Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Play date vs. Baby Frankenstein

I’ve heard some ghastly music mixes in performances over the years. One time, the performance was like 3 minutes long and there were like 6 different pieces used. Seriously, folks, it’s really annoying to hear the music suddenly switch from piece A to piece B without any editing in-between. ESPECIALLY if the pieces don’t have any relationship to one another.  Beyond the annoyance for the ears, it detracts from your performance! My brain has to switch from A to B quickly and, while it’s adjusting, I’m totally missing the dancing that you’re doing! So, once again, I’d like to make a plea for better music editing.

This is really my opinion and you don’t have to agree with me but I have huge issues with using only small portions of a piece in my performances.  I tend to use the whole piece.  I’ve seldom done some music mixes because of that.  To me, up to a certain point, if you are using only bits and pieces of a music piece, you’re kind of deconstructing someone else’s art for your own needs. And I have some issues with that.  Now, I do love industrial music and we all know that they do sampling quite a bit… and that’s fine. But may I point out that they do it with artistry and the insertion of those elements is so well done that it’s seamless.  Also, both with industrial music and electronica, it can get repetitive so I understand cutting such music; if you do, I’d like to hear a representative portion of the piece, though.

I know enough musicians to know that their music is their children… just like my dances are my children.  So I view performances as actually a play date between my child and the musician(s)’s child.  And, yes, it’s possible to have a play date with more than 2 children, of course! You can invite other musician’s “children” to play but, just like in real life, it shouldn’t be complete and utter chaos.  In real life, if play dates were too chaotic, the parents would put an end to it or go with smaller numbers. Similar analogy with your mixes.

Also, try not to make a baby Frankenstein. Sometimes, I’ll hear mixes where the songs have so little to do with each other that it totally felt like someone patchworked a baby Frankenstein together (you know, like an arm comes from this child and a leg from this other child, and a torso from this other child, etc.). Just like you should be striving for your music, your costuming, your movements, your hair and makeup to work harmoniously together and have common elements, you want the pieces that you’re using to work together and create a seamless story.

I don’t know if these tendencies to want to mix music that have nothing to do with each other is a by-product of wanting to perform them all and feeling like there aren’t enough opportunities.  I totally understand that there’s a lot of good music out there. But I think that it’s important for a performance to have focus and, if you use music pieces that have nothing to do with each other in your mixes, it will give a sort of schizophrenic effect of not knowing where you wanted to go. If you’ve ever watched Project Runway or Top Chef, you’ve most certainly heard the judges say something like “there are some good ideas in there but this lacked focus.”  It’s like that.

Believe me, based on the few times that I’ve had to mix or cut music, it takes a long time to get a seamless effect (and, yes, even with doing just a cut). There are tons of softwares out there, some free, to help you out (I use Audacity). But it still takes time.  So take the time. And, no, it’s not something that you can pull off at the last second unless you are very experienced with these editing softwares. If you don’t have time to do a good job (I understand being pressed for time), try to find a DJ who can help you with that. There are a lot of DJs out there and a good one should be able to mix your pieces very seamlessly.

So when you’re picking out the different pieces that you want to mix together, think of the story and mood that you are weaving together.  Consider that you’ll most likely need to adjust the mood with each piece… even if they’re all about, say, sadness. No two pieces are exactly alike. How are you going to transition the pieces from one to the other musically? And how will that affect your dancing? 

What progression are you going for? Worst mixes are going up-down-up-down… e.g., happy, anger, love, more anger, hope, hate, etc.  So strive instead for some sort of progression… something that would make sense in the real world. People are rarely this chaotic in their emotions (PMS excluded, of course). And, throughout, keep in the back of your mind this question: What is the overarching theme of the whole piece? That should help you figure out how to order things.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's never as bad as you think...

Last January, when we did the Museum Quality intensive, I knew that I was going to present a piece where I would receive feedback. It was strangely more nerve racking than regular performing is nowadays. It eventually dawned on me that the issue was that, for once, I would hear out loud what folks were thinking while I was performing. And then I realized that it meant that I had moved beyond worrying what folks think about my performance. Believe me, it took me years to get there.

This is probably one of THE worst fear when one performs (at least for a while): what will people think?

Well, I've done a number of workshops now where there is a critique portion to your dancing and I've actually sought critiques from mentors and, let me tell you: it's never nearly as bad you think.

What is playing in your head, really, is your own self-critique (which is always way off, by the way) and your fears playing in your head. It sounds like a cliché to say this but you are your own worst critique.

Honestly, first of all, no one will ever tell you anyway what they think. Or if they do, they will restrict it to just talking about the good.

But you're still wondering, right? What else are they thinking?

Again, in my experience of receiving feedback, I've rarely received something that is out of left field... except actually for compliments. When it comes to the areas for improvement, the truth is that I often actually already knew what some of those were but either it hadn't bubbled up to the conscious level yet or I hadn't found a way to work on those items yet. It's very rare indeed that something will come out that you weren't aware of but it does happen.

So, again, it's not like you didn't self-critique already on those points.

The bottom line is that, indeed, you should do your own dance and don't give a *beep* about what other folks think. You'll think worse anyway. And, really, the only person that you should aim to please with your performance is you... but that is a topic deserving its own entry. ;)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pin your hair

This is now a pet peeve of mine when I see performances: when someone's hair is in their face while performing.

The mysterious vibe
I think that some people think that it makes them look mysterious, maybe even mischievous  And it can do that to a certain extent. But the problem with the hair over your face is that I don't see your whole face. So when you're making facial expressions, I miss half of what is going on.  Believe me, you can have that mysterious vibe without hiding half your face: it's all in your facial expression. ;)

Presenting the wrong side of the face
What I see happening often is presenting the wrong side of your face to the audience. So your hair is heavier and covering your left side of the face? Well, then, if you will be showing your left side to the audience either sideways or at a diagonal, I will lose even more if not all of your face. So you're essentially hiding behind a wall of hair. Believe me, I know how scary it is to perform but please don't hide your face.  This will be even more pronounced if the dancer is doing improv, as it will be natural way of sheltering yourself.

So if you know which side your hair is thicker and tends to fall over your face the most, you should know to generally present the other side to the audience the most. It takes some practice but it gets easier with time.

It's really about the sides
The sides of your hair (i.e., the hair in front of your ears), will be the hair that will have the highest tendency to fall over your face.  So this is really the area of hair that you will need to pay attention to. Assess what the pattern of your falling forward is like and that will give you an idea of how you can correct the forward tendency.

Loosely pinning
For all that you love your loose hair, you can gently/loosely pin it in place so that it still keeps its shape but not move so much. It's all about the bobby pins! You can put on as many as you want or need as, from the stage, no one will be able to see.  You can also use decorative pins, barrettes, fascinators, etc. to distract from the bobby pins and to add some interest in your hair.

I discovered pomade thanks to a workshop with Michelle Manx. I've been using it ever since. If you don't know about pomade, here is what it does: it helps smooth down the stray hairs. So when my hair looks all messy, just a little pomade in my hands and gently manipulating my hair with my hands in place helps keep the runaway hairs in place. You can also use a little more to shape the hair in place, provided that you're not looking for volume but a sleek finish.

It's really a frame
Essentially, what this is getting to is framing your face to showcase the emotions that you'll show on your face (and all your beautiful makeup :p). So it's not just about getting the hair out of the way but also coming up with a pretty frame around your face. In time, you'll find what works well for your features. Play with it. Practice doing your hair and different ways to place your hair... remember that it's not just about the back of your hair (which you'll be showing only so often) but also about how it falls around your face and what it does for your features.  Make sure that the frame doesn't go over the beautiful picture that is your face, m'kay?