DANCE ‣ How a Choreographer's Choice of Dancers Affects a Piece
Victoria Parker, Senior Editor, Dance
Audition day, a day filled with anxiety, nerves, and the excitement of possibility. When the day ends, and the dancers have been chosen, many dancers find themselves wondering why they did or did not get cast in a particular piece by a choreographer. This is an entire question to be answered in and of itself, but I would like to explore the thought behind the choreographer’s choice and how that will affect how their piece is performed and possibly repeated in future.
Whether the choreographer be guesting from far away or a local instructor from within the studio or company, every choreographer must at some point decide which dancers they would like to work with. Each dancer selected, then has a specific set of skills and weaknesses that likely align with the choreographer’s vision. During the audition process, a choreographer will request to see techniques and skills that they have planned to incorporate into their work as well as specific movement qualities and aesthetics. This will translate into how the piece is performed on stage.
Seeing as each dancer was likely chosen for the specific qualities they hold, when, or if, the piece is repeated in the future, it may appear different if performed to the same audience. Dancers are trained to be able to copy other dancers and synchronize with each other, however they cannot beat human nature which says, no one can be perfect and each individual is distinct. Every dancer is unique and therefore will not be able to perform the choreography exactly like the first dancer did. A choreographer can try to find a dancer with similar skills, movement quality, and aesthetic, but it will never be a perfect match.
The quality of the piece will shift, and many philosophers question at this moment if the repeat of a performance is actually authentic to the original. Peter Kivy analyzes this issue pertaining to music, but his theories can be seen in dance performance as well. In his theories the original performance is the authentic one. If the performance is done again, there are small factors that will change, affecting how closely related one performance is to the next. The dancers who perform a piece are one of the large factors that will alter the performance quality. This is not to say that the original nor the repeats of the piece are either good or bad, just that they will not be the same.
In my opinion, this is not to be seen as a negative or that the original should be the standard, but as the factor that makes live performance so intriguing. Each live performance will always be slightly different, unlike any sort of digital recording. People are drawn to theaters over and over again, because they know each time something will change making their experience unique. Seeing various dancers perform the same role is eye-opening, as each one brings something new to the stage. As theaters start to slowly re-open in the next few months, I encourage you to keep this in mind and attend as many performances as you can, trying to see different casts of the work.