Sense…And Simplicity

“Changes to lighting, space…to our very selves-strip it down to what it really is…”

Use of all five senses is not a must, but a privilege most of us are accustomed to. Combining all five helps us operate at our most alert and effective state. But what happens when you limit or overwhelm one of those senses? As performing artists, we are accustomed to meeting the challenges that the stage offers us. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy task.

Class onstage-I didn’t caption that myself 😉 Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Hammer

When daily rehearsals in studio transform into long hours in a dim theater with radiant side lighting, everyone is thrown by the change to their vision. The accommodations our bodies must make to adjust to the huge contrast in lighting (bright on the sides versus an abyss of darkness before you) naturally starts to confuse our balance. And needless to say, that’s a heck of an important thing for a dancer. Balance is something of low priority since it comes so naturally to us, but in the theater it’s like starting from scratch. I start to train my body for the difference the minute I step inside. During class I force myself to look high and into the dark. The natural response is to look down and only within close proximity: a completely fair reflex, but not a good aesthetic for line and presentation purposes. Step two for success with lighting? Stare them down. Probably not good for overall eye health, but confront the light before your big moment onstage. Prepare yourself for the brilliance (or lack thereof) that those bulbs will present.

“…Enough to shake your belief in your preparedness to the core…”

One must also address drastic changes in apparel. The stage is the time for grandeur and drama, but getting into character requires more work than you would think. Stage makeup and full costume is amazing upon completion, but it also includes a great deal of inhuman details. Long, fake eyelashes, a caked on, perfectly contoured face, awkward, complex costumes, hair that must never move, pointe shoe ribbons that must never come untied. These tactile changes may not seem crucial to the product of movement, but tights or no tights, tutu or none-these details can change the complexity of contact.

And if that’s not enough to shake your belief in your preparedness to the core, don’t forget space. While most companies prepare for the exact spacing of the stage, looking at floor marks and studio landmarks in the light of day is much different than frantically searching for “your mark” (a.k.a. a small tape mark downstage or upstage, that you must secretly seek out with your eyes while still smiling and maintaining a relaxed demeanor) in the midst of performance.

Changes to lighting, space, and to our very selves can make the transition onto the stage seem daunting. But take care, dancers. The final touches to performance do not a show make. It’s about the flavor of the piece…the soul that emanates there. So strip it down to what it really is-you, movement, and an audience. Give it everything you have left.


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