The stage is more than just a place you go and present a piece to an audience, it is an experience that creates (or at least should create) long lasting memories for both you and your audience. African dance is about telling a story through the movement, it can be communicating a social message or celebrating a bumper harvest – making the performance something much more than a presentation of movements by a dance troupe but very much part of the social fabric.
Emotion is often defined as ‘a strong feeling deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. This definition provides a distinction between being on stage and going on stage – exceptional performers can separate the two. The latter alludes to merely repeating movements practiced at rehearsals and then going on home right after, and the former illustrates the presents of the body, mind and spirit to the performance. Emotion breathes life into a performance, and can only be executed when one is totally submerged in the art form. I become one with the story being told through my movements – my heart, soul, body and spirit are in sync.
In 2010, I was in a production that I was performing a monologue in New York City. The production was called Gaza Monologues. It was about how the children of Gaza are living in captivity and seeing their loved ones being killed day-by-day by the Israeli soldiers. I was enacting a monologue of a small boy (12 years old) in Gaza who saw his brother being killed by a bomb on their way back home from school. It was a tough piece to execute as it was emotionally charged with huge melancholic disposition. It was easy to get into character, as I had lost a brother, though not as violently. One day during the rehearsals my director said to me, “Victor before we do this run of your monologue be in tune with your star player, be the boy and let that story happen to you.” This was the turning point because it allowed me to let go of my fears and really connect with the character.
During my time on set, whenever I had a break, I would sit by myself, and drift off into a deep place that led me down the corridor of introspection, and in my mind I could see vividly, a pictorial view of how I lost my brother and telling such tales through dance movements. Every performance meant I had to dig deep to find the emotional attachment to the story, and every time it resonated with the audience because they too lived through the Gaza tragedy vicariously through my movements on stage, and such was how emotionally charged the performance was, consistently. Even during rehearsals, some cast would shed tears because it was just that real.
I would say this being an international production, I was happy to know that I have done my part in changing the world. After the show the world leaders present, congratulated me as well as the other cast members for a stellar performance. They appreciated our portrayal of the harsh realities that were going on in Gaza, whilst the rest of the world watched from the sidelines. The Gaza monologue was a cry for help and a call to action. Six years on, this cry still screams loudly.
What I know, and know to be true is you should not force emotion on stage - this will only make your performance look unrealistic, and take away from the message you want to put across. Emotion is not found on stage, it is something you build up from the day you are given the part.
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