Posted by Rebecca King on 06.08.2011
Questions with Bart returns for another round! These questions were sent to me by a great lover of ballet who often comes to Miami City Ballet performances. He has a wonderful appreciation for what we do, and has a great understanding of the ballets we perform. Here is his third question:
What about facial expression, i.e. the use of the eyes, especially when dancing with a partner? (Are these things taught or are you left to work on them on your own?)
Facial expression is very important for every kind of live performers. For ballet dancers, it holds a specific importance. While on-stage, dancers have only their bodies to communicate with the audience and portray a story. A huge part of the story telling process originates from the face. Even in abstract ballets, the facial expressions of the dancers sets the mood.
From my first ballet performance, I was taught about the importance of stage presence. In fact, I often think of it as one of the most valuable lessons I received as a young dancer. I was taught to project to the top “tier”, even though the balcony of our small community theater could hardly be considered a tier. But I would always imagine that it was the top tier of the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco Ballet’s home theater.
As I grew older, I began to realize that projecting on stage is not limited to the face; so much more goes into it. For example, posture is a huge contributing factor. When a dancer lifts their chest upward, the dancer’s movements automatically appear larger. With a slight raising of the chin, a dancer appears to stand out with great confidence. These are the little things are learned throughout a career, especially as a dancer’s performance scale grows.
A few seasons ago, the dancers of Miami City Ballet were warming up on stage in anticipation of company class. Principal Dancer Deanna Seay was discussing this exact topic with the dancers standing at her barre. She said that her teachers always told her, “On stage you should dance for the people in the very last row. They are the ones who love ballet the most, but can’t afford orchestra tickets.” I love that sentiment. Indeed, who would come to the ballet and sit in that very last row unless they couldn’t bear to miss a show. Now I often think of those audience members in the back of the top tier whenever I am dancing.
As a child, when I would go to the ballet, my parents and I would always comment on the way a man and woman related to one another while engaging in a pas de deux. It would always catch our eye if the ballerina did not seem to create some sort of report with her partner as they were dancing. Perhaps this stood out to us at the time because we didn’t know much about ballet technique. To us all professional dancers seemed perfect and untouchable. Ballet audiences are made up of people with varying levels of ballet knowledge. But everyone in the house can plainly see when two dancers have a chemistry.
Great stage presence is something that always stands out to me. I find it difficult to watch dancers who do not appear to be enjoying themselves, merely executing the steps as choreographed. When you see a dancer so engaging that you can’t take your eyes off of them, you are transported into their world. Ballet seems to feel so good to them; they look so free. You find yourself yearning for that feeling. How must it feel to be that beautiful; to be in such control over your body, yet seemingly carefree? When a dancer completely lets go on stage, the first place you see it is in their face. That is when the magic happens, and you can feel lucky enough to be a part of it.