Writers & Readers

A Handbook for Ecstatic Survival

David Earle’s new book By James Reid, Susan Marie Turner
  • Photo courtesy of Dancetheatre David Earle
2017 House of ShAKE, Toronto, Ontario
100 pages, hardcover, numerous photographs
Editing, book design: Michael English
Editing and advising: Mylene English, Fredericka Potvin



A Handbook for Ecstatic Survival is an unusual and utterly engaging book. It is a selection and compilation of David Earle’s notebooks from the beginnings of his long and illustrious journey in dance. I kept picking it up, putting it down and picking it up to delve in again. When I’d made my way to the end through the abundant photographs, handwritten notes and deeply moving memories, it was clear that the book is a window to the soul of an extraordinary artist.

In it, Earle extends his thoughts, photographs and memories with quotations from Anna Akhmatova, Pablo Neruda, Constantine Cavafy, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gary Snyder, Mark Rothko and Auguste Rodin. The quotations are sweet and sharp, clarifying the past and present and pointing the reader to the future of ecstatic survival.
Earle did not want to write an autobiography. The book is a sampling of his collected and current images and insights on several topics that pertain to the significance and serious task of being a dancer.
Martha Graham worked with images, and Earle has done that: he shows us that images and language add a dimension to the purely physical movement that allows you to be the centre of a much larger universe extending in all directions; images take you beyond the purely physical.
At the book launch in Guelph, Ontario, Earle told us how, as a child at Brae farm – his father’s mother’s farm near Peterborough – he would dance for his grandmother and every time he’d ask her “Was I good?” and she would say, with love and admiration, “You were very good.”
Such stories, told in person and pictures of the dancer child in the notebook, are not in this book. But this collection is, hopefully, the first of many to come according to Michael Caplan of ShAKE, who has published the book, along with a David Earle blog, website and so on, so the legacy endures.
There’s a photo of Earle on page twenty-seven sitting on a wrought iron and wood bench under an ancient tree, in a forest, absorbed in writing in a notebook. Looking at it you can feel the creative process infused by nature and his wonder and curiosity. On page twenty-eight and twenty-nine, photos of his feet convey the delight and mischievous sense of living each moment. 
In some places Earle speaks directly to the dancer explaining his term “psychic density” that describes the quality that draws his eye watching dancers (p.69). The dancer’s movement carries a story and a connection to destiny.
There are many awe-inspiring discoveries, surprises and openings to enjoy in this book. That’s what makes you set it down – to fully take them in. It’s an intimate journey with Earle that speaks of the privilege of working very hard at a significant task.
He emphasizes to those wanting to live fully and openly that no generalizations or advice are possible. This is a handbook of personal discovery offered to the hungry and curious. A rare and beautiful gift from a rare and beautiful artist.
Learn more about the book >> dtde.ca/handbook
Read more from James Reid >> jamesedwardreid.ca

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