Telling a Story Without Using Words

Writing is about saying things, that much is true, the rest is up for debate.

What it means to tell a story, and indeed to have a story told to you, is different for every person. That said, there are some things we generally take for granted: plot; characters; dialogue; themes. But what does it mean to tell a story when you strip away the words?

Visual story telling is all around us; we see it in galleries and artsy cafes, in art-house movies; children’s books. But try for a moment to imagine a world without words. Would greeting cards work or would they just be postcards?  What about advertisement?

Words surround us so much now that it’s hard to think of life without them. But there is a space where Storytelling exists without words: Dance.

This week I went to see RAVENOUS in Dance Limerick. It’s a piece choreographed by Gary Clarke, and features Sarah Greene, Celina Jaffe, Niamh Kelly, Oran Leong and Bianca Paige Smith, as rave junkies seeking highs, both natural and designed, in the 1990s warehouse dance scene.

I’ve always found dance, and especially contemporary dance, to be extremely philosophical, artistic, and entertaining. RAVENOUS is more on the Dance-Theatre side than I’m used to seeing, but that’s what made it stand out.

Over the course of 45 minutes the dancers transport you back to the early 90s; to Thatcher on the waning edge of power; to council estate kids looking for kicks and finding empty lots; to music designed to blow the head off you and your neighbour’s windows.

With the dancers wearing black adidas tracksuits and looking like they’re about to get kicked out of Nancy’s, the audience is pulled into a tense relationship between storyteller and storytold. We’re given no room to breathe as the dancers fling themselves around the cavernous space of Dance Limerick; no time that is until the last ten minutes, when the plot grinds to its final conclusion in a mesmerising deconstruction of identity.

Telling a story without words is not only difficult, but often impossible to maintain as each viewer brings their own understanding to the piece. If you look to the art world, every hipster in a gallery has something to say on what the artist meant; but here, it is written in stone what Gary Clarke was harking on to. RAVENOUS deals with issues of place, of class, of identity, and power. Without words, he has managed to speak volumes for urban youth culture in the ’90s, and did it all while breaking a sweat on the uber-talented team of Step Up Dancers.

Everything in this kinaesthetic novel comes together; from light to sound, step to pause, to tell the story, and it’s a story worth hearing.

Stories have the power to move us, and in Dance, stories, themselves, move.


This article was written by Shane ‘I’m Up I’m Up’ Vaughan. If you have something to say and no where to say it, get in touch at

Telling a Story Without Using Words

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