Friday, September 25, 2015

Some Thoughts on Performing

Apologies for the radio silence.  It was rather busy during the show's run, but we're done now so I have more time to take ballet and blog about it again!  I feel like I learned so much from doing this show.  I started performing (in Other Movement) over a year ago, and it is amazing how much I've grown since then.  One of course always strives to be technically better, but this time around I feel like I've improved as a performer.

This show and my character were very abstract and had a fair amount of improvisational movement, which was a bit of a challenge.  One of the notes we got from the director's friend who is a professional dancer was to explore what this abstract character meant to us, because some of the movements that felt random would make sense if we did that character work.

Coincidentally, the Royal Ballet did a live stream of a Romeo and Juliet rehearsal around the same time.  The ballet master gave an interesting note to the person dancing Mercutio for his death scene.  In that scene, Mercutio points his finger at two different people.  The ballet master said that the two finger pointing actions had to feel different, that they were motivated by two different things.  That really made an impression on me, because it was such a small moment, but it was so specific.

It reminded me of something I had read on a ballet forum.  I am going to copy and paste it here (credit Drew on Ballet Alert!).  "The choreographer Antony Tudor tells a story about creating the lead role of Shadowplay on Anthony Dowell.  He instructed Dowell to turn upstage and look up towards a tree (not literally there of course in the studio!)--he then asked Dowell what kind of tree it was. Dowell, understandably, had no idea and was evidently waiting for Tudor to tell him. But Tudor stopped the rehearsal because, as he remarked, if Dowell didn't know what kind of tree it was, there was no point in continuing ... The next day on the way into the studio Tudor saw a gorgeous mango in a market and bought it. When the same moment in rehearsal came and he told Dowell to turn around and look up at the tree, then had Dowell put his hands behind his back and handed him the mango. Dowell then looked at the fruit quite amazed and delighted and asked Tudor what it was--Tudor told him (a mango) and then when they did the 'tree' moment and Tudor asked him about the tree, Dowell volunteered "it's a mango tree"-- Tudor felt that in this way, at last the tree was "real" to Dowell."

I've always been a very character driven performer, but this made me realize that I had been approaching the characterization of my movement in a rather broad and general way.  It was almost more of a stylization.  Like, my character has X and Y traits, so my movements will have X and Y traits.  My approach to the show shifted with this realization.  I told myself to "think in my body" as my character, to have each movement to be motivated in a very immediate and specific fashion by who my character was and the narrative.

I also started connecting the movements to my own life and experiences more. For example, there was a moment in our choreography where all of us had to draw together in a tight huddle.  Earlier during rehearsals, one of our cast members received some really bad news, and we all circled around her to comfort her.  I realized that the moments were very relatable, and it wasn't just about doing the motion. As the show developed, there were more and more of these moments that made the characters, narrative and emotional content more "real" and concrete, and the show was much richer and better for it.

I don't know if and when I'll be able to perform in such a production again.  I am slowly shifting away from Other Movement to ballet and other movement things in which I probably won't have a lot of the same opportunities.  But all I can do is follow my interest.  I didn't get into Other Movement thinking I would perform (in a real theater festival moreover!).  I was fortunate to have supportive people give me opportunities along the way.  This may or may not happen again in the future, but I am content with what I have achieved for now.

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