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Connection is at the heart of so much in life and so it’s no surprise that it is an absolutely key element in performance too.  Humans without connection wither and die like plants without water; isolation at the heart of a great deal of psychological distress.  In live performances how well a performer can connect with her audience is a profound part of how enjoyable the audience member – and, dare I say it, the dancer – finds the performance.

I recently had a wonderful chat about connection in performance with a friend who has studied theatrical clowning.  As she studied it, theatrical clowning was about being spontaneously fun, in a deeply authentic way – a hugely difficult thing to learn and do.  Throughout her training she and her classmates were able to sense when a peer was being genuine, or not, and gave feedback on what an enormous impact this had on how they felt about the performance.  Performances that were genuine were seen as funny and engaging regardless of what the performer did; those that were not genuine were experienced as dull or even irritating.

Although it sounds like hokum, or magic, people can pick up on whether or not a performer is being genuine, is in touch with their inner self.  By connecting with yourself and responding from that place, you can connect with your audience in a profound way.  I’ve watched live dance performances that were technically perfect but that did not engage me at all – and I have watched performances that had some technical flaws but still gave me goosebumps, or moved me to tears.  The key difference is that ephemeral sense that the performer is performing from their soul – that they are genuine, that they are not just going through the motions.

Of course you won’t always connect with your audience, even if you are in touch with yourself.  They have to be open – at least a little bit – to the connection.  Connection always requires the Other with whom you can connect.  That’s another part of what can make it so hard.  It can be painful to offer that precious, beautiful internal “you” and to not have it received.  Performers need open hearts and thick skins to thrive and to survive.

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I’ve been quite busy this last little while with all the usual stuff (work, teaching, etc) AND getting my final assessments for uni finished AND applying to get onto the next part of the course BUT… I have also been wrapping my head around my first commercial (private) tribal fusion performance, and have ended up with two of them, in two weeks!  Which is totally awesome 🙂

So I thought I’d share something that I’ve been enjoying recently – a duet with Rachel Brice and Mardi Love – with finger cymbals!

As I mentioned earlier I recently had the great fun of dancing to some live drumming courtesy of John McLeod. Well… here’s a video of it (which was very kindly filmed by John’s friend Will Jackson)!

Will also made a funky edited version but youtube has decided it didn’t like my attempt to upload that earlier. If I can get it to work I’ll post it up here too.

I haven’t had access to any videos of my performances in literally years so it’s quite eye-opening for me to be able to watch this. It’s given me lots of food for thought, and (despite the many things in the performance that I want to improve) I actually like it. I really hope you do too.

For your viewing pleasure!

If I find videos of the other hafla performers I’ll pop them up too – and if you know of any please send me their links 🙂

I thought I better write it down while it’s still fresh in my head.  I’m already starting to question my memory (“did they really ?”).

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I was asked by one of my intermediate students, and now that I think about it other people (not students) have also asked, whether I choreograph or improvise my performances.

Initially every performance I did was from a choreography I made for myself.  I would type it up and drill it for as much time as I possibly could and then hope to remember it when I was performing.   Occasionally that would work just fine – I’d remember the choreo in it’s entirety and the performance would go off without a hitch.  I think that’s happened once.  Maybe twice.  All the rest of the time something, or things, have come up to mess with that; a veil caught on my costume, a veil dropped (disaster in a double veil routine!), a finger cymbal caught in my hair (I’m not making this up), the music being so quiet I didn’t hear it start and then could barely make it out whilst dancing or I simply just made a ‘mistake’ that threw me off the rest of the choreo.

So what did I do when that happened?  I improvised.  I’m quite good at thinking on my feet and the years I spent teaching in a Secondary school certainly honed that ability (transferable skills! 🙂 ). After a while I figured that it might just be simpler to improv from the get go and then I wouldn’t have to stress about remembering the choreo and about what happens if something goes wrong during the performance.  All that time I spent drilling I could spend simply practising, drilling specific moves, combinations and layers (but not a whole choreo) and, best of all, learning new things .  That said there’s a whole different set of nerves and issues about improv-ing a performance (what if I just repeat the same moves over and over? what if my mind blanks? what if I do something stupid? etc.).

So I vacillate.  Sometimes I completely improv. a performance, other times it’s a mixture of choreo-d bits with improv in-between.  It really depends on my mood, how ‘scary’ the performance seems and my confidence.

What about you?

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