More on Technique and Artistry

In a discussion on Baryshnikov I made a comment that lead to further discussions on technique and artistry. This blog post has been crafted from my comments in these discussions.

Martha Graham summed it up when she said “Great dancers aren’t great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion”. Near perfect technique will impress an audience, but the real magic that MOVES an audience comes from a very deep place within. Bringing THAT to the audience is what will move them, and what will stay with them; always. I am so fortunate that many of my teachers taught from this point of view (especially my beloved Luigi), and I strive to cultivate this quality in my students. Sadly, I feel like a dinosaur, as no one really seems to be teaching this way any more, and fewer and fewer people are valuing anything past a high leg, exciting jump or technically strong pirouettes.

One of my colleagues commented that artistry and technique were one and the same thing. I do not agree that technique and artistry the same thing; although I believe that for the final result to be what we all would recognize as a truly beautiful and artistic performance, technique and artistry must be taught simultaneously. A wonderful Vaganova trained pedagogue once explained to me how artistry is taught in the Vaganova method by gradually adding layers of nuance in epaulment, head positions, eye positions, etc. as the student progresses through the levels. This teacher is extremely gifted and knowledgeable, and the result that comes out of the Vaganova Academy is certainly impressive, but on this point I disagree.

Head positions, eye positions and epaulment are just more technique. I believe artistry is more about quality of movement, musicality and an inexplicable energy, emotion and life that comes from the deepest part of the dancer; and this must be cultivated right from the beginning. Luigi said: “To dance, put your hand in your heart and listen to the sound of your soul.”. Doris Humphrey so famously said “Dance from the inside.” and her teaching and philosophy resonate throughout Luigi’s work, and consequently throughout my teaching. I implore my students to feel everything BEFORE they do it. I encourage them to dance from a very deep place; to let the music inside their body and have it inform the movement. I encourage them to feel the space around them and resist against that space. I teach them to search for connections in the body. Every moment must be alive and the body must move on the inside, even when it is still on the outside, and even when executing something as simple as a tendu or a demi plié. Very few students will fully embrace this way of working, very few students will fully understand the need for this depth of work and consequently the truly great artists are slowly disappearing as more and more dancers and choreographers are searching for more impressive things to bring to the stage. Audiences may be impressed by these technical feats; but audiences don’t remember what you do, they remember how you make them feel.

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