As artists, of course our favorite thing to do is be on stage. Not much in life can compare to that incredible feeling of being in the moment, lights from every angle illuminating us inside and out. Being one with the music, the other dancers, the floor, the audience. Nothing will quite be a substitute for that, but for me, one of the next best things is enjoying watching other people dance. In a time of such uncertainty for the industry and questions on how it will be able to adapt to a future of social distancing, what we do have left is dance on screen and it comes in many forms. Let’s check out the possibilities.
Broadcasting of live performances.
This is seemingly the most straight forward option: watch a recording of famous companies perform some of the best dance pieces ever created from the comfort of our couch and pijamas. As many venues had to close their physical doors, they opened their virtual ones to audiences around the world. Best of all, most of them for now are FREE. Examples of these initiatives are: The Royal Opera House in London now offers on demand via their Facebook page or Youtube channel many performances in their repertory. Newyorklivearts.org offers screenings of many performances on their website. The Bolshoi theater is streaming many ballet performances on its youtube channel. Companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Martha Graham Dance Company also have performances, interviews and clips via their Facebook, Instagram and Youtube accounts.
As much as it would seem that this form of viewing performances is a no-brainer solution, recordings of live performances have personally always left me dissatisfied. Although beautiful, this format lacks the depth and detail of live dance. It’s unable to capture the sheer power of these world famous artists and productions. Since most of the camera angles are either broad and center, or to the side for brief closeups, the output is a very “flat” experience, both visually and emotionally. While looking at a recording of a Martha Graham repertory piece, I am always shocked to see how these incredible dancers did not look half as impressive as I KNOW they are live. As time goes on, I have a feeling theaters will evolve to use more advanced technologies of film crafting to be able to bring in the audience and so survive in a social distancing future.
This is the type of category we wish was the hero every dancer needs – spectacular filming, world famous hot actors and all tied together with a tear-inducing storyline. Some of my favorites include classics like “Dirty Dancing”, “Black Swan”, “Billy Elliot” and of course all the musicals you can think of, including “West Side Story”, Singing in the Rain” and “La La Land”. The variety is huge and certain to get anyone’s groove going. As dance-themed blockbuster movies are indeed a great thing to have, as far as valid alternatives to live performances, they rarely are. This is because of a small but main element: these movies are not centered around what actually dance performances are about. The dancing and filming is great, but dance itself is used only as a drive to the storyline. It’s telling a story about dance, not through dance, (musical aside, as they are themselves a cross-breed of dance/theater/music). However, just because it can’t give you the same experience of the stage, doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. My all means, get yourself those netflix, Prime Video, Chili accounts activated and start dancing the night away! I sure do.
Social media following.
Social Media is an incredible thing. By following your favorite dancers and dance companies on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc. you are able to access and interact with celebrities as never done before in history. You can see their daily routines, take live classes, view clips of performances, AND are able to share your love and comments with them. This makes me feel personally as part of a community of dancers, to know we are all in this together. Many of the companies, schools and dancers above mentioned are very active in this way. As much as I find social media a wonderful tool, (a tool that might very well save the dance world from succumbing to lockdowns) again, it holds another purpose/strength and is not really a substitute for a live performance. The main feature it can provide to dancers is more interactivity, community, feedback. It’s more about short, live and/or brief interactions, rather than the relation between an audience and a performance.
Dance on Camera.
This final genre I think has the biggest potential, and I’ll explain why. This is a type of dance filming which is created FOR the purpose of bringing dance and filming arts together. It is a different format of filming a performance. Dances are filmed using techniques which are SPECIFICALLY meant to be visually stunning and bring the audience into the performance. That’s what movie magic is all about. It is a way of displaying dance full of opportunities to bring remote performances at a new level of quality. The world becomes your audience, your stage can be anywhere and on anything. A perfect example of dance on camera is what was actually marketed as a dance movie but in reality sets it apart from both dance-themed movies, (because it doesn’t have an actual story) and broadcasted performances, (because it was filmed with cinematography in mind): the feature film about Pina Bausch, “Pina”. This movie was created for movie theaters, (it was also filmed in 3D!) it has no storyline other than brief interviews of her dancers speaking about Pina and her work. The short segments were filmed in a variety of locations and because they used movie-style camera techniques, it is a visual feast for the eyes. Time and time again I have enjoyed watching that movie, even just one of the segments. It captivates me and gives me that sense of satisfaction pretty darn close to a live performance. It is not a substitute; it is a new art form, one which not only adapts, but fits perfectly with social distancing and can thrive in it. When it comes to movies, we have seen other examples of this type of quality filming in features like “Center Stage”, “Hable con Ella”…however the main difference for me is these movies focussed more on the storyline, these are movies with dance in them, not a pure dance performance. Dance on camera can be seen also in music videos such as Ed Sheerans, “Thinking Out Loud” or many of Sia’s videos. Away from popular sources, where dance on camera really thrives is through independent dance festivals that have sprouted all over the world in recent decades, Most of them are short films, many quirky and a lot of quality work is being produced for these venues. The main problem with it still remains on how to make this artform popular enough to generate enough money for it to be worth the while of the artists who produce it. I don’t know yet what the future for live theaters or performances will be, but I have a feeling that many of the companies in order to survive will have to embrace a new format like this. And who knows, it might bring a new era to dance as an artform!
And then of course, there is always the option of dusting off the recordings we have of us performing and that might be the closest thing we have to bring back that feeling of being onstage ourselves…making sure to avoid at all costs the recordings of when we were a beginner dancer and actually sucked at it. THAT would make me switch to accounting faster than the time it takes to blink!
Share your experiences, resources, opinions on this article. I’d love to hear your thoughts!