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Honoring the Individual Character
On June 13, 2011
Character work investigated.
It has often occurred to me that the combination of being heavily enamored with both dance and writing is seemingly incongruent. One art form is physical, (usually) non-verbal and requires collaboration with others to some degree; the latter is fairly sedentary and certainly solitary. And yet, I’ve found this combination of artistic inclinations to be not uncommon–in YSDT alone, I would say at least 5 out of 8 company members also consider themselves writers in addition to dancers. And of dancers I know outside the company, more than a few, aside from being talented dancers, are also gifted poets, prose writers or at the very least use their writing abilities for grant-proposal writing, among other things.
The more I speculate about this phenomenon, the more I’m inclined to believe it is not mere chance. While the difference between being a writer and a dancer are great, there are also some subtle but important similarities. The study of people–what makes them tick, how who they are is manifested in the smallest of gestures, the concept of showing and not telling your character’s story…these are just a few examples. Obviously, not all choreographers and not all dancers care for this type of work (nor all writers, for that matter, but that is a different story, and one I usually don’t care to read). But, luckily for me, and you, reader (future audience member? fellow dancer?), Samar does. And not in any second-hand way. Since the focus of Samar’s work is based on creating narrative works that speak to all audiences, her pieces are particularly character-driven, bringing an aspect to our rehearsals that is both challenging and rewarding.
There is one distinction between writers and dancers, however, that is vital to explaining our process as a company. Writers are able to retain full control over their characters, in the sense that they pick them out of thin air, based probably on people they have encountered in their lives, and can mold them into whomever they choose. Dancers, on the other hand, at least in our process, are given the characters by the choreographer. In other words, Samar creates the narrative, the “plot-line” of the work, and then gives each of us our role in the story. In this scenario, the challenge is trying to investigate a character you’ve only just met and transforming them into just another skin you happen to carry in your arsenal of selves…all within a brief rehearsal period, and confined to a specific movement vocabulary. All in a day’s work. The beauty of this, process-wise, at least, is that we each have to do a lot of exploration on our own. It means developing a map of your character’s history; layering mannerisms and nuances to movement that already exists, adding dimension and credibility to your role in the story.
So how do we do this? I’d like to believe that most of us already have a penchant for this kind of work, but in truth, we are fortunate in having Samar guide us, and even more fortunately, have had opportunities to in the past to collaborate with actor and director David Prete. And we have another wonderful opportunity coming up in July–David will be assisting us with our latest work, Bound, and I am eagerly awaiting his input on what we’ve already developed. While I have already started framing my character more narrowly, considering the choices she would make in certain situations, her emotional and physical reactions to other characters, I know there are gaps. So far I feel I’ve just been pulling from parts of myself, from people I know, stories I’ve read, to weave a fabric that will drape into a believable form. I’m missing some threads though, and looking forward to finding the lost strands with Samar (in the flesh!) and David. I’ll be posting after the experience, so stay tuned for any revelations!
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