Songs Without Words 12

Studio trials 12

These short videos show a progression through just a few approaches to the dancer’s relationship with the rope.  Studio trial 1 uses a 20’ rope and R. Murray Schafer’s Ariadne’s Legacy; studio trial 2 uses the 100’ rope and Alexina Louie’s Denouement; studio trial 3 with Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee and some messy frustrations, and 4 shows the direct and rational approach with Per Norgaard’s Turn. Ultimately this version led back into mystery and the power of the image.

The creative process of SWW 12 was a complete departure for me.  I had had a desire to work with a rope, without knowing why.  I moved early in the process from a 20’ rope to a 100’ rope at the urging of Costume Designer Angela Dale.  I pursed the literature on Ariadne and worked in the rope outlines of spiral labyrinth forms; studied Martha Graham’s Errand into the Maze.  I could not escape the frustration that came with trying to manage a 100’ rope. I did consider making that frustration the subject of the piece.  But even that approach failed so consistently that I had to abandon it.  

At the suggestion of Steve Isom, Lighting Designer and Technical Director, I asked Angela to loom the rope at two-foot intervals in addition to dying it a burnished gold.   It wasn’t until I fully accepted that the dyed loomed rope, now a mere 44’, still firmly imposed its restrictions on me and my ideas that I was able to see my way clearly to a simple choreographic solution. And even then, embedded in the simplicity of the tasks performed lay their undoing. Never was there to be a perfect run through, and so, imperfection is the core of this work.


The music selection for SWW 12 took lots of exploration.  M-body’s Music Advisor Allan Bell was extremely helpful in the ultimate selection.  I was drawn to R. Murray Schafer’s Ariadne’s Legacy, Alexina Louie’s Denouement, Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee, Giacento Scelsi’s String Quartet No. 4.  When the music had dynamic dramatic power as in the works of Louie and Scelsi it overwhelmed the symbolic and material purity of the rope.  When the music was more understated as in Abrahamsen’s work it fell short of offering a meaningful tension or layer to the whole.  The work Turn by Per Norgaard as performed by Eve Egoyan provided an extended unfolding within a limited palette of an unbroken flow, both sensual and rational.  

I noticed that after it’s introductory section, Turn is punctuated every two minutes or so by a sense of breath, hesitation or completion. These punctuations came to mark significant moments in the progression of the dance, in the tasks that I completed with the rope.


Breathing deeply, progressing with great care, listening closely, letting go of any thought of error or accomplishment, I try and fail, again and again, but with heart.

The challenge became increasingly clear with each rehearsal…. The rope has its own set of unspoken rules and parameters. My role as rehearsal director was to help the performer/ choreographer discover and identify those unique rules and parameters, as well as to make sense of the dance within the framework of the rope, and vice versa. The handling of the rope, and observing the way that it behaved was an important part of the process and development of the work. There were many movement considerations and adaptations made in rehearsal according to the rope’s response to being picked up, gathered, laid down, pushed, and shaped. An intricate cause and effect relationship between the performer and rope was literally unravelling in present time, and with every movement decision. It became obvious that any rushed treatment of the rope was not an option, and that the rope became more animated when the performer worked with a deliberate intention and pace. As rehearsals went on, the choreographer’s ideas became more distilled, the performer’s movement choices more refined, and the handling of the rope more concise; another process where the concept of less is more speaks volumes. 

Helen Husak

Angela Dale


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I spent time in the rehearsal studio to help with the team effort in understanding how the rope could be manipulated and controlled by Davida.  The key to lighting this piece was to enhance the visibility of the rope and it’s colour while at the same time provide a higher intensity and focus on the dancer. I coloured the rope from the overhead top lights and front cross and used mid and head high sides for intensity on the dancers body above the knee. Colour balance for the costume and front fill for camera visibility was also important to find.

The stage area used was somewhat more than earlier SWW pieces, so it was necessary for me to light the whole stage area to prevent intensity drop-off as Davida moved from one side to the other.

Steve Isom


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We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

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