How to Interpret a Role

Artistry is what defines a dancer’s excellence, in my opinion.  Also, as I explained in my Developing Artistry post a while back, artistry isn’t only how you use facial expression and musicality. Today we talk about the elements of artistry that can help you to develop a role and a character in your performance.  I hope you find this helpful, and I can’t wait to share my tips with you!

“Interpreting” a Role

There is a difference between acting well in a role and interpreting a role skillfully.  To interpret means to make it your own and to be individualistic with your comprehension and projection of the character’s qualities.  Acting would be to portray and tell the story in full, whereas interpreting is to take it to a further level.

For me, when a dancer plays a role well, they combine their own individual identity, attitude and nuances with the given actions and qualities of the character at hand.  It may not seem so at first, but each character has many different aspects, which means that there are lots of different ways to play, or interpret it.

To convey this concept more clearly, let’s take a look at an example that we all know well: Clara, from the Nutcracker.  In the battle scene everybody knows that she is scared.  But, what exactly, is she scared of or for?  Let’s look at a set of options:

  • Clara is scared for her life and well-being.  She is afraid that the mice will get her.
  • She is concerned for her Nutcracker toy mostly, being afraid that it will fall and she will lose her beloved doll given to her by her uncle, Drosselmeyer.

These are the two obvious reasons, but she could also be scared for the soldiers’ lives, for her family’s life, or for what’s to come.  You can add or subtract a lot from your comprehension of the part, just during this specific scene: it’s a lot more complex than it may seem.

Asking Yourself Questions

Developing your character is to make its personality more detailed, and to become more specific with its characteristics.  For example, if you are playing Fritz in the Nutcracker, your character can be a lot more than just mischievous or jealous of Clara.

Ask yourself a few questions about your role and about your character to further understand the motives behind his or her actions.  For Fritz, here are a few questions to ask:

  • Where are you from?
  • How do your parents treat you?  Are they proud of you and do they understand your actions or are they disappointed in your behavior?
  • Do you have some best friends at the party?  Are there a few people who you don’t like?
  • What do you like most about the Nutcracker doll?
  • How do you plan to make Clara mad?

I learned from Kathryn Morgan’s, a former professional dancer turned YouTuber’s, video about developing artistry to ask yourself the following five questions, although I believe that it can be built further:

  • Who are you?
  • Where are you going?
  • What do you want?
  • How far are you willing to go to get that?
  • What is the music telling you?

Again, I believe it can be taken further, but that’s a great place to start.

Keep a Dialogue Going

A great acting performance is one that is realistic.  A great skill to keep it this way is to have a dialogue going in your head as you go through your acting.  For example, one of my dialogues for Clara during the transition scene, as she is looking for the Nutcracker, is below:

  1. Are my parents upstairs yet?  I wonder where they left my Nutcracker after they went to bed… Is it over here…?
  2. …Let me check by the Christmas tree.  Is it under here?  No.  Oh!  What was that sound?  Are those mice?  I don’t think so…
  3. Is it over by the couch?  Underneath it?  No…
  4. Oh!  There it is!  It’s on the mantle.  Aw, it’s so beautiful.  What’s that sound? …MOUSE!

It sounds really cheesy and very weird, but it works, I promise.

A big part of your dialogue can be interacting with the other people onstage.   If you are dancing at a party, act to your friends and gesture to them.  Make eye contact and smile as you are dancing and especially when you are on the sides.  For example, as I walk in a big circle around the room with the Nutcracker when I have first gotten it, I try to make eye contact with each person I pass.  It makes it more special.

I hope you find this helpful, and good luck in your Nutcracker performances!  I’ll see you next Wednesday.

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