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Christian Bok’s Eunoia adapted for contemporary dance

(photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

Christian Bök’s international best-selling book of poetry, Eunoia (Coach House Books), has inspired a Norwegian black-metal elegy, a 12-minute rock medley, and several classical scores, one of which was performed at Carnegie Hall. Now, the 2002 Griffin Prize–winning book has been adapted for contemporary dance.

Toronto choreographer Denise Fujiwara is the ambitious force behind Eunoia, a dance performance happening from March 19 to 22 at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre. Fujiwara discovered her old copy of the book while looking for a piece of text to use in a score. “It was dense and clever and strange,” she says. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it.”

Eunoia, which took Bök seven years to write, is based on a univocalic structure: each of the narratives in its five chapters contains only one vowel. Bök consulted during the early creative process, suggesting that Fujiwara’s choreography should also “embody constraints and procedurals.”

“Simply dramatizing it would be less interesting,” he says. “This is more whimsical.”

Fujiwara began experimenting with various constraints, trying to find a balance between the literal and abstract. For instance, the dancers” movements could only be initiated by vowel-specific body parts (e.g. knees, heels). “At first I thought it was impossible,” she says, “but it caused me to be more innovative.”

During the performance, the dancers will recite Bök’s poems using a single microphone (another constraint presented by Fujiwara). Lighting, video, and the score are also controlled. For each chapter’s music, composer Phil Strong only played one dedicated black key on the piano. He also incorporated vowel-specific instrumentation, such as harp, bass, and maracas.

“Nothing is random,” says Fujiwara. “Everything relates, but not in a narrative way. You begin seeing things as it goes on: a handclap is also a word, flinch is an “i” word.”