Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Accepting the Unscience of Performing Dance

Carrying on with some of the ideas in my previous entry about performing, I want to talk about the unscience of performance. 

What do I mean by "unscience" - when all of the necessary items seem to be present to make a great performance, but it doesn't happen, and vice versa.  You're prepared, the music is right, the stage is lovely, costume fits perfectly, the lighting is awesome, the house is full, and yet, it just doesn't happen the way you thought it would.

Science says that if you have all of the ingredients in the right amounts, at the right temperature, put together in the correct way, you should get a predictable end product.  That's the beauty of the Scientific Method - it helps us prove cause and effect, order and logic.  That the recipe for mice isn't throw some food in a pile of straw in the corner of the barn and you will magically get mice out of thin air.  (For the non-geeks, this was an actual theory under the concept of "Spontaneous Generation.")

Logically, if you're prepared (you practiced, you did your work, the music is done well, your costume is finished and fits, you've worked with that prop 100's of times, you've done this show before, etc), then everything should be good, but not everything is black and white. There's the other variables: the space made you feel weird, the audience was unusually supportive or dead, the stage felt funny, the lights were not bright/too bright, your costume did something weird it never did before, your earring got stuck on your veil...all of these things can happen at any time.  But these things are small variables that rarely can be helped.

The truth is, there are far too many variables in the arts to provide the same exact results every time - and most specifically, WE ourselves are the greatest, most unstable variable.  I have done performances severely jetlagged and half-starved and under-prepared that have been the most incredible, and then at the other end, happy stomach, 8 hours of sleep, totally prepared - and the result was meh.  I don't mean to imply that one must be tortured to get amazing results but rather I am citing ironic examples of when you would expect a good vs. bad performance and got the opposite effect.  All of the elements said it should have been predictably one way or the other, but it wasn't. 

Maybe part of it is level of expectation - if you don't expect a lot, you leave a lot of room for potential satisfaction  If you set your sights too high, it seems impossible to reach that goal, so you're setting yourself up for failure.  If you've done that performance before, you're comparing it to that last experience, which also creates a type of expectation.

So what can you do about it? 

Well, you should still try and take care of all of the constants you are responsible for.  Plan your piece out, practice it with your intended props/costumes, check out the stage ahead of time, eat/drink/sleep accordingly.  In other words: be prepared.  But once you've got those logical components out the way, be open to a little magic and mystery.  Don't over-anticipate what's going to happen, what people may think, how it may compare to last time - instead, allow yourself to be in that moment, and that moment only.  Enjoy it for being NOW.  Accept that anything can happen, and it's not the end of the world, but you will do your best that you can possible do for this moment.  And don't beat yourself up if it doesn't turn out exactly as planned.  Sometimes, that makes it even better.

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