Consider how set can be used to communicate successfully the dance's ideal concept. Give an example from
Consider how set can be used to communicate successfully the dance’s ideal concept. Give an example from “Still Life at the Penguin Café” and four other professional dance works
When a dance piece is created, it is not just the choreography of the steps that needs to be considered. To make a successful piece, firstly a starting point needs to be found, this can be anything ranging from an emotion, an animal, or even someone’s journey to work or school. When this has been decided upon, there are five main areas that need to be concentrated on. These are; costume, music, set, lighting and choreography. These different fields of the dance cannot be considered separate, nor is there a rank of importance; all five areas need to be created together. They compliment each other, and grow together to form the piece. In this essay I am going to focus on the importance of just one of these factors, the set. Using examples from professional dance works I am going to discuss how the set successfully communicates the dance’s ideal concept.
The first dance work I am going to use as an example, is from “Still Life at the Penguin Café” choreographed by David Bintley and designed by Hayden Griffin. I have chosen to discuss the set in the first scene of the performance, “The Great Auk”. There are two sections to this scene, the first section being a representation of the Great Auk’s habitat, the second being a busy café, run by penguins as waiters and sophisticated women as customers. The set for the first section is simple but effective. The stage has a black backdrop, covering the whole stage wall, and a smaller screen on wheels centre stage. This screen is roughly 7ft tall and a vertical rectangle. On it an icy landscape is painted. It shows ice and sea, using white and icy blue colours. It shows an image of the penguin’s habitat. It lets the audience know a bit about the penguin’s background and what it has to deal with in life. This is very effective as it communicates the meaning of the piece, showing that life for this creature is hard. This piece of se is also very useful within the piece, as the dancers use it as an added entrance. They hide behind the screen and appear at the sides, this give added interest to the piece, and it is also practical as it is on wheels, therefore easy to move on and off the stage. The rest of the stage is left empty for this section, providing space for the dance. For the second part of this scene, the icescape is moved off stage and the backdrop is lifted to reveal a café. It is a very realistic 3D set. It shows the café to be in a building similar to a conservatory, very sophisticated and elegant. Lots of false potted plants are used, often exotic such as palms, adding interest and adding realism. Reflective material is used to represent windows, when the lights shine on it, it give the effect of glass, also making the set more realistic. There are lots of different levels and dimensions to this set. The height gives the feeling of a very high ceiling, this provides a feeling of space and although the stage is full of a very detailed full scale set, it still feels spacious. On the stage area there are tables and chairs, a trade mark of café’s, defining the fact that it is a café to the audience. There are also coat stands. The tables and chairs are used throughout the performance for the dancers to sit at when they are not performing, they become the customers communicating to the audience that the café is a full, busy and lively place. Over all, these two sets are well created and very effective.
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I am now going to discuss the piece “Stampede” choreographed by Richard Alston and Designed by Fotini Dimou. The set for this piece was very simple but communicated the feeling of the dance sufficiently. Up stage left, there was a mediaeval band. This consisted of a harp, two viols, some drums and other period instruments. The musicians sat in a semicircular pattern and provided the music for the piece from this position, adding interest to the piece as the audience was given another focus point on top of the dancers. It also communicated the time period in which the piece is set, in the mediaeval times, a dance would take place as a social event and the band would be present, so the piece reflects this. The only other dimension to this set was the backdrop. The top three quarters were just plain black but the bottom half had scenery made to look like a wall. The wall was yellow with sections of music score pasted on at random. I’m not quite sure of the meaning of this, but it is a point of interest in the dance, and an artistic compliment to the movement. Apart from the band, this set was purely 2D, the stage was left clear for maximum dancing space. This set was more abstract than the previous “Still Life at the Penguin Café” set, although all three set’s mentioned communicate a time or place to the audience, helping set the scene. This set is very creative, and suits the dance well.
The second piece I am going to observe is “Touch and Go” also choreographed by Richard Alston. There is no real set for this piece, but the lighting used creates an ambiance similar to one a set would give, the lighting is by “Charles Balfour”. There is no stage furniture for this piece, no backdrop, no props, just light. The fact that the stage is left so bare is an advantage to the dancers as, as in “Stampede”, they are aloud maximum space to move. Another advantage to this is that it makes the choreography the main focus as there are no other distractions on stage. As lighting is the only form of set used, lots of different effects are shown. There are spot lights which follow the dancers, enhancing their body lines and movements. At different points in the piece, blue and purple washes are used, covering the stage, which added colour and gave the piece an atmosphere. The black back cloth is at one point lit red at the top, fading into black at the bottom, representing a sunset. Many side spots are used adding a feeling of suspense and often enabling silhouetting. Finally there are also, full stage spots, these create the feeling of the dancers being in a room or place that the audience can see into but that they are oblivious to the audience presence, known as ‘the goldfish bowl effect’. All of these different lighting tricks compliment the dance, and help communicate the emotions, moods, feelings and the atmosphere to the audience.
I am now going to look at the piece “Grinning In Your Face” choreographed by Christopher Bruce and designed by Marian Bruce. Again, this piece has a very simple set. The piece is set in southern USA, in a barn dance scenario. To give the effect of this, twelve wooden crates are placed at the back of the stage in various positions eg. stacked. This adds height to the stage; it also defines the shape of the up-stage area. Throughout the dance, dancers use the crates to sit on and lean against. They also add to theme as they give the feel of a barn. The rest of the stage is left clear for dance space.
Finally I am going to look at the set of “Ghost Dances” choreographed and designed by Christopher Bruce. Although this piece consists of many dances, there is only one set used throughout. The backcloth is painted to show a desolate landscape in the middle of nowhere. There is a dark, clear sky which seems to be the view from a cave. It gives the impression of a place in between life and death, a judgement on whether to go to heaven or hell. Within the view on the backdrop is a dark valley, it could represent “the valley of the shadow of death”. The stage set is three bid stones at the back of the stage and some at the sides that the ghosts use to sit on and hide behind, the people also use them as recliners, they give two different levels to the stage, adding another dimension. But mostly, the stage is left free. This set is very effective, especially the painted backdrop, which really sets the scene.
From looking at these examples of professional dance works, I have come to the conclusion that set can be used successfully to communicate the dances ideal concept by keeping it simple yet effective. A simple relevant set or a creative abstract background can enhance a pieces atmosphere, emotions, moods and feelings, as well as giving the piece added interest. A set can contribute a lot to a dance piece.