In this magazine, we talk a lot about teaching kids to be invested in dance, to give their all onstage, and to understand that intent and emotion can take a captivating performance beyond technique, no matter how impressive.
Well, scrap the technique. On Facebook, someone posted a video of a fifth-grade talent show entry (“Porter Talent Show 2014”), eight boys performing a synchronized-swimming/ballet spoof set to Johann Strauss’ famous Blue Danube Waltz. At press time, the video had been viewed more than 177,000 times.
As far as I can tell, these boys were yanked off the baseball field and away from their iPhones; they appear to have had little (or no) dance training. What they do appear to have, however, are an understanding of physical comedy, deadpan delivery, and a spot-on grasp of what they’re sending up.
Someone has rehearsed these kids well. Arms snap overhead, palms squeeze together, and the boys “dive” with an impressive amount of ballon, considering that they do this from a standstill. Sure, the unison movement (piqué walks) and canons (dives and port de bras) are ragged, but these boys manage to direct their gaze over their hands like the ballet dancers they aren’t, and approach their steps with impressive attack and fluidity.
And that’s the point. The boys were able to perform well not because they’ve had years of dance training (I assume), but because they got it. If they hadn’t performed with intent and commitment (not to mention expressions that ranged from intentionally blank to starry-eyed to open-mouthed delirium), this skit would have been painful to watch instead of laugh-out-loud funny.
If you’re hoping for more from your students when it comes to performance, I suggest you read several stories in this issue: “In This Moment”, “Team Unity”, and “Mind Games”. And then watch “Porter Talent Show 2014” to see how it’s done. —Cheryl A. Ossola
The dancer stepped onto the stage, confident and poised. Years of classical ballet training hung on his lithe frame. Anticipation—for the wondrous feats, the turns and leaps that were sure to come—caught in the audience’s collective throat.
Then one woman laughed. She was sitting a mere half-dozen rows from the stage, and she laughed. I felt the cold horror of embarrassment—“Oh no no! Does the dancer hear?” Then others joined in. “What am I missing?” My mind searched frantically. And then, there it was.
The dancer was missing his pants. And I was missing the joke.
Perhaps I could be forgiven—after all, the USA International Ballet Competition is a serious affair, all custom-made tutus and Petipa variations and near-legendary judges bearing company contracts. After 100 Cavaliers and 99 Auroras, who would have imagined that one of the top Korean dancers would dare a comedy-themed contemporary solo? I certainly didn’t, or else I would have been quicker on the uptake when the “Forgot Something” soloist stepped out in top hat, tails, and hot pink “underwear.”
Despite the dancer’s mastery of movement and the charming way he presented his “choreographed embarrassment,” I remained uneasy. I create comic competition numbers myself, and my students and I realize the risk. Even with a clear concept, well-rehearsed timing, and dancers willing to play the fool, you can still end up with a panel of 20-something judges who don’t understand who the Keystone Kops are or why the dancers keep falling down. We’ve been scored a 98 and a 73 on the same number—at the same competition.
Comedy is tough, I tell my students. We have to display technique while taking a figurative pie in the face. We can’t break character. We have to trust one another. Even if we do all that, and do it well, comedy is precarious. One man’s Adam Sandler movie is another man’s headache.
That’s why I worried for Jeong Hansol—until he won the senior-division gold medal. And my students’ “almost bronze”? It took overall at nationals. Thank goodness the judges—and those at the IBC—could appreciate the artistry of a well-aimed pie in the kisser. —Karen White
DSL editor in chief Cheryl A. Ossola is a former Dance Magazine associate editor and a freelance writer for San Francisco Ballet. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.
DSL associate editor Karen White, a former newspaper reporter and freelance writer, has taught dance in private studios and choreographed musicals since age 17 and has no plans to stop.