Phrasing, in short, is the way something starts, progresses (takes time) and ends. This can be applied to movement, to sentences and strings of words, and of course also to sound or musical phrases. It can also be applied to all visual disciplines, especially if they are time-based (like video). But also in static pictures, installation art and architecture, the arrangement of the visual objects (e.g.: in strong lines or scattered lines, lines with sudden breaks, etc.) can be read and manipulated in terms of phrasing.
Phrasing includes timing (when does it start, in relation to other things that are happening / when does it end), and it includes the dynamic of the expressive material: How does it start (e.g. explosive, hesitant, slowly appearing, etc.) how does it ‘take its time’ and how does it end (e.g. slowly disintegrating, abrupt ending, fading out, etc.).
When working with different performance disciplines, phrasing seems to be an excellent way to stay connected and build performance together, even in those moments when the various performance languages parallel operating on stage are so manifold that a ‘helicopter view’ of what is happening is not possible anymore for the single performer.
Focussing on phrasing means that a performer can place his material in relation to other people’s material and make meaningful connections to it, without necessarily understanding the content of it.
Example: If I am an actor and I started on a monologue about the pet I owned when I was young, I might not understand what a dancer in another part of the stage is doing. But I can place the phrasing of my sentences in conjunction with the phrasing of the dancers’ movements. When the audience realises that our timing is linked, they will make a connection and the things that they see on stage will start to make (more) sense to them. And while I might still not know what exactly the content is of our connection, my engagement with being in pace with the unpredictable dancer’s movements will automatically strengthen my trust in that I am doing something that makes sense and creates meaning in the context of the whole performance.