When Words Fail

Before the so-called “Dress Gate” the internet was set afire by a beautiful piece of choreography by Jade Hale-Christofi, featuring Sergei Polunin dancing to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” and shot by David LaChapelle.

Now that we’re all caught up, I will say that I will not analyze this piece; there are many other articles focusing both on the meaning of the choreography and the dancer himself. Both are impressive, it goes almost without saying. But what we haven’t talked about is why this medium itself is so powerful.

As a writer, I like to think that words are the most powerful ways in which human beings can express themselves and leave something for posterity. But the simple truth is that words often fail us; they impede understanding, they suffer due to mistranslation or lack of context. Despite the vast vocabulary across many languages, words can often be a less effective form of communication than painting or a stationary image. Art, especially dance and music transcend many borders.

What we see when we watch Polunin in this piece is someone capable of showing us pure emotion through motion – how many of us can pull such raw truth out of ourselves. When we watch, we forget that we are watching “ballet,” a word that conjures images of little girls in tutus and Natalie Portman references when we should be remembering Nureyev and Nijinsky, Fonteyn, Pavlova, and Taglioni. We see an artist absolutely connected with his art; strength and power and vulnerability flawlessly expressed, transcending what we perceive as human limits.

Where words often fail us (and again, as a writer, I will admit that words often do fail), movement can bypass the brain and speak from the heart. It is why we connect with dance, with beautiful choreography. We can recognize the skill and the strength, and we can recognize that, even if not so in love with piece because of its aesthetic value, we are connecting with the same art form that our ancestors from tens of thousands of years ago ingrained into their lives, all over the world. The global existence of and appreciation for dance and music are possibly the closest we will ever get to experiencing the realization of a universal truth in our lives.

I won’t give you a history of dance. I can’t do it justice. But I will encourage you to think if there was ever a culture that did not have a connection to dance, or a dance of its own. It might have been reviled, or restricted in places, seen as a threat to morality or religious and not meant for frivolity, but it was in some way a part of life. It was a way to connect, with another person, with a community, with something still greater. And dance is still very much that. From wedding dances and flash mobs, to So You Think You Can Dance, street dance competitions, and a rise in salsa, ballroom dance clubs, and swing dancing, at a time when we speak more through screens than face to face, we still connect through dance. And the connections are really, based on a mutual trust and appreciation, and a true partnership. In this world, that seems to be a more and more rare thing.

There are many inspiring dancers and choreographers in the world, and they can teach even those of us who aren’t dancers. Check out a few of my favorite pieces of choreography below, and explore this, because each of these dancers and choreographers and their contemporaries opens a window onto reality, allowing us to see more, and feel more, and learn a little more about ourselves and others. Where words fail, dance will inspire.



The above is only a small sample of some of my favorites, there are plenty of live performances that I can only re-watch in my mind, and even more I have not yet seen. Have a favorite of your own ? Share it…


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