The Power of "Under"-Performing

When it comes down to it, there are two basic types of performers who make great dancers: Those who demand attention onstage, and those who inconspicuously draw it in without outwardly trying.

 

In many ways, it's much simpler to be that first type of dancer. You just have to hit it, hit it hard and give the steps everything you've got all the time. Not to say that's an easy thing to do, but audience members can't help but notice the "wow" factor of extreme technique or a fierce stage presence. This performance quality often comes in handy, winning dancers medals at competitions and helping them stand out from the crowd at cattle calls.

 

But personally, I always prefer to watch more subtle performers. I found one of them Saturday night when I saw The Washington Ballet perform a triple bill of bare-legged leotard ballets by Edwaard Liang, Karole Armitage and Nicolo Fonte. Morgann Frederick shone through the corps of each of the three pieces with an understated, but committed focus.

 

In each piece, she was never the first dancer my eye was drawn to (save for when she was showing off those runway-diva struts in Fonte's Bolero). But once I spotted her, she was captivating. Every move she made—whether it was a big developpé a la seconde or a simple turn of her head—had an intention behind it. Her eyes, her face, her very being seemed to be fully "in the present," focused on each step of the choreography. It was very internal. Yet despite eye-popping tricks or look-at-me projection, it was exhilirating. She seemed to be dancing for her, not anyone else—and throroughly enjoying it.