Dance theatre – what is it?

When I think of dance I think of people moving. When I think of theatre I think of people speaking  (and normally moving at the same time but in a naturalistic way).  The two do not of course have to be exclusive but it seems to be incredibly difficult to combine the two. Or at least to do this as effectively.

In the past year I have witnessed two of the most beautiful dance theatre pieces that I have ever seen. The first was at the Oxford Playhouse and was presented by Sean Parker & Company. Happy as Larry explored different personality types in relation to each other and all in relation to the audience. It had vocalisation, physicality and a great use of chalk throughout. It made me laugh out loud and quietly weep, it also made me want to be IN the show, just to be a part of something so beautiful. It was refreshing in it’s saturation of real beauty rather than projected beauty. The movement was fluid, enagaging and had breathed originality into older forms. the punctuation of the structure with the background and the styles of performance were outstanding as was the relationship of the dancers to each other and the audience. at last a company that danced with alive eyes. The dancers came in all shapes and sizes. WHAT A RELIEF!

The other extraordinary piece that I saw was Earthfall and their production of At Swim Two Boys.  The beautiful exploration of emotion and physical daring took me back to seeing DV8 perform at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester,way back when I was a whippersnapper and believed that I could do ANYTHING. Watching Earthfall made me believe that I could do it all again. Not so easy with bones that are nearly 25 years older.

Speaking and dancing at the same time is no ordinary skill. Dancers are trained to move in a particular way, particular to the technique that they are learning at the time. Moving for a dancer means a very different thing to an actor. For actors, moving is often functional (either because their character has to move from one place to another or because they are using their physicality to demonstrate how their character is really feeling). In short, dancers are not natural speakers and actors are not necessarily natural movers. Put any performer out of their comfort zone and they will feel as uncomfortable on stage as the next (non performing) Joe Bloggs. For dancers the issue can often be something as simple as WALKING… a NORMAL walk, or being ALIVE behind the eyes, being able to really look at a fellow performer as a human, a character also telling an emotional story. For actors it might just be the ability to know where ones weight is, to be able to shift hen required, to stay on balance… or be daring enough to fall.  Actors are often trained to react moment by moment whereas dancers more often rehearse material until it can be recalled exactly move by move. It’s not surprising that the crossover and amalgamation is tricky – just frustrating to watch when done badly and exhilarating when done well.

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2 Responses to Dance theatre – what is it?

  1. newslapstick says:

    Good blog! I often think that acting for film is very like dance theatre. If you look closely at most film acting, it is a series of “moves” to punctuate, or bring to life, the visual image – speaking is not enough. The moves are rhythmical, and are led by the character’s emotions. It’s no surprise that some of the great film actors are also great dancers – most notably Christopher (Scary!) Walken.

  2. Thanks! Of course the major difference here is the editing room. In film the ‘moves’ can be arranged to look more daring, more emotive or simply more deceptive. Even if not edited the camera angles could be changed. With live performance one is limited by two things… where the audience are watching from and ones own ability to create bizarre angles….

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