Get ahead of everyone else by knowing what’s up with this technique found in any performance, dance or drama, by reading the text down below.
Back in the previous post, I mentioned how boring it would be for the performer to stand still and do nothing onstage. But that doesn’t only apply to moving laterally. If the actors have to stand still, the director can still make it less basic.
Near the end of Act I of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, there’s a scene where the King of Siam is dictating a letter while kneeling and Anna (who’s writing down what he says) stands;
KING: Do you not have any respect for me? Why do you stand over my head? I cannot stand all the time. And in this country no one’s head shall be higher than king’s. From now on in presence, you shall so conduct like all other subjects.
ANNA: You mean, on the floor?
KING: All subjects do.
ANNA: I’m very sorry. I shall try my best not to let my head be higher than Your Majesty’s……but I simply cannot grovel on the floor. I couldn’t possibly work that way, or think.
KING: You are very difficult woman!
ANNA: Perhaps so, Your Majesty.
Oscar Hammerstein II is practically spelling out a common theatre technique for you all. The King is, the king. Not just any king. He’s the King of 19th century Siam, which is like being a god. When he walks through the room, everyone immediately kowtows to show how little they are compared to the King. So when some English bitch keeps her head high no matter how low his is, of course he’s gotta make a fuss and remind her who’s in charge.
This Eastern monarchical tradition is very present in the theatre world, but the example above is the most obvious. In theatre, when Character A has the stage’s attention, or ‘spotlight’, the cast will give the illusion that A is the tallest in the room. By any means necessary.
Hamilton fans might tell you the show is Aaron Burr’s story or Eliza’s story. We’re focusing on what’s on the stage, not on the page. And Lin-Manuel Miranda loves making sure he gets stage time. Just take a look at the image. Whose head just so happens to be closest to to the top? Of course this is only one angle and it might be possible the bald man in the back’s head could be taller here. But look how he’s standing versus the way Hamilton is; the man has one foot in front of the other and is either leaning forwards or slightly crouching, thus is shorter now than his natural height. Hamilton has his knees locked, back straight, keeping the spotlight all to himself while everyone else gets red lighting.
The director of this production of A Dream Play knew this violinist (Agnes, I assume) couldn’t establish her dominance alone. So he makes her stand on a chair and gets a spotlight all to herself. As if that wasn’t enough to show who has the power, the ensemble look towards her and extend their arms to her. Not even that really popular kid you had in your school could have this kind of respect from his/her peasants.
In case you need a little more clarification, you know what Elphaba does when she accepts her destiny as the Wicked Witch of the West?
So it’s clear how arguing about who’s taller was the foundation of what gives a character power without words needed. But what about an equal group of people, with or without an Elphaba to put them in their place? A director would rather die than have 5 people standing straight with their knees locked. The reason is a group of people standing the same way looks flat. (A director is an artist, keep that in mind.) The director wants his actors to show depth with their appearance, no matter how balanced or unbalanced it may be.
Everybody’s heads are at different levels through the use of kneeling (the four in the front), crouching (the two in green and yellow), leaning (those two in the back might actually be the same but I think their turbans help a little), and standing upright (the one whose head is highest).
Eliminate the huge ass ensemble and we have a more simplified example of varying levels. Red and Yellow are have similar levels but their feet make up for it. Meanwhile Blue is slightly tilting her head (I assume she’s the one not named Heather, based on her stature.) And then you got Green. Whatever the girls are paying attention to, Green finds it very intriguing. If she didn’t care that much, why put the effort into bending your back like that?
I could go on and on about examples of levels in theatre, but you probably get the gist of it and wanna see how k-pop uses it. One thing to remember is soloists use the examples shown in the images of Hamilton and A Dream Play more often and groups use the Aladdin and Heathers examples more.
A big reason why I ignored the blocking for Ringa Linga is because Taeyang is the star, so everyone should look at him. For soloists, they don’t need anyone to bow before them. Everyone knows they’re the stars. Just give them a mic and an ensemble wearing one color while he/she gets a more interesting costume and no one needs to bow before them. Exceptions do exist though.
The song starts off with Henry sitting, playing the piano and we see the dance crew already showing a good example levels. Then he gets up and 0:56 and shows lets everybody who’s in charge by standing on the piano. (Also the way Kyuhyun enters like Moses parting the Red Sea are some nice ways to show power, but not really levels related.)
What does Hyuna need to do to prove she’s above you all? Have two men carry her on her shoulders at 2:05 while her dance minions entertain you.
Groups are more creative with levels than soloists. There’s no specific “King” that has to get all the attention. They are a team, so any member can stand or sit what ever their choreographer wants them to do to create well leveled dance points.
You don’t even need to watch the video to see BlackPink’s use of levels. There’s also the beginning of Jennie’s rap where everyone crouches and she rises above them, as well as a couple others. See if you can spot anymore yourself!
Oh my. Levels. Levels everywhere. Use of furniture, everything between sitting and standing. They only spend like less than a minute being on the same level. One key point I’ll note is the chorus; one in front sitting down, three behind him kneeling, three behind them standing. The choreographer could have easily had them stand in a line and have them do the ‘beep beep’ dance in unison. But nope. That’s for amateurs. Also a nice use of symmetry.
In conclusion, levels are a way for directors and choreographers to make staging look more dynamic while keeping the blocking simple. Feel free to make a drinking game out of watching choreography videos by taking a shot every time there are different levels in a dance point.