Seven Questions for Pico Iyer: Writing … and Dancing … Against the Curve


This summer, we are greatly excited to have an amazing travel writer and philosopher at the Chicago conference. While Pico Iyer may not seem a typical choice for the dance field, over the next seven days, we will unveil a little about his thought process, and why he is exceptionally relevant to us as we move toward the next decade. Members of the Dance/USA Board formulated seven questions for Iyer to ruminate on. His responses over the next week are truly thought-provoking and inspiring. We hope you will join us in Chicago to continue this conversation.

In addition, we have asked several members of Dance/USA and the Board to provide their personal take on our four program envelopes at the conference: Management, Artistry, Technology and Audience Engagement. In coming weeks these articles will help get you ready for our conference.

Q. How do you see the current trend to continually market new work and constantly send out information instantaneously with the opposing desire to live a more balanced life? If one does not follow the current need to be “of the moment,” do you run the risk of living a balanced life but one without work?

A: I think one has to step outside the moment in order to understand it. When one’s caught inside a traffic jam and horns are blasting, people are shouting, nothing is moving, the only way to see the larger picture is to get out of the car, step up onto a hill nearby and see what’s going on and where one needs and wishes to go. Even as the world has so wonderfully opened up to us in terms of space, we have often imprisoned ourselves within an ever tinier sense of time, so that we’re completely hostage to the moment, and the tyranny of Right Now.

I, though a journalist, try to follow the news first-hand and not to take in any media at all; I follow what’s going on in the world not by watching CNN or reading my local paper, but by reading Shakespeare or listening to Handel or saving up my time and money so I can visit Beirut, North Korea, Haiti, Yemen, Cambodia in person and see them at a human level, in some way deeper and more complex than through the labels and boxes of the headlines.

And in terms of creative work, I think we can offer the most by sitting—or dancing—away from the moment. I used to try to write ahead of the curve, about what was coming next month; now I try to write against the curve, about what we’re forgetting as we accelerate toward tomorrow. And dancers, I think, can do this even more gracefully and fruitfully. Most of us attend dance performances in order to step outside the moment and the world and to enter some timeless, ancient place that answers to some place inside ourselves.

Born in Oxford, England, to parents from India, Pico Iyer was educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard, while officially growing up in Southern California. He is the author of seven works of non-fiction, including Video Night in Kathmandu (cited on many lists of the best travel books ever), The Lady and the Monk (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in the category of Current Interest) and The Global Soul (subject of websites and theatrical productions around the world). He has also written the novels Cuba and the Night and Abandon. For a quarter of a century, he has been an essayist for Time magazine, while also writing constantly on literature for The New York Review of Books, on globalism for Harper’s, and on many other topics for venues from The New York Times to National Geographic. His most recent book, The Open Road, describing more than 30 years of talking and traveling with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, came out in a dozen countries, and was a best-seller across the U.S. He has been based for the past 20 years near Nara, in rural Japan, though he is still often to be found making stops everywhere from North Korea to Ethiopia, and from Bolivia to Easter Island.
Photo: Pico Iyer at the Dalai Lama's temple in Dharamsala

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