Monday, February 28, 2011

Impulse to Expression & Maturation, A Common Denominator of Theatre and Dance

Klytemnestra rehearsal
I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between dance and theatre as performance arts, especially this past week! Expect ruminations on my new collaboration with Misha Penton and Divergence Vocal Theater and thoughts on middle school one act play competitions to be posted here soon...

Okay—last week was busy! First of all, congrats to my middle school one act play performers, who took second place at the PSIA one act play competition, and are now headed for the state contest in Fort Worth in May. Since September, I’ve been coaching the five seventh-grade girls in David Campton’s Some of My Best Friends Are Smiths, a great play exploring the issue of discrimination and casting it in an absurd context. These girls worked hard and developed a strong ensemble, and I was beyond proud of their performance on Saturday.

In addition to daily one act play rehearsals, last week I began collaboration on another project with Houston’s Divergence Vocal Theater—a new opera Klytemnestra. In preparation for this project, we have been researching past productions that tell the story of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, including Martha Graham’s Clytemnestra

Klytemnestra rehearsal, February 2011
I love that Graham choreographed her Clytemnestra at the age of 65—one of the greatest legacies of modern dance is the opportunity for women to create and perform at all stages of life. Even in the recent New Yorker, Tina Fey laments the fate of actresses after 40, in terms of limited movie contracts and single motherhood.  And this is in the year 2011. Women in the performing arts are still fighting for career longevity, almost a century after Duncan gave her last performance at the age of 50, months shy of her tragic death. Of course, the longevity of her career was an anomaly in her day—and such longevity, for female performers, is still the exception rather than the rule.

Oddly, this seems true for both theatre and dance performers, for both actresses and dancers. And, yet, in both fields, there is a maturation of artistry that takes place over the course of time. Isadora’s sister-in-law, Margherita Duncan, writes of Duncan’s critics, “If they had stopped to realize that a long line is harder to draw than a short one, a long note harder to sing than a long one, a slow movement is harder to sustain than a quick one, they might have recognized that the change in Isadora’s work was not substitution, but evolution” (The Art of the Dance). I look forward to the day when mature female performers are sought after for the quality of their gesture and the depth of their understanding of human behavior, conveyed through their craftswomanship in performance. 

An impulse, a reason to move, to react, to respond is the common denominator of theatre and dance expression. I fell in love with Duncan when I realized that she shared the same understanding of intention in performance articulated by Constantine Stanislavsky— both arts teach us self-observation. We learn to understand our own unconscious impulses, and, perhaps, to interrupt those impulses. To make choices based on our self-understanding— and through those choices, to begin to craft, to live, life as art. That is the ultimate lesson I hope to convey to both my dance and theater students. And that is also the lesson I seek to explore through my current collaborative and creative processes.