• Victoria Parker

DANCE ‣ Basic Structure of a Performance: An Excerpt from the Thesis of Victoria Parker

Updated: Feb 28


"The performance structure is simple: there is the choreographer and composer who created the works being performed; there are dancers and musicians who perform the work created; and there is the audience who observes the performance at a specific date and time. Essentially, these are people in a shared space with various roles. Where the structure gets complicated is how they all interact with each other. As choreographer Mark Morris once said, “We're all in the same room, so I want people to be involved with one another, but again you can't decide exactly to what extent that operates. It varies all the time and it depends on the show, it depends on the audience, it depends on everything.” On one hand exists a linear view of this structure. This would display a line with the choreographer and composer on the far left, the dancers and musicians in the center, and the audience on the far right. In this perspective the choreographer(s) and composer(s) only have a direct impact on the dancer(s) and the musician(s). In the same way, the dancer(s) and musician(s) would only have a direct impact on the audience. This line of thought eliminates any chance of the choreographer(s) and composer(s) having any direct impact on the audience members. An alternate viewpoint places these people involved in more of an intertwined network, where each sector has a direct and indirect impact on all of the others. For this viewpoint to be legitimized, the choreographer and the composer must be separated from their choreography and composition. This is so that one can say that the choreography/ composition itself has a direct impact on the audience excluding the dancers/ musicians. Even if the choreographer and composer are not seen by the audience, their impact still exists as their work is directly viewed by the audience. The network theory suggests that every group of people (choreographer, composer, dancer, musician, and audience) can and most likely, do have an immediate impact on the other two groups involved.

As the performance unravels, the groups interact and impact one another through the vision of the dance and the sounds of the music. This is the basis of any classical ballet performance. Renowned choreographer, George Balanchine, however offers an alternate outlook. He insists that one should, “...hear the dance, see the music,” which has since become one of his most notable quotes. He implies one should view dance from an abstract perspective rather than literally. This way one can more fully absorb the performance by observing more carefully the sounds projecting from the actual dance or choreography and to acknowledge the motions the musicians make in order to create the end result of sound. Christopher Small, who created a score for the New Zealand Ballet, refers to this concept as ‘musicing,’ using ‘music’ as a verb. He believes that music should be understood as a “process, experience, and action,” rather than just an action with the result of sound (Cohen, 2010). In another manner, the dancer must hear the dance in a way that the music totally encompasses the choreography. Balanchine is known as being extremely musical and his choreography is proof of this. It often includes strong accents, off beats, and movements that sway between being directly on the count of music and being over the counts. For a dancer to be able to stay on his counts they must insist that the music and dance are one rather than two, thus virtually hearing the dance. The same exists for musicians performing the music for a Balanchine work. The music must be so clear that an audience can practically see the music moving through the dancers as they perform. The baseline of this quote is embodiment. Music and dance must embody one another in order for a high quality performance to exist. Balanchine was right, behind it all the choreographer is the one who decides how you hear the music according to how he matches it with the movement of the dancers (Jordan, 2011).


Using the example of Balanchine’s works and his intentions, one can see how the input and vision of the choreographer truly has a direct impact on the dancers, musicians, and the audiences. In a performance there will always be an input intended to produce an output. The choreographer, composer, dancers, and musicians take what they feel and express it in a way they think the audience will be able to understand their intentions. There is a difference between what one person feels and what another person will feel as a result, even if the goal is to feel the same emotion. A major question to ask is how does what a performer feels differ from what they want the audience to feel, and therefore what do they actually convey to the audience?

In her book, Choreomusical Conversations: Facing a Double Challenge, Jordan analyzes the relationships existing between music and dance and how this translates to the audience. She quotes Cook saying music and dance have, “a sense of relationship through opposition” (Cook, 2014, p. 49) Music works alongside dance to create an opposition that can then spark a stronger reaction within audiences. One without the other can exist and be amazing, but putting them together creates a marriage of senses for the audience to enjoy and absorb. Although the two balance with opposition, they must have points of connection as well. Jordan identifies this connection into three strands: duration and frequency, stress or accents, and the grouping of sounds or movements through time. Each aspect relates both to dancers and musicians as they perform. As the performance takes place the dancers and musicians will exist on their own path, but at particular moments they will cross thus creating a pattern of sameness and opposition throughout the work. The dancers can even add to the sound of the musicians. If close enough, one can hear the dancers’ breath, footsteps, clapping of body parts, and even vocal interactions amongst the dancers at times. These aspects bring a new dimension to the sound being heard, ones that can change the perception of the music in the audiences’ ears. An audience member can hear the same recorded score over and over, but when the dance is added, the tune is refreshed."