How Does Facial Expression Change the Dancing?

January 9, 2011

When you’re up close to dancers, as in the Guggenheim Works & Process series, you notice faces. Last night, PNB’s Carla Körbes and James Moore had such changeable faces that I immediately felt drawn to their dancing. I’ve loved Carla’s dancing in the past.(click to read our cover story) But I’m not as familiar with James Moore, so that was a nice surprise. This program, entitled “Giselle Revisited,” was all about reconstructing the 1841 ballet from newly available source materials. The scholars Doug Fullington and Marian Smith had fascinating things to say, and Peter Boal filled us in on the Romantic era. The whole evening whetted my appetite to see the finished production in Seattle in June.


But what I want to talk about is faces. With both Körbes and Moore, their faces kept changing to reveal a lively inner life. What I couldn’t figure out is whether that was a result of their very alive bodies, or the fact that they are both good “actors.” In this context, where they were demonstrating how the mime fits into the original music by Adolphe Adam, the involvement of the dancer with the story is essential.


This isn’t the first time I’ve written about dancing faces. Back in 2002 I wrote a feature for The New York Times (click here to read it) in which I tried to say what certain faces expressed to me. I described the faces of José Limón, Darci Kistler, Vladimir Malakhov, Katherine Dunham, and Lucinda Childs—and many more. I thought of each face as a key to that person’s dancing.


But now I think the key changes. Seeing Carla’s face as Giselle at the Guggenheim, I could not describe it in a single way. I just know that I was with her emotionally all the way. And with Moore, his face was so much part of the mime: Hilarion full of love, Hilarion downhearted, Hilarion getting a bright idea for how to expose Albrecht. Again, I can’t describe it one way, but he pulled us along in the story. When facial expressions change as much as the moving body, the emotions and dancing are fully integrated. It’s soooo satisfying to see.


Works & Process at the Guggenheim; Pacific Northwest Ballet; Carla Körbes, Photo by Jesson Mata