Emma Sandall answers reader’s questions
Q Do you have any suggestions about how I could make my stage performance as good as my rehearsal performances?
– 15 year old aspiring ballet dancer
The transition from studio to stage is a critical one for all performers to master so it’s great to raise the question early on. The sooner you can develop a method that works for you, the better.
It is natural that what feels comfortable in a familiar studio feels foreign on stage – particularly when there is not adequate stage time to acclimatise. Take away the fourth wall and it can feel like you are dancing in a deep, foreign cavern; your centre tends to fall backwards and adrenaline pushes you into overdrive. Keeping your cool while delivering a performance that rises to the occasion takes practise.
Mental preparation is key. Start by using your imagination while in studio rehearsals. Once you’re on top of the choreography and you’ve started to make it your own, the next step is to see the performance in your mind’s eye – how you want to deliver it and how you would like it to come across to the audience. I like to listen to the music through headphones before rehearsals, going through the work in my mind. It is also interesting to repeat this process after the rehearsal to see how your approach and ideas might have shifted, also to consolidate corrections.
It is a good idea to bring new faces into the studio to watch you rehearse if you have that opportunity. Once you’re comfortable with the choreography it’s a good time to mix things up so that you keep growing and pushing. The presence of a new audience will give you enough nerves to prepare you for how you might feel on stage, as well as
some fresh feedback.
As a student, get as much stage experience as you can. Grab every opportunity to perform. Ultimately the best way to develop performance confidence is to get practise at it. For this reason I am a strong proponent of the eisteddfod circuit. Eisteddfods and festivals dot the year providing plenty of opportunities to get accustomed to dancing in different environments in front of new audiences.
Give yourself ample time to prepare before a performance. I have always liked a steady pre-performance ritual. It keeps me calm and focused. Once you arrive at the venue the ritual begins, you steadily work through each part of your preparation until performance time.
Finally - and this is a fantastic tool for life - fake confidence! Nerves will always be there but I find it helpful to fake confidence until I actually feel it. Decide that you are exceptional and confident and wear it. All the best!
Emma Sandall danced with Bejart Ballet Lausanne, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and West Australian Ballet. She teaches for companies and schools in Australia, Europe and America.
This article was originally published in the October/November 2016 edition of Dance Australia. Want more like this? Buy Dance Australia at your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app.