Emily Dickinson, a 19th century New England poet, penned thousands of poems and letters in her lifetime. Her work was never published while she was alive, but Dickinson is now considered one of America’s major literary figures.
A performance titled “If My Verse is Alive…,” will interpret selected works by Dickinson through a combination of dance and music. Katie Rutterer, artistic co-director of New ARTiculations Dance Theater and a performer featured in the event, says that each choreographer took a different approach to the task.
“Some people worked from letters, some people worked from poems, and just looked at the work and let it inspire them to create pieces,” says Rutterer.
Kimi Eisele, the other artistic co-director of New ARTiculations Dance Theater, says that while each dance draws from the material to create a distinct emotional expression, the choreography together reveals a cohesive image of Dickinson herself.
“In that sense, we all embody Emily Dickinson,” says Eisele. “We also have one of our dancers who will be portraying Emily Dickinson-–sort of the ghost of Emily. She’ll be moving throughout the theater, and in and out of some of the pieces.”
This one-night performance based on the work of Emily Dickinson is the dance and music component of a larger project known as the Big Read Tucson project.
Lisa Bowden, publisher and co-founder of Kore Press, is curating the Big Read Tucson project. Bowden says the project, partially funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, seeks to promote innovative reading programs in selected communities, and provides comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature.
“We’re using the work of Emily Dickinson as a reading, writing, and creation project,” says Bowden. “The idea here is to really bring together people who might be visual learners, or auditory learners, or kinesthetic learners, as well as readers of literature. The idea really is to get people reading in different ways.”
Bowden says Emily Dickinson’s work has been a rich source of inspiration for the dancers and musicians in this project. The Dickinson legacy has also helped define the vision of costume designer Barbara Seyda.
“The inspiration for the costumes came a lot from the 19th century, the period that Emily Dickinson lived in,” says Seyda. “The clothing motifs at that time were a lot about confinement and constraint for women.”
Seyda says the costumes are all different and represent specific elements found in Dickinson’s work.
“I try to treat each costume as a poem, and think about punctuation, and language, and phrasing, and also the use of the unexpected," she says. "[Dickinson’s] writing is very simple, and immediate, and profound, and I’ve tried to translate that visually into cloth.”
Eisele says she hopes the performance, scheduled Saturday at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts Proscenium Theater on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m., will provide the audience with a deeper understanding of the rich poetry of Emily Dickinson.
“Our goal with the show is to leave viewers with an appreciation for a writer who was centuries ahead of her time,” she says.