I don´t think so.
To lead or not to lead – that is the question. You already know the motto: in dance as in life.
First: leadership comes from RESPECT – not fame or fear but RESPECT. Once you earn the respect of other people, then – and only then – you can lead.
Second: leadership should be about bringing out the best in people and not about Mussolini trying to impose his will.
Dancers often ask me how to lead an orchestra; how to guide or be guided when you perform with live music; how to find a balance between what musicians give and what you give back to them (and to your audience).
I believe in the Jungle Rule when it comes to the stage: the survival of the fittest: the stronger element is the winner; every weak link is smashed, eliminated by more powerful elements. In the end, we all want to have the best possible show.
Having performed, orchestrated and managed my own orchestra in Egypt for about 8 years, I know a thing or two about leading an orchestra (in and off stage). The balance starts before we hit the stage: it must be clear whose show is that and who has the Vision* for it. Who makes the decisions regarding to the way music must be played? Who follows whom?
Then comes the already mentioned aspect of RESPECT. Not every musician respects the dancer he´s working with. For me, this is an essential point – I cannot move if I don´t feel respected by the musicians I´m working with.
Another important – rarely mentioned – aspect is JOY, laughter, sense of humor, warmth, the human connection that opens musicians eyes and hearts. These elements apply to Egyptians, in particular, but also to the musicians I´ve been working with around the world. The dancer must create a warm, fun, loving environment where musicians feel they WANT to give their best not because they´re being paid but because they feel like doing it.
I used to balance a good dose of laughter and discipline with my orchestra in Egypt – it never failed. They knew we would work seriously but we would also have fun. I made it clear: their contributions would be highly noticed, used in my dance and appreciated.
Once we hit the stage, there´s only ONE RULE: what works and what doesn´t. Performing entails three elements: orchestra, dancer and audience. If one of these elements is disconnected, the show goes down the toilet.
Both dancer and orchestra must be attentive to the audience (radars, honey!) – we wouldn´t be there if it wasn´t for them. I don´t mean we have to be servants of the audience´s requests and tastes. I´ve always done exactly what I wanted to do in my shows and never received a single complaint from the audience. What I mean is: performing is a human experience we create in the moment – if the dancer or the orchestra (or both!) don´t take in consideration the 3rd link, they´re heading for mediocrity. If you ignore your audience, why dance in public? You can just rent a studio, pay the musicians and dance at your own will and only to yourself.
Some things work today and they don´t work tomorrow; a juicy “taksim” (instrumental solo) may suit the mood of this audience and be totally unfit to connect with another audience; extending a song – repeating phrases, adding a “couplet”, etc – tonight may be a bright idea while it may ruin the show on another occasion. There are no tricks that garantee the audience will be connected with the artists at all times – just ATTENTION, REACTION, FLOWing with each moment and absolute GENEROSITY. Non negotiable.
You – dancer and orchestra – must be able to GIVE it all you´ve got instead of dumping your comfort zone prepared program on stage, then goodbye, applaud me and see you next time. Dance is Life – it´s not a dead mouse your cat hunted and left, as a gift, at your door. Dance is ALIVE and life is unpredictable.
*Great orchestras – rare and divine – need little leadership from the dancer. What she/he wants from the show can be clear before the show starts – that´s what rehearsals are for. They know what to do, they feel the dancer as well as the audience and READ the traffic signs (RED, YELLOW, GREEN).
My Egyptian orchestra was a great exemple of this cathegory: they knew I knew what I was doing and they knew what it meant to work with the Holy Trinity: music + dancer + audience = divine experience.
I had to intervene once in a while but, mostly, I could relax and enjoy myself knowing we were all awakened and on the same track.
*Average orchestras – the most common – need a good deal of leadership. They´re usually not well oiled when it comes to dealing with live performances and they tend to stick to what they know without a margin for improvisation/adaptation/reaction to the moment.They also tend to ignore the dancer and the audience because that requires specific technical and artistic skills they may not have developed.
If they´re professional, humble and capable of following the dancer, they will allow her to lead the show; if they´re not, they will have a stroke, they´ll lose control of their instruments and chaos can be installed.
*Bad orchestras. Rare, thanks God! I´ve been lucky not to meet loads of them. It´s usually one or two musicians, so insecure and unprepared they simply cannot take any direction and, much less, direct.
I´ve refused to work with some of these musicians, mostly in Egypt. More than musical incompetence, what strikes me as unacceptable is arrogance and the unwillingness to do your best.
Nowadays, I perform with different orchestras – not my own, as it happened in Egypt – throughout the world. They don´t know me and I don´t know them; time for rehearsal is minimal or non existent. It´s a jump into the unknown for both sides – I must have that in consideration.
In these cases, what you will see is my leadership. If a ship has no captain, I become the captain without hesitation, otherwise we´re going down.
Dance leads; a dancer who knows what she´s doing and what she wants from the show leads; what works best leads. If you can do better than me, do it. If you can´t, get out of the way and let me do it. Period.
It´s not a question of ego, who´s the boss or who shines more. My intention is to create a show that will stick in people´s memories forever. My intention is to stimulate the musicians who are working with me and the audience which is co-creating that show. Period.
If a musician throws a good idea, I´ll catch it and use it. If a person from the audience throws a good idea, I´ll catch it and use it. If a fly, a piece of dust, an angel or a demon throw a good idea, I´ll catch it and use it. Period.
It´s not about me or them, it´s about THE BEST SHOW we can put out. Period.
If the musicians get the hang of it and prove they can lead the trip, I´ll catch it and use it. Period.
If I can do it better, I´ll catch it and use it. Period.
If the cleaning lady, who´s passing by with a broom, can do better than me, I´ll invite her to the stage and let her do it. Period.
Got my point?
I must add: performing with a great orchestra can be a sacred experience: a meditation: a conversation with God. It´s a space without space and a timeless time: a piece of heaven. In order to be so, all elements must bring their heart to the table: the ones who lead and the ones who are lead. Heart, aside from know-how, is another reason why a group of men will allow a woman – not just a woman: a dancer! – to tell them what to do and when to shut up.
Egypt is everywhere and in so many ways 😉
Let me repeat: leadership cannot be imposed – it can only be earned. Above all, leadership is about creating the Greater Good, it doesn´t matter if it´s in a show or in world politics. It´s all the same; we´re all the same.