It can be an interesting learning curve when dancers who are used to dancing in group situations or as soloists suddenly get thrown in the deep end with partner work. Working with a choreographer to create a duet can be quite daunting at first, but with an understanding of the foundations, partnering can be safe, exciting and rewarding, especially when performing for an audience. Known in classical ballet as a ‘Pas de Deux’ or “step of two” duets involve two dancers. They are most commonly danced by a male and female dancer, but are also frequently performed by two dancers of the same gender. Duets may contain supporting, weight baring, lifting or unison movements, and usually focus on the connections, spaces and relationships between two bodies in space. In the true sense of the word, a duet occurs when each dancer relies on the other to create a union of movement. If one dancer were to remove themself from the partnership, the duet would cease to exist.
Here are a few ideas to take with you into the studio when embarking on any new dance partnership:
It is important that each partnership begins with developing a relationship of trust. In order to feel comfortable and dance safely with a partner, first you need to be able to rely on one another. A simple exercise to encourage trust is for one person to stand with their eyes closed and gently fall away from their centre of gravity. The second dancer needs to be ready to catch their weight and bring them safely back to standing with their weight evenly on two feet.
Starting slow, and gradually trying more daring movements is always safer than lurching straight into difficult moves and lifts without first developing a foundation of trust. Make sure your trust is reciprocated. If one dancer has more experience either ‘lifting’ or ‘being lifted,’ make sure you swap, and give each person a chance to develop that trust. In contemporary dance, dancers work towards an even keel partnership. It takes time so remember to be patient.
Duet work can sometimes get ‘up-close-and-personal!’ Be prepared to share your personal space with another dancer. Don’t be afraid to touch your partner, in fact the more tactile and deliberate you are when you are touching or making physical connections with your partner the better. Your partner will be better able to respond to your weight and grip accordingly. Dancing is non-verbal, so you will be communicating with your partner using your body. So touch, weight, direction, momentum and even breath are all part of the kinesthetic language that you will use to communicate to one another. Some duets are more intimate than others. It often depends on the choreographer’s intention.
Counter-balance V’s Lifting
When we think about duets or ‘pas de deux’ in classical ballet we often admire the strength of the male dancer, lifting the ballerina around the stage. In a traditional sense, the male dancer was used as choreographic device to make it appear as though the female dancer was floating effortlessly through space. The focus was nearly always on the female, the male dancer only stepping in to lift, support or complement the line of the female dancer. In more contemporary genres the focus is often shared evenly between the two dancers. Often the illusion of ‘lifting’ can be created using principles of counter-balance without the use of any lifting requiring brute force strength. Contemporary dance partner work often utilises movement that is supportive and requires each partner to give equal weight to a particular movement, either leaning towards or away from an imaginary centre-line between the two bodies. This concept is known as counter-balance. Through play and experimentation two dancers can create many different movements that utilise the transference of each other’s weight to create interesting shapes and movement ideas.
Repetition & Commitment
Don’t be surprised if a duet takes a lot longer to create, rehearse and perfect for performance. Movement sequences can be made up of many small detailed movements, handgrips or subtle shifts of weight that require lots of repetition in order to perform with ease when the time arises. An under rehearsed duet is a recipe for an unpredictable and risky performance, or worse – injury. When performing difficult moves, you need to confidently attack and commit to them. There is nothing worse and more dangerous than pulling out of a movement half way through. The best way to prepare for these situations is to have adequate rehearsal. Once the duet is created, rehearse it many times without stopping so that you understand which areas of the duet need attention. Remember you are responsible for your own safety and the safety of your partner. Only perform movements with which you feel comfortable. And never be too shy or afraid to ask your partner to run through any problem areas, you need to work together to get things right.
Some things to remember:
- Every duet is unique to the two dancers who perform it. It is the sum of two parts – one can’t exist without the other
- Spend time establishing a connection, communication and trust with your partner and be prepared to receive another dancer into your personal space
- Make sure your duet is well rehearsed so that you can be confident, calm and consistent in your performance
When two dancers find a connection, rhythm and dynamic energy in performance it can be exciting and magical to watch. The foundations of duet and partner work can be equally as exciting to learn and they can be very challenging and rewarding to perform.
Written by Elise May
Here is a video excerpt of EDC dancers Elise May and Jack Ziesing rehearsing for EDC’s Launch Pad 2012 season, a duet entitled “Crush” choreographed by Lisa Wilson www.lisawilson.com.au
“Crush explores the idea of panic and it’s contrasting manifestations of restraint and stillness. With a mix of powerful images in motion and intimate human connections, these conflicting emotional states will be repeatedly built and dismantled by the performers, reflecting our inner drives, needs and urges”.
This article was written for Dancehub digital dance magazine. To visit Dancehub Australia, click here