Choreographing Borges, by Kylei Strahan

Corrigan’s Editorial Note: My World Literature course asks students to find creative, meditative ways of working with texts from around the globe. In fall 2017, Kylei Strahan took Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Path”—a fascinating, bizarre, deeply multicultural text, written by an Argentine writer, set in the UK, revolving around a location in France, featuring a Chinese main character, who spies for Germany in WWII—and translated the story into dance, using Chinese instrumental music she found online. Her commentary on the choreography, which follows the video below of her performing the dance, explains how the movements of the dance correspond to and interpret aspects of the narrative. Kylei also says a few words about how dancing and choreographing as a way of reading helped her to connect more deeply with the story.

For my response to the text, I choreographed a dance. I chose to do it to a Chinese song representing the main character, Yu Tsun, and his Chines lineage. I am not sure the name of the song because it is written in Chinese characters. (But here’s a link to the song on YouTube.)

I start the piece off with technical, easy to follow steps. As I began reading the story, it was easy to follow and understand. I was able to paint the scenes in my mind as they were unfolding.

As the dance continues, however, I begin to move slightly quicker and use more floor space. This represents Yu Tsun’s search for Albert and his running away from Madden. It doubles as representing my thoughts once he finds Albert and begins to speak with him. Once with Albert, the story became more complicated than I initially expected it to be. It was harder to follow and more difficult to comprehend.

In the beginning stages of my dance, I repeat a few steps several times in a row. I then do the same steps on the opposite side. This depicts the novel that Ts’ui Pen wrote. The novel does not only convey one alternative, but many alternatives, each one with the same characters, but different outcomes and different scenarios. Doing the same thing on two different sides embodies the different scenarios.

The story is unpredictable. I did not know what would happen next. The turns in my piece portray the confusion, unpredictableness, and the surprising aspects of the short story.

After the turns, I jump and land on the ground slamming my fists down. By doing so, I am showing the frustration the main character must be feeling in the beginning of the story when he contemplates, “Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me…” (490). I felt as though he is frustrated that he is having to deal with such a problem. He does the only thing he could think of doing. He kills a man “to indicate (through the uproar of war) the city…” (496)  which Berlin had to attack.

The dance ends abruptly before the song is finished. I end it suddenly to convey the unexpected death of Albert. Life ends without warning. It does not care if we are preoccupied just as Albert is when he goes to retrieve the letter again from the desk. I was purely stunned by the murder and yet completely intrigued. I decide to end the piece the same way I start it which emphasizes the many different parallel universes in the novel.

Choreographing this combination has left me with a certain bond that I now feel towards this story. There is an attachment that I have to it that I would not have had if I did not invest so much time and energy into breaking it down a recreating it for myself. I had to understand each small and important aspect that makes up the text. By reading “The Garden of Forking Paths” and bringing it to life through movement, I feel as though I stretched myself in ways that I never have before.

I had to look deeper than the surface to understand and unlock the emotions behind the story in order to accurately convey the meaning of it through movement. I had to not only identify the emotions, but also personally experience them throughout this process. I made a connection to the story that I presumably would have dismissed had I not reflected on it as I did through dance. I believe I will always carry this story in my spirit through every season of life. I will be reminded of this story, and how things are not always as they may appear to be.

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