Saturday, December 17, 2011
Become a Better Dancer Through Somatic Imagery
David Howard was once recorded as saying ‘If you are just concerned with appendages and don’t invest in the soul, presumably located in the torso, you will never bring an audience to its feet’. Dancers are sometimes so obsessed with technical skill that the ‘art’ of performance is lost, showing only a body in space moving through an ever-changing sequence of shapes. Training that excludes artistic expression and separates technique from art has very little to do with dance as an art form. An emotion from within must be expressed in order to reach deep inside the audience and bring more than just movement to the dance.
By its very essence, Somatic Imagery is profoundly integrative. It is the language of the unconscious – sending healing messages to the body and resolving psychological conflicts rooted in early experiences. How does Somatic Imagery help dancers? Here are a few ways:
The Performance Environment
A dancer is often required to create an imaginary stage environment. Minimal design and props only suggest much of the set used in contemporary dance, ballet and physical theatre work. The performers are then required to imagine the rest and bring life to the piece through their interpretation and performance. The dancer’s inability to create an environment can make the performance look stale. In order to imagine and envision such environments, performers must practice ‘anchoring’ objects to the space. This implies that although an object is not actually there, such as a window, the performer believes it exists and will always refer to the exact same spot where this object sits on stage. This then allows the audience to believe that the object is there and can share in the performer’s imagination.
With or Without an Audience
A dancer must also ask him/herself what relationship he/she has with the audience. Is the dancer trying to involve them in the dance or are they outside spectators observing the private motions happening within a large box? Usually, a stage has three walls with an empty space at the front. If a dancer embraces this space and acknowledges the open void, perhaps even making eye contact to an audience, then they are inviting the audience to experience the dance with them.
However, some choreographers suggest that there is a ‘fourth wall’ to the performance box, putting a barrier between the audience and the dancer and letting the performance feel more closed off to the outside world. The idea of a ‘fourth wall’ is often used in more abstract work such as the work choreographed by Merce Cunningham. However a dancer must ensure that they are performing the dance as directed by the choreographer and not as an individual. They must make sure they are not the only dancer performing with a ‘fourth wall’.
A dancer must have a history when performing, not merely be a machine sending his/her limbs into space and creating shapes. A dancer is a personality, an individual with a background and should try to expand the background of the character or performer they are portraying. Imagine a storyline and historical background that prompts the reason for the movements and mood of the work. This will add richness and depth to a performance.
The moment you step on stage you should be performing to your fullest potential, but this is not always easy when there are lots of distractions backstage with very little room to warm up. The key to performance preparation is concentration. The more focused and prepared a dancer is before a performance the more intense his/her performance will be, and even the smallest joke made before going on stage can dampen the power of performance. A dancer must find his/her own ‘performance image’ creating their own performance personality that refines them as an individual. Suggestions to heighten concentration and prepare a dancer for performance are:
One minute focus: Think about nothing for one minute at regular intervals. If this is difficult try focusing on your breath.
Consciousness: Let awareness flood your body. Become aware of every part of your body and pour concentrated awareness into every cell.
Aura: Create a performance atmosphere around your body. Depending on the dance the aura may be intense or soft and soothing.
Think of your body as glowing: The faster you move, the more you glow. When you slow down, your glow becomes deep, rich and mysterious.
Body spotlight: Think of a bright light shining from the centre of your chest, illuminating the space like a powerful spotlight.
Each dancer will find that he/she prefers certain techniques to others and will stick to one particular technique to enhance their performance. and should be tried frequently to achieve success. The common thread in all imagery work is the search for solutions from within the self, whether they be in the nature of changed perceptions, new insights, or the discovery of personal resources that help a dancer or anyone use his/her full potential.
Franklin, Eric (1996) Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance, Human Kinetics: USA
Franklin, Eric (1996) Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery, Human Kinetics: USA
Blom, Lynne, Anne (1982) The Intimate Act of Choreography, University of Pittsburgh Press: USA