THE TOWER OF BABEL – OPINIONS ON A PERFORMANCE

In a party I’m telling a friend I just bought tickets  to  see a certain performance.A stranger in a group nearby turns around and says “Oh, I was there yesterday! It was… (whatever)..!”. What can I do with his opinion? I don’t know “from where he is speaking”: has he a dancing background? in a specific kind of dancing? of Dancing?   Vaganova,   Ohad Naharin,  he is older – perhaps Merce Cunningham? What is “Dance” to him? Or what should Dance ideally be? What were his expectations BEFORE taking a seat?  What is beautiful in his eyes? Why did he go? What place has Art in his life? What other performances did he see before this one? …

I will not ask all these questions, of course (not fancying be elected the party’s Bore#1), but if I don’t know their answers, how can I judge his judgement? Dance became so multifaceted, there are so many movements (cultural, not physical), styles, techniques, that sprang out of such from-ground-up-different premises, that pursue such different goals! How can a Vaganova dancer have a helpful opinion on a Crystal Pite performance? The other way round?

How can anyone have a really helpful  opinion on any kind of Dance that is not part of  “his own” background, and based on his own values and tastes? But there is  more: everything is changing fast in Dance. Premises become outdated, styles and techniques disappear with their creators, whole companies shift their goals with a new AD…

I believe these are important reasons to explain why opinions on a performance are becoming a Tower of Babel. Opinions not only differ, they seem to be about different performances. We ALL  became incompetent to judge the multitude of styles and techniques, grasp adequately premises and goals of  every performance, we all…  judge from a place somewhere!

When we hear an opinion, we must switch our “careful-mode” ON, because we don’t know “where it comes from”.  Also, when we have an opinion, it’s good practice, even an ethical one, to tell openly where OURS  comes from, when we share it.

That said, THERE are all the Dance reviewers! Are they any different?

Why would they be?

I have been trying for some time now to write about the “discourse about dance” made by reviewers: it is a confusing discourse, for sure, but sadly  (even dangerously?) it is an authoritive one, a “legitimate” one, not because they are less “localized”, or really that much knowledgeable, or more objective – they have authoritive because of the press power, and because there not other encompassing discourses, dance professionals seldom “think” Dance (more action-proned, I believe…).  Problem is, my texts always become gigantic, and I give up.  This one is still too big, but only a small part is written by me, and at least it is fun!!!

I always collect reviews about dancers,choreographers, companies I follow.  I read them all, only because they are the most visible reaction ( “wary-mode” ON, of course).

What follows are excerpts of reviews I had collected about ENB’s Swan Lake.  They could have been  about corps, great Alina Cojocaru, James Streeter, staging, settings, orchestra  –  all received contradictory comments,  but when it comes to Ivan Vasiliev, opinions are (always)  more (furiously) divided, so it’s delicious funny reading…  I have a dramatic friend who would say: yeah, comical, if it were not tragical…Dismiss him, it IS  fun, and it seems that IV himself does not take them too seriously, or he would already have turned to football, so enjoy…  Each paragraph cites a different reviewer, ALL  that I had free access to on the web (if you know of someone else, please inform me!). No names, because I’m not analyzing this or that reviewer, but them all as a group,  a group  with  authority to discourse about Dance.

…Vasiliev is not a naturally dramatic actor...

…Vasiliev very nearly turns this most female of ballets into a male narrative. He almost kidnaps the drama – not with his eye-popping leaps, although these are impressive, but with urgent acting that uses his entire body. A lean of the torso to indicate longing, a bow of the head to suggest reflection, and outstretched hands that tenderly hold his precious Swan Queen…

.. he’s a delightfully sincere, satisfying hero, partnering his leading lady with tender steadiness and emoting his heart out.  Purists prefer slenderer, leggier chaps, but Vasiliev’s awestruck gentleness in the Act II Pas de deux and his heartrending contrition in Act IV were everything I want in a Siegfried.

… he offers too few of the qualities — emotional, physical — that must define a traditional balletic Prince Brooding, heavy in presence, his Siegfried was a stranger to this presentation.

… His acting, more than anything, is impressive: the sharp contrasts of ecstatic happiness and distress bring a colourful and exciting light to the production.

…he brings a remarkable degree of softness to this most heartfelt of soliloquies … his was one of the most openly expressive character performances as Siegfried that I have seen … . From many meaningful examples, one…

… This production retains the full mime sequences between Siegfried and Odette which one suspects isn’t a element he would have encountered in his training in Russia, but he dealt with these very naturally and his bow to Odette when she tells him she is a princess is as courtly as you could wish. There is a prince there after all.

… (Vasiliev) has trimmed himself down in the wake of some fairly rough performances … his feverish, silent-movie heroics, which give us an idea of what it must have been like to watch the dramatic Soviet dancers of the 1930s … Emotionally, the pair are forever at cross-purposes, a confusion that reaches its apogee in Act 4 when, without warning or apparent motive, he races across the stage and hurls himself to his death.

during these last 20 minutes (Act 4)  that the ballet found its truest poetry. From the moment Ivan Vasiliev’s Siegfried sank to his knees, begging forgiveness from his doomed ballerina Alina Cojocaru, you felt the shiver of impending tragedy. Vasiliev looked like a man harrowed and hollowed by misery; his big, exuberant body sagging under the burden of guilt. … given its power, it’s hard to pin down exactly why the stellar combination of Cojocaru and guest star Vasiliev didn’t deliver in the preceding acts.

… Mais surtout, c’est dans la construction de ses interactions avec sa partenaire qu’il a gagné notre suffrage....

…They were terrific on their own but excitingly, Cojocaru and Vasiliev also gelled magnificently in the big pas de deuxs. Their lakeside duet of introduction was exquisite – he was a wonderfully supportive and restrained partner which allowed her to trace her footwork through the air with the finesse of a master calligrapher. A superbly tender rapport had been established, and the famous black swan pas de deux revealed fierce passion…
Dramatically, Vasiliev veers to emotional extremes, although he’s clearly trying for complexity (but perhaps we shouldn’t be able to see that he’s trying)…

one its finest current interpreters … From the moment he came on stage he was the Prince all eyes focused on, even when not given anything to do. The sadness of his Act I solo was palpable … he was very appealing in the way he constantly reached out to her unwilling to let her out of his grasp … admirably stayed in character throughout … In the last act, reunited with Vasiliev’s Siegfried, she (Alina) came into her own and together the emotion of their ultimate sacrifice was all-too-believably human.

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Try mixing them up in another ways, take other excerpts… You would just highlight other contradictions – still The Tower of Babel!

What follows now are excerpts from audience’s reactions, found on blogs and again,  ALL  I could access:

…Second viewing of the Cojocaru/Vasiliev cast, and yes, it was as good as I thought it first time around.  There is something about Vasiliev’s (let’s call it burly masculinity) physique that really works for the Prince – the swan is initially wary of him, and it makes perfect sense when the prince looks somewhat dangerous and overwhelming compared to the swan, but then he shows a personality tempered with care and tenderness that overcomes the initially threatening appearance…

…Ivan displaying a new (and unexpected) talent for the princely roles. He reigned in his usual exuberant display especially in Act 3, (though he was still brilliant in the Solos and Pas de Deux)  channelling his energy into his passion for Odette, and stayed within character throughout. …

… Vasiliev didn’t quite work for me, I admit this may be because I was too far away to catch nuances of his interpretation…

… What a lovely production and it was a great evening…I have never seen Alina dance before, although I have seen Ivan, but not in such a classical role. The white Acts (1 and 2)were sublime and the black Ac t(Act 3) terrific. The tragic ending (Act 4) was so fitting. Very pleased that I managed to get a ticket.

… She (my wife) was significantly less impressed by Ivan Vasiliev’s Prince, and she was most decidedly unimpressed by the tempi adopted for parts of Act 2…

… ENBs SL is a lovely version. Vasiliev was good and a very genteel Prince. He treated Odette so tenderly , …

 … Vasiliev might not be a born Siegfried, but the man looks good on stage whatever he does and the partnership worked pretty well. Very nice PDDs. Though I couldn’t quite suppress a slight giggle when he delivered the most dramatic eye roll I have yet seen, on stage or off.

… He was, and I am unsure how to put this, a little vacant. …His expression very much ‘dude where’s my swan’ through most of the drama. There was no ardour in kissing Odette’s hand, scant astonishment (as I have seen from some dancers) when he meets her…. Only in Act 3 did he seem to come alive, I did in fact exclaim a ‘wow‘ under my breath.  There was the Vasiliev I had heard about. It was just a shame that at times his acting didn’t match the dancing…  Here, (Odette’s) heartfelt glances and looks – played to Vasiliev’s slightly more monotonal expression

…On the other hand, I couldn’t take my eyes off Vasiliev. … the slightest tilt of his body suggested his pain and boredom at court, his anguish in the later stages.

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If you read this far: are you any wiser? Were reviewers, as a group, more objective or helpful than audience as a group? Could you spot any  different bias, values, pre-conceptions, pre-judices?

Maybe you noticed, as I did, that positive remarks are in greater number.That’s nice, it is a relief when a performance is so remarkable it washes over pre-conceptions, and the Tower of Babel speeches become more similar, and…  if you are a IV’s  fan…

What  I value most, however, is that some of these positive remarks seem to have been written still under the spell the performance cast on their writers (it happened in the reviewer’s group – as a trend, not a rule -, to the earlier reviewers, still under it’s power…) .

THIS  is what matters to me: “magic”  was either there or not. If just some individuals felt caught, it’s enough, it was there. Even if not all could, or allowed themselves, to surrender to it, given where they are coming from.

You all know about my bias, or would know by reading my former posts:

Dance is Art  if, and only if, it is Form+Content. Form+Content is the only possible way to create what I,  not having found a better word, call “magic”. My (certainly biased) opinion is:  what ENB, maybe Tamara Rojo herself, made possible, WAS  Art, and what Ivan Vasiliev and Alina Cojocaru created, WAS Art!…

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