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Poems of Gesture: Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir


George Balanchine once described dancers as "poets of gesture." With that evocative line in mind for our 19-20 Season, we invited a group of poets to explore the ways in which the stage and the page unite in a series of commissioned poems, including this piece on Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir from NYCB's 2018 Art Series Artist Shantell Martin.

Open and All


Breathing in Breathing out,
Breathing thin Breathing without,
Without time, Without mind.
Not minding me,
Not minding you,
Not minding at all.
Open to your mind,
Open to our minds,
Open to understanding infinite time,
Open to details open to all thoughts,
These could be the lives that we are all thought.
Tip Toe,
Tip Toe,
Open the door to find out more, 
Don’t be afraid to trip, 
To fall, 
To soar.

Shantell Martin is a visual artist. In 2018, she served as NYCB’s Art Series Artist, and previously spent two years as an MIT Media Lab Visiting Scholar. Additionally, she’s had solo exhibitions at the 92Y Gallery, the Albright Knox gallery, and MoCADA Museum. Learn more about her writing process in this exclusive Q&A.


What were your initial reactions after first seeing Porte et un soupir?

Ha, good question. After seeing the show, I have to say I had a bunch of odd, mixed feelings. I don't think I've sat through something like it in my life. To expand on that, the presentation was so jarring, but at the same time completely mesmerizing and intriguing. I couldn't stop thinking about the forms and sounds on stage for quite some time.

What difficulties exist in capturing movement with language?

Movement in its many forms have so much about it that is unspoken, that cannot be translated, which means much can be lost or unseen.

How did your creative process shift when it came to writing about ballet?

I'm not sure I was writing about ballet, more like dance and moving with words.

Balanchine described dancers as “poets of gesture.” How does that line resonate with you given this assignment?

We all dance, we all express ourselves, and when it's true to heart, regardless of the medium, we are all poets. For this project I wanted the words to dance just like my lines might.

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