The performing arts aim to express the performer’s emotions or ideas by the use of bodies, voices or inanimate objects. A dancer uses their body as an instrument to tell a story to an audience, but sometimes dancers get trapped in a tunnel vision, focusing more on technical perfection rather than the characterization aspect of dancing. Let’s take a look at the importance of performance.
The physical skills a dancer possesses are what allow her to achieve a good performance. The process of fine tuning the body to achieve this skill involves countless hours of practice. In a study on over 60 physical activities, conducted by Dr. James A. Nicholas in the Journal of Sports Medicine, ballet was found to be ranked number one as the most physically and mentally demanding. The physical aspects of ballet are unnatural to our body. Turnout of the hips and dancing en pointe exerts a lot of strain on the body. In order to match these physical demands ballet dancers train tirelessly to be able to extend the capabilities of their body. In this endeavour to create athletic excellence and physical perfection, dancers can sometimes forget the importance of quality of movement.
Ballet has three key factors: self expression, aesthetic pleasure and entertainment.
The emotion, idea or story that a choreographer wants delivered on stage is the result that must ultimately be achieved by the dancer. The interpretation of the piece can not be delivered with just a technically sound performance. It must also involve purpose and artistry, rooted in each dancer’s experiences. Only then can the expression and art be intelligibly received by the audience.
Ballet is also firmly rooted in aesthetic pleasure. Audiences attend ballets to enjoy the beauty and grace of art through movement. They do not need to see the dancers physical struggles to achieve that beauty and grace on stage. Difficult routines and steps are mastered in class and executed on stage with emotion and artistry whilst not allowing the strain to surface.
The element of entertainment is the foundation of performing arts. The purpose of classical ballets especially is the performance of a story as a whole. It is not just about a single athletic step. It is an entire production of elaborate costumes, props and sets, as well as makeup and storyline. Collectively these aspects take the audience to a world of fantasy and enjoyment. All of this is bound together and enhanced by the dancer’s ability to perform and convey a story or emotion.
As seen, the necessity of performance quality is as important, and perhaps arguably more so, than technical perfection.
Performing in assessments
A dancer is called to be an entertainer even off-stage. Exams are used to test the level of a dancer according to the benchmark set by dance boards and teachers all over the world.
Technique and capabilities in executing steps is not the only thing a dancer is assessed on when taking a ballet exam. In the upcoming ISTD exams under the category of performance quality, a dancer is assessed on his/her ability to execute the steps and variations with a sense of performance which incorporates a suitable awareness of style and expression.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as the examinations and assessments approach:
Know your syllabus
Make sure you are thorough with your grade syllabus. Once you know the set exercises and variation you can start to master them physically with ease. If you are taking exams in more than one grade, write down the syllabus of each grade and compare them to make the differences clear. This will help you avoid jumbling up set exercises and steps.
Be technically sound
Once you are sure about the syllabus content, start to work towards mastering it. Practise continuously so that it becomes second nature and you are confident in executing the steps and exercises. From there you can build on that by applying new corrections, more expressions, as well as working on better musicality.
Attend consistently and consciously
Guided practice is vital for a dancer’s training and preparation. Be regular to class. Gradual build up in practice is always the most effective and beneficial for a dancer. Once you’re there in class, be fully present and apply yourself so that you can get the most out of each session.
Consistency in training helps to develop your sense of coordination, control and balance better. It also helps increase your stamina and confidence in the movements.
Pay close attention to the corrections you receive from your teachers and make sure to work on them by practising so that you get better each time. Give heed to the corrections given to other students as well! You can never stop learning.
Watch different dancers and their style of performing. Every dancer has their own unique artistry. Observing them combine both technique and performance quality will inspire you and help you get a better idea on how to do the same.