“Come Fly Away” on tour, or, in which I ponder dance as literature

My dear friend Robert over at ChicagoTheatreAddict had an extra ticket to attend the Chicago opening night of the national tour of “Come Fly Away,” Twyla Tharp’s tribute to Frank Sinatra, and I joined him.

The show is lovely – incredible dancers performing the story of lovers falling in and out at a nightclub while a big band plays along to the vocal tracks of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.   There’s the young and innocent/awkward couple, the red-dress-wearing hot chick and the smooth operator, and the arguing/dramatic couple, and in the course of an 80 minute show everyone breaks up and makes up and, to take a line from Frank himself, they all face the music and dance.

While the show isn’t full of any grand revelations about love, it got me thinking – Can dance be considered literature?

I believe music can be considered literature, and lyrics are certainly poetry.  Theatre can most certainly be defined as literature.  (One word: Shakespeare.)

So what about dance?

Dance combines music and theatre, and certainly dance can tell a story.  Think of “The Nutcracker,” or “Giselle” or “The Firebird” for examples of famous stories told via dance.

Webster’s Dictionry defines literature as follows:

archaic:literary culture
: the production of literary work especially as an occupation
a (1): writings in prose or verse; especially: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2): an example of such writings <what came out, though rarely literature, was always a roaring good story — People> b: the body of written works produced in a particular language, country, or age c: the body of writings on a particular subject <scientific literature> d: printed matter (as leaflets or circulars) <campaign literature>
: the aggregate of a usually specified type of musical compositions
It seems that to be classified/considered “literature,” there needs be a written element.
Writing down dance would seem to be an impossible task.  Even if I were to write down the show I saw last night, there would be a lot of “And then everyone danced,” without the ability to describe all the individual choreography happening at the exact same time. (Granted, I’m no dance expert and don’t know all the technical terms for these moves.)  To me, it seems that dance could be described as a kind of “writing with the body,” but I’m not sure if the intelligent elite would agree with me on that. I’m guessing that to be considered “literature” you have to be able to write something down, like on paper.  Do choreographers write down the exact steps the dancers will be performing?  Do they use the score to the music to write on?
I’m sure there are highly skilled folks who can write/read dance, but I’m not one of them.
So maybe dance can be considered literature, if in the hands of trained professionals?
I mean, I can’t read French either.  But things written in French would absolutely be literature.

About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on January 20, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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