By Laura Di Orio.
Art reflects life, and in dance we see stories of relationships, of people during times of love, loss and other relatable human emotions. To make those portrayals most believable to the audience, the performers have to obtain that human quality of connection with each other in a most realistic way. So how do dance partners make those chemicals zing across the stage and create that special “something” when steps alone are not enough?
Dance Informa spoke with professional dancers about how they create chemistry on stage. For some, like real-life married couple Ana Luizi and Júnio Teixeira, it comes naturally. And for others, like Jared Matthews who often dances with fellow American Ballet Theatre soloist Yuriko Kajiya, that chemistry stems from years of dancing together. Here, these dancers share what it means to work together toward a common dance goal of establishing a magnetic connection for the audience to see.
To you, what makes a great dance partnership?
Ana Luizi, Dancer, New Jersey Ballet Company
First of all, it needs professionalism. With respect, the partnership will work, and passion and chemistry will make it great. I’m not saying that you need to love your partner, but you need to love what the both of you are creating together.
Jared Matthews, Soloist, American Ballet Theatre
A great partnership is when you have two separate individuals who are excellent by themselves but when they dance together they bring something out in each other to get to another level.
How do you create chemistry with your dance partner? How do you make it real and genuine?
I have to be open, and I have to trust my partner in all circumstances. The chemistry comes with time. The more you dance together with someone, the better it gets. It’s hard to create chemistry if you have many different partners. Once you have it, it just gets better, and the dance becomes more natural, more real. You don’t have to push it too much when the chemistry is true!
Whether it’s an acting role, a real character or simply a pas de deux, I think it’s your responsibility to make that connection as a dancer and as an individual. Sometimes if the other dancer is not connected to you, you have to be individually responsible to help create that connection.
Tell me about your recurring dance partner – whether it’s someone with whom you often get paired, someone with whom you enjoy dancing or a real-life partner with whom you also dance.
Júnio Teixeira, Dancer, New Jersey Ballet Company
Ana and I met almost 13 years ago in Brazil. Since we are together, we are comfortable with each other and have lots of time to talk about our partnership. The best thing is that after all of our performances I have a chance to go home with the woman I love!
It’s awesome to have my husband as my partner in life and dance. The greatest feeling is when we’re together on stage, giving and taking the best of each other. It’s magical!
[Yuriko and I] do a lot of outside work together. Oftentimes, when there’s not a lot of rehearsal time, people want to do what’s most comfortable. She constantly wants to push the bar, to challenge, to make it more difficult, to bring it to a new place. I’m like that as well, so together we’re able to transform the dance and continue to grow.
How do you build chemistry with a dance partner, even if you’ve just met or have never partnered together before?
If a person is self-involved, then they’re not interested in establishing a connection. For me, I enjoy creating the art with someone else. It’s bigger than myself. Being aware of establishing a connection is a personality trait as well. Be open to it. Maybe during the first rehearsal, instead of worrying about the execution of it, think more about the reaction of it. Focus on the other person instead of yourself. There’s nothing worse than seeing people dance together who have no connection.
I don’t believe you can build chemistry. If you have chemistry with a partner, that’s natural. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just met. With time you can work on it and make it better. It’s like a regular relationship: if you have the chemistry, then later on it can be love, but you can’t build the chemistry if it’s not there.
What if you’re young and haven’t experienced love or heartbreak before? How do you create those emotions so it’s believable to the audience?
In that case, you should think about things that have happened to you – sad things, happy things, surprising things. You have to feel something, anything. You don’t need to live a love story to be able to perform one. Act the way you think the story should be told, put a little of yourself in it and open your mind.
You have to go about it a different way. One of my acting teachers said, ‘by the age of six you have all the impulses you need to play Hamlet.’ Maybe you haven’t experienced love for another person, but maybe you have a dog that you really love. Look at those feelings you have for that dog. You’ve experienced that feeling of love, that emotional reaction. Once you establish and realize you have those feelings you can generate it in a performance with another person.
What if you’re in a relationship? How do you separate your character and real life so as not to upset your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse?
It’s an understanding of what our job is about. We are not only athletes but also actors.
I don’t think you should worry about that. When I’m onstage, I’m not Jared. I’m the character. That’s the whole point of the art – going into and creating a role and doing a role. I hope if you’re in a relationship they wouldn’t judge you by that. It’s not reality. What I do on stage is not reality. Me coming back to my hotel room after the show is reality.
Is there any other advice you’d like to offer about creating believable, genuine chemistry with a dance partner?
We have to leave our ego outside the dance studio. When both dancers are trying to reach the same proposal, the partnership will reach a great level.
You also have to create a connection with your audience. You need to bring them into your world. They’re part of the performance as well because you feed off of their energy.
When I dance a pas de deux, I think that’s a dialogue. Both are on the same page, questioning and answering, sending and receiving, giving and taking. You’re not alone; the two become one. Enjoy the moment, let it go!
Top photo: New Jersey Ballet dancers (and real-life husband and wife) Ana Luizi and Júnio Teixeira in performance. Photo by Shirley Penaforte