Dance Teacher Resources

Annie-B Parson’s ‘Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography in Charts’

Annie-B Parson.
Annie-B Parson.

Artistic Director of Big Dance Theater Annie-B Parson has a new book. Parson creates work that draws on, disrupts and distils classic texts, both theatrical and more formally literary texts. Parsons creates her idiosyncratic work with her own company, and for other companies and dancers. Her biography contains a star-studded list, including Martha Graham, Baryshnikov and David Bowie. The book, titled Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography in Charts, will be released this November. 

Parson was an art major in college before becoming a dancer. “I changed my major to dance on a whim,” she reveals. “I was comfortable in the dance department of my college, but I found the visual art department intimidating. Life is a feedback loop, you know. I had better feedback in dance than painting! And I was 18 years old, so, you know, ‘belonging’ factors largely in such decisions.”

Annie-B Parson's Chart of Braids.
Annie-B Parson’s Chart of Braids.

At the suggestion of her friend and collaborator, Suzanne Bocanegra, Parson sketched the props and costumes stowed away in her basement. That exercise resulted in her first published dance chart, All the Props in my Basement. In Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography of Charts, Parsons has extended this first dance chart and created a unique collection of visual artworks and intersecting text narratives that traverse her practice and processes as a dance maker. The monograph tangents, and spirals, offering stimuli, and grit for makers to turn to pearls.   

The book is structured in three parts, the forms of the book themselves dramaturgical. Part One is a biography of the works she has made, using drawings of the props that were in these works. Parson reveals she is interested in the secret life of objects, that an object reveals its dramatic secrets by “letting it exist simply in space, and contextualizing it in dance, doing a duet with it, allowing it to dance.” Each of these drawings in Part One of objects and props is accompanied by a text which offers a comment about the meaning of the objects.  

Part Two is a series of drawings offered as possible structures or scores for improvisation. These structures are also accompanied by a note reflecting on the compositional use of the structure in her work, and in other, yet to be realised, works. 

Annie-B Parson's Compositional Elements Cards.
Annie-B Parson’s Compositional Elements Cards.

The third part is a card game of compositional elements. Structured so that the cards could be cut out and played, Parson proposes that you are dealt a selection of cards and make a performance based on this. “I teach a lot,” she says, “and have wanted to have a way for the students to ‘play cards’ in class. The deck is composed of 52 words with accompanying drawings that I tasked myself to come up with to respond to the form of a deck of cards, so in a sense, they, too, are a choreographic game that I played with myself in the making of them.”

Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography in Charts is at least as interesting in its florid creativity and formal invention, as for its contribution to dance literature. This is a book for performance makers, dancers, choreographers, directors and artists. This is a book that can befriend a creative practice. It will offer provocation and ballast, ground to stand on, across many of the phases of art, performance and dance making. 

Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography in Charts will be released on 28 November. You can order the book at Amazon or Book Depository.  

You can find out more about Big Dance Theatre at

By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa. 

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