In this post I am going to write from the point of view of an audience member, rather than as a dancer. Many of you already know that different dance genres portray different feelings and may also feel different to dance to. I am going to discuss some dance performances I have watched in the last few years, and give my impressions on what it felt like watching them. These opinions are just mine and very subjective. I love all dance forms and I appreciate all the skills and everything else that is involved in creating a good dance performance. However, I will just evaluate what for me were the strong and not so strong points of every performance.
Ballet was one of the first dance genres I was exposed to as a child, when I was dreaming, like many young girls, of becoming a graceful ballerina. The ballet performances I have seen so far belong mostly to the same period, from around the second half of the 19th Century and I have watched some of the most classic ones, such as The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Coppelia. I have seen the ballet company of Bolshoi and the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, which were both very good.
As a spectator, the feeling that these ballets gave me, was one of relaxation. They made me forget everyday worries and I felt transported towards a different dimension. I suppose, this is because the ballets from the 1800s were indeed designed to entertain and helped the audience forget for a while their daily worries. Of course, I was also in awe of the physical ability of the dancers, since technically they were excellent.
I have watched several contemporary dance performances in the UK in the last few years. I also practise contemporary dance; only as a hobby, but it is enough to get an idea of what it feels like for a dancer (at least the style based on the release technique, which is the one that my instructor teaches). I have seen a couple of performances by the National Dance Company of Wales and I really enjoyed them. For some people who like contemporary dance, their performances may seem a bit too traditionalist, not innovative and daring enough perhaps, in comparison to more cutting edge contemporary performances.
I like to practise contemporary dance and, overall, I enjoy watching it. However, contemporary dance in the UK in particular, seems to dwell too much on negative emotions. I understand that it is the intention of many choreographers of this dance genre to make people reflect through dance. They want people to reflect on various issues that affect us human beings and society as a whole. These issues are not always positive, but often negative, and choreographers want performances to be thought provoking. However, in life there are also positive emotions and it would be interesting to see a bit of both on stage. I am not saying that all contemporary dance performances are the same and that they all tend towards negative emotions, but this is my experience based on some of those that I have seen so far, in particular from British productions.
For example, I once saw the Brazilian group Grupo Corpo. Their style is a kind of fusion between ballet, contemporary dance and Brazilian influences, but it is a fusion that is blended very well to create a very innovative style. Their pieces are enjoyable, as well as thought provoking; the costumes colourful and the music very good. The technique of the dancers is also excellent.
I then saw one of Carlos Acosta’s production called ‘On Before’. Carlos Acosta, who started as a ballet dancer and has more recently embraced contemporary dance, is an exceptional dancer and I enjoyed immensely to see him dance and I felt privileged be in the audience for one of his live performances. However, on the whole, I found On Before to be a bit too eerie for my liking. It was dark and focused on negative emotions for the whole performance. I am not saying that dance should always necessarily be happy and fun, but it would be nice to see different moods being represented, if anything to create some sort of contrast, instead of having a show without nuances. I saw another one of Carlos Acosta’s performances, although on video. This was called Cubania and it was closer to his Cuban roots and I really liked it. On the other hand, On Before seems to be influenced too much by the British contemporary dance gloomy feeling.
I have dedicated a separate section to Matthew Bourne, as I would say that his dance productions belong to a genre of its own. They seem to be a blend of ballet, contemporary dance and musical theatre with references to literature. The first performance I saw by Bourne was ‘Lord of the Flies’, inspired by Golding’s novel. I liked the concept, as this production is part of a project that involves the participation of local boys from the cities in which every performance of the show takes place. This means that local communities are involved and young people, who otherwise may not have had the change to dance, get to embrace dance. However, Lord of the Flies seemed to be more about the story and the theatre, than about the actual dance. There were only a couple of professional dancers in the show and not much relevance was given to the dance movements. Instead, I much preferred Edward ScissorHands, because , even if it was theatrical, the dance was still very relevant. The performance had a sense of humour, together with more dramatic moments and the performers were great at both dancing and acting.
Another genre that I have recently discovered is physical theatre. Some may group it together with contemporary dance, but it is quite different. Its name comes from the fact that it is indeed very physical. The movements are very energetic and often acrobatic, the dancers sometimes throw themselves against one another, with force. It is also physical in the sense that there may be a variety of different materials on stage, such as soil or straw, or objects with which the dancers often interact. It is referred to as theatre rather than dance, because there is a story and a lot of acting, but it is physical, as performers do not speak much but use their bodies to express themselves. I have not watched many physical theatre live performances at the time of writing, but one that I went to see was the group Earthfall, based in Wales, and I saw their production called Chelsea Hotel. I really enjoyed the athleticism and professionalism of the performers, as well as the energy that they brought on stage and the way in which different media (including live music and videos of the dancers) were used.
This type of dance is a completely different thing from the genres mentioned above, as folkloric dance is usually performed socially. However, it is often the case that folkloric dance is adapted for the stage. As it is adapted for the stage, social dance obviously changes and it becomes a lot more structured. One folkloric performance I have seen was The Ballet Folclorico De la Universidad de Guadalajara, from Mexico. The dancers were very skilled but, unless one is particularly interested in folkloric dance, the performance may have looked a bit repetitive because, after all, it was based on types of dance that were not originally meant to be watched. In any case, I really enjoyed the show and found it relaxing and uplifting. In particular, I liked the music and absolutely loved the costumes, especially the women’s costumes that were so colourful and eye catching, with big skirts that moved along with the dancers so well. I was also impressed by the proud attitude of the dancers, especially the women, not so different from the attitude of flamenco, but much more cheerful.