"When she read them I knew," choreographer/dancer Carrie Rohman recalls with a laugh during a recent telephone interview. "I knew at that moment that this would probably be the collaboration, that it would come out of those particular poems."
She was recounting a feeling she had while listening to poetry -- specifically a series of numbered "Meditations" -- composed and read by noted poet Alessandra Lynch, her faculty colleague in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, Pa. (Rohman moved there from Cincinnati in 2004.)
Speaking by telephone from Pennsylvania, Lynch remembers a similar experience.
"I felt her responding in the audience. Afterwards she came up to me and her eyes were all agleam!" she chuckles. "And she's like, 'Oh, those meditations!' And I already (had) sensed somehow that those would be the ones she'd respond to, just from the little bit I knew of her and her aesthetics."
You Could Have Been the Night, a new modern dance piece set to poetry, was conceived
The seeds of joining artistic forces had been planted earlier in the women's discourse, with its probability for fruition enhanced by crossover interests: Rohman holds a doctorate in 20th-century British Literature and Lynch has always appreciated and felt moved by dance.
Rohman's gut emotional reaction to Lynch's reading spawned a framework for some initial movement patterns. She affirms my hunch that the six poems they chose to work with from Lynch's "Meditations" series draw on relaxation, fluidity and a degree of repetition -- all vocabulary that speak to ways of moving.
"I found these poems to be incredibly haunting and lyrical and abstract," Rohman says. "That's probably why I was so drawn to them as a dancer. I'm not very drawn to representational dance. It was just a natural fit.
"Some of the movement is much more full, sort of studied and meditative. Some of it is more rhythmic and a little more frenetic, depending on what's happening in the text."
In the piece's staging, Lynch is far from a stationary reader. While she doesn't dance per se, she's still a moving force -- literally and figuratively. In gentle interaction with Rohman, she perambulates as she recites her poetry.
Throughout the rehearsal process, powerful metaphysical connections continued to emerge.
Lynch explains how she could see and "feel" Rohman's movements, partly through peripheral vision, in spite of not having seen their entirety.
"We had one particular rehearsal which was really amazing and I felt the connection deeply," she notes.
Given that the duo are performing without music, one challenge has been the timing, but that's not necessarily a negative thing.
Lynch describes how dialogue becomes a necessary component of collaboration -- particularly listening and periodically adjusting her cadence to Rohman's rhythms, adding another dimension to her poetry.
"Working with another person, it's not only just reading the poems and honoring the language," Lynch says. "But all of a sudden, these lines are not lines that are just coming from this very personal place, but the lines have an echo and that echo is through someone else's body. So it's really intense, but it's also challenging listening to how Carrie is moving, listening to her own vision or her own enactment of the words."
"The pacing of the readings can change pretty significantly from one run-through to the next," she says. "On the other hand, this keeps the relationship between the text and the movement fresh and unpredictable, which is, on some level, what can be most exciting about performance."
"A recorded piece of music won't change; a human speaker won't ever be ultimately the same."
Lynch says, "In a way it's like a dream come true because I've always loved dance and as a kid watching dance, movement would always ignite words in my head. There's a deep relationship among all the arts."
Speaking of her profound early influences, Lynch adds, "Emily D. (Dickenson), she's right there. When I was 9, I had a T-shirt of her. I mean, come on, that's about as deep as it gets."
Carrie Rohman and Alessandra Lynch perform as part of the Performance & Time Arts Series at Contemporary Dance Theater Friday and Saturday.