ian spencer bell @ poetry foundation, 11 March 2015.

Ian Spencer Bell by Kyle FromanIan Spencer Bell by Kyle Froman.

Dance companies often experiment with incorporating spoken word into choreography, but Ian Spencer Bell’s performance at the Poetry Foundation reversed the equation—he brought dance movement into the context of a poetry reading.

What was most intriguing about his readings/dancings of Geography Solos and Holler was the interplay of movement with two dimensions of the poems Bell recited: the overt meanings of the words and the deeper rhythms of his verse.

At times, he danced to the content of his words. A mention of Diana Ross and the Supremes, for instance, brought a sultry hip swivel in time with a song title. Just as often, the movement seemed to correlate to the pacing of the poems, to the logics of their breath and cadence. In these moments, Bell’s movement was not a direct embodiment of the semantic meaning of his words, but rather an evocation of their inner music. When he slowly moved around the performance space in circles, lifting up his arms and arching his back, dipping or bending, it was as if his body was pulling the hidden meanings from the poems: their tones and buried implications, the things not said.

Borrowing the language used to discuss film, we might say that Bell shifted between the diegetic and non-diegetic. He danced both outside the poems looking in at them and within their poetic and musical infrastructures. What made Bell’s performance compelling was that he did not choose one or the other—he neither merely illustrated his words, nor only accompanied the poems with dance—but instead lingered in a space between the two. This suspended space of entrancement, in which the meaning of words and their music intermingled, made for a wonderful irresolution, a heightened sense of how poetry and dance both show us the surfaces of things—and always gesture to something more than those surfaces as well.

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