral work combining live music, dance and video on a grand scale with a cast of 25.” It was staged in 2001, a co-production of the Latvian Radio Choir and the Scottish dance/theatre troupe Cryptic, directed by Cathie Boyd, who uploaded the video. The composer was Anthea Haddow.

Epilogue (from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem)


I know now how the faces have fallen,
How from under lids gazes out terror,
How cuneiform’s coarse pages are
Incised by suffering upon their cheeks,
How curls from ashen and black turn
In a single moment completely silver,
And a smile withers on defeated lips,
And in dry laughter shudders fear.
So that now I pray not for myself only
But for us all, who stood there with me
In the intense cold and in July’s heat
Under that red and blinded wall.


The eternal flame, a memorial for the spilled blood of the innocent that burns throughout the middle, third minute in the bottom of the trinity of images that form this film, accompanied by the spine-tingling bass hum of the choir and the mournful vatic tones of Akhmatova’s own slowed down, staggering, ponderous reading, do honor in their faithfulness to her poem as a whole. The black (& white) documentary images of the upper third corner, while tonally appropriate, may be misleading to anyone who has no context for this, perhaps Anna Akhmatova’s best known single poem, through which she has become identified with the fate of all Russia. As she says in the prologue:

I remained with my own people then,
Where my people, in their misfortune, were.

Unlike the source images here, referencing the destruction visited upon Russia by the German Wehrmacht during WWII and, more specifically, some of the worst of it wrought upon Akhmatova’s adopted hometown, St. Petersburg during the 900-day siege in which a million people perished, most starving to death, the context of the poem is the auto-cannibalistic predation by Stalin and his henchmen upon his own people during the various purges of the late 30s. The red wall is that of the Crosses Prison, referred to earlier (in part 4,) outside which the women (mothers, wives, sisters) of the mostly male political prisoners day after day awaited news of the condemned. Again from the preface: “During the terrifying years of the Yezhov repression, I spent seventeen months in Leningrad prison lines.” And from part 4:

Three hundredth in line, care package in hand,
Under The Crosses prison wall you’ll stand
And with the heated waters of your tears
Dissolve the surface of Christmas-time ice.

The images of Orthodox churches and icons quite appropriately suggest the unifying theme of the poem as a whole which, in calendaric and apostolic fashion, consists of 12 parts and in which Akhmatova and her prisoner son are transformed into the universal mother and child so that what is symbolically enacted here is the Passion Play.

The concluding images of St. Petersburg are again faithful to the crux of the poem in that they represent a particularly Russian self-identification of the Poet with her People, Akhmatova as Russia’s conscience and Muse, a Mother Russia so to speak, an ethical, nurturing balance for the Fatherland that requires sacrifice. As she wrote in one of her most famous miniatures, contemporaneous with Requiem:

In Memoriam

And you, my close friends till Judgment Day!
I have been saved as though to mourn you,
To not be stilled as a weeping willow above
your graves but to cry aloud your names
For the whole world to hear. Enter the Saints;
All fall to your knees!–the light breaks through,
In smooth rows stream the citizens of Leningrad,
Living with the dead. For God there are no dead.

August 1942



Other translations and musical settings of Akhmatova’s Requiem:

There’s an extensive literature comparing the available translations; here’s a summary by Wendy Rosslyn (via Google Books). See also the paper by George L. Kline. Lastly, I’m curious but have yet to track down Robert Lowell’s version that appeared in Atlantic Monthly 214 (1964) pp. 62-65.

Akhmatova may be heard reciting the Requiem in its entirety here [mp3] and may be seen reciting “Muse” in a YouTube snippet from a feature film. A complete collection of Akhmatova audio files in Russian are also on the web. Finally, here are five more of my own translations of Akhmatova miniatures.

To the Hand and To a Coming Extinction by W. S. Merwin

The two poems that comprise the closing section of Men Think They Are Better Than Grass, the Deborah Slater Dance Theatre production based on poems by W. S. Merwin. “To the Hand” is read by Ellen Sebastian Chang and “To a Coming Extinction” by Peter Coyote — an excellent, if terrifying, choice of a final poem. This is also the only one of the videos uploaded to Vimeo that gives a good impression of the film playing behind the stage during the production.

Unknown Bird and Calling a Distant Animal by W. S. Merwin

Another two poems from the production Men Think They Are Better Than Grass by the Deborah Slater Dance Theatre, based on poems by W. S. Merwin. “Unknown Bird” is sung and composed by Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi. “Calling a Distant Animal” is read by Brenda Wong Aoki. The two featured dancers are Travis Rowland and Wendy Rein.

Air by W. S. Merwin

Another section from the production Men Think They Are Better Than Grass by the Deborah Slater Dance Theatre, based on poems by W. S. Merwin. “Air” is read by Anne Galjour.

The Edge by Josephine Jacobsen

D.C. performance artist Mary-Averett Seelye interprets the poem by the late Josephine Jacobsen. Vin Grabill, the videographer, notes:

Mary-Averett has presented poetry for many years by performing choreographed movements of her body while she speaks a particular poem. In collaboration with Julie Simon, I produced a 30-minute program, “Poetry Moves”, that presents performances by Mary-Averett Seelye of Jacobsen’s poetry, along with interview sequences of Mary-Averett and Josephine. As Mary-Averett is interpreting Josephine’s poetry, I am interpreting Mary-Averett’s performances by utilizing the video medium in various ways to extend what Mary-Averett is doing.

My goal with this project, as well as with other collaborative projects in which I’ve engaged with performing artists, is to present the performance in a way that would not be possible live on stage in front of an audience. In 1998, “Poetry Moves” received a CINE Golden Eagle Award. I’ve continued to work with Mary-Averett since completing “Poetry Moves”, and in 2008, I completed production of a 3-DVD set surveying 40 years of Mary-Averett’s performance work with poetry.

A Throw of the Dice (Un Coup de Dés) by Stéphane Mallarmé

Excerpts from the premiere performance of “Dice Thrown,” a new opera by American composer John King, at CalArts on April 23-24, 2010. Every performance is unique, according to an interview with King at Operagasm:

Can you explain in more detail how the configuration of the opera is determined by a computer-generated time code? From the description I read, it sounds like there are pieces that make up the opera, but that the order of those pieces is determined each night… am I way off? Does this mean that the text isn’t always delivered in the original order?

Yes, that’s exactly right. Each night the order changes, the durations of each aria changes (within set limits), the orchestral music changes so that sometimes a singer is singing with a full, complex orchestral texture, and the next night the same aria sung against a solo english horn (for example). The lighting changes, the video, the movement, the live electronics, etc. all change for each iteration of the piece, the changes being determined through chance operations and random number generators [that is “I” have nothing to do with it!]. We do the opera in two “acts”, each act being a different version of the poem, so that the audience can experience this “shift” within a single evening’s performance. And it will be a premiere every night!

I wonder if King has each performance filmed to preserve it for posterity? This video was uploaded to Vimeo (and also to YouTube) by the composer himself. Video appears to play a major role in the opera as well, and its design is credited to Pablo Molina.

The composition flowed directly from the sound of the poem in French, King said, which is one reason I wanted to feature this video here.

I was setting other Mallarmé texts, to be combined in a group of songs with texts by Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Artaud. At the end of this one collection was Un coup de Dés/Dice Thrown. I was immediately struck by its visual appearance, by its use of different text styles and font sizes and by the sound of the words when read in French. There is no rhyme scheme per se, but the words have what I call an “internal rhyme”, where vowel sounds within words of a phrase or line are the same, or consonant sounds are reiterated, so that I immediately heard these wonderful shifting rhythms of sound.

The full title of the poem is “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (“A throw of the dice can never abolish chance”), and can be seen in all its glory at A. S. Kline’s Poetry In Translation site, including an easier-to-read “compressed” translation.