Dance & Theatre – It takes two to tango…

Posted on November 1st, by Elise May in Dance Education, Media. No Comments

Dance & Theatre – It takes two to tango… Elise May writes about the contemporary dance genre known as ‘Dance Theatre’, which she describes as a kind of liaison between dance movement and theatrical ideas. She also shares her insight about the challenges of playing the fiery, passionate character of Carmen in Expressions Dance Company’s Carmen Sweet.

go to site ‘Dance’ and ‘Theatre’. We can identify with these two terms separately, but what does it mean when we put the two words together? Historically, the first signs of the two words used together emerged with the German term “Tanztheater” translated as ‘Dance Theatre’ in the 1920s. As modern dance was breaking away from its ballet tradition and as drama too was departing from its naturalist history, it seemed unavoidable that these two forms might eventually crossover and begin to share some of the same territory. At the same time, dance seemed to be moving towards naturalism with the use of everyday movement and gesture, whilst drama was looking for ways to become more abstract and more physical. Inevitably a hybrid form emerged when both dance and drama adopted elements of the other, breaking down the barriers and allowing for a new form to emerge. (2)

ethereum testnet ropsten The beginnings of dance theatre emerged in the work of a series of dance artists including Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss and later, Pina Bausch. Laban was the first to make a clear distinction between what he called ‘movement choir’ and dance theatre. Rather than a dance form in which anyone could participate, he insisted that ‘dance theatre’ was and art from presented by professionally trained dancers. His student Mary Wigman called her dance art “dance absolute” and choreographed many works revealing a central issue: man and his fate. Kurt Jooss, another of Laban’s students wrote an article called “The Language of the Dance Theatre.” In this article he wrote:

is binary options spread betting “A work of Art in order to have meaning needs a concrete subject… The choreographer conceives the theme of the dance work and he translates and structures it into harmoniously composed rhythmic movement, into dance.” Pina Bausch, a choreographer well known for prolific dance theatre work in the twentieth century, was influenced by this lineage of artists as well as American Modern Dance and German Expressionist Dance (Ausdrunkstanz). She became the director of her company ‘Tanztheater Wuppertal’ in 1973. Her unique dance theatre was based on realism. (2)

binary options daily david “Pina Bausch’s dance theatre is largely autobiographical; its strength is in the intensity of the experience in its expression… Bausch intrudes uncompromisingly into the private sphere and observes the seemingly unimportant with clinical eyes. She brings out people’s motivations.” What emerged in Bausch’s work has been referred to as a ‘theatre of images’, This form of theatre is not so much concerned with telling stories, but rather with conveying feelings using visual, vocal and physically embodied images. (2)

We cannot discuss the development of dance theatre without in turn mentioning the work of Loyd Newson and his company ‘DV8 Physical Theatre Company’. ‘Physical Theatre’ is another term, which possibly only came to public attention around 1986 when DV8 was founded, but which has since been used by a younger breed of theatre and dance artists to capture a sense of the ‘exciting’, ‘risky’ and ‘cutting edge’ when promoting their work to possible new audiences. The term ‘physical theatre’ has recently been synonymously interchanged with ‘dance theatre’, which has blurred our understandings of the subtle differences. Loyd Newson was a practising psychologist before he became a dancer and his works essentially speak of human emotions and feelings.(1) He has spoken of his work as: ‘breaking down the barriers between dance, theatre and personal politics’ and of ‘taking risks, aesthetically and physically’. (3)

In Australia, the physical in theatre has been present since the 1980’s with a rich landscape of leading companies and choreographers employing elements of dance theatre in their work. Such artists as Meryl Tankard, Leigh Warren, Graeme Murphy, Gideon Obarzanek, Gary Stewart, Tanja Liedtke and Expressions Dance Company’s founding artistic director Maggie Sietsma, to name only a few, have shaped a uniquely Australian aesthetic and physical embodiment of theatrical ideas and concepts, each in their own unique ways.

Natalie Weir, current Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company and creator of Carmen Sweet was initially careful not to ‘label’ her work as dance theatre, however Natalie is known internationally for her highly physical partner work, her organic movement style and her touching insight into human nature. As Artistic Director of EDC, Natalie continues to create work that balances artistic risk with accessibility and that speaks of humanity.

Natalie Weir's Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC's Elise May. Image by Dylan Evans

Although Natalie’s body of work displays diversity from strongly theatrical to quite abstract, her upcoming production of Carmen Sweet, is very much informed by the traditional notion of dance theatre. What is very unique about this production is that Weir’s femme fatale is brought to life by three dancers playing Carmen’s different states of mind and alter egos. “I thought it would be interesting to see how the story unravels when you have three women take on different aspects of the Carmen persona. The Carmen story has all the elements for great dance; passion, love, revenge, jealously, betrayal, and even a touch of murder”.

In Natalie’s work, I play one of the three aspects of Carmen. I find the role challenging because as a performer, you need to identify the desires and motivations of the ‘character’ in order to convey the ideas to the audience. I believe in the ability for dance to tell stories, and it is in the performing of Natalie’s work, in particular where there is a strong narrative driving the movement and performance, that I feel most challenged and fulfilled. For me, the body is a tool to communicate and it’s primary expression of being is what dance and theatre are all about. References:

1 Martha Bresmer and Lorna Sanders Fifty Contemporary Choreographers Taylor and Francis, 2011, p. 298
2 Royd Climenhaga, Pina Bausch Sourcebook: The Making Of Tanztheater, Taylor and Francis, 2012, p. 1-­‐47,
3 Simon Murray and John Keefe Physical Theatres: A Critical Introduction Taylor and Francis, London, 2007, p. 14 Images:
Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet. Pictured EDC’s Elise May, Samantha Mitchell and Riannon McLean. Image by Dylan Evans

About Elise May

Elise May is an award winning dancer, choreographer and video/multimedia artist who has worked independently in Australia and is a member of Brisbane’s Expressions Dance Company (EDC).