The truths of performance

Róisín O’Brien on Spring Forward 2016

Watching an abundance of performances over one weekend filters your memories. For me, what remains in that stubborn residue are the pieces that looked out and spoke to us in the audience, and engendered a visceral, emotional response on my part. 


Those that failed to do so felt like they struggled to move from the rehearsal space to the stage.  In a recent student creative project I was engaged in, we began with the concept of ‘entropy’.  As we struggled to put scattered images and motifs together, our mentor had to emphasize to us the moment when the artwork takes over.  You explore, but at some point you must create a performance, and that does not necessarily mean pressing play from ‘initial concept’ to ‘end results’ (or, in this case, pedantically illustrating a scientific concept). 


How to make that leap, then?   For me, recognition of your potential audience can inform this move from practice to performance.  In our critical issues seminar at Springforward, we discussed if the word ‘entertainment’ in contemporary dance was taboo.  For me, the verb to ‘entertain’ implies an overt display, a need to please a spectator; certain pieces at the festival felt, on the other hand, completely internal and self-contained.  Having someone wander in is not the same as inviting someone in and showing them around. Neither agenda is correct, both have merits – sometimes the dance might want the audience to feel that they are ‘peeking in’.  But again, I feel it is almost the case that the work must set up the conditions for us to peek in. 


Now you have an audience – what do you want to say? What does an audience want from a performance? Does an audience just want an exposition on a concept?  If so, why perform? Why not just document and report?  There must be something else in the performance, and for me, I am becoming to learn the importance of emotion.


Where does this emotion lie, in the choreography or in the dancer? To quote W.B.Yeats, ‘how can we know the dancer from the dance?’  The truly sincere dancer is what audiences will gravitate towards.   And yet the choreography can create the means to express – Martha Graham did not just contract through the core for a visual effect, the contraction actually makes the mover feel something. 


And yet, to conclude, can recognition of an audience entail a falsity on the dancer’s part? While something might feel ‘real’ and embodied in the studio, having to work on polishing the material, or on working it into a narrative or frame, might take away from what is internally learnt and experienced in the present moment of discovery.  On the other hand, dancers often talk about the complete immersion in the present moment of performance, the forgetting, almost, of what just happened on stage.  I don’t know the answer, but attending Springforward as an audience member really stressed to me the idea of art as communication.  As I stated at the beginning, those performances that looked out to the audience (not necessarily by breaking the fourth wall) are the pieces that moved me, and that have stayed with me.  Perhaps there are many truths, the truth of the studio, the truth of the body, the truth of the stage; how and if they come together, as well as if they should come together, in a final performance are the questions both dancers and critics must ask. 

← Back to Features

Spring Forward
23 – 25 March 2018
Sofia, Bulgaria

Watch on demand: aerowaves.org/springforward

Connect with Aerowaves for the latest news about Spring Forward