Thursday, Sep 21, 2017 | Last Update : 10:21 AM IST
Communication and coordination are essential for aesthetic performance.
A dance production is a collaborative team effort, which leads to an aesthetic experience that creates magic for audiences. Previously, I wrote about things that deserve consideration from an organiser to ensure a well-managed presentation.
The lacuna seen in a production showcasing local classical Odissi dancers collaborating together provided me with an opportunity to make certain recommendations that could improve presentations by many organisers.
I had limited my focus to the organisers owing to space considerations. I would like to broaden the subject to how we, as dancers, can take responsibility to ensure a successful staging of our performance. Most classical dancers have not been specifically trained in theatre management and staging, including lights, sound, and backstage coordination.
The idea is to know what others need from you to support them in producing best results. I had compared the slipshod presentation of a consortium of senior local Odissi dancers “a smooth show”. Ratikant Mohapatra’s presentations have excellent production values as he was not only trained by his father, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, in dance and mardala, but he also knows all about light and sound, sets and pre-production planning.
This is a tangible legacy of a father, who worked from handling the paint buckets for set design to excelling in Odia jatra theatre from.
With this knowledge added to his dance and musical abilities, Kelubabu became the leading architect of transitioning Odissi dance of the modern stage. The gotipura dance tradition, which he started, began to reach the proscenium stage near the end of 20th century, largely because the art was not couched in the dance production values required.
A dance production course was an essential part of my M.A. in dance, which required hours assisting light designer, sound technician, costumers, makeup-supervisor, set design, stage manager, house manager, pre-production publicity and promotion, and choreographer.
I recall one incident where our university’s dance department was put to the test. We went for an out-of-town performance and discovered they had no tech people. I ran up the ladders to focus the barn doors on the lights, added gels and set dimmers for our cues while others took care of sound system and levels. If a solo or group of dancers doesn’t have a designated stage manager or production manager, you must do it yourself to ensure everything needed is there. Is the placement of musicians and feedback monitors correct for both visibility and hearing?
Technicians’ job is to provide basic technical support but you can’t expect them to know the requirement for a particular performance.
How will a sound technician know that a dancer doesn’t need a foot microphone for Odissi if his experience is only with kathak performers? How will a technician know a dancer needs a standing microphone?
Especially if there are multiple performances, it is essential to coordinate stage set-up needs. For anything more complex than a solo dance recital, there should be a stage manager to oversee. You need to note down different sound levels for microphones to be used during the event.
Good lighting adds to a performance, and I am as guilty as anyone in usually not expecting enough from the light operators. On tours abroad, a tech rehearsal is standard. As a rule, I set simple light for initial stage and elaborate ones for fully equipped stages. I also carried light gels to avoid cold white light.
Basically, we need sidelights for sculpting the moving figure and front/diagonal lights for the face visibility.
Even without the luxury of our own lighting designer, a fairly quick tech overview can help indicate when we cross directly on the stage or downstage. Some light operators think flashing colours are still in vogue. So; given the chance, they can turn into their creative best. Given the importance of lighting, and the fact that proper stage lighting equipment is becoming more the rule than exception in many theatres, dancers can reap the benefits only if they learn the basics of the light positioning. If you can plan things with your lighting designer in advance, the results will actually be worth the effort.
Protima Bedi used to say 80% of the success of her performance was due to good lighting and music.
One thing I learned about the teamwork in the dance production depends upon your overall experience. As a dancer, I am junior to my accompanists if my guru is conducting the orchestra, while I am in-charge of many other things.
Similarly, when a group is performing responsibility needs to be entrusted upon in terms of experience. Everyone should know who would make announcements or introductory remarks or acknowledgements at the end. All names of artists and specialised terms that might be unfamiliar should be written phonetically in brackets next to the term. An experienced compere will check these things and ask for clarification, if any.
Write all the expectations and parameters for the performance in advance. One thing I learned in college after the above mentioned performance was that we were not valued enough to be given a proper hot dinner after the programme and only got cold sandwiches.
Also, heartburn is obvious when your performance is cut-short. In Odissi consortium, with nothing in writing, it is hard to say if it happened because of misunderstanding or lesser value given to the performance offered for free. Communication and coordination are essential for aesthetic performances. This requires collaborative efforts based on thoughtful organisation and clarity.
The writer is a respected exponent. She can be contacted at email@example.com.