Why is Expression Important in Dance?

On a rainy, coldish Saturday earlier this month, The Pocket Theater was abuzz with performers, theatergoers, and a few passersby who wandered in for a drink and ended up staying for a show.

This particular evening, my show, Transcribe, was the first in a lineup that included a sold-out French play (and yes, by French, I mean all the dialogue was in French) and a devised theater piece about the Space Shuttle Challenger with an all-female cast- both were amazing performances!

By the way, if you live in Seattle and haven’t been to The Pocket, you should go. It’s like Heaven for theater people. But better.

Transcribe is a show that I concocted from my hodgepodge background in acting, dance and other random jobs in theater. It is comprised of a series of scenes built in a collaboration between writers, actors, and dancers. Each “team” has one artist from all of these disciplines. The writer’s job is to come up with a monologue or scene that can be performed in 3-5 minutes. Then the dancer creates a short pieces based on the text and performs it alongside the actor. Sometimes, they work together, sometimes not- but either way, we always end up with a study in cross-disciplinary work with unexpected results. This was the third iteration of Transcribe and the process took about 4 months, start to finish.

So, how was Transcribe born?

Without going into the details of my life story, I will say that there was a time in my life when I thought I had given up dancing and decided to start acting. (I had done some community theater musicals in the past, but that was before I discovered I can’t sing.)

Here’s the irony: Studying acting not only lead me down the path back to dancing, but completely changed the way I looked at it as an art.

Fast forward a few years. Maybe I’d seen one too many performances in which the dancers had perfect technique, but were stone-faced and expressionless. Maybe I was choreographing something and having trouble with a transition because the dancer had no purpose or intention in her movement. Maybe it was a culmination of all of those things, but I found myself starting to talk more and more about intention in rehearsal, the way a director would to actors.

Then I thought- why aren’t more dancers and actors taking more pages from each other’s playbooks?

After three Transcribe performances over the past year and half, I’ve seen everything from the most literal of interpretations to the most abstract and everything in between. But every single one of them has had substance- they all had that intangible thing we can’t define that makes us feel something.

This isn’t just about facial expressions. It’s about movement that comes from somewhere. Even if it the movement is nothing more than a simple expression of the music (which is how my process starts, 9 times out of 10.) It still comes from somewhere. The music makes you feel a certain way. If you chose the music, you probably chose it for a specific reason. All of that is revealed in the movement whether you want it to or not.

As an experiment in this, I’ve been taking exercises designed for actors and adapting them for dancers. The twist is pretty simple- they are just asked to move instead of speak (or move while speaking.)

In this one, they were also asked to create a phrase of of 3-4 movements from their improvisation, then teach their phrases to each other and combine them. Here is the result:

The next Transcribe will be coming up this fall (Dates TBA, so stay tuned!) and will be conducted as a workshop for dancers AND actors, with a performance at the end. If you want more information, please subscribe to this blog, like Version Excursion Dance on Facebook, and/or shoot me an email at versionexcursiondance@gmail.com.

Here are some favorite books on my personal reading list related to expression and movement:

Viewpoints: Anne Bogart, Tina Landau
Delsarte System of Expression: Francois Delsarte, Genevieve Stebbins
The Art of Grace: Sarah L. Kaufman

Before I sign off, I want to let you all know that we are VERY close to being done with The Navigator! We are nearing the end of post production and plan to release the video in June. Can’t wait to share it with the world!


P.S. If you want to see some awesome shows or produce your own at The Pocket Theater, check out their website: http://www.thepocket.org


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