by Kallee Lins (Charlebois Post Dance Editor)
[Introduction: Writing and talking about dance is something that intimidates a lot of people. As a performance scholar (who is going on a lot of dates these days), I am often met with blank stares at the inevitable response to inquiries about my area of study. Even worse, my conversational counterpart will attempt to hypothesize what the study of dance entails, asking something like, “PhD in dance? Is that mostly routines or do you look at historical and social context too?”
For better or worse, you’re sitting in a theatre watching a performance following the legacy of postmodernism. If the postmodern theatrical experiments of the 1960’s taught us anything, it’s that process matters. A theatrical event is no longer limited to what is visible on stage, but can also be analyzed according to how it’s been produced. At the very least, knowledge of its production will help to talk about what happens in front of the audience. Is it improvised? Scored? Is it a repertory piece? Was it developed with community involvement?
- Determine the dance’s language. Program notes will help here too. What styles did the choreographer and dancers train in? Knowing what movement vocabulary the piece is utilising will help to determine the aims of the piece as well as the boundaries in which the dancers are working. Remain open to the possibility of doing more research about how this performance fits into the larger canon of a particular dance discipline or choreographer. Can you talk about a style of dance you’re not familiar with? Absolutely. Would I, personally, be able to confidently talk about a performance composed of old school hip hop without doing any additional research about the form? Definitely not.
- Reassess your observations. Go back to your notes. With additional knowledge about the company, dance style, or composition process, do other elements of the performance stand out? Try to draw connections between how the show was produced, and what you saw on stage. If you know that a show was semi-improvised, for instance, moments of danced unison take on significantly greater meaning.
- Find and revise your narrative. What is this show about for you? Is there a particular aspect of the performance that weaves its way through your observations and descriptions? Ask yourself what the most interesting and incredible thing about this production is, and make your entire piece of writing about that. If it’s the athleticism of the dancers that stands out, bring in evocative descriptions of their strength and agility. Was it a collective creation? Then talk about the group dynamic and moments when relationships between the dancers really resonated.
Figure out what you’re really writing about, and edit accordingly. Revisit those sentence fragments you’ve already flagged as lacking in intensity or adequate descriptive power. Chances are, they aren’t relevant to your narrative of the show now that it’s developed more fully.
Part I of the series
Part II of the series