My daughter, Maddy, is a choreographer in London with her own company, Tempered Body Dance Theatre. There’s a link to a brief sample of her work listed below. In preparing new pieces, she will often have her troupe or a portion of it perform segments at events called Scratches: evenings of performance work in development, a chance to put the piece on its feet in front of an audience, followed by a Q & A. Recently, she was going to take a duet to one of these events and the day of the performance the male dancer phoned to say he had food poisoning and could barely get out of bed, let alone dance. So Maddy phoned the Scratch organizer and told him that she wouldn’t be able to show the piece that evening. Had it been a piece for two females, she could have stepped in, no problem, but there were a lot of lifts and it would just not be possible. The organizer disagreed, saying that this was exactly the kind of thing Scratches were about. She was scheduled to show a seven-minute piece and that’s what she was going to show.
So Maddy got together that day with the female dancer and worked the piece into a solo. There was no mention to the audience, before hand, that it was supposed to be a duet. And it went over very well. People were excited afterwards, wanting to talk about it. One woman said it felt as if there was an invisible other presence in the piece. Maddy smiled and, having checked with the organizer, explained what had happened, news that was received enthusiastically and precipitated a lot more debate.
I love this story. I love that invisible dancer. It reminded me of a score I once saw for a piece of music written for the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. There was one note in the first bar; it was not to be played; Menuhin was supposed to think that note and then play the notes in the next bar. So, an invisible note. Would anyone in the audience realize that Menuhin was thinking that note when he played? Perhaps not but I firmly believe in the effect that un-played note might have on the piece – kind of like a gravitational tug, invisible but there none the less.
I want to include invisible dancers in my writing. And, if you think of it, that’s exactly what a really good lyric does or the text for a picture book. The power of the piece is not its completeness but just the opposite. The power comes from how the text entices the prospective composer or illustrator with gaps and pauses, as if… well, as if there was this sense of yearning in the words to be lifted and spun around and danced with.