Sunday, August 3, 2008
But how do you know when a performance is honest? How can you tell when the performer is genuinely enjoying herself without worrying about impressing the audience or whether her performance will be well-received?
I thought back to my skating days, when my mother and I would get annoyed at the skaters who were rewarded by their use of gimmicks and props, while the skaters will skill and musicality weren't always recognized.
In belly dance, I think gimmicks are also overused, and often point to a disingenuous performance. My friend the Oxford English Dictionary says that a "gimmick" is "a tricky or ingenious device, gadget, idea, etc., especially one adopted for the purpose of attracting attention or publicity." In this definition, there is an inherent intend to trick or mislead. In my mind, a gimmick in a performance can be used to distract the audience away from the fact that a dancer is not accomplished or secure enough for her dancing to stand alone. That gimmick could be the use of an unusual prop, wearing provocative or unusual costuming, using catchy music, or gratuitous humor. (This is not to say that I believe that anyone who uses a prop is doing so because they can't dance. On the contrary, I've seen many a skilled dancer use props in a manner that compliments and enhances her dance.)
Other elements that seem to tip off a performance that isn't wholly honest is gratuitous use of trendy or scandalous music, overly-revealing costuming for the sake of garnering attention, or scandalous movements. These things are also gimmicks, inadvertently placing skill and expression behind gaining attention or notoriety.
I think it takes a long time and a wise dancer to give an honest performance. The most honest and raw performances I've seen are from dancers who have either been dancing their whole life or who have been dancing for 20 or more years. It's difficult for a new performer to have the confidence and sense of self to give an honest performance. Many of us newbies are still focusing on whether our technique is correct or whether or not the audience cares or appreciates what we're doing, or whether or not our costume might... "malfunction." An experienced performer is so open on stage that she's not paying attention to these things - she isn't paying attention to anything, in the conscious sense. It's as if she's turning her emotional self inside out, baring her shadows for all of us to see, and she isn't worrying about whether or not we like what we're seeing. She just IS, and that's all that matters.