Classical Dance Theater*

5 Jan

*Chapter 5 of Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement by Gerald Jonas

All art holds a mirror up to the society that produces it. — Yup, definitely true. As an dancer for 22 years, I think I was able to grasp the concept of “art” through dancing. Since I started learning ballet, I got interested in reading books and watching movies/documentaries about culture and art. Indeed, the culture of a nation reflects through their art. I believe that the success of a nation doesn’t always depend on their government or religion, but also through their arts. I’ve seen a number of countries who can describe this.


When you hear the word “classical”, what comes into your mind? The dictionary defines this word as pertaining to, “or characteristic of Greek and Roman antiquity”. But when it comes to art, classical means more to that. Since the author mentioned that the longer the art endures in a society, the more confident people can be that the mirror reveals that society itself has been changed by what it sees. Classical in this case means not merely that something old (or what the dictionary defined as antique), but that it has been endorsed by powerful forces in the society. Classical then is something that the society has created beautifully.

In the theater, there are two most common classical dances: ballet and kabuki. These two classical dances are expensive, time-consuming endeavors. These two cannot just be performed in any theater as they require particular relationship between performers and spectators. And every production must have stories that will excite their audiences. And they must be worthy of any kind of critiques since these two classical dances cater to the wealthy and knowledgeable people.


Despite their differences and contrasting histories, one common area of ballet and kabuki is their emphasis on charismatic performers. Even if ballet portrays fantasy roles and kabuki relates their roles to people’s experiences, all elegantly refines steps and combinations, would be little more than historically interesting, or “museum worthy”. All theater strives for that intimate moment where the performers and audience share a “magical” moment that transcends the experiences. Classical theater preserves and refines these experiences so that they can be passed on from generation to generation. It also shares these experiences across cultural boundaries.


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