Working with the teens at Longmont Dance Academy today reinforced in my mind the importance of isolation of body parts in stage combat. That is, a specific way the “victim” in a sequence of violence choreography shows the audience what’s going on.
After all, as any of us in the martial arts or other reality based combat areas know, a real bout of violence is quick and small, and basically indecipherable to the human observer’s eye. Look at Olympic fencers as an example. You can see a little movement back and forth, fast flashing of foils, then both opponents raise their hands and the judges have to look at the replay to see who got the touch. And that’s a sport martial art, not a real fight. As I always say to my stage combat students: audiences are stupid. What I mean is, an audience will not be able to see what’s going on in your fight scene unless you make them do so. Isolation is one way to do this.
Imagine one actor comes up behind another, and pushes her in the back. She falls forward onto the floor.
What exactly happened in your visualization? What did the pusher do with his arm exactly? Did you see where his hand landed? Did he use two arms or one? Did he push hard? How could you tell? What happened to the pushee’s spine when he pushed her? How did she fall? What did she land on? Did she land hard? How could you tell?
If the pushee uses isolation to lead with her right shoulder as she falls, you as an audience member then know she was pushed from there. Her use of her spine will tell you what velocity the push came at, and her vocal isolation as she lands will show the impact. Of course, all these moves are illusions, not reality, and her series of precise isolations is what tells the story clearly.
The challenge with beginners, or even actors who aren’t superlatively trained, well-oiled physical machines, is achieving this movement precision. Most humans use their bodies as a whole, or at the very least move them in generalized chunks. It takes a specific type and amount of training to be a physical storyteller, and students that see themselves on video learn this truth quickly.