Some years ago I was spending an afternoon at the library reading the book entitled Work and Talent in the Actor's Creations (originally "Töö ja talent näitleja loomingus") by Voldemar Panso. The author was a famous actor, director and drama professor, and one of the central figures of Estonian drama in the second half of the 20th century. The book was published in 1965, deep into the Soviet occupation of Estonia, so it has its flaws. Nevertheless it is enjoyable reading rich in inspiring words about creativity, acting and performing.
I will introduce some of those ideas in a dance framework in my own phrasing and translation below. The book can be found in Estonian libraries or bookstores in Estonian.
What is talent? It is often described as "a divine spark" or "an inexplicable something". Just as there are several different kinds of cocktails which all have a common component - alcohol. Take away the alcohol and there is no cocktail. However, calling it a "spark", "something" or "alcohol" is a bit lazy. If you really begin to analyse talent, you will find that it is a combination of many different components or virtues.
Here are ten components that make a talented stage artist:
Memorability. A talented artist demands attention when she walks on stage. She makes you look and listen to her.
Appeal. Stage appeal is separate from looks, accomplishments and talent, it mirrors the personality. There are artists who only need to appear on stage and the audience loves them. They are free to do anything without worrying whether the audience accepts it or not. When the personality fades, so does the appeal. Stage artists can be compared to storybooks, most of which enjoy their fame during certain periods of time or with certain types of people. Yet there are artists who can be compared to "evergreen" books that appeal to everyone regardless of age or background. It is the content that makes the difference - if it is full of life, it appeals.
Self-exploration. Talented artists are not satisfied with what they "are good at", they strive for what seems unreachable. There are no borders to their playground nor appeal, because they constantly change and expand. Much is expected from them because one can never predict what they accomplish next. They dig deep into human souls and their inner self, expanding internally. They are "self creators".
Will. Creative will is as important to an actor as competitiveness is to an athlete. Will is a source of inspiration - although it's important what the person is like, it's even more important what they want to be like. Not everyone has the will and persistence to work their way to true art. Will power grows through overcoming difficulties.
Creativity. An artist should love dreaming and know how to dream. It is one of the most important creative talents. There is no creative work without imagination. There are people who only see the average, they can´t see what´s near or far. A talented artist sees what most people don´t even notice, and even then they see it from their peculiar point of view. That is what keeps the audience anticipating in wonder - how will she see it, how will she do it this time?
The right stage feeling. The no 1 enemy of right stage feeling is muscle tension and cramp. Force should manifest through stillness, just like intelligence. The paradox of the stage is - force manifests through the force that you restrain it with. In order to concentrate mental force the artist needs to be physically free and relaxed. Art begins with the ability to control and relax the muscles.
Communication. The time spent on stage is from beginning to end communication. The whole time the artist has to project thoughts, feelings and images and be prepared to receive them. Both the right stage feeling and communication are largely instinctive and should come naturally. Communicating with the audience is like sending and receiving rays of energy, directly from eye to eye, heart to heart. The artist has to feel the audience, know who is clapping and smiling and who is not. We often consider the stage as the active and influencive part, and the audience as the passive recipient, but this is only so in the beginning. The audience, if being presented a good piece, soon becomes active and begins to influence the stage. The viewers expect to be conquered, and if that doesn´t happen, they become restless. But when the audience is drawn in, a great fluid force is formed between them and the stage. And that is when real art happens.
Intuition. It is very important that the stage artist is intuitive - they should "feel the inner" or "think with their body". Mental work is only preparation for the stage. Up there it is not the mind or logic that triumphs but sensibility and passion. Whenever the artist starts to show off their skills, the truth gets shaded and the artist becomes only a mechanical action. In this sense there are two types of artists - those who work with their piece and those who let the piece work with them. The first type work rationally, analyse and research until they completely master whatever they are going to present. The second type are much more passive. They work much less, they can hardly even remember it, but as they listen to the music several times, the piece starts to open itself up to them and until forming a guiding vision.
Soul of a child. All children are unique, sincere and real. Only as they grow older they begin to want to resemble someone else and lose their uniqueness. Every person, even the simplest, has something unique in them, has "their own song". A talented artist is much like a child - sensitive, perceiving the world without prejudice and free from routine, giving, surprising, creates effortlessly and intuitively. However, she also receives, much more and faster than others. She sees what others have seen many times but never noticed. She sees the world with exploring eyes, every day is new and different from the last. Only this way the artist can perform the same piece many times without getting dull.
Commitment. Every field has its dead points where the natural resources run out, the playfulness and romance fade away. At this point serious work with the self must begin, for the dilettante to become a master. No one but the artist herself can imagine the difficulties, doubt, searching and pain that accompanies this stage. Only those who have the strength and courage to dedicate their whole lives to the art will come through it. The others will remain half dilettantes, brighter or less brighter candidates. It may sound cruel but it's true. Many reach the dead point, only a few transcend it.