Deborah Dunn performs The Four Quartets, a modern dance performance choreographed to the poetry of T.S. Eliot.

Deborah Dunn performs The Four Quartets, a modern dance performance choreographed to the poetry of T.S. Eliot.

Choreographer turns poetic meter into music

Deborah Dunn’s modern dance piece The Four Quartets inspired by T.S. Eliot poetry

Using rhythm and meter, poets can almost turn words into music.

Read by a great orator like Sir Alec Guinness, and that musical quality becomes the backdrop for dance.

Contemporary dancer and choreographer Deborah Dunn caught inspiration for Four Quartets after discovering cassettes in a friend’s house of Guinness reading T.S. Eliot’s poems.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to dance to this because it’s so musical’,” she said.

She started with the first movement, Burnt Norton, a 10-minute solo performance which she danced for five years. The success of that piece led to the development of the rest of the poem.

Research into the poem and Eliot’s life lasted a year as Dunn found herself immersed in the McGill University library, which contains more than 750 books on Eliot and his poetry.

“That did feed me as I was creating it,” she said. “I like to educate myself when making a dance.

“It helps to ground me.”

The poems, which weave through man’s relationship with time, the universe and the divine, were written during the air-raids in Britain during the Second World War. The four poems were published together in 1944 and considered by some critics to be Eliot’s best work.

Dunn describes the dances as bringing the body back into someone who is surrounded by intellectualism.

“From the inside, there’s some really different things to perform,” Dunn said. “It is a light thing, in a way.”

Dunn founded her dance company, Trial and Eros, in Vancouver in the early 1990s before moving to Montreal. She turned to dance late in life, discovering the art form while at university.

“I was a jock when I was a teenager,” she said. “I wasn’t comfortable with the ballet with the little movements and the tutus.”

At university, she was introduced to contemporary dance and contact improv, turning to dance as a form of physical exercise when sports became too time consuming.

Her sister put Dunn in choreography leading up to her first solo, which went to the Canadian Dance Festival.

“It got really well received,” she said. “Then I thought maybe I should do this.”

Dunn performs The Four Quartets May 19,  8 p.m., at Malaspina Theatre at Vancouver Island University.

Tickets $20. Please call 250-716-3230 or visit

For more information on Dunn or Trial and Eros, please visit

Nanaimo News Bulletin

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