Friday, June 13, 2008

How to Define Talent Vs Knowing Your Talent

There is a great deal of argument on how to define talent. When investigated, the topic is more discussed amongst management (whether artistic or business) than among artists. For an artist, the thoughts on this topic are very personal. Between awareness of their gift, and awareness of functioning in a huge arena of gifted colleagues, the challenge for you, the artist is one of knowing yourself and knowing your talent.

I believe that humans all have a part of themselves that is "In reserve". It is a part of us that not everybody sees right upfront, and often we don't either. But as life demands unexpected things of us, "more of us" shows up to meet the demands. Part of this is growing up and learning, but part of it is our own unique energy, or personal power, that comes forth to deal with life in a new and creative way.

I think that for some reason artists know about this part of themselves more than other people. Usually as a small child, an artist starts to either drift in a certain direction, or KNOWS exactly what they want to do, and won't do much else. Adults can be quite impressed - or distressed! - when a child is focused this way.

You, a dancer, you have a special challenge. A dancer must learn all the corps de ballet roles and blend into the style of the company she or he is in. And at the same time, the dancer must be able to show that she/he is somehow "more" unique than the other dancers in the corps. How is that supposed to be revealed?

Usually the talent shows up when a child is selected for training. Being physically gifted helps, but teachers and choreographers spot talent because some students you just can't help but watch. There is a magnetism present.

Many teachers instruct students to project out to the audience - what does that mean? I would say to a student performer, just completely do what you are doing - if you are dancing Giselle, it is your whole world while you are doing it. In other words, you are not a dancer in front of an audience, you are totally Giselle, where she is. You are completely young, naive, and defenseless with this sophisticated prince, and you can't hide it. You create this anew, every time, and the audience is enthralled.

If you are dancing an abstract part - say like the corps de ballet in Balanchine's Serenade - you can dance the steps like everyone else - but you can also give yourself a story - who are these ladies dancing behind the leads and why are you with them? You are physically not going to do anything different, but what you are thinking and being while you are there, your intensity and focus on that, is magnetic.

Everyday when you go into class, you work as hard as you can, and the teacher sees a student working hard. But, just as an example, if you are thinking as you work "Giselle, Swan Queen, Coppelia", or "Siegfried, Romeo" (etc. etc.) "all are inside of me just waiting to get out!" - the teacher is looking at something else besides you - but she/he doesn't know what it is, it's that "extra" thing. You are building up an energy and an intention, and one day the situation will be able to accommodate it. Ambition may be present, but this is something else.

This may sounds like it's confidence I'm describing, but I'm not. If confidence is present, it's still more than that. (and many gifted students lack confidence). It's an energy in you that you almost have to restrain, until you get into one of those big roles. The audience, and an experienced director knows exactly what they're looking at when they see it.

If you are not physically capable of becoming technically adept to do the roles that your talent, or gift, can accommodate, you should go into a field of performance where you do not need that technique. Why waste yourself?

I trained with two students who each had an almost perfect body for ballet. Flexible, long legs, nice arches and all that. One was spotted as a prima ballerina when she was 12, it was so obvious. The other was capable, and became a soloist after a few years, but didn't really shine. She was well trained and could do everything, but - not special. A few years before she retired she decided to take acting lessons. After that she came out on stage and everything disappeared but her, when she danced her solo. She just stole the scene, so to speak. Something "got out" that she had not been able to release before. I don't know how she would describe it, but that's what I saw. I thought then, that if she had been able to do that as a child, she would have become a principal dancer before she retired. She learned how to "be more" and let the audience in on it. It's something that an audience feels. "She was just electric". "He is mystical".

The more you feel, the more the audience feels. If you feel SO MUCH that you restrain it, the audience feels that too. And they love it. Because they know about the "reserve", they have it too. And they have to restrain it sometimes too. But they experience its expression through you, the dancer. That's the reason someone will pay $200 a seat for the ballet. You allow them to experience themselves. Even in a non-dramatic role. Because we are all "more" but someone working in a non-creative field can't express it, or thinks he/she can't.

Of course there are those who are uniquely creative in a perceived non-creative line of business. They are known as "the talents", or "the giants".

If you stop for a few seconds before every class and just think about this, it is going to start becoming more visible. You don't have to push it. "She's just got this thing about her". Isn't that what people say? "He's got IT". There is no word for it, so we call it talent.

People who don't have that much ability or opportunity, love the arts and will do something on an amateur level their whole life. They are expressing themselves, though they may make their living doing something else.

How to define talent will continue as an ongoing discussion with those who have a requirement to describe it and measure it and link it to artists' prosperity (and their own). But knowing yourself and knowing your own talent is your private sphere.

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