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Performance Spaces

This is an excerpt from Producing Dance With HKPropel Access by Robin L. Kish,Wilson Mendieta,Jennifer Backhaus,Marc Jordan Ameel,Samantha Waugh,Kerri Canedy & Todd P. Canedy.

Additional styles and reasons for dance emerged, and performance spaces reflected the purpose of the specific dance or theatre design. Performers found homes in a range of both informal or nontraditional spaces and more formal spaces like temples, courts, theatres, and social events. When faith or religion was at the center of a dance, this origin would present itself in the often holy or spiritual spaces it occupied. For example, in India, where the extensive list of specialized traditional Indian dance centers around its purpose as a sacred expression of faith, dancers performed in temples, for festive occasions, and during seasonal harvests. These were all spaces and moments when it was important to honor their faith, and they did so by using dance.

In ancient Greece, performances mainly took place in outdoor open-air theatres. The Greeks used the stories to educate the lower class, so these performances were purposeful displays. They built theatres on tall hillsides because the slope allowed more of the audience to clearly view the performance. They called this viewing place the theatron, and it was centered around a circular performance space. This model became the basis for many theatres throughout history and is the source of many names for production terminology (Gillette 2019; Carver 2018):

  • The term orchestra comes from where the storytelling happened and literally translates to “dancing people.”
  • The skene was a wall, backdrop, or building behind the orchestra that was originally used for performers to change masks and costumes. This area would eventually become part of the drama as the backdrop or scenery that the performance was done in front of and is where we get the terms scenery and scenic.
  • The term theatre came to mean all of the theatron, orchestra, and skene and is still used today.

Later, in Europe during the Renaissance, plays and dramatic arts still took place in presentational theatre venues, but dance transitioned into more of a social space, such as in the court of Louis XIV of France. The ballets presented in early 16th-century courts were different from the presentational stage form we see today. Court ballets were performed by and for the nobility. With the creation of the proscenium theatre at the end of the 16th century, the separation between the performers and audiences began to be prominent in theatrical dance. A proscenium is a wall or arch in a theatre that separates the performance space from the audience space (see figure 1.1). As dance moved into the proscenium theatres, the need and desire for collaboration among theatrical designers and dance artisans grew.

Figure 1.1 The proscenium stage.
Figure 1.1 The proscenium stage.

In America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dance went from being an accompaniment for stage plays and operas to earning a featured place on the stage. Dance was becoming the headliner of a performance, and entire spaces were being built to best showcase the art of dance. In 1942, the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow opened its doors as the first performance space in America designed specifically for dance. Then in 1964, the David H. Koch Theatre opened, which is the home of New York City Ballet.

Dance performances take place in buildings specially designed for productions; however, the only true necessity for performing dance is a live performer and an audience, not necessarily a building. Performance spaces have traditionally fallen into four basic categories: proscenium theatres, thrust theatres, arena theatres, and found spaces. As technology has evolved in recent decades, dance can be produced in any space, then recorded and distributed to the audience using virtual platforms.

More Excerpts From Producing Dance With HKPropel Access