One of the most perplexing styles of modern dance is interpretive dance. This exceedingly enigmatic style comes in a wide range of variations and in meant to be somewhat opaque. For this reason, this dance style has often been pushed aside by the mainstream, or those who require all information and context in glaring neon light form.
For those privy to something that requires at least a little brain power, interpretive dance can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The whole purpose of these performances is to help bring across ideas, emotions and concepts in the form of body movement. Though we are all built with a hardy comprehension of body language, the exaggerated expressions that dancers put into these works are often beyond our immediate understanding, thus more processing is needed. Still both novice observers and those who have been around it for decades can still find a piece confounding, because they are all very different, but if you feel heavily out of your depth, consider paying attention to these things when watching.
Though its unlikely that the expression being played on is going to sit plainly on the dancer’s face (many performers keep a neutral gaze as not to distract from the piece), the position of the face is a good indicator of what the character is feeling. Looking downward is usually used to show sadness or at least a solemn emotion, while an upward gaze could be showing hope and optimism. Pay attention to whether the dancer hides their face often, this could mean they are feeling shame, whereas a prolonged ‘peek-a-boo’ may mean a transition in personality is occurring.
This may be something you pick up on already, put the pace of the dance is an easy way to tap into how the character is feeling. Think about certain emotions and their timing, anger is not an emotion that formulates slowly or is expressed at a calm pace, conversely sombre and heartfelt moments are unlikely to be rushed.
This can be a little harder to detect, especially if the dance is particularly elaborate or rapid. A lot of modern dance focuses on force however, shifting force into different parts makes the very movements of the body and the shape and effort exerted by the spine is part of what makes people look so dynamic. The amount of pressure they put in their limbs or the weight they put into each step can give away something more internal about the emotions on display.
Again, the blinding spectacle that most performers are capable of now is hypnotic, so it wouldn’t be hard for you to miss a few things here. Focus relates to what the dancer’s motivation is, just like a character’s drive in a story they are working towards something. This could be moving from one place to another, becoming lighter or heavier, loose or strong or it could include an object or a dance partner. Figuring out the characters goals will let you unlock the wonder of their expression.