Emmi's Pen (3): Making and taking space

Emmi’s Pen is a blog, appearing on our website every two weeks. Dancer Emmi Pennanen will take you behind the scenes into the daily joys and struggles of a dancer, each time zooming in on a specific aspect of life at Ballet Vlaanderen.

Making and taking space

Two weeks ago I wrote about how, in dance, we relate to time. But time is not an entity on its own, it can only be measured in relationship to movement in space. In physics it is therefore called space-time. So it only seems a natural progression to now draw your attention to space. Something we very much have to be aware of as we practice and perform. We constantly evaluate where in the studio we are, how we relate to the other dancers around us. Should everybody be visible from the front? Shall we dance in a line? In a diagonal? Really close? Far apart? Repeatedly, we face the choice between allowing mutual gravitation or denying it.

The ongoing negotiation with space starts right with our morning routine, the daily ballet class. At the ballet barre, which the class starts with, we often adjust the directions we face in order to have enough room to execute the right movement combinations. Once the barres are moved aside and we start the second part of the class, it becomes even more crucial to be aware of our own dimensions and movements in relationship to others. Yes, we are making sure that we don’t step on each others toes. But also, we might be stealing glances to the mirror to correct our shapes and lines and thus scanning not only the space in front, but also seeing what is on both sides and behind. Throughout the class the combinations start moving and taking up more space. Accordingly we naturally split into smaller and smaller groups.

A specific point of focus for us in the past two weeks has been Pond Way, a choreography by Merce Cunningham. We are rehearsing the piece in silence and so cues and tempos come from a designated dancer or as a mutual understanding. There is mostly no symmetric formations yet the spacing is extremely precise. We are looking and listening for and at each other intensely. In some rehearsals we have had to leave gaps for dancers that were absent. It was fascinating, how noticeably that affected the feeling and dynamic of the section we where dancing.

This special awareness that we practice daily without even acknowledging it, is crucial in every single piece we perform. Whether alone on stage or in a big group it is very important to be able to cope with the challenge of spacial restrictions and tasks. Especially when there is more people dancing, this sometimes means having to compromise the movement in order to stay in the right spacing. The trick lies in connecting so entirely to the movements and energy of everybody else that it enhances and supports each person’s individual sense of dancing. At it’s best we are truly able to not just portray but also inhabit the sensation of many bodies moving as one.