Taking your dance performance from studio to stage begins in the rehearsal studio; work takes place in rehearsal to ensure care and consideration is evident in the details of your technique, but this should also apply to your performance and artistic development. To take your rehearsal self to stage, you should marry your rehearsal self to your stage self. This takes small, yet highly significant, changes to how you project your dancing from within.
Usually when you perform there are imperative characterisations of the role or piece being performed. These artistic and performance choices require the same amount of dedication and attention to detail as all your technique enhancement and understanding of the choreography. By marrying together the technical aspects of your performance to your stage craft and artistry, you will be able to better convey and emote the performance which should reach right through to and beyond the back balcony of the theatre.
Typically dancers spend weeks, if not months, rehearsing for a performance, but before you can transfer your performance to stage, you have master the techniques that come with performing to an audience. Performing to an audience, no matter the size, is a vastly different experience from performing to your teacher, rehearsal director or even your own reflection in the studio mirror.
Your rehearsals usually begin with learning, developing and honing the choreography. Once you have reached a stage where the steps almost feel as though they’re ‘second nature’ to you instinctively, you’re then in a good place, foundation wise, from which to build your performance upon. Once you feel you have all the choreography and nuances in an organic place, allow yourself to develop your depth of character and work on the range from which you wish to emote from.
From a personal perspective and my own studio rehearsal to stage performance experience, I have learnt to think about and apply a few key things to enhance my stage performance.
It goes without saying that each piece that you will be asked to perform is so very different, and this is exactly why a “one size fits all” approach to emoting through your performance will never work. Each piece that is presented to you deserves your time and artistic investment. Beyond the choreographed steps you should also consider your storyline, the levels, or depths, of the music, the costuming, your hair, make-up, shoes and anything that will contribute to the overall performance.
Sometimes you may not be choreographed on you as a dancer, and instead may be asked to learn pieces from online, or DVDs, of previous performances. These can be a really valuable learning tool for your as a dancer and a performer. If it is a classic repertoire piece there may be a myriad of versions to watch and grow from. You may naturally gravitate toward a particular dancer for certain performance or artistic qualities. Continue to watch this dancer, see if you can find other videos of their performances. Review (as many times as necessary) and analyse exactly what it is that you like about this particular dancer’s performance qualities and try to emulate this through your own artistic development. Some of the cues to pick up on may lie in the dancer’s facial interpretation of the music or choreography, how they move through their port de bras and their musical accents or dynamics used. Learning by watching others is a fantastic tool which dancers in this virtual day and age have huge access too - please, please use this brilliant development platform.
As a dancer please don’t ever be too shy or scared in front of your teachers, rehearsal directors or bosses to really push beyond your usual boundaries - this is exactly why we have rehearsals, and don’t want you to “play it safe". Take your time in the studio to explore different avenues of your choreography, musical interpretation and character development. By thinking about what needs to be portrayed, you can find a balance between your choreographed movement and personal expression.
Dancers, depending on what genre or show you are performing, will be required to also be a brilliant actor/actress. From a commercial dance perspective, you may be required to convey many stories through various routines as part of one performance showcase. A contemporary dancer may have to show narrative through movement, then at other times rely just on their movement and body sequences to speak when there isn’t a narrative. Generally in musical theatre the storyline will be a little more streamlined, however depending on the show, you again may have to show a great range of not only dance, but acting ability too.
With a major ballet company, generally the speaking, the great classical ballets are performed and they hold true to their original storyline. These ballets, and their storylines, are deeply entrenched in all budding ballerinas training. However, something to consider when joining a ballet company in this day and age, is that they now produce an array of different genres of shows to appeal to changing audiences. Major ballet companies have made quite a shift to modern (or contemporary) dance repertoire - so if you wish to enter this world, be prepared to know the classics and then how to adapt to being a versatile contemporary dancer also.
After your hours of perfecting technique, learning choreography and exploring a vast range of emotive expression, you will then to hold onto these aspects and work on making your performance large enough to translate on stage. Unlike close camera work, or studio performance, when you take your performance to stage you need to enlarge your movements, ensure lines are long and energy levels reach the very back rows of the theatres. You need to encapsulate all of this without throwing the technical aspects of your performance away. Your teacher, coach or director can assist you with finding this balance by watching you develop throughout each rehearsal. Something to remember, is that the audience, from any seat in the theatre, will best pick up strong, confidently executed movements.
Something that does not read at all well is when a dancers forces emotion through falsifying facial expressions throughout their performance. In some shows, performances and pieces a cheesy, almost forced, smile may be appropriate, typically for comical effect. However, generally you always want to express the piece that you a performing in an authentic manner, to be sure that you emulate either the role, the piece or the music that you are performing. Allow the audience to come on the same performance journey with you by ensuring your emotional range comes from a honest and real place.
When you are performing, you must think about your performance as a gift that you are presenting to your audience. You want each and every person in the theatre or studio to receive the gift…right through to the very back rows. You are not only giving the gift of your performance to the audience, you want them to feel that they are a part of your performance, and to go home feeling that they were brought into your world during the performance.
Something I was once told that has never left me as a dancer, was that no matter what show you are performing or how many you have already performed it that day, week, month or year…..each and every show you do may very well be someone’s first ever theatre experience…so make it a special one, both for you and them.