DANCE ‣ Cycle of Energy in Live Performance
Victoria Parker, Senior Editor, Dance
Elegant attire, the buzz of an eager audience, tuning instruments, the tense nerves of performers, these are all aspects of anticipation when attending a live performance. While we have not been able to experience this sensation in over a year, I would like to more deeply analyze this extravagant energy that often flows through a live performance. One cannot deny the tension felt just before a performance begins and the curtains begin to rise. I must then ask, but why does everyone at the show feel that tension resonate within them during those first moments?
A sphere of energy is what draws people to engage in live performances and what captivates them as the show progresses. Energy is not exclusive, it resonates in all and is what makes a live performance a collective rather than an individual experience. While each person will then interpret the energy differently, the energy received is the same. The energy does not stop until the show is done, but even after the curtains have closed and the stage is cleared, one can stand on the stage, overlooking the audience and feel what has been felt here many times during past performances.
Energy here is the key word. Energy can echo throughout entire rooms and even buildings. Often when one enters a new space they enter a new energy level as well. This is generally based on the other people in that space, rather than the space itself, although that may play a small factor as well. When people gather to see a live performance, in this case a ballet, they are there because they enjoy what is being performed. This means that they are probably excited to be there and to see what will be performed. The audience then collectively gives off an enthusiastic energy to the space.
Another key player in the realm of a live ballet is the orchestra along with the conductor. At the start of a performance the musicians will often be heard tuning their instruments in preparation. At this moment they may be nervous, but are primarily concentrated on making sure their instruments are perfectly tuned to play. The fundamental moment of energy however, is just after the lights go down, and the conductor double taps his stand and the orchestra goes silent. In this moment the whole room falls silent as everyone anxiously awaits that first note to be played. The orchestra, the audience, and the dancers all stand still for a brief second, awaiting the cue of the conductor. No one wants to be the one to break the silence too early, as this energy captivates the entire room.
Meanwhile on the other side of the curtain, dancers are going over and over their choreography, especially the more difficult steps for them as they must get used to how the stage feels underneath them. Nerves are tense, but they must stay focused on what they are about to do and what they have trained and rehearsed to do. When they hear the double tap of the conductor and the stage manager yells ‘places!,’ all dancers frantically go to their opening positions. For some this is in the wings, some are on stage, and others head backstage to await their turn. Just before the curtain rises or a dancer steps on stage they will often mentally prepare with a deep breath to calm themselves and then the adrenaline sets in as they take that first step onto the stage.
A performance is a collective experience sensed by all who attend. The rush of energy flows throughout the entire theater. This energy is often said to be linear and flow from conductor to orchestra to dancers to the audience, however I disagree with this. I propose that there is actually a cycle of energy instead. The energy never stops, it continues to move throughout the space as the audiences’ auditory reactions then inspire and motivate the dancers. A gasp, a breath of relief, as well as applause all encourage the dancers to do what they do and do it even better each time. The audience releases an energy felt by all performers, including musicians. The cycle of energy is not singular either. Energy from every direction reaches each person involved, resulting in a sphere of energy that surrounds the room.