Elise’s Article: Dancing the Character Finding and Developing Characters Through Movement in Natalie Weir’s ‘Where The Heart Is’

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

Elise’s Article: Dancing the Character   Finding and Developing Characters Through Movement in Natalie Weir’s ‘Where The Heart Is’

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Narrative dance works have the potential to communicate ideas, stories and emotions that can bring audiences to new understandings of the human condition and our relationships with others.  For many years, choreographers and dancers have worked to bring specific, stylised and believable characters to their audiences.  Although our modern storytelling on stage stems from the classical ballet tradition, where stories are often portrayed through an astonishing display of set, lighting and costume, the narrative form has its roots in the dances of our ancestors as they told stories through movement as a way of passing important information from one generation to the next. Despite a move away from the narrative in the postmodern dance movements of the late 60’s and 70’s, dance theatre has continued to evolve in unique and often niché ways. This notion is ever-present in the full-length signature works of Expressions Dance Company under the artistic directorship of Natalie Weir.

go site In my experience as a dancer with Expressions Dance Company, I have been asked to develop and portray characters for full-length works that sit firmly within the dance-as-theatre context. Natalie Weir’s “Where The Heart Is” and “R & J” (based on the story of Romeo and Juliet) are two such works that draw on the art of story telling and narrative to communicate strong themes. “Where The Heart Is” was loosely inspired by Brisbane born writer David Malouf’s 12 Edmonstone Street. It is a poetic and moving work about a young man who returns to his abandoned family home where he spent his childhood. As he enters the old house and pulls away the wooden boards covering the windows and doors of the old ‘Queenslander’, he is flooded with memories of his youth. As he moves from room to room, he is haunted by the memories of his first love and his family (brother, mother, father and grandmother).  In this work, I came to play the role of the grandmother, an interesting and challenging character that developed over time and continues to evolve on stage.

http://carterhomes.ca/bok/4429 As we were developing Where The Heart Is in 2010, Natalie had a strong sense of the ideas and themes that she wanted to capture in the work. We spent time in the beginning, talking about the characters and how they would be perceived within the overall context of the work. So when it came to working on the movement it was quite experimental. It became important in the early stages to find gestures, specific ways of walking and moving and ways of interacting with the other characters that encapsulated the essence of each character. These ideas didn’t always manifest immediately in rehearsal and often developed over time throughout the rehearsal period. So much of the choreography was about about telling a story, so each action that you performed needed to relate back to your character. In a dramatic sense, each decision you made as a performer needed to be in alignment with how your character might react or behave in any situation.  Coupled with the dance movement, both character and movement quality find a marriage on stage to communicate the ideas and relationships within the work.

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http://www.dsaboston.org/boe/3158 One of the challenges of playing the role of the grandmother in Where The Heart Is, was the fact that physically, I am a young woman. Natalie wanted the grandmother to be old, yet portray moments of reverting back into her youth. As an old woman she would remember her life when she was young, then return once again at the end of her solo, to the older woman.  In order to convince the audience of the ‘authenticity’ or ‘believability’ of the character we spent spent a lot of time addressing the finer details of the movement. I found it useful to develop images and a specific ‘back story’ to my character that would become a pool of thought-based inspirations that I could draw on whilst performing, in order to ‘feel’ my character from the ‘inside-out’ rather than to simply rely on a set of physical qualities to communicate the ideas.  When I was developing the character of the grandmother, I wrote the following character notes:

source link The grandmother is a woman who is looking back at her life, once young and beautiful, she remembers her youth with such clarity and is often lost in memories of her life. She learnt the piano when she was younger – she dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. She is lonely and misses her late husband – they first met at a ball/dance before the war. She still remembers the wonderful new dress she was wearing. He asked her to dance and they waltzed late into the night.  When he returned from the war they were married and started a family.
Grandma has rounded shoulders and stiff old bones and joints, making her slow and unsteady on foot.  Her fingers are curled with arthritis, and her eyesight isn’t reliable. She often gets frustrated with her aged body and appearance and reverts back into her memories of her youth. Her favorite place is on the veranda in her special old chair.

bitcoin solo mining how long I found that mapping out the grandmother’s past and personality was helpful because it gave me a foundation from which to draw upon in performance.

Although having a background to the character is useful, the physicalisations were equally as important in communicating the age of the grandmother. I spent time in front of a mirror experimenting with things such as a hunched or rounded upper back, an unsteady walk and shaky hands. We also experimented with finding sense of confusion and vulnerability in the rehearsal process in order to give the grandmother human qualities that we hoped people could relate to. We all have older family members in our lives, so in a way I hoped that she would remind the audience members of their own grandmothers.

It seems that every different character is driven by a unique set of motivations, desires, physical movements, gestures and personality traits. Today there are many genres of contemporary dance, each calling for unique stylistic qualities particular to their form – whether for pure movement, pedestrian, experimental, intellectual or narrative purposes. In dance theatre, choreography is as much about the movement as it is about the ideas, themes and emotions that we are trying to communicate. And so as a performer I believe that whatever the character, it is important to get to the very heart of the role, and in doing so, communicate our unique voice and share our very personal perspective of the human condition.

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

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).

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