I love dance neophytes. Accompanying one of those newbies to a performance—whether it’s their first exposure to dance in any form, to a particular kind of dance, or to a specific work—has the added perk, beyond the performance’s offerings, of a delicious mingling of pleasures.
Last December, when I took a friend to San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, I got to share in this 20-something’s delight as she discovered the magic of a ballet she had never seen as a child. She swooned over costumes embellished with beading and silken textures and glorious colors, gasped when the Russian trio burst from their Fabergé-like eggs, exhaled soft “ooh”s at the elegant perfection of the grand pas de deux. Sitting next to her, in effect seeing the stage through her eyes, I experienced this Nutcracker, which I’ve seen too many times to count, with a renewed feeling of joy. And pride, a sense of ownership.
Isn’t it odd how we can feel possessive about something as impermanent and intangible as a dance performance? When I expose someone to something that’s new to them, I see their experience of dance art as something real and permanent. When dance moves us, for whatever reason—beauty, provocation, a shift in perspective—it becomes part of us, something we internalize and integrate into who we are. Maybe we revisit a performance mentally because it challenges our thinking, or maybe we simply let it resonate quietly within us, an emotional touchstone. Either way, the art lives, and we have become something we were not. The choreographer and the dancers have sent us a message, and we have interpreted it as we will.
Dance, all spectacle aside, is a form of communication. All art is—dance, literature, music, fine art. Our need to communicate on a deep level through art is, to me, the most elemental definition of being human. Art shakes us up. It creates wonder, transcends the rote of the everyday.
In that darkened theater, those vital messages were flying faster than IMs, from the dancers to my friend, from my friend to the dancers, and from her to me. How lucky I am to be able to give that experience to others and in return live it anew. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief
Power of One
Last month editor in chief Cheryl Ossola wrote about Nederlands Dans Theater; I saw the same performance. But rather than bringing to mind Calvino’s literary manifesto, it got me thinking about individualism and discipline.
I saw onstage a retinue of dancers, each of whom was intensely and tangibly distinct. There was no prescribed “style” of dancer. The dancing was as individual as it could be. One dancer had a fierce dramatic presence. Her slow creep across the stage could have stopped traffic. Another moved so smoothly into and out of the floor that he might have been cutting through the surface of a pond.
Yet when any group danced in unison, the impact was astonishing. A phalanx of men moved across the stage with a power that pinned me against my seat.
Dancers have to learn to control their bodies and constrain their egos to convey the kinds of choreographic ideas only unison movement can communicate. Also, dancing as a group is immensely satisfying, in the same way that playing or singing in a musical ensemble is.
Yet cultivating an individual, unique relationship with dance is what makes a dancer an artist. Certainly teach your kids to watch spacing, keep their legs at uniform levels, match the group’s dynamic quality. But also teach them to know when they’re allowed to bust out. Help them find the personal spark that will make them glow inside and shine onstage.
Many years ago I saw a ballet company whose dancers were so interested in expressing their individual fabulousness that they were almost incapable of touching their noses in unison. A talented ballet master got hold of them; now what you see onstage is a unified ensemble that brings to the stage the soaring melody of group movement—but also individuals whose gifts ring clearly and distinctively. —Lisa Okuhn, Associate Editor