Mason dance students interpret poetry as part of a Fall for the Book collaboration


On a warm but blustery October morning, five poets and seven dancers sat beneath the Word Wall in George Mason University’s Horizon Hall. The scrolling quotes that usually fill the screen were gone, replaced by the title “Fall for the Book Presents Lyrical Motion: A Dance & Poetry Collaboration.”

The featured artists and the audience gathered together during the Fall for the Book Festival to watch powerful collaborations between poets: Karyna McGlynn, Vivek Narayanan, Sara Burnett, CJ Evans, and Katherine E. Young, and seven Mason’s School of Dance students: Macq Gross and Micah McKee, Dareon Blowe and Lauryn Crowell, Nolan Eisenhaur, Rosa Allegra Wolff, and Selin Boybeyi, all seniors.

This collaboration was a call and response where the dancers choreographed and performed an original piece based on poems they had been given.

“Over the last few years, I’ve wanted to push the boundaries of what a book festival can be,” said Fall for the Book festival manager and Mason alum Suzy Rigdon. “A cross-genre collaboration between poetry and dance played on the Word Wall—a first for the Horizon Hall landmark—was something I couldn’t get out of my mind.”

With the help of fellow Mason alums—tech wizards Danny Collier and Craig Zacarro of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and dance professor Christopher D’Amboise of the School of Dance—Rigdon was able to bring this vision to life.

The poetic collaboration felt natural to the dancers. “I find a lot of comfort in poetry. I use precision of language in our rehearsals, [asking,] how can we make synonyms translate into movement?” said Gross.

Gross and co-choreographer Micah McKee worked with the words of Mason creative writing professor Vivek Narayanan.

After seeing their video performance, Narayanan, whose poetry collection After is inspired by the Sanskrit epic poem Ramayana, found it transformative. “I don’t know if I can read the poem the same way now after seeing the dance.”

The connection between the poets and dancers—none of whom had ever met prior to the video debut at Fall for the Book—was deep.

“The rhythm [which McGlynn] spoke helped with the rhythm of movement and process,” said Wolff.

“It was an incredible experience, seeing my poem,” said Burnett, a local writer from Maryland, “and he way Nolan was able to capture the rhythm with his body.”

Poet CJ Evans wanted to give the dancers a challenge. “I didn’t want to pick something easy to interpret. I wanted a more open space… to celebrate the private versus the public. The intimate versus the explosive dance.”

Choreography Duo LCBD (Crowell and Blowe) rose to the challenge.

“We utilized the poem’s skeleton,” said Blowe. “We wanted to keep the abstractness of the work without going into the literal.”

Crowell added, “Having this opportunity to collaborate was great…. It was liberating and expressive.” 

Watch Lyrical Motion on Fall for the Book’s YouTube channel.