Hannah Chappell '15 and Professor of English Onno Oerlemans.
Hannah Chappell '15 and Professor of English Onno Oerlemans.

For her Emerson Grant this summer, Hannah Chappell ’15 is working with Professor of English Onno Oerlemans on a project titled “Moving Through Language: The Intersection of Literature, Dance and Performance.” She'll research authors whose texts contain elements of dance; choreographers and dancers whose work includes elements of literature;  and examine how literary theory can be applied to dance.

Ultimately, Chappell explained, “I hope to gain a sense of how [literature and dance] have developed and expanded as a result of their reciprocal relationship. I also want to understand how verbal language can be transformed into movement by studying the process of adaption.”

Though many authors have incorporated elements of dance into their writing, Chappell intends to limit her scope to modernist writers who were involved in the dance world, such as Virginia Woolf, W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot. As for dancers, Chappell is focusing on mainly those from the early twentieth century, including Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham.

In order to examine the relationship between literature and dance, Chappell is employing both existing critical work that discusses the literature-dance connection and video recordings of dance performances to analyze the aspects of literature that can be seen in the dancers’ movements. In addition, Chappell plans to translate a portion of James Joyce’s “Epiphanies” into dance. She hopes to write her English thesis on Joyce next year, so this project will help familiarize her with his work.

Chappell conceived of this project as a means of addressing her dual passion in literature and dance, and she noted how surprised she was to discover the amount of work that had already been done in the field: “Many scholars focus solely on this particular niche, and there is a substantial collection of texts that center on the exchange between verbal language and movement.”

Chappell concluded, “I think an interdisciplinary approach is the most natural form of learning; erecting rigid divisions between neighboring artistic disciplines feels very arbitrary and limiting.” Chappell’s excitement about this project certainly gives credence to the benefit of interdisciplinary study and her Emerson Grant this summer appears to have satisfied a longstanding desire of hers: “I have always wanted to find a way to bridge my interest in these two arts.”

Hannah Chappell ’15 is a graduate of Choate Rosemary Hall, Conn.

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