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No writer's block for this dancer


The Seattle Times
Shannon Rupp

VANCOUVER, B.C. — When choreographer Crystal Pite, 36, talks about the work she is bringing to Seattle's On the Boards this week, she can't help but dance in her chair.

Oblivious to the coffee-shop patrons who are suddenly ignoring their laptops, she stretches her slender arm behind her, and her back arches in a gesture of yearning. Pite is talking about the sense of longing in "Farther Out," a duet for her and Cori Caulfield. Seconds later, her hands stretch wide with excitement as she describes seeing the latest show by William Forsythe, the American choreographer who made an international reputation leading BallettFrankfurt, where Pite danced for five years.

Unconsciously, she's illustrating her own point: that some ideas can be expressed fully only through movement. At the same time, she says, "Words just express some ideas better than dance."

Pite explores both in "Farther Out," a dance piece about the challenges of writing, inspired by Annie Dillard's essay "Total Eclipse."

The mere idea of dancing about words recalls Elvis Costello's famous quip that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." But Pite, who was influenced by Pina Bausch's notion of "tanztheater" (an expressionistic performance-art form that shapes much of Germany's contemporary dance), can't imagine ignoring any technique that helps her tell a story.

While Dillard's words, often in voice-over, serve as a springboard for Pite's kinetic musings on inspiration, the dance brings layers of emotion and humor to the writing. In one hilarious moment, Pite and Caulfield turn into a pair of hoofers garbed in tacky tap-dance ensembles, topped with alien masks — an image that conveys the hazard of succumbing to a bad idea as no words could.

Pite has been a professional dancer since joining Ballet British Columbia at 17. She spent three years as the resident choreographer at Montreal's Les Ballets Jazz and now directs her own company, Kidd Pivot, in Vancouver, B.C. Most recently, she choreographed a new work for Nederlands Dans Theater.

While she finds theater-tinged performances more interesting, she still sees dance as the ideal art for exploring the profound emotional experiences that are often diminished when put into words.

"There's a mystery to dance — it leaves space for interpretation. Audiences can share in the creativity; the viewer and the dancer are often complicit in the show," Pite says, and then she pauses to laugh at herself. "Of course, I don't know if we are all that lofty most of the time. Sometimes it's just about putting some cool steps together."

23 Mar 2009