EARTH, AIR, WATER, AND FIRE: THE FOUR ELEMENTS IN DANCE
By Elements Contemporary Ballet Dancer Megan Walsh. Photos by Topher Alexander.
The Element of Earth is found in our physicality. In Nature, Earth is the container and the holder, for which all the other elements can reside and operate within. It is the ground foundation, the basic structure and framework for all of creation. The physical body, being the basic instrument of operation, is very much a part of the Earth Element. Especially as a dancer, the body is a fundamental aspect in the creation of their art. Therefore, the act of building, maintaining, and nurturing the body is essential. A strong, solid base is needed to grow, develop technique, and expand as dancers and artists. Quite literally, the body is a dancer’s tool for expression. In dance, Earth is all about sweating, warming up the body, and building muscles. This is an essential step in a dancer’s training, which allows them to stay healthy, avoid injury, and make it through the long rehearsal process. Dancing requires a lot of the body, and for a dancer to be able to rely on it, it needs to be taken care of properly.
The Element of Earth can be seen in everything we do on stage. We train and work our bodies hard in each rehearsal, so we have the strength and stamina to push through all the physically demanding choreography. It is the athleticism that can be seen throughout an entire show.
The Element of Air is the mental facility. After a strong body is built by the Earth Element, the mind and intelligent nature step in and are able to shape it. Using the quality of air allows the body to work beyond what it has been given and push past physical limitations. It’s about moving forward in the development of the human body, and breaking boundaries. This is what Air in dance is all about; it shapes the body, working and molding it towards a state of perfection. It’s a superhuman quality. Dancers need to look like they are floating on air, making everything look effortless. In order to get to that place physically, it requires focus, discipline, and concentration. It is an extreme mental workout, but one that needs to occur to move the body forward, to achieve grace, elegance, and beauty in all of the lines. Air also concerns transitions and the quality of movement in between the steps. It teaches the dancer to not only create beautiful shapes, but how to move smoothly and seamlessly from one to the next.
The Element of Air can be seen by our strong technique in all the choreography we perform. By having a strong Air quality, we can almost take our technique for granted on stage, which lets us be more in the moment and perform to our fullest. Air is the overall quality of grace and ease that we as dancers try to convey through our movement. It is also the element that we can call upon the middle of a piece, if something is going wrong, and we need that technical aspect to help get us back into proper placement.
The Element of Water is the emotional body and feeling nature. Through the Earth and Air Elements, the physical body has been built and then perfected by the sharpness of the mind. Adding the quality of Water, the body is given more fluidity and range of motion. Water is very grounding and allows access to deep emotions and feelings, which are the seat of creativity. In dance it is an element of improvisation, exploration, and experimentation, allowing the dancer to go to that place of open vulnerability within themselves and discover a new way of moving. It’s about going beyond the perfect lines developed with the Air Element. It allows a space to flirt with the awkward, the strange and even the ugly, to create more interesting and dynamic shapes. Water in dance works to give the dancer a broader range of movement vocabulary, so they have more to call upon during the creation of their art. Collaborating as a company in this element opens up the floor for a more emotional and unspoken bond between dancers. It is a way for the company to mold together on an energetic level.
The Element of Water can be seen clearly in our repertory piece Pathos, by Mike Gosney. Already a dark, emotional ballet, the choreography calls for us to connect to our internal, watery realm. By accessing this place of vulnerability within ourselves during the piece, we hope to portray in Pathos an honest story of death and loss, and to invoke these deep feelings within the audience when we perform.
The Element of Fire is passion. It is the inner flame that is the source of everything and fuels all of life. Fire is the heart. It’s that special je ne sais quoi that someone has when they light up a room and grab everyone’s attention. Fire is dynamic, strong, and very powerful. When operating through this element in dance, the dancer is finding their inner drive to show off and get noticed. It’s about gaining recognition and attention, proving to the world that a place in the spotlight is more than well deserved. Sometimes, Fire needs to find that anger and competitive nature in to fight for a place at the top and to show why a dancer’s uniqueness is special and needs to shine. At the root of it all, though, Fire operates from a place of love. It’s finding the meaning that each individual has for dancing in the first place. Even though a life in dance is physically, mentally, and emotionally strenuous, it is ultimately a love for the art and the craft that inspires dancers to continue to work hard each day.
In the Elements Ballet repertory, The Element of Fire is inherent in every piece, but can be seen very clearly in the choreography of Joseph Caruana’s The Sun King. A story about passion, glory, and recognition, we are each of us in the work dancing in a dynamic way to catch audience’s attention and get in their face. The Sun King calls for us to tap into our inner fire and show off who we are as individual dancers, to gain our opportunity to be in the spotlight.