Dancing with the Dragon: Orality and (body) language(s) in a live performance of Beowulf

  • Jeff Kaplan University of Maryland
Keywords: Beowulf, dance, ethnopaleography, Tsjêbbe Hettinga, Albertina Soepboer

Abstract

This paper theorizes on the function of language and embodiment in northern European storytelling through a self-reflex analysis of the author’s experience performing Beowulf in its original dialect, as a solo, while dancing. Beowulf is Min Nama involved memorizing approximately 80 minutes of the medieval Beowulf epic in its original West Anglo-Saxon dialect (lines 2200—2766, Beowulf’s encounter with the dragon). Grappling with bardic verse for recitation in experimental live performance uncovered new facets in ancient performance texts.  Working with the Beowulf poem for stage revealed the mnemonic quality of alliteration, the pervasive use of rhythmic patterns to signal shifts in ideas (a strategy similar to West African dance), and perhaps “deep rhythms” present in medieval northern Europe. As impetus for choreography, the verse contains rhythmic information, corresponding to musical/dance concepts such as pick-ups, counterpoint, and syncopation.  Beowulf is Min Nama also required a theory of dialect for Old English, which the author based on modern Swedish, medieval Frisian, and modern Frisian — especially the voices of Frisian poets Tsjêbbe Hettinga and Albertina Soepboer. The project thus provides an entrée into the nexus between ancient and modern storytelling, and concludes that contemporary Frisian poetry represents a direct inheritor to ancient solo performance forms.

Author Biography

Jeff Kaplan, University of Maryland
Jeff Kaplan is a doctoral candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Maryland, and holds an MFA in Dance from Texas Woman’s University.  After a career in modern dance, Kaplan developed a repertory of solo works that combine spoken text with movement, based in foreign and ancient languages.  In addition to Beowulf (Anglo-Saxon), Kaplan has dramatized Goethe’s poem, Der Erlkönig (German), and the “Witch of Endor” from the Book of Samuel (Samuel 1:28) (Hebrew and Aramaic).  Other research interests include early twentieth-century American theatre history, history of solo performance, translation theory, and dramaturgy.

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Published
2017-12-29
How to Cite
Kaplan, J. (2017). Dancing with the Dragon: Orality and (body) language(s) in a live performance of Beowulf. Nordic Theatre Studies, 28(2), 36-55. https://doi.org/10.7146/nts.v28i2.25534
Section
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