With experimental poetry becoming increasingly popular, and alternative dance classes springing up in church halls and community centres across the country, new research is examining the close links between movement and language.
Last September, Dr Scott Thurston, a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, visited New York as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Judson Dance Theater. This pioneering studio championed the concept of multi-disciplinary arts, including work by the likes of Yoko Ono and John Cage, who went on to become huge international artists.
“The New York art scene in the 1960s was characterised by multi-generic work,” says Thurston, “with dancers, musicians, poets, artists and film-makers working in collaboration to produce films and performances.”
Thurston, who is based in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, was amazed to see such huge audiences watching performances of pieces like The Pronouns: A Collection of 40 Dances for the Dancers. The piece features a series of ‘dance-instruction’ poems by the poet Jackson Mac Low (b. 1922), which were composed algorithmically using 56 index cards, each bearing one to five different actions.
As befitting experimental art, says Thurston: “There were a wide range of interpretations, some of which were very close to the words on the page, and some which were completely abstract responses to those pieces. They were written to be performed but it’s very open as to how you interpret them.” And now he believes we could see similar interest in Britain, too.
“There was a period in the 60s and 70s when experimental poetry was more visible over here,” he explains, “but it’s been ‘underground’ for the last 40 years.
“Now, work that has previously been seen as more marginal is reaching a wider poetry audience and people are beginning to take more of an interest in non-traditional approaches,” he continues. “I think things are poised to go almost mainstream in the UK too, so now seems to be the perfect time to explore the connection between postmodern dance and experimental writing.”
Thurston’s research is part of a bigger enquiry into genre and how different art forms often work together, such as poetry and dance, poetry and visual art and dance and sculpture. It will feed directly into the University as part of the MA Creative Writing: Innovation and Experiment course, and Thurston has also lectured on his findings at both Edinburgh and Bedfordshire universities, and performed his creative work at Liverpool’s famous Bluecoat Arts Centre.
“The research is generating important new knowledge about the field, and furthers the University’s reputation as a research-informed institution that produces original work,” he explains. Thurston is also exploring ways in which writing and language can be linked to the practice of movement therapy which, among many things, can be used to help people suffering from depression and emotional problems.