The Wise Body (Book)

Conversations with Experienced Dancers

Category: Performing Arts


In The Wise Body: Conversations with Experienced Dancers, UK choreographers Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early interview twelve distinguished dancers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines who continue to enjoy exceptionally long performing careers. They discuss early training, memorable performing experiences, the things that sustain them and the pleasures and challenges of being ‘older’ dancers in a profession in which youth is often idolised. Taken as a whole, the interviews, with their long and international perspective, invite a radical re-appraisal of the development of modern and post modern dance; their varied cultural starting points give rise to serious questions about the meaning of dance as an art form. Lansley and Early are two of the founders of the UK New and Independent Dance Movement and the book reflects wide-ranging concerns with broader concepts than dance itself, connecting the experience of senior practitioners to areas as diverse as health, philosophy, psychology, politics and cross-art form research. The individual voices are fascinating and informative; the cumulative effect of the whole is an extraordinary and unique picture of the world-wide network of independent dancers and their practice.

Jacky Lansley is a choreographer, performance artist and writer based in London. She guest lectures widely and is the artistic director of Dance Research Studio, where she has developed a context for cross art form training and research. She is the co-author (with Fergus Early) of The Wise Body: Conversations with Experienced Dancers (2011), published by Intellect Books.

Fergus Early is a dancer, choreographer and pioneer in community dance. A co-founder of the seminal dance studios, X6 Dance Space and Chisenhale Dance Space, he is founder and artistic director of Green Candle Dance Company, working for and with young and older people in community and educational contexts. In 2009 he received an OBE for services to dance.

Introduction – Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early
Chapter 1: The sense of shape, the sense of time – Philippe Priasso
Chapter 2: Growing new patterns from a new imagination – Lisa Nelson
Chapter 3: Dance is the best cream and the best vitamin – La Tati
Chapter 4: Can’t … try … can – Julyen Hamilton
Chapter 5: There are so many surprises – Yoshito Ohno
Chapter 6: How important is dance? I think it may be critical! – Steve Paxton
Chapter 7: Lines of experience – Jacky Lansley
Chapter 8: Now we’re famous we need jackets – Will Gaines
Chapter 9: That quality of knowing movement never leaves you – Jane Dudley
Chapter 10: From stillness I could feel the energy begin – Pauline de Groot
Chapter 11: Please come and dance on the lotus of my heart – Bisakha Sarker
Chapter 12: Your body knows a lot of things – Fergus Early
Afterthoughts – Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early

'The Wise Body, created by Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early, celebrates the lives and work of twelve experienced older dancers. They are all dancers who began their career in childhood or youth, and who are still dancing into middle and later years. There is no question of retiring, or of becoming ‘too old’, as society would have it. For all of them dance is a way of life; they have continued to grow through a lifetime of dancing, and they continue to enrich the dance community – and beyond – with their work. The Wise Body is formed of twelve chapters, with an introduction and afterthoughts by Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early. The beauty of the book is that each chapter takes the form of an interview with one of the dancers, sometimes recorded at different times over several years, giving a sense of time and depth to the piece. The chapter headings themselves are intriguing – each a pertinent phrase carefully chosen from the specific interview – ‘There are so many surprises’ – ‘Your body knows a lot of things’ – to name but two. Opening the book at the contents page they read as a poetic suggestion of the treasures to be discovered inside. In the introduction Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early talk of diversity and connectivity between each of the dancers. There is indeed diversity. We visit France, USA, India, Japan, Spain, Holland and England - we’re given insights into ballet, western contemporary dance and the radical New dance of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as dance that has its roots in tap, flamenco, Indian dance and non-dance forms of movement such as tai chi. Through their work the dancers have individually discovered links with theatre, poetry, music, philosophy, art and architecture, religion and science. They speak with eloquence, revealing aspects of a rich world. The connections between each world are many. This interview form also enables the reader to hear the unique voice of each dancer. Each chapter is far more than a mini-memoir or discourse into the dancer’s thoughts on dance. In a sense their words become the dance – from the highly energetic, almost chaotic flow of memory in Will Gaines' interview, to the thoughtful meditative words of Pauline de Groot, or the searching, intense scrutiny of Steve Paxton. We see clearly what it is that excites each dancer, and we sense the profound connection between mind, body and imagination experienced by them all. In their epilogue Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early state how important this book may be for young dancers, giving them a strong sense of lineage, a foundation to their own work. It is also for the many experienced dancers in the world – those who might have retired from performing, as well as those still engaged with it, connecting them to their roots. Finally it is for those who have watched dance many times and wondered what it feels like to dance – to have lived a life through dance This is a beautiful book, powerfully life affirming. ‘Do you think dance is important to the world?’ the interviewers ask each dancer. The answer is yes.'

Tricia Durdey

'This groundbreaking book is a series of remarkable conversations between the authors (experienced dancers in their own right) and ten others around the world that is of particular interest to the older dancer and to all body-workers plying their craft in the field of complementary medicine. […] Here exists a reminder to continue to stay open to different disciplines and approaches, studying how they might inform and grow one’s own thinking and practice, helping dancers stay in touch with leading visionaries and pioneers, enabling all to keep abreast of developments in the field. […] This book is an absolute joy to read, inspiring respect and admiration for the pioneering work and life stories of the dancers contained in its pages, and comes highly recommended. The authors are to be congratulated for such a fine, scholarly and groundbreaking work for dancers and complementary health practitioners alike.'

Dr Richard Coaten, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
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