Shakespearean Body Languageposted on October 16th, 2011 by Brandon Monokian
The moon, Los Angeles, the Arctic Ocean, the hood, California wine country: all awesome places to be (well…some of them, anyway). In addition to being a collection of random places of debatable awesomeness, they are all untraditional settings for Shakespearean plays. Actors from Patrick Stewart to Anne Hathaway have taken turns portraying the classic characters we have come to know, love, and miscast. There have been adaptations with music and modern twists. From film to television to Amanda Bynes, Shakespeare’s work has been shredded, beheaded, and put back together again many times. We see these unique approaches so often that the untraditional has become the traditional. And, in the tradition of the untraditional, Peak Performances audiences were lucky enough to experience a revival of David Gordon’s DANCING HENRY FIVE.
Much like the title suggests (okay, exactly like the title suggests), DANCING HENRY FIVE is the story of the Shakespeare classic told through the art of dance. There is some text, combining audio from Henry V films and productions, as well as narration written by Gordon and delivered by Valda Setterfield; some music, beautifully composed by William Walton; and, of course, a whole lot of dancing.
The dancing proved captivating for two reasons, the first and most obvious being that it was, for lack of more eloquent and profound wordage, great. It was fluid and physical, daring and beautiful—everything you would expect and desire from a group of trained professional dance artists. The second, more unexpected reason was that the universality of the text was actually highlighted by the near absence of text. Often, in artistic attempts to reinvent the Shakespearean wheel, much of the text’s meaning is either bastardized or lost completely. DANCING HENRY FIVE proved to be quite the opposite. With the majority of the story told through movement, the audience was able to connect on an emotional level unattainable in other Shakespeare productions. The most prominent example was the scene between Katherine (played by Karen Graham) and her lady-in-waiting, Alice (Setterfield again), in which Katherine asks Alice to teach her English. The image of teaching language to another using only the body was a moment of remarkable and surprising beauty. It transcended language and struck a universal chord.
While the world might not be lacking in quantity of off-the-beaten-path Shakespeare productions, few venture off that path with such artistic vision and ability as David Gordon. The exquisite images created by Gordon and company will stay etched in my mind for many Shakespeare performances to come. One can bet that, the next time I’m watching the Kirsten Dunst/Sisqó “classic” take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’ll be longing for DANCING HENRY FIVE instead.
Brandon Monokian received a B.A. in Theatre Studies at Montclair State. He works as an actor, director, and writer.