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[VIDEO] Developing Character Through Dance

Julie Denesha

The Kansas City Ballet’s "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a Shakespeare comedy performed in dance. The process of developing a character through movement and pantomime is one that often takes a close collaboration between dancer and choreographer.

One of the Great Shakespearean Comedies

"'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is first and foremost a comedy, one of the great Shakespeareancomedies," William Whitener, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet, said. "Your heart goes out to the characters because they're troubled as is the case of all the Shakespearean comedies. There is something very serious going on with their relationships that is amusing to the audience."


Titania, Queen of the Fairies

"I am playing the role of Titania, the fairy queen in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'," dancer Tempe Ostergren said. "I am married to Oberon and I am queen of the fairies in the forest.

"'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is a comedy and there is a lot of play, and there is a play on power, and Oberon is the King and I am the queen. We have a little power play over a changeling, which is a little Indian boy that I want to call my own and Oberon would like it for himself."

Oberon,  King of the Fairies and Trickster

"I essentially am mad at Tatania, because she has taken the changeling child as her own," dancer Anthony Krutzkamp said. "I'm jealous. I want it and I play tricks on her with my little friend Puck. I pretty much make her fall in love with a donkey, then afterwards switch her back and make her fall in love with me. And nothing bad really happens to me at all, which is pretty sweet. 

"Acting-wise it's kind of fun, because I am a trickster, but yet I am king of the forest. So I have to be stable. I have to be earthy, but at the same time, I can be a little mischievous. I can have fun. I can tell Puck to do things that you're not supposed to do."

On Developing Character Through Dance

"Bill (Whitener)'s a wonderful director to work for character development and theatricality," Ostergren said. "With Bill, he treats you with respect, and he helps direct you and direct your attention, just from the stagecraft of dancing, and for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' it's incredibly valuable, because it's a play. We have to mime and pantomime words and ideas and to really have that come across."

A Script of Movement

"The work of developing a character in dance is a private undertaking for the artist, for the dancer," Whitener said. "I provide the choreography, the action, and can help with the motivation within a scene, just the same as working with an actor. A dancer, again doesn't have a script with words, but we have a script of movement, and pantomime and gesture are also a part of our tool kit."

Freedom For the Artist

"Bill is never micro-managing me as an artist," Krutzkamp said. "He is often times bouncing ideas and segues through me to find the character, so he is telling me certain things to do, but also at the other time he is just giving me guidance.

"He is not micro-managing every step I take, which is really great as an artist, because you feel free.  It feels very free to do what is easy for you. To show it in your body. At the same time, he can tweak it to make sure it makes sense. So we really have a free and open relationship when it comes to acting."

When Everything Connects 

"You have to have several choices to give to the actor/dancer, because you might not break through interns of motivations for the character with your first suggestion, so you need to have three, four, five," Whitener said. "And you'll know when it's happening because everything connects. Sometimes it's a matter of the words you've chosen. Or I can still demonstrate some of the movement and they can pick it up physically. But finally, the dancer is taking the material, and they personalize it, and make some of their own choices, and then it's fresh and spontaneous."

Sculpting the Material to Fit the Individual

"I can talk to him," Ostergren said. "I can ask him questions, and we can develop the character together versus somebody who, 'This is exactly what you need and want.' He'd say, 'Well does she do this? Do you think she'll do this?' For me, I think this works better on my body, because not all choreography, it doesn't always translate on everybody. It might look good on one person and look a certain way, but for me, when I do the step or the accent it looks weaker or smaller or different, so he'll change things, and adjust things, sculpt things to work for you."

Adding It All Up

"So, as a choreographer, it's my job to stack it up," Whitener said. "In other words, the action, the pantomime, the gestures the dancing, so that it adds up in the end to a very enjoyable evening in the theater and fun for everyone."

Kansas City Ballet presents "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Friday, March 15 through Sunday, March 24 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Missouri. 816-931-2232.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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