Sculpting a Performance
Performance is more than object manipulation. When paired with music it becomes dance, it becomes story telling with the body. Once we know this, we can create a more powerful performance by pairing it with story telling devices. In this class we discussed sculpting a performance, prepping for that performance, stage technique, and group number concepts.
Sculpting a performance: The first step is picking our music. Every other decision proceeds from this one step — our costuming, our choreography, our make-up, everything.- Music should be from 2:00 – 4:00 minutes in length for a single performer. This is short enough to make a statement but long enough to keep people’s attention.
- You must love your music! If you don’t, it will show. If you don’t, you will absolutely hate it after listening to it 100 times. So don’t choose something that could work. Choose something you love.
- Listen to the mood of the music. Choose a few words that describe the mood and inhabit those words in your movement.
- Listen to the words of your music. Seek out “hooks” that you can demonstrate in your movement. These will give you anchors, or places to ground you while learning your dance or to come back to if you get lost in your dance. They are also ways of making the song visible with movement. For example, a hook might be when a song mentions the word “moon” and you create a moon hanging in the sky by freezing your hoop high above your head.
- A song is a story set to music, even if the song has no words. Use the arc of the story to pace your tricks, beginning with simple tricks and building to a crescendo with a Ta-Da! Moment.
The Arc of the Story:
- Enter the stage and set the mood by your movement (or lack of movement), directed gaze, speed, posture, etc. (You may need to place your props upon taking the stage. Do this in character.)
- Pace your Moves. Most songs rise to a high point, a dip, a slighter higher high point, a dip, a climax and a denouement (or winding down/resolution). Create “Ta-Da!” moments for each of these high points.
- Play the Pause. Most songs also have breaks or silences. Utilize these moments with pauses, breaks, transitions or tempo changes in your movement.
- The Climax. Save your biggest most impressive move for the climax. If you bring it out early in the performance, your audience will expect that the moves that follow will be bigger. Pace your build up.
- The Denouement. This is the resolution of the song and moves toward the point where you will stop dancing. Indicate this resolution in your movement. Prepare to stop in an impressive pose and hold it when the song stops. Hold it for at least five seconds before moving to take your bow.
- Taking a Bow. There are many forms of bows. Choose one that you like and hold it for a count of five before standing upright.
- Receiving your Applause. After you bow, don’t flee the stage! Count to five again, wave to the crowd or blow kisses or bow some more but take a moment to receive. This is when the audience gets a chance to give back. Let them! When we run off the stage, we cut their experience short. Stay there. Breathe. Receive.
- Accepting compliments. When you perform, people come up afterward and say things like, “That was great!” Your response should always be, “Thank you.” Even if you think you didn’t do well, the response is, “Thank you”. Even if something went wrong, the response is, “Thank you.” Not, “I wish I hadn’t done this” or “I wish I’d done that” … just “thank you”, perhaps followed by, “you are very kind” or “that means a lot to me” or “I’m glad you enjoyed it”. Thank you.
The Show Must Go On
- If something goes wrong during performance, figure out a way to work it out. Don’t run off the stage crying or let it throw you. If it’s not your music, just stay frozen for your intro and say, “That’s not my music”. Give the dj a chance to handle it while staying in character. If they can’t, let them tell you that then you can leave the stage and return fresh. If you lose a tool or it breaks, smile and laugh it off. Find a way to keep going if you can or a graceful way to cut your performance short if you need to. In the end, remember that the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. You’re both in this together.
Prepping to Enter the Stage – Physical and Psychological Readiness
Physical Readiness – After you’ve completed the mental readiness of understanding your song and preparing your dance, it’s important to physically prepare your body and your psyche. Physical warm-ups help us develop readiness and range. If you do them before rehearsals, they will be a comfort to you before a performance. They will also get your blood moving and get you psyched. These can include your prop but they don’t necessarily need to. They can be as simple as jumping jacks and stretches. Resist the urge to chat with other performers during their warm up. This is a valuable time for preparing and many performers need it for coming into character.
Psychological Readiness – The performer’s hardest work is not physical but psychological. The performer must really feel, must “experience”, during performance. Otherwise the performance is unfulfilled because of the performers lack of participation or “pretended” participation. It feels fake because it is fake. The performer must be willing to feel and be willing to be vulnerable to display that feeling. The question is not “how can I show more?” but “how can I feel more?” Before entering the stage, spend some time with the words you’ve chosen to describe the mood and feel of your piece. Allow yourself to live experiences you’ve had where you experienced those emotions. Prepare to bring that into your piece. You need to experience images and that takes time. Visualize, create an inner monologue, provide the experiences that shape the feeling you want to bring to the stage.
Breathing – Finally, before entering the stage, slow your breathing. Nervousness tends to make us rush through slow spots, miss our places of stillness, speed up. We must start with long deep breathing before entering the stage. This is the sweet spot that allows us to control our breath for our entire performance. If we can control our breath, we can control our performance. Breathe deep and slow, filling the bottom third of the lungs. Feel the belly expand as the bottom third of the lungs expand. Use this time to visualize your performance, the emotions you want to feel, and to develop your habit of long controlled breaths. Upon entering the stage, and before you start your performance, always take one more moment to check in with your breath. Build from it as a foundation and you will be creating a strong foundation that will support you.
Projecting – Singers and speakers refer to projecting as projecting the voice but it is more than that. It is projecting your energy. Project your energy by standing tall, breathing deep, directing your gaze over and out and to every corner of your audience. Tell yourself, “I got this! I am confident” and you will be. You are the only person on the stage. Be Paul Bunyon. Be larger than life. Move with authority. Recognize that your movement can start from your hips, heart, head or knees. Moving from the hips gives you the most balance and it is also the movement of confidence. Direct your energy! Allow yourself to fill up and spill over with energy. The only exception to this is if you are in the chorus or back up. You still want lots of energy but you want to direct that energy toward the lead performer. Do not make it all about you when you are supposed to be in the background. By looking at, and projecting toward, the lead performer, you direct the audience’s attention there also. Finally, move with intention. When walking, consider the words you’ve chosen to describe the mood of your song. If the mood is “dismay”, then a jaunty little walk does not fit. Bring the mood into your every movement, even if that movement is complete stillness.
Using the Stage – Stages are big! Often people sit all around the stage. Don’t just face one way or stay in one small spot. Work the stage. Move around. Travel in lines, circles, boxes…just travel. Make sure to stay close to the front of the stage if you are a highlighted performer. Staying way toward the back only puts more distance between you and your audience. A performer is always working to close the distance between viewers, to create a shared experience.
Create Eye Contact – Even if you are shy about making eye contact, you can appear to make eye contact by looking above the heads of your audience. Start in the center, then look left, then look right, then look center. You don’t need to move your whole head. Just moving the eyeballs will create this effect. (Think of that video for “Walk Like An Egyptian” by the Bangles. In it, Suzanne’s eyes are highlighted doing just this, a technique she uses to deal with stagefright. It looks great.) This will create the illusion of a confident taking in of the crowd. Also, create eye contact with individuals. Look for a friendly face and connect with them. Then another. Then another. This really pulls people into your performance. Whatever you do, don’t spend your whole performance looking down! This shuts out your audience. It makes people feel like voyeurs instead of participants. By looking at them, you invite them to dance with you. The only exceptions to this is if you are dancing with one other person or a group or if your story is a story of isolation. If your story is the interaction of you with others on the stage, direct your attention to those people like a laser beam! Where you gaze goes, the audience’s attention goes. (Yes, even if they’re in the nose bleed seats and cannot see your eyes.) Use your gaze with intention! It is one of your most powerful performance tools.
These are just a few of the things we studied last night. We will be working with these concepts over the summer so I expect I will be sharing a lot more as the year goes on.