Thursday, April 17, 2008

Into the Theater

I'm having trouble with eBlogger and can't upload photos right now, unfortunately. I wanted to show you some views of the backstage area at the Newmark Theater, where the company is in tech and dress rehearsals today. Dang.

It'll have to suffice to just describe the theater a little bit. I love performing at the Newmark for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with its size and design. Those same elements are also the reasons why we can't do many ballets there-- no orchestra pit and very limited wingspace call for careful programming. However, the fact that there is no pit brings us closer to the audience, and them closer to us. That gulf that the pit makes can feel like a moat, keeping us up there on stage a safe distance out of striking range from the crowds below (not really). For certain ballets and productions, that is perfect--- it gives the sense of grandeur, size, and perspective that are an integral to making Swan Lake or The Nutcracker successful. Even smaller ballets without mega-sets or production elements sometimes do better when viewed from a distance, when their architecture and structure and sweep of movement can be wholly seen. And the dancer's sense of magnitude is much bolstered by the sheer size of the hall they're performing in--- standing on a huge stage, looking out at a cavern of 3000 seats, makes a person feel how small they are. To fill that stage, to reach those people out there, you find yourself dancing bigger, bolder, and stronger, than your physical self. And that's an amazingly powerful feeling.

But then we switch over to a completely different performance arena where it feels as though it's possible to reach out to shake hands with the person in the front row. It's like a living room-- I've gotten the distinct sense of having flashbacks to childhood when I would put on "shows" for my parents' dinner parties. There's also the silence, since no orchestra is warming up before curtain time to give us the calming reassurance that we're not going to be alone out there on stage. (That is yet another thing I miss whenever we dance without live orchestra). But once the curtain does go up, the support and warmth of the audience is much more palpable than in other settings. "Intimate" is always the word used to describe smaller theaters, and it's true. Even more so than you would think, every single thing on stage is visible and it seems that we're being watched under a microscope--- no tiny cell goes unseen! But what fun to hear and sense every breath and sigh of the audience members, every little murmur or chuckle or gasp. It's a powerful feeling in a completely different way than the size of the Keller brings on. Instead, it's the feeling of truly crafting a series of moments that the viewers are experiencing completely, not just in their eyes but in their whole selves. I feel like a magician sometimes, feeding off the audience's response to be inspired to perform greater and greater spectacles.

A person can freak themself out, thinking too hard about the risks of being a live performer! But it's truly still just a show, we're all human, and the magic of live theater is constantly employed to help us do it. (The "magic" often comes in the shape of the production department).

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