Elise’s article: From Rehearsal to Performance Making the Shift

Photography by Fiona Cullen

Shifting all your hard work in the studio into the realm of performance can be quite a daunting task. Just like switching on the ignition and shifting up a gear, performances require an extra level of focus, commitment and stamina. In fact, performing can
 be one of the most grueling parts of being a dancer, but also one of the most 
rewarding.

The Rehearsal Process

Learning dance work for performance can be very different to taking a technique
 class or learning a sequence of movement. There are many things to consider
 depending on the performance circumstances and stylistic or thematic ideas behind
the work. 
When learning repertoire or set choreography a dancer will inevitably feel the
 importance of remaining true to the original material, not only in the accuracy of
the movement, but also in the movement quality. If you are learning choreography
 that was created for another person or group it is also important to find ways
to make that movement ‘sit well’ or feel natural on your body. Finding ways to 
make that movement your own may allow you to deviate slightly from the original 
material whilst still maintaining the original quality and integrity of the piece.
 Being comfortable and feeling ownership of the movement you are performing is 
very important when dancing in front of an audience. The audience can be very 
perceptive and any feelings of uneasiness or awkwardness can be conveyed through
body language and become obvious to the audience, so rehearsal is the best time to
focus on finding your own unique pathway into the work. 
If you are lucky enough to work with a choreographer to create a performance
 piece, the rehearsal or creation process will be a first hand opportunity to embody
 the intention and ideas of the choreographer. It is also a great time to experiment
and try out different movement approaches and interpretations. The choreographer
 may respond to these variations by incorporating them into the piece or they may
 even spark new ideas and directions in the choreography. Finding out exactly what 
the choreographers’ ideas are for the piece may at first involve talking with them in-
depth about the look, feel, images, dynamics and themes that they envisage for the
 work. In some cases you may even need to conduct some of your own research to
 find out more about a particular theme or concept.

The Lead Up

Once a piece of choreography has been learned or shaped, a preparatory period will
 usually take place to ensure that the dancer becomes well rehearsed and equipped
 with all the necessary tools to reach their performance peak by the time they arrive 
on stage. Having a rehearsal plan or rough timeline will help you make the best
 use of your available rehearsal time so that you don’t feel rushed towards the end.
It is equally important however not to reach your ‘peak’ too early. Jotting down
some aspects of your performance that you would like to have accomplished by 
a particular date is great way of keeping track of your rehearsal process. Breaking
 your piece down into separate components can also prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by the overall complexity of a performance piece. 
At the beginning of each rehearsal it is good to remind yourself of any notes or
 requests from the choreographer, teacher or rehearsal director from the previous
 rehearsal. This will keep those important corrections fresh in your mind as you work
 through the piece.
As a general rule, the very first time you run your piece at the
 beginning of each rehearsal is an indication of how you would look in performance
 (if you were to enter the stage at that point in time). This is a good way of tracking
 your improvement. In other words, if you start with a ‘cold run’ each rehearsal
 and then spend the rest of the time ironing out the problem areas you will begin 
to notice improvements each time and the success of these runs will also indicate
your readiness for performance. Things like stamina, movement accuracy and
 strength will improve significantly during this time. If you spend time outside of
rehearsals, either visualising or thinking reflectively about your performance and
 the choreography you may also begin to notice greater shifts in your improvement
 throughout the preparation period. Some dancers find it helpful to keep a reflective 
diary or journal to help them focus on particular ideas or skills and analyse their own
strengths and weaknesses.

As the preparation period progresses it is a good idea to start to think about your performance quality.
 If you are being asked to convey a meaning, or a sense of character or narrative in 
your performance you need to build this into your rehearsal process. It will simply
 be too late if you leave it until the day of the performance. Now is the time to
be exploring how your character would perform a particular task or movement,
 expose a raw emotion or gesture meaningfully to the audience. You may also like
 to experiment with creating specific images or metal pictures to recall whilst you
 are performing in order to help you access the right emotion or dramatic intention.
 Inviting some peers, family or friends to your final rehearsals is also a great way to
get some feedback and help you transition into a performance mode prior to getting 
on stage. Once you know the movement inside out you can then free up your mind
 and start to concentrate on things like focus, eye-line, pace, pause, punctuation
 and projection. By dedicating time in rehearsal to these finer details, you may give
 yourself the performance edge that you are looking for.

The Performance

When the big day finally approaches, if you have taken active steps towards your
 own personal learning and growth as a performer throughout the rehearsal stages, 
you will arrive backstage feeling well prepared and confident. Nerves may still
 play their part, but you can be reassured that you have backed yourself up with a
thorough knowledge of all aspects of your performance. The only thing left to do
 now is to prepare your body, breath deeply, focus your mind and get ready to enjoy
the wonderful experience of performing for an audience.

Written by Elise May

This article was written for Dancehub digital dance magazine. To visit Dancehub Australia, click here

Elise’s article: Duets & Partnering In Contemporary Dance

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:

Trust

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.

Personal Space

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

Review: Soloists Keep It Short and Sweet

The Australian
Review by Shaaron Boughen
Expressions Dance Company Solo Festival of Dance 2011
9 May 2011

“…and the surprise from EDC ranks is Samantha Mitchell’s interpretation of Elise May’s The Woman With Two Smiles. Mitchell’s performance blossomed with May’s choreographic dexterity in a humorous, reflective peek at female behaviour and attitude. May’s own performance in Vanessa Mafe’s Clipped was mature and sophisticated, showing the breadth of skills that this young artist has developed.”  Shaaron Boughen

Photography by Fiona Cullen

Review: Emotional journey is Natalie Weir’s forte, even if relentless in its intensity

EDC 'Where the Heart Is' by Natalie Weir Elise May & Riannon McLean

The Australian
Review by Shaaron Boughen
Expressions Dance Company ‘Where The Heart Is’ 2010
31 May 2010

“But it is in Elise May’s performance as the grandmother that we see Weir’s coupling of dramatic power and focus on investigation into human relationships at its most poignant. May traverses the cliche of the young dancer acting the old woman through the maturity and subtlety of her performance. Her dancing is beautiful and intelligent and encapsulates Weir’s intentions perfectly.”  Shaaron Boughen