A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching the Pina Bausch company, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, dance at BAM. The performance was fun, strange, disturbing, and delightful. But what touched me most were the strong personalities of the dancers onstage, particularly the women.
Joan Acocella’s review of the performance noted as much, that the dancers’ demeanor was “comfortable, unleashed. They want to be onstage.” Their diverse looks and personalities kept my eyes glued to the stage, even in moments when I felt the choreography was thin or discordant. It almost didn’t matter as long as I could keep watching them communicate with us.
I cannot remember the last ballet performance I saw where true personalities shined brighter than the choreography. It makes me wonder why that is. Why is it that ballet dancers often show glimpses of who they are onstage, but those moments are fleeting- almost like we’ve been let in on a little secret and then- poof, it’s gone. The person disappears behind the ballerina, the danseur, or the choreography.
What about unleashing who you are and letting that fill the space? What about letting the dancing be a vehicle for your full-fledged personality? It’s definitely not necessary to cover up who we are in order to be ballet dancers. The truly great dancers of the past were great in part because they unleashed their personalities on the audience and we wanted more: Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Maya Plisetskaya, to name the obvious ones.
It has been my experience that students wait to get onstage before they work on their stage persona. This is much too late. Who you are must come through the technique- it is not separate or distinct from what your body is doing.
YOU are the vehicle for both who you are and the dancing itself; YOU are the reason people will buy tickets to your performances and will love watching you.
I would love to hear from some of you: how do you think about this challenge? Do you find it difficult to express the full range of your personality in your dancing?