Curtain Up

October 31, 2007

On the days I had to perform, my stomach would start churning in the morning, I’d take many trips to the bathroom the hour before curtain, and just before going onstage my knees would go weak. But when riding the subway to the theater, I would savor the anticipation of doing something I thought of as a life-or-death challenge.


Performing is the heart and soul of dance as an art. We can take class for thousands of hours; we can rehearse till we know the choreography in our sleep. But it is onstage where we are challenged to our core and we reveal our artistry.


In this issue, Dance Magazine devotes a special section to the art of performance. We’ve divided the topic into four areas: stage presence, stage nerves, warming up (and cooling down), and makeup.


First, and perhaps hardest to describe, is stage presence—that elusive something that separates good dancers from great dancers. In “This Little Light o’ Mine,” we ask eight dancers known to have that certain je ne sais quoi to explore their thoughts about it. Some consciously cultivate it, while others think about connecting to the audience and let the rest happen.


Second, we look at that phenomenon I was all too familiar with: stage nerves. Since many of the most charismatic dancers (Baryshnikov for instance) get shaky before going onstage, having a bad case of it says nothing about one’s ability. In “Don’t Panic!” read how several dancers have coped with stage jitters.


Third, we look at every dancer’s essential tool kit: warming up for performance—and its auxiliary, cooling down. How you prepare to perform is a deeply individual covenant with your own body that is developed over years. We went to five dancers to ask how they personally tune up their instrument.


And last, in “The Face of Dance,” Lauren Kay outlines the alpha and omega of that facemask that heightens your expressiveness—makeup—with some helpful hygiene hints thrown in.


One company that has aced performance, both onstage and in the choreographic process, is Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Now celebrating its 25th year, it is perhaps the only single-choreographer ballet company in this country. With his soul-searching choreography and demands for monster technique, he requires the utmost commitment from his dancers. Using music that others might consider exotic, he brings a sense of other places, other cultures onto his stage. Read Allan Ulrich’s “Breathtaking LINES” and you’ll see that King, in addition to being a distinguished dance maker, is a deep thinker about dance, culture, and art.