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The Six Questions

The Six Questions: Acting Technique For Dance Performance

Daniel Nagrin
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Six Questions
    Book Description:

    Writing in Dance Research Journal, Joellen A. Meglin of Temple University called The Six Questions, "a nerve-hitting, nitty-gritty, accept-nothing-bogus, action-painted account of the dance performance process based on a lifetime of creative performance, choreography, and teaching." Nagrin's second volume focuses on the theory of acting technique for dance performance and includes a workbook of exercises.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7178-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    How many dancers believe that work on the internal life of a dance performance is every bit as demanding as work on the physical? Most professionals labor unstintingly to achieve absolute command of all the motions, spacings and musical problems of the choreography and then, as the climactic time of performance approaches, seize upon a quick fix for the questions of why and for whom they are dancing.

    There is a very good chance that many dancers who read the table of contents on the previous pages will back off with dismay. “What? Does this man imagine that in order...

  2. Part One. The Theory

    • 1 Work on the Self
      (pp. 3-20)

      In the complex task of becoming an artist, there are profound yet subtle differences among the arts, all hinging upon the question of how much of the self is involved. The gap between an organist and a dancer is immediately apparent when one considers the instruments involved. One engages a multiplicity of ranked keys and pedals with the fingers and the feet; the body of the organist supports every action, but the focus is in front of the body. The dancer, however, isinher.his instrument—as is the singer and the actor. The difference is great and imposes special...

    • 2 Eroding Elements of the Performing State
      (pp. 21-32)

      By the time most dancers are ready to become professionals, they have already ingrained in them qualities and ways of working that profoundly affect whatever it is they have to offer as artists. Some of these are taken for granted. Take the matter of style. It is a given that one must have style. For many, this means that one must be “stylish” (up to the minute). It is generally assumed that one must cultivate an attractive style. The belief presented here is that each of these three thrusts—having a style, being “stylish,” and working to be attractive—is...

    • 3 The Six Questions: The Syntax of the Performing State
      (pp. 33-57)

      Syntaxis a lovely word defined as “the way in which words are put together to form phrases and sentences.” The performing state, similarly, is at its best an elegantly linked structure. When it’s right, all the parts feed each other to make a single expressive entity. The analytic work on the role described here need not be done in every situation. There are artistic expressions that burst forth like a spring flood. A wise person accepts them gratefully, rides the crest, asks no questions and doesn’t analyze. But a dancer dedicating her.his life to the profession cannot expect that...

    • 4 More Work on the Role
      (pp. 58-86)

      In chapter 3 we examined the fundamentals of analyzing and creating a role. This chapter will cover a miscellany of techniques and considerations that help polish the initial work. Inevitably, there will be a few overlaps, but discussing the same thing from a different angle can bring new insights into view.

      Sometimes, even the magnificent English language fails us. In teaching the business of movement impulse in modern dance technique, there have been the obvious terms: centripetal and centrifugal, internal or peripheral. Without exception, the terms are cold and unpoetic, exactly what one does not need for a dance class....

    • 5 Performing
      (pp. 87-122)

      The act of performing has a built-in audacity. Few of us are quite as laid-back as Ethel Merman. We were on the train from Philadelphia to New York to openAnnie Get Your Gun.Returning from the dining car, I passed Merman and dropped into an empty seat beside her. We rambled a bit and then I asked her, “Are you nervous about the opening?”

      “Why should I be nervous? If they could do what I do, they’d be up there.”

      She was a rock, a skilled, hard working rock. Most of us, no matter how skilled we are, are...

  3. Part Two. The Workbook

    • 6 Introduction and Outline
      (pp. 125-127)

      The following chapters present a sequence of exercises that allows the logic of the work to emerge. It can lead dancers over a period of time from simpler to more complex structures and, most important, to a deeper involvement of self in the act of dance. The sequence begins with a few assignments that can provide the backbone for the work of a group or class. The order in which the exercises are described is but a suggestion for how they might best be experienced or taught. For anyone who is focused on a particular problem of performance, there is...

    • 7 First Assignments
      (pp. 128-132)

      For any teacher or group planning to work through the logic of this book, this first assignment, pursued in depth, will touch upon every one of the principles and techniques of acting technique for dance performance.

      Every student or member of the group should prepare two different dance pieces that he.she has previously performed. Each should be at least two minutes and less than ten minutes in length: one was performed in a manner that felt right for the dancer, the other never felt right in performance. It matters not whether either was successfully received. Neither dance need be a...

    • 8 Exercises: Level 1
      (pp. 133-143)

      The first necessity in any session is to ensure the safety and freedom of the dancers’ bodies. The easiest way out is to say, “Take ten or fifteen minutes to warm up.” A terrible idea: the time is too short, too few dancers know how to do this well and too many will fill the time with chatting. Another way is to conduct a quick warmup: walking, then faster and faster, breaking into a run, slowing down to easy stretches, slow big body moves, extended arm motions, pliés, shallow and deep, and so on. Strategically conducted, this works. I found...

    • 9 Exercises: Level 2
      (pp. 144-156)

      Here are three ways of approaching this. One poses a problem for the entire group; the other two are individual assignments. As a group problem: have the group learn a moderately extended technical passage with a couple of physical challenges embedded in it. When the dancers have mastered it, ask them to perform the dance phrase fully with each of the following images in turn:

      You just won a big lottery prize. Celebrate, using the dance phrase you just learned.

      You are auditioning for the choreographer you dream of working with.

      You are a leaf in a quiet wind.


    • 10 Exercises: Level 3
      (pp. 157-172)

      Each of the following exercises introduces important principles and ways of working that pave the way for more complex exercises and performance pieces. The first two are circles and its variant, Each Alone.

      With your eyes closed, listen to the sequence of the next exercise. You will hear better with your eyes closed. First, you will hear music. After a while, I will say, “Someone or something is doing something.” I may choose any verb: flying, loving, hunting, planting, destroying, shielding, ad infinitum. Picking an example at random, let us say, “Someone or something is running to or from someone...

    • 11 Exercises: Level 4
      (pp. 173-175)

      This exercises addresses (1) the technical mastery of being able to dance, at will, before, after and on the beat; (2) the individual proclivity of the dancer in relation to rhythmic music; (3) the organic rhythmic relation to the music in the context of the six questions, the who or the what doing what.

      Problem 1: Find some infectious walking music: a paso doble, a Sousa march, a Dixieland march. To walking music do the simplest of walking step phrases: one step on each beat. “Strutting” would be a better designation than “walking.” I will call out, “Strut square on...

    • 12 Exercises: Level 5
      (pp. 176-181)

      Will everyone please get to a sink and thoroughly wash your hands? On the way, or returning, choose a partner. When you return, washed, sit facing each other cross-legged, a few inches apart, and close your eyes. When you sit, avoid touching the floor with your clean hands.

      The bemused go to wash, return as partners and sit:

      With your eyes closed, clear a space in your head with your breath. Anytime after I finish speaking and whenever you are ready, reach your hands forward to touch the face of the person in front of you. With your fingertips study...

    • 13 Exercises: Level 6
      (pp. 182-192)

      Gather in groups of three. Any one of you, on any impulse, will release from your body a short phrase of dance. The other two learn it. As soon as “the teacher” nods, satisfied that what was given was learned, one of the others repeats the phrase and adds another short phrase of dance which the other two learn, always starting with the first dance phrase. When number two indicates satisfaction, the third person, starting with the first and second dance phrase, adds a third phrase of movement which is learned by the other two.

      This flow of learning and...

  4. APPENDIX A: Anecdotal Material
    (pp. 195-199)
  5. APPENDIX B: A Beat Analysis of Dance in the Sun
    (pp. 200-202)
  6. APPENDIX C: Susanne K. Langer on Performance: A Critique
    (pp. 203-207)
  7. APPENDIX D: “The Duende,” by Federico Garcia Lorca
    (pp. 208-216)