Rehearsing with Brandy Baybutt

Writers work in isolation most of the time. In contrast, the opportunity to collaborate, both in the creative process and in performance, has always drawn me to the performing arts. This week, I’ve had a chance to do just that. Brandy Baybutt, a professional dancer and experienced improviser who teaches at Lynda Raino Dance School, agreed to collaborate with me in presenting an excerpt from my novel Leap. This Sunday, May 22, at 4 p.m., the two of us perform in Lynda Raino Dance School’s student show at the Royal Theatre.

This week, we booked rehearsal time and got down to work. Initially, I thought that I would read while Brandy danced, but once we got into the studio, the process flowed in a different direction. Physical images and impulses surfaced for both of us, and we realized that we wanted to establish more of a connection on stage. The novel excerpt that we’re using describes the involvement between a performer and an audience member. Brandy pointed out that spectators experience a kind of kinesthetic identification with athletes and dancers. So, when, as reader/viewer, I get swept onto my feet, I bring that visceral response to life. The result is a loosely structured improvisation that interweaves words and movement, text and reader, dancer and viewer. The VoiceThreads clip below (which uses pre-existing images of Brandy) gives you a little taste; come to the Royal Theatre at 4 p.m. next Sunday to experience the whole piece live!

Collaboration with Brandy has been particularly gratifying for me because many years ago, when I taught English at the University of Victoria, Brandy was a student in my summer course on Poetry & Drama. When given the choice between an analytical essay and an essay on how she would stage a play, Brandy picked the latter option. Her innovative dramatization, titled “Oedipus the King Under My Control,” was so impressive that I kept it as a model to show future students. (And just as I leave my writer role to dance in the piece, it’s only fair that Brandy leaves her dancer role to contribute words to this blog post.) Her plans for the Greek chorus are particularly notable: “When certain lines are delivered by the main characters, specific chorus members respond by interacting with other chorus members through dance. … I could have one member deliver the line ‘terror shakes my heart.’ During the delivery of this line, another member could come behind the person speaking, grab their head by covering it with their hands, and pull back on their head to express the terror being felt.”

Here, Brandy describes the integral link between gesture and emotion that–in my opinion–accounts for much of the power of contemporary dance. In her work with me, Brandy doesn’t interpret the words literally; rather, she animates and embodies the verbal score. I’m honoured to perform with such an accomplished dance artist, and excited to see what happens in our improvisation on Sunday.

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