Creating a Cohesive Performance: Music Matters
In the previous post, I discussed how the costume should reflect the mood and style of the performance.
What I think is just as important, if not more so, is the dancer’s music.
By this I mean that the songs in a dancer’s set should complement each other, through mood, tonality, instrumentation, and/or style. I wouldn’t use the first song from my “Darkest Dance” performance and put it together with the song I used at Tribal Fest 8. The two songs have completely different moods. The Darkest Dance performance was introspective, flowing, and an overall feeling of loss and sorrow. The Tribal Fest 8 performance is loud, angular, in-your-face, and angry. These are two completely different moods and putting them together, at least for me, would seem artificial and forced. The songs you choose to dance to, if you’re dancing to more than one, should flow well together. The more sets you put together, the easier it will be to tell whether a song goes well with another song.
The order of the songs is also important. Personally, I like to use the model of the classic American cabaret set as a template for my own sets. If I’m allotted 10-15 minutes, this usually means I’ll start with a fast opening song, often with finger cymbals, then I will have one medium tempo song, followed by a slower song that has the feel of a taqsim and is a bit introspective, and I’ll end my set with a song that has the feel of a drum solo and/or has a lot of energy. This template is time-tested, and can be applied to performances that don’t use Middle Eastern music. If I’m allotted 6-8 minutes, I’ll start with a slower song and end with a song that has that “drum solo” feel. Or, if I have songs that are short enough, I’ll start with a fast one, have a slower one in the middle, and then end with a high-energy song.
Personally, I don’t like to end my sets, no matter how long they are, with something slow, languid, or introspective. It’s rare when I see a dancer who can end her set with a slow or quiet song and make it work. Typically, you want to leave your audience excited and energized, and the last song in your set will probably be what they remember the most about you and your performance. Of course, this isn’t a “rule”, but just a guideline, and it’s what has worked for me.
Your set should progress like a good story: it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It shouldn’t be just a collection of songs that you just happen to like. Take some time to listen to your prospective set and make sure that the songs flow together, that transitions from song to song aren’t jarring, and that the set reflects a particular mood, feeling, or character. It’s important to look at your performance as a complete unit: costume, make-up, hair, music, and mood should all go together to make a cohesive whole.