Last night some of the senior contemporary students and I had the opportunity to experience an incredible dance performance in Toronto. It was the School of Toronto Dance Theatre's final show of the year, a beautiful and moving collection of new and remounted works by established Canadian choreographers and performed by students in all three years of the Professional Training Program at STDT. Blown away by not only the talent and character of the dancers but by the raw beauty of the art form, I think we all left feeling inspired to do more with our dancing and our creative work.
© Cylla von Tiedemann
Two things in particular struck me last night, and I think they are things that I always appreciate in contemporary dance but never tried to put into words before now. The first revelation was that any movement and any shape can be beautiful and meaningful, as long as it is performed with purposeful energy and intent. One of the most exciting things about contemporary dance for me is how creatively freeing it is: in this corner of the dance world, there is room for anything on stage. Established movements and practiced syllabus can be played with, broken down and combined with improvisation and gesture and sound and expression until something wholly new emerges. But a lot of the unique and interesting shapes and movements I saw last night would not have had the same effect were they not accompanied by a high level of focus and intent in every dancer.
Intention is a very important part of dance interpretation and performance. These dancers had to dig deep and be fully committed to the choreography in order to move the audience the way they did, and that is something we are still learning and working on in our contemporary classes here at the Academy. Particularly when it comes to contact work in partners or groups: the STDT dancers have learned to work together so cohesively that they can perform fantastically daring and dynamic lifts, throws, catches and group movements seamlessly. The incredible contact work we saw last night would not have been possible without the complete commitment and intention of every dancer involved.
The second revelation yesterday evening's performance had for me is the importance of unrestricted and unapologetic freedom in movement; in one word: abandon. When I ask my students to let loose, to dance with abandon, what I am really asking is for them to learn to trust themselves in their abilities and to trust those around them not to be judgemental of what comes out. Self-consciousness can have an enormous effect on how and dancer performs as well as how an audience interprets and appreciates a performance. One of the reasons we as an audience were so drawn into the pieces that we saw last night was because the dancers seemed to be so connected to the movement and to each other that there was no room for them to worry about what they looked like or whether the audience was judging a particularly odd movement or a mistake they had made. If they made mistakes we would never have known because their focus never faltered. Choreographers can make some very unusual creative choices that dancers might find uncomfortable at first, but that discomfort will only last until they fully embrace the dance, free of the restrictions of self-consciousness. This idea of dancing with abandon naturally goes hand in hand with the idea of dancing with intention.
What does this mean for dance class and performance in a recreational or pre-professional dance context? Our contemporary dancers are in their formative years, just beginning to explore what movement can do and be as an art form. They are learning to interpret choreography and find meaning in it, and to let go of their insecurities when it comes to things like improvisation and dance composition. They are learning about the line between control and stiffness, freedom and sloppiness, and the combination of passion and work ethic that leads to joy and fulfilment in dance.
We are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible in our contemporary dance program at the Academy, and I am very excited and inspired to see what we can build as we continue to expand our horizons and learn from the greats at every opportunity. Field trips like this as well as workshops with professional dance artists are really wonderful ways of motivating and inspiring dancers to embrace the art form and challenge themselves to discover their full potential. An enormous thank you to the choreographers, the students of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, and everyone involved in making "Momentum" 2018 what it was, I think we will carry this experience with us for a long time.