How much memorization does art dance performance require?
November 24, 2009 6:52 PM   Subscribe

How much memorization does art dance performance require?

I assume it varies between genres - and between roles within genres. But can useful generalizations be made about how much performance data retrieval per minute is involved compared with, say, playing in a symphony orchestra?
posted by Joe Beese to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Comparing the two experiences as someone who's done each as a performer, I think that dancing in a ballet or modern dance requires a lot more attention than playing in a symphony orchestra.

When you're dancing, you need to be aware of each gesture of your arms, legs, hands, feet, torso, head, and neck. You also need to be aware of where you are on the stage. You also need to be visibly telegraphing an emotion through your facial expression and body language. You need to keep out of the way, physically, of the other performers while interacting with them emotionally. You need to monitor your energy, calculate how much energy to expend on each step or combination, and keep your breathing regular.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:07 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

In an orchestra the instructions are sitting in front of you the whole time.
posted by rhizome at 7:11 PM on November 24, 2009

Response by poster: rhizome: "In an orchestra the instructions are sitting in front of you the whole time."

Does the soloist in a concerto use a score? If not, I guess that would be a more useful comparison.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:27 PM on November 24, 2009

Does the soloist in a concerto use a score?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

But there's still more data retrieval while you're dancing memorized choreography than there is even when you're performing memorized music. In addition to remembering what comes next in the piece, coordination with other performers, physical self-monitoring, and focusing on expression and technique, which are common to both endeavors, you are also moving through physical space and constantly calculating your position onstage and your position relative to other dancers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have experience with this. I did not find that it was actually memorization, like you would memorize lines from a play. It is muscle memory. You practice enough and your body knows what to do. At least it is how it worked for me. It was not cerebral.
posted by fifilaru at 12:24 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a composer and I've worked with symphony orchestras and dancers (although the latter in an observational role, so whilst I can compare I can only really talk about how an orchestra functions.) The way that the two disciplines work is totally different. Dance rehearsals are about fixing muscle memory as you go. Orchestral rehearsals are about fixing as much as time allows before the union reps call for the end of the rehearsal. Everyone in the orchestra has his or her head buried in the part regardless of whether they've played the piece five times or five hundred times.

Soloists play repertoire concertos by memory, but it's extremely unlikely that a soloist would premiere a new concerto without the music. So, when they do play from memory, they've played that piece hundreds of times, whether it be in a practice room, with an accompanist or with an orchestra. That's the difference. Memorization for a player comes from playing it over and over and over. From what I've observed in dance, this process happens much more quickly and is in fact inherent in the working process. I understand that there is notation for choreography, but it is no where near as universal or as codified as musical notation, hence the need to memorize on the fly. I have seen dance created in a studio, and from a musicians perspective it is incredible to me how quickly dancers memorize what's going on. The leads me to believe that it is, as I said, inherent to the process in a fundamentally different way to the way in which musicians memorize.
posted by ob at 7:44 AM on November 25, 2009

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