Book: Falling Through Dance and Life
Author: Emilyn Claid, Bloomsbury Publishing, July 2022.
Falling Through Dance and Life is a dense, medium sized book, divided into four parts, with an introduction, list of illustrations (peppered throughout the book), a bibliography and an index, written for performance and dance scholars as well as artists in other genres. Each part has many small ‘chapters’, often just a page or two, where Claid ponders a particular concept or event. A wide range of dance styles are mentioned, including hip hop, Flamenco and Butoh, but Claid concentrates on ballet and Martha Graham technique as well as contact improvisation and Aikido. She also considers circus acts and street theatre, for example. Much mention is made not only of Martha Graham but also Pina Bausch, Lloyd Newson, Anna Halperin, Wim Vandekeybus, Ohad Naharin, Trisha Brown, Michael Clark, Nigel Charnock, Wendy Houston and other luminaries of the dance or performance art world (eg Marina Abramovich).
In her book, Claid gives examples from both her professional and private lives to consider various possible ways of being alive and present. Now in her 70s, Claid is a dance maker/performer/choreographer, author, psychotherapist and an emeritus professor (University of Roehampton) based in London. Claid’s career stretches back to the 1960s when she was a ballet dancer with National Ballet of Canada and the 1970s when she was co-founder of X6 Dance Space in London. As well, Claid was a co-editor of New Dance magazine (1976-80). In the 1980s, she was artistic director of Extemporary Dance Theatre and in the 1990s, choreographed for companies such as Phoenix and CandoCo while creating solo shows for international touring. Claid was Director of BA and MA Choreography at Dartington College of Arts (2003-2013). She has published two books.
Claid’s book deals with falling – both bodily and emotionally, and our bodily ageing, from a tiny baby to those aged over 70 and facing death and dying. Do we struggle against it or accept it? She discusses the practice of falling, falling safely (or not). Why do we fear falling and vertigo? A lot of the book discusses muscle training and development, using gravity and being ‘grounded’. How do people cope after being seriously injured and having to learn to walk again? (eg Celeste Dandeker, founder of CandoCo). At various points throughout the book, controlled (or not!) exercises are described and suggested – how do they affect the body and/or both yourself and others? Claid contributes strategies for thinking and moving beyond the ingrained fear of falling. The book is roughly divided into three interwoven themes – dance and falling, the practice of intentional falling, and the changes in ideas and theoretical advancements in the way falling is perceived.
There is also the issue of trust, and being caught (think the big leaps and jumps in a ballet pas de deux, or a ‘fish dive’, for example) but also on stage if a performer throws themselves (sometimes backward!) at an ensemble, believing they will be caught. Also discussed are the element of risk — tightrope walking, aerial acts, skate boarding, deep sea diving and vertical climbing of buildings, etc.
Shame, guilt, grief, laughter (‘corpsing‘ on stage and other interactions) and smiling are considered and how they can affect the body. Also racism – how the code of ballet stresses being stretched upright, and can be regarded as being elitist and only for Caucasians (or is it?).
Woven throughout is the theme of homophobia and how some performers have rebelled and (especially during the 1980s) the spectre of AIDS and how this affected the dance and theatre world.
While there is no mention of The Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company or Bangarra for example, Australia does get a mention as Claid quotes Aussie dance and theatre academic Rachel Fensham.
Claid’s book analyses the historical and social significance of falling as well as making us aware of how it affects our ordinary daily movement. The last part of the book looks at the Covid pandemic and the possible future.
Claid will be giving a solo performance at The Place in London on 23 November.
For more on the book, visit www.bloomsbury.com/au/falling-through-dance-and-life-9781350075719.