When is a dance considered successful? I went to a student-choreographed performance at a performing arts high school this weekend and found myself wondering which pieces were the "best" and why.
There were several pieces that really stood out - one was about how one person can make a difference, another was an entertaining piece about the circus, another about the concepts of fate and chance, and the last about the relationship between a mother and daughter. I loved the piece about making a difference - there was a dancer in black and two in white and they fought most of the dance to radio bulletin voice-overs from wars and the Civil Rights movement. It ended with quotes from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," then the dancer in black shouted "I am only one, but I can make a difference!" It was powerful, gave me chills, and I felt like I could make a difference afterwards!
I GOT that piece - it was powerful and made sense, unlike many of the other pieces that obviously had a message, but I was lost and confused by the end of the dance. I found myself wondering if the other dances I didn't understand were somehow unsuccessful, or if the choreographer failed to communicate, touch or entertain the audience. The pieces I liked the best, so it seems the rest of the audience did, too, by the loud clapping and cheering that ensued.
I think it goes back to the age-old idea that art is subjective. Maybe the pieces I didn't understand, someone else did. Or, if no one understood (or even liked the choreography) but the choreographer and dancers did understand and were touched or changed in some way by the choreographer's message, then it touched some.
I think sometimes as choreographers, like artists, HAVE to create something to cleanse our minds, vent, or express something very strong within us. And if no one else understands it, but as artists we are purified and strengthened by our work, is it still unsuccessful? I compare it to the modern art many of us look at and think a four-year-old could do, yet, it's worth thousands of dollars. Maybe dance is the same way. Some of it, we just won't understand or feel anything afterwards. As for me, though, I have a very strong desire to connect to my audience. I want them to feel something afterwards, make them think, or simply entertain. But it takes thought, skill, and planning to create a piece that clearly communicates your message.
Because if a picture is worth a thousand words, so is a dance, as it can speak louder and more clearly than words, and people actually listen.