4 Parallels To Theatre: 3) Dance & Music
Dance & Music – embracing form and the illiteral As I write this, I’m listening to The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Only three words tell me literally what is happening in the piece. Yet, as I listen to the 15 minutes of music, my mind is taken on a vivid journey of flight. I’ve seen and experienced a very real and literal story in my mind without having been told it directly. By embracing the abstract form of music as a story telling device, a composer is better able to transcend the challenges that could be seen in using words to tell a story. If, for example, The Lark Ascending including real larks chirping and a narrator telling me ‘now the bird is turning left’ I don’t think I would see the story unfolding as clearly in my minds as I do when the composer trusts in both his musical ability and the imagination of his listener to translate his music into something meaningful in their own head. Dance is also a good example of an art form that is widely embraced for its abstractedness as a story telling technique. It allows artists to delve deeper into aspects of stories and characters with an action of its own, even if, say a 10-minute routine doesn’t directly develop the action of the narrative of a whole piece. As well as slowing down the time of a narrative whilst still keeping dramatic energy, dance can also speed it up without leaving its audience behind. As an audience member watching something that is inherently abstract, I can easily buy that one moment I’m in one time and place and then suddenly jump to another. Because I’m not being shown something bound by literalness, I don’t question it when it breaks the laws of physics or logic. Theatre is arguably at its best when it embraces its theatricality and inherently unrealistic elements too. Even naturalistic theatre cannot be as realistic as, say, a film. The actors’ performances must be readable to audiences at various (and often very long) distances to them for one thing. Similarly, whilst a film can rely on natural elements such as light when showing real-life things, so much of theatre must be artificial, even when it’s trying to represent something real or realistic. So, it’s inevitable that when theatre makers embrace the form, artifice and theatricality of theatre, it tends to be more powerful. When it tries to be something it’s not, it’s usually equally inevitable that it will at least partially fail. By embracing the inherently abstract nature of all theatre and trusting the audience’s unbound imagination, we can use theatre to it’s full and most magical potential as a story telling art form.