The Importance of Artistry in Dance
Ask an audience member at a dance performance, “Who is your favourite dancer?” and (after their own son or daughter) it is always the dancer who touches their hearts.
They won’t remember if the dancer had the nicest feet, the highest legs, or turned the most pirouettes. They’ll remember the moment their breath was taken – probably for the rest of their lives.
The steps a dancer performs are simply a means to communicate an idea, an emotion, or a piece of music, and while technical execution is important, it is only important in so far as the idea gets across. The success of that communication lies with the artist in dance.
But can artistry be taught? It’s true there is a level of artistry that is innate in certain people – a mysterious, magical quality they are born with. However, it is also true that teachers can inspire and encourage the development of artistic expression in their students – it’s all about giving it value and emphasis.
Artistry comes with the understanding that the movement and the emotion must co-exist.
Retired Sydney ballet teacher, Nicholina Kuner, was known for producing beautifully expressive dancers. “I believe that it is not 'teaching' as much as inspiring the dancer with one’s own passion for the stage/performance,” she says. “Artistry comes with the understanding that the movement and the emotion must co-exist.”
At her school, she encouraged the teachers to pay particular attention to port de bras - the placement of the arms, the angle of the torso, the turn of head and neck, and focus of the eyes. Most importantly, she required the teachers to be able to demonstrate what they meant with style and detail and then have the students explore these qualities for themselves, inspiring and challenging them at the same time.
Great dancers often speak of the shivers they feel when they hear a piece of music and the fire that ignites inside them right before the dance begins.
“Dancers today are often so involved with their technique,” says Kuner. “They overlook the emotion or 'story' they are telling the audience and separate it from the movement and the dance.” By placing emphasis on the art of the movement and the meaning behind it, teachers can help their students find their own personal expression.
Great dancers often speak of the shivers they feel when they hear a piece of music and the fire that ignites inside them right before the dance begins. Teachers should encourage their students to be sensitive and attentive to those shivers and that fire, for once it is found, it doesn’t go away and the body and its movement becomes a conduit for the spirit. When a dancer’s technique and expression align, it takes your breath away.
Written by Emma Sandall
Emma danced with Bejart Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and West Australian Ballet.
She writes a regular column for Dance Australia Magazine: 'Ask Emma'.
Special thanks to Nicholina Kuner, Founding Director of Academy Ballet in Sydney and Alexander Campbell, Principal of The Royal Ballet and one of Nicholina's former ballet students for their contribution to this article.
Images Featuring; Tyla Steinbach, 2018 Artiste and Student at San Francisco Ballet School. Photography: Michael Van de Kerkhof.
And Alexander Campbell, Principal of The Royal Ballet. Performing the role of Colas in La Fille Mal Gardée. Photographer: Helen Maybank. Venue: Royal Opera House