Stage to Page: Wendy Perron Reads at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance

Book cover from "Through the Eyes of a Dancer" by Wendy Perron.
Book cover from “Through the Eyes of a Dancer” by Wendy Perron.

Wendy Perron has led a distinguished life as a writer, editor, choreographer and dancer, which included dancing with the seminal post-modern choreographer Trisha Brown. Now, she can add author to that list, with the publication of her collection of writings, Through the Eyes of a Dancer.  Perron, editor-at-large of Dance Magazine, will be in Houston to read from her book on Dec. 5 at 6pm at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance. She visited with Arts and Culture editor in chief Nancy Wozny about her embodied writing life.

Arts + Culture: The blank page always reminds me of an empty studio. How do you see writing and dancing as connected practices?

Wendy Perron: The blank page, in both writing and choreography, can be pretty scary, but more so in dance because every decision you make comes with a slew of new decisions. In the kind of writing I do, I am always working off of a performance or a thought that comes from seeing a performance. But for me they are similar in that I need time away from the studio or the keyboard for sifting and mulling over, even just before sleeping and first thing on waking up. Writing takes hold of you in a way that is similar to the way choreography takes hold of you and won’t let you go.

A + C: In reading your book, I realized that you have carved a unique career in the dance field. There are not too many people who come to mind who have had substantial careers in both dancing/dance-making and in writing. Who were your mentors?

WP: Deborah Jowitt was the supreme example for me. With commitment and grace, she carried on a career in teaching, performing, and choreographing while also writing. I even saw her once act in a play—and she was damn good!

A + C: In the process of collecting the pieces for the book, just how daunting was it to look over several decades of your writing?

Wendy Perron.  Photo by Cluff Roles.
Wendy Perron.
Photo by Cliff Roles.

WP: It was kind of fun. The key to looking back was getting a special scanner that converts any old yellowed piece of newsprint into a word document that I could edit. But there were pieces I’d written that I thought were landmarks in my work, that were sure to be included, and in the end I had to cut them. Either they weren’t focused enough or they were too vague or the writing was only good in the last two sentences.

A + C: I can see your voice changing as you go. Did you meet your many writing selves in the process?

WP: Yes, I was jealous of the freedom of my voice in the 70s. I hope that I regained that freedom when I started writing blogs.

A + C: There was one piece in particular that I was really happy to see included—your now famous blog post called “Blogging about the Process of Choreography-Ugh!” It caused quite a stir. Dance-makers write more these days. You helped show them that they can! In thinking back about the controversy, what did you learn?

WP: I learned that the younger generation of dance-makers think differently from me. I always thought of the process of choreographing to be intensely private. I also learned about social media in general and how eager everyone is to share their lives. I still use Facebook and Twitter mostly to tell people what I’ve seen, not how I feel. Although my most current blog, about the Kennedy assassination, takes a break from that.

A + C:  I most enjoyed the introductions to each section. It was as if the now- Wendy was meeting the then-Wendy. As it’s a collection of writings, those introductions are the glue. I have a feeling you enjoyed that process, but tell us more.

WP: I really started doing them just of necessity, but my editor at Wesleyan really liked them, and that’s what made me bring more of my current life into it.

A + C:   Now that you have a book and a new relationship with Dance Magazine, what’s next for you, besides coming to Houston so I can drive you around to see art shows?

WP: I love our art excursions! At the moment I am part of an international jury in Tokyo, judging for Youth America Grand Prix. And there will be more jury outings in 2014. Other than that, I want to do something that will help budding choreographers, but am not sure what form it will take. I used to imagine myself as the “choreography doctor” who could be called any time of night or day. I have yet to figure out how to transform that idea into something I can handle.