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Unfolding Layers Of Intention And Interpretation In Two Dance Translations

Written by: Lake Angela, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Lake Angela

As a translator, I am excited by the idea that one poem might be translated into hundreds of versions, all meaningful and correct, yet often very different from each other. In searching for a more ambiguous—as in multi-meaningful—language, my practice uses dance as an idiom to effect poems in motion. In a recent project, the same poem from my collection Words for the Dead was translated into dance by two groups working on separate coasts and even across countries. The first version is choreographed by Michele Hanlon and the second is created by Companyia Lake Angela.

Illustration of movements.

See Sounds of Wet Sky Spoken choreographed by Michele Hanlon.

Watch In the Dim Yellow Light of Afternoon from Companyia Lake Angela.

As a poet and choreographer interested in intersemiotics—the translation between verbal and nonverbal languages—I aim to develop methodologies particular to each body of work I translate. I have found specific ways of translating individual poets according to their prevalent color expressions and directional cues, for example, as well as other ways for translating schizophrenia spectrum thinking into movement by working with others on the schizophrenia spectrum, including those who are said to speak “word salad.” A volume is needed to begin to answer the question, How does one translate a poem to dance? (If interested in theoretical explanations and explorations, however, you can see my doctoral thesis Speaking Silence: Languages of Color Movement in the Poetry of Georg Trakl and Translation Into Dance uploaded by The University of Texas at Dallas to ProQuest!)

In contextualizing a translation in its new language, readers of both the so-called “original” and “target” languages often formulate the question of how meanings have changed and become more complex by asking what has been lost and gained in the process. As both a poet and a translator working always toward more meaningful permutations of ambiguity, I try to avoid conceptualizing my work as stemming from an original—instead, each transmutation is its own original—or as losing literary value due to the choices a translator must make in creating the poem in a new language. Instead, I look at which layers of meaning may become more visible, at how connotative meanings might become more emotionally visceral, identifiable as clawing or erupting or overspilling bouquets of feeling in the bodies of those who “read” the dance translations.

In this spirit, I have asked the composers of the dance and sound translations, What layers did the performers of your choreographic translation add to your vision or change? What did your videographer add and alter from your choreographic translation to the final cut of the video? Although there is not enough space to give adequate thought to this discussion, we might also keep in mind other important underlying questions, such as, How does the choreographer-translator embody a poem? What does the format of video do to your embodied and transitory dance translation?

The following passage in italics is a valuable reflection on translating the poem into dance by choreographer and translator Michele Hanlon with input from sound translator and composer Kevin Hanlon, who collaborated on her video-dance version of the poem.

Translating the poem from Words for the Dead into a dance began with words and phrases as unique artifacts. I connected with words and phrases that evoked movements and movement qualities, and these created my path into the translation. I lived with the poem for some time, allowing the rhythms of words and phrases to influence how I perceived meaning.

It seemed necessary to have two dancers. Sometimes the dancers are aspects of the same voice (the poet’s voice? the translator’s voice?); sometimes I see them as apart from each other, wherein one is the voice of the poem (or even the poet) and the other that of the poem’s audience or a representative of the physical environment within the poem.

The movement vocabulary was colored by each dancer’s unique voice or instrument, which includes the body’s knowledge from training, thinking, experience, everything. As a choreographer, I work to find the movement “words” that when performed by each unique dancer will communicate and support the meanings I am working toward. Sometimes, movements that I have created with my body do not reach the desired effect when performed by the dancer. When the choreographer is not dancing, there is an additional layer of translation happening through the body(s) of the dancer(s) performing the piece. In the places where the translation does not communicate on the dancers performing it, I edit to find movement “words” or phrases that support the dancers’ instruments as well as my translation of the poem.

For this work, the dance translation was created first and the music designed to support the choreographic translation. The composer, Kevin Hanlon, studied the poem and discussed with me at length my choreographic choices. The composer attended rehearsals and was present in the process of building the dance. He suggested the use of wind chimes as a sound source for the music based on qualities of the written poem and the developing dance- interpretation. I asked Lake Angela for a recording of her voice reading the poem, and this was incorporated into the mix with minimal manipulations. The resulting music added to the dance-translation, as it supported timings within the dance and affected the dancers’ interpretations and performance of some of the movements.

I knew that I wanted the videographer to use a gimbal (camera stabilizer) and move around the dancers as they performed. This choice came from implied motion that I perceived in the poem, to which I responded when creating the choreography. If I were to film the dance again, I might choose to choreograph the movements of the videographer more carefully. In this case, the videographer, Tony Evans, and I improvised. I provided rough instruction on-set regarding the direction the dancers were about to move, and he responded to them and to my words. We altered angles and the amount of camera movement with each take (for about eight full takes). The resulting video does not have internal edits and is instead a constant flow of movement. Interestingly, each take comprised different filming angles and differing amounts of camera motion. In a sense, each of the eight takes is a unique translation of the poem.

Another factor, the setting, was influenced by the video producer, Angela Cochran. I knew the poem should be filmed in an outdoor environment and first chose a grove of cedar trees. The setting was beautiful but impractical due to lighting issues. Angela suggested a site along the Columbia River in Washington. I chose costumes to evoke nature and the earth, and they worked well with the riverside setting. The motion of the river and the wind-tossed grass worked to support the choreographed translation.

In Companyia Lake Angela’s translation, In the Dim Yellow Light of Afternoon, the collaborative process resulted in a series of translations of translations. I wrote the poem and translated the poem on myself into choreography two years after publication and roughly five years after writing the poem, meaning Lake Angela the translator and Lake the writer were at least two different people by this point! I sent videos of me performing choreography to the dancer Jésica Cichero, who made the movements her own expressions by translating my dance as well as my verbal instructions on emotional expression into the drawing of the choreography above. She then translated her sketches back into movement on her body, to which I added comments and asked her to explore her expressions in different ways, adding new phrases.

Jési chose the costuming and setting, both of which influence meaning as well. Interestingly, Jési’s understanding of the poem is unique as well in that she is a native Spanish speaker working on an English-language poem. Rocio, working with Jési in Castellano, shot her videography based on her understanding of Jési’s understanding of the poem. Although I had given instructions for specific close-ups and several angles, we left the rest of the interpretation to Jési and Rocio.

By the time our editor, Kevin Richard Kaiser, received the video clips from Barcelona, we had several takes and perspectives with which to work, but he ended up cutting most of what we might call my first draft of the choreography and using exclusively the emotional choreography as interpreted by Jési. None of the full-body shots of my sequential choreographic translation remain in favor of close-ups, especially of Jési’s beautiful facial expressions. In the end, Kevin completely reframed the translation again by cutting, effecting a final translation of his own!

As viewers of the two videos that translate the same poem into dance, Sounds of Wet Sky Spoken from Michele Hanlon and In the Dim Yellow Light of Afternoon from Companyia Lake Angela, you might be interested to watch again for moments you perceive as commonalities in interpretation as well as meaningful divergences holding tension in the layers of intention—the poet’s, the choreographic translators’, the dancers’, the videographers’, the editors’, and so forth. Each of these dance videos must also effect meaning and thereby affect your own interpretations of the written or spoken poem from Words for the Dead.

The reader-viewer’s internalization of the poem will become the ultimate meaning for her, as her physically felt experience of the dance translations will determine her interpretation—the final layer of intention.

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Lake Angela Brainz Magazine

Lake Angela, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lake Angela is a poet, translator, and dancer-choreographer who creates at the confluence of verbal language and movement. As Director of the international multimedia group Companyia Lake Angela, they offer sessions in guided healing through poetry and movement and provide a platform for schizophrenia spectrum creativity. Their full-length books of poetry, Organblooms (2020) and Words for the Dead (2021), are published by FutureCycle Press. As poetry editor for Punt Volat, they select and publish innovative new poetry in four languages with co-founder Kevin Richard Kaiser. As co-founder of Poetry Midwives Editing Services, they help aspiring writers polish their manuscripts for publication. Lake holds a PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas for their intersemiotic translations of German Expressionist poetry into dance and their MFA in poetry.



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