IN DEFENSE OF THE “LIGHTER”  BALLETS

Scene 1, several years ago: Alastair MacAuley mourns Alessandra Ferri’s career development. He calls her the Lolita of ballet, and wistfully remembers the purity of her dancing in a plotless piece I think in her graduation exam, or in some ballet contest.
If it depended on him, he would throw away her amazing acting skill, and keep just the technical excellence – we would not have the gift of her lovely, unbeatable Juliet, for example. Or her Carmen.

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Alessandra Ferri and Wayne Eagling in Romeo and Juliet by Kenneth MacMillan.

Scene 2,  a few days ago: I give a try to any video of ballet that shows up in my FB timeline.  Watching one of them, I’m thinking oh my, how booooring! I skip to scene after scene, the lavish costums change, but the boredom level does not change.  Curious that someone would bother to stage such a ballet, I consult the credits. It was a Balanchine work. I am not surprised. Yes, sorry, I’m not a big fan of Balanchine.

Scene 3, today: Alastair MacAuley is retiring, and as a last pompous message, calls Don Quixote and Le Corsaire trashy ballets, and tells us soviets (you feel the bleeergh between the lines) are to blame for their popularity.  I quote:

I draw attention to two very unalike trends: one heartening, one dismaying. The first is the increasing penetration of George Balanchine’s choreography into national and international repertory. For those of us who remember how radical he often was in his lifetime (even in this city and far more often elsewhere), and how difficult many of his ballets were when young, this vindication is deeply satisfying; moving, too. Balanchine achieved a high water mark for the art. That dozens of one-act Balanchine ballets, like “Divertimento No. 15” and “Symphony in Three Movements,” are now regularly danced from Phoenix to Miami, from Vienna to Vancouver, is a victory of superlative modernism.

Against that, however, please observe the ghastly and ever-increasing popularity of such formulaic 19th-century ballets as “Le Corsaire” and “Don Quixote.” These war horses — trashily circusy, composed to minor-league music — abound in clichés. When I discovered dance in the 1970s, they were the specialties of Soviet companies alone: They exemplified the tosh that Diaghilev had banished to the past, and which all sophisticated Western companies rightly chose to avoid. Today, however, they’re frequently danced in New York (alas, here too Ballet Theater leads the way), London and many other cities. They demean ballet.”

Scene 4, also today: I come upon an article entitled Where has the joy gone?. Where is the joy of dancing? Why is it that the uncountable different feelings we experience are mostly absent in ballet? When did acting skill become such a low priority in dancing? 


Circusy?

He doesn’t dwell long on the reasons for his opinion. Circusy, he says. Maybe he means the variations in these ballets, specially the male ones, that require big jumps and tours. In what sense are big jumps more show-offing than 32 fouettés or intrincate small allegros? Or perfect, absolutely P-E-R-F-E-C-T lines? They just show-off different skills. Or maybe he is bothered that these ballets give the male roles more relevance? Holy Balanchine said “ballet is a woman”,  so please don’t display gross masculinity on stage, men should keep nicely in the background, hidden by the tutus.  Or is it because you can laugh in these ballets? NOOO, please don’t, ballet is a serious affair, we cannot condone with joy on stage. Of all the unwished for heartfelt reactions ballet can bring, mirth is maybe the worst!

Formulaic?

Oh, as if Swan Lake,  Sleeping Beauty, Giselle were not formulaic… Plots rely on the same elements, variations and corps dynamics have the same structure and steps, body-language and expression is kept to a minimum (in it’s stead loads of mime), lavish scenery and costumes. Balanchine is formulaic TOO in plotless work after plotless work with the same kind of stiff, contained steps, his corps in endless geometric forms – and you learn the much praised “Balachine style” or be prepared to scathing criticism.

Given MacAuley disdains of plots and acting skill, maybe he doesn’t like the plots of DQ and Corsaire? Yes, their plots are kind of trashy, absolutely not grand or affected, often more of the parody kind, and to make things worse, they have a happy ending! EVERYONE knows art must be tragic to be art. Don’t you?

Self-styled judges

There were always self-styled judges of what art is. And loads of art expressions they  consider(ed) unworthy. Tchaikowsky received much criticism because of the unbridled passion in his music. Michelangelo was criticized by the scandalous display of flesh. Byron was untastefully over-romantic. Some wrinkle their noses over operettas.
Really? So let’s face the truth: Giselle is just a typical gothic saved as high art by the white tutus, and the score is bizarre, with bright, lively tunes as background to tragic eerie scenes. And Bayadére, pure kitsch?

But ALL the ballets mentioned above require good classical technique and lines – may they be Balanchine styled, English, French or Russian styled. All styles are equally worthy,  Mr. MacAuley, but you seem unable to appreciate anything outside your bubble.  Modernism? Balanchine is already dated. Anyway, would you evaluate Andy Warhol higher than Rembrandt because of his modernism?  Or Shakespeare lower than Tennessee Williams?
Also, the ballets above, with the exception of Balanchine’s, all require good acting. In other words, Don Quixote and Le Corsaire require MORE skills than most of Balanchine ballets. They also depend more on the performer, who – not bound by strict rules – will add a new layer of creativity, which I find refreshing in any scenic art.

Opinions or universal truths? 

I can have my favorites, of course: but my taste is not an universal truth. No, no, sorry: if I’m conservative, my Weltanshauung will be fulll of “universal truths”, usually dismissive of everything and everyone that does not please me…

I’m glad MacAuley is retiring. I’m glad a whole older generation of deeply conservative ballet lovers and funders is slowly being replaced by younger, less biased ones (or so I hope). The former ones imposed their values on ballet for too long, and turned away a potential younger public that does not share their pomposity, smugness and why not say with all letters: repressed sensuality. Enough of people that don’t want to be stirred by what happens on stage – that want ballet as pure aesthetic pleasure – while in their private lives they are often… well, quite different.

It is NOT a coincidence that MacAuley, when he concedes there may be life after Balanchine, forgets to mention Crystal Pite, for example, with their deeply stirring, critical works on contemporary issues (and groudbreaking use of corps). She indeed is  modern. Ballet has been for too long the last bastian of shared hyprocisy in art.

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The Season’s Canon by Crystal Pite

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As a last note: don’t tell me you need deep knowledge and very refined aesthetic taste to know  a “good” ballet from a “bad” one. Art is art. Anyone with some degree of sensitivity and love for beauty can appreciate Johann Strauss as well as Beethoven, a naif painter as well as Rembrandt, Swan Lake as well as Le Corsaire, a Wilde comedy as well as a Shakespeare play. I refuse to let conservatives full of prejudice define the rules: I’m able to respect and appreciate different forms of art, different styles, different epochs. What is really hard for me to accept as art is Form without Content. 

Four Keys to the Future

I hardly have time to write, nowadays, but what will become of Dance, and more specifically about Ballet, is always in mind. I worry, as you know, about their vitality and future.

I was reading this blog of Greg Sandow on the future of classical music (a passion, but I do not follow and study like Dance), and came upon this, that… could have been written for Dance, just by replacing the word music!

Since the link doesn’t embed in the text, I quote:

“We’re in a new era. To adapt to it, and build a new audience, here are four things you should do:

Understand and respect the culture outside classical music. 

Your new audience will come from the world outside classical music. Where else could it come from? And to reach these new people, you of course have to know them. Who are they? What kind of culture do they already have? You have to respect them, because if you don’t, they won’t respect you.

Work actively to find your audience.

The people you want to reach may not yet care about classical music. So they won’t respond to conventional PR and marketing. They won’t come to you on their own. And so you have to actively go out and find them. You have to talk to them where they live, where they work, and where they go for entertainment and for inspiration. You have to inhabit their world.

Be yourself.

Your urgency, your joy, and your passion will draw people to you. But you can’t be joyful if you don’t love the music that you perform. So never pander. Never struggle to be relevant. Perform music that makes your heart sing. Trust your new audience. Trust it to be smart, to be curious, and to respond with joy when it sees how joyful you are.

Make music vividly.

The people you reach will want to love the music you bring them. But can you meet them halfway? Are you bringing them something they really can love? Your performances should be entirely yours, performances nobody else could give. Your music should breathe. Contrasts should feel like they’re contrasts. Climaxes should feel like climaxes. Are you doing everything you can to bring your music alive?”

I’m grateful for Greg Sandow, prolixe me would never be able to write such a splendid resume!

Link to full text

 

This blog’s nice Quest: “Psst, you!, come, you will love Dance!”

Dance was the first great passion in my life, but even when I was part of our Dance community, little information about what was going on “there, where it matters” reached us – if at all, with great delay. We were just too far away, and Communication Age had not yet begun. I was lucky, I had teachers that were ex-dancers that had gone abroad and eventually came back with solid knowledge and great technical skill, but this happened so seldom, less than once in a decade! All I knew by then was pure classical (the most contained, severe English style!) and Martha Graham.  When I gave up dancing, I kept the greatest possible distance between me and all that concerned Ballet, by my own choice – a kind of Dance “coma”…

I awakened to a “new” world, a world I had not been aware existed.

I was searching YouTube for classical Music works  that had never graced the shelves of my city’s stores, when I linked to a piece that was just score to a ballet. BALLET! I realized, for the first time, that I could now see ballets, performances, dancers I had only heard about before – and was suddenly overcome by an urgent longing for Dance. I started with Martha Graham, and went on on suggested links, Paul Taylor, Pina Bausch, Twyla Tharp…  Awesome! I remember clearly my amazement,  as I realized all that had happened during the time I had been “away”.

Eventually I clicked on Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello” staged by San Francisco Ballet, Desmond Richardson and Yuan Yuan Tan as principals. I was mesmerized! So beautiful this blend of classical and contemporary, so different from all I had known, the richer choreography, the amazing male roles – these men were REALLY dancing!  And choreography and dancers were all so deeply expressive! I watched it three times in a row before I could go on.

I went on to Othello’s PDD danced by Marcelo Gomes and Alessandra Ferri. WOW…! Until that moment, all I knew about him was that he is a Brazilian ballet dancer who succeded abroad.  I searched more.
AlessandraFerriOthello

Wow!… WOW!…

Two more days with my eyes glued to the screen, and I knew ALL about him and Alessandra I could get on the web: clips, interviews, pictures, reviews. Marcelo Gomes led me next to the Kings of the Dance.

I clicked on Labyrinth of Solitude.

Ivan Vasiliev in Labyrinth of Solirude - chr. Patrick De Bana - Photographer: Nikolay Krusser
Ivan Vasiliev in Labyrinth of Solirude – chr. Patrick De Bana – Photographer: Nikolay Krusser

I had never seen anything so beautiful and heartbreaking before. It was so overwhelming I  stopped  all I was doing , and went for a walk to think about what I had seen. My life had suffered a division: there is a before and an after Labyrinth.

THIS much meaning, feeling, power could be conveyed through Dance!! I knew, back from my days, that for those who dance, it can be a deep sensorial and emotional  experience, but I had been also sadly aware that this experience was not extended to our audience! A Ballet evening was just a sophisticated event that  people with cultured tastes felt obliged to attend, but the moment the curtains closed, they started talking about where to have dinner,   the stock market…  – had that evening existed or not, nothing was changed.

But THIS! this was something else. Labyrinth had blowed me off my feet! Not as a dancer, but as audience. And not in a theatre, seated in the dark, magic flowing from a lighted stage, but at home, my pets fooling around me, phone ringing, – on a 14″ notebook with awful sound quality…

It became my favourite work, and a sort of standard. I like everything about Labyrinth. The theme; the music (Vitali, strange composer, who created this one sweeping, emotional score 150 years ahead of his time…); the way it is danced by Vasiliev, believable and intense;  the absence of settings and costume;  De Bana’s expressive choreography, and how he blended all of it into something that was more than the sum of parts.

After gathering  my wits back, I searched further (my ethernal gratitude to YouTube’s inventor!), and started to identify  which choreographers and dancers had been – and are now – responsible for this new (for me) richness.  I knew several by name or a rare photo, but had never SEEN the real dancing, believe it or not!  My personal  “hall of fame”  became a mix of active and retired professionals, even some  long passed away – problem is, they jumped into my life all at once, it took me some time to correctly locate them in space and time – they were all very “here and now”  in my mind  – they still are, and I like it that way.

I fell deeply in love with Dance again, more than before. I saw, at last, Dance becoming an Art like her sisters. THIS was what Dance should be, anyone could appreciate, could  love it now, men and women, young and old, expert or not. Anyone should be given the opportunity to experience its power, everyone should be exposed to its magic: I had a Quest!

My other projects (I always have too many, anyway) became less important, as my knowledge and awareness grew steadily. I’m fortunate that I can now, as never before in a too busy life, open my door and let Dance and Music come in and make themselves really comfortable in me. (only problem is, I suffer from fits of goose-bumps at an alarming rate nowadays).

The Quest means no hard work at all:  I use it as an excuse to write about beauty and art gifted people create for us – giving Dance some thought while I write – not as an expert, but as the grateful receiving end, and then throw it in the wind/web, hoping it makes a difference, even the tiniest one, in bringing Dance closer to a wider audience. The other task is to win people around me over… making  them some pleasure,  too,  when I succeed.  Is that nice or what?

Quote of the Day – Tai Jimenez

What makes one’s dancing compelling is one’s love for it. What draws the eye is the ability to watch someone having a profound internal experience translated into the external physical world. As a dancer, you are a kind of translator for divine energy, the non-verbal prayer.” … “When dancing felt best to me, it was when all parts of myself, some I could name, and some I could not, danced together, without hierarchy.

TaiJimenez

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Terpsichore! she is talking about Terpsichore…

Tai Jimenez was Principal Dancer of The Dance Theatre of Harlem and with the Boston Ballet, and is a teacher now.

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This blog is, more than anything else, about the reception of Dance, about what we in the audience – I should better use “I”,  since my opinions are far from being an unanimity – want, wish, expect from Dance, and think/feel when see it. But often things get mixed up, because I want to understand what makes a performance compelling – and end up reading with great interest what dancers and choreographers have to say about their motivations and experiences.

Although it is meant for dancers, this prayer she wrote feels so right!, I had to quote it too:

“Dear Universe,
Help me to love myself as I am.
Let my dancing be an expression of that love.
Help me to recognize the Light in others
without diminishing my own Light
by falling into jealousy.
Help me to move through doubt, fear and self-hatred into the dance of Love.
Help me to love every part of my body without exception.
Help me to practice recovering quickly from my mistakes,
and to honor my limitations with patience
so that I may uncover the gift in the disguise of that limitation.
Help me to see through the obstacle of the Ideal Image
and to trust that my best is good enough.
Help me to nourish myself mind, body and soul
so that I may be a vessel for Grace,and help me
to let go so that I may be One with ecstasy.
Thank you for this day of dancing.”

Amen!
Anyone who has these wishes granted will certainly be a great pleasure to see dancing!

Quote of the Day – Sylvie Guillem

Sylvie-Guillem“For all of you, who are sending me all those incredible notes thanking me… It’s the opposite I have to thank all of you who followed me and bought tickets , filling up theatre showing to all the” professionals of the profession” you , as me, were thinking there was a different way to approach classical ballet , there was a different way to tell stories ..those fantastic classics as Swan Lake , the scariest one to dance, is not a stupid duck with a tutu a point, but a woman who suffers , accepts to die for the man she loves, who care about the triple pirouettes and the quadruple fouettes if the public is not touched by what you are saying .”

Posted on her Facebook Page on this date. The whole text and the following comments are worth seeing!

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About graceful dancers – Part 1: the Girls

The last sentence I wrote in the Quote of Alina Cojocaru, a few days ago, kept ringing on my own head:  “And she is so graceful!”. Some months ago I also wrote about this quality of Ivan Vasiliev’s dancing that can only be called manly gracefulness, as I don’t know any other word that fits. Why did I see the need to state it? Are not all dancers graceful?  Yes, they are… but I meant it in a very specific, not self-evident,  sense of my own.  What I had in mind was:  they move with natural, seemingly effortless, maybe even unconscious, perfect grace.

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Alina Cojocaru in Giselle Act 1
with Manuel Legris

Some dancers seem to have studied for a long time how to make their movements the most beautiful … and some seem to just BE beautiful moving.  I don’t know exactly WHAT the difference is, but I get it after the first minutes of watching anyone dance. How I perceive it still eludes me. It’s not in the beauty itself, as I’m talking about a group where all are outstanding,  but about the kind of beauty, and how it is achieved. Some have this more fluid, free, almost instinctive quality to their movements – graceful movements  seem to spring out of them  as natural as breathing, and are lovely exactly because of that. Other dancers move so carefully, I sense – somehow – there are endless hours of rehearsal behind every port-de-bras.

I realize it does not make sense, since ALL dancers have this love/hate relationship with the studio’s mirror, the severe critic with whom they spend most of their time, and most respect! But still… it’s as if some dancers don’t worry, or forget the mirror when they are on stage, and just… dance!  They LET themselves dance, while others deliberatedly, self-consciously, MAKE their bodies dance.

—– A metaphore: it’s like the difference between an artificial, perfectly formed flower, and a real flower, where life’s miracle expresses itself in texture, fragrance, shades of colour, singularity. It’s a matter of taste: some prefer the silken man-made perfection, I prefer vitality and natural beauty. —

To me as audience, it makes a great difference. The careful dancers don’t seem at ease, and don’t let ME be at ease. I see – somehow – their great effort to create beauty, and then I cannot forget myself into their dancing, it makes magic more difficult to happpen: they push me into a role of my own, I am the Mirror now…

Some people are just born that way, I mean common people, not just professional dancers: they are graceful  sitting, laughing, talking on the phone, running, whatever. I suppose all dancers have this inborn grace – or they wouldn’t be dancers, would they?  Why , then, the painstakingly worry about the ideal form? Maybe they don’t trust their own grace? or their training/coaching damped it down, so they could achieve a certain aesthetic? I mistrust Vaganova, the Royal Ballet, ABT, for example, too much dancers there are… so careful!

So I have this unanswered question: are only my graceful ones born dancers, or what I see is the consequence of hiding natural beauty under an artificial, carefully construed one?  I don’t know.

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Alina Cojocaru in Giselle – click to link
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Alina Cojocaru in Sleeping Beauty – click to link
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Uliana Lopatkina in Carmen – click to link

Examples!

Alina Cojocaru is Grace itself wearing point-shoes. I could watch her endlessly. There are two more links on her, chosen at random.  Compare with other famous dancers and you will see what I mean (I hope).

Alonso’s Carmen is a ballet I had a hard time liking, it’s so odd – but Uliana Lopatkina made me love it, she seems to be enjoying the dancing, and her Carmen to be having fun with her seduction games – a wellcomed change to other Carmens, that stretched way too far the seductress choreography. Her Nikiya is also lovely, as is Lucia Lacarra’s. Compare!

Marcia Haydée in anything she choosed to dance was enchanting… Not an all-encompassing list, but anyway the graceful ones are rare nowadays!

Natalia Osipova is a special case: she is THE most self-conscious one,  but adds such a lot of  (also very careful) acting to it, that it compensates, to a great extent – and most of the times – for her visible effort to create perfect moving Beauty, It’s a successful effort – but it must take enormous amounts of work, and of energy while performing, to get it all done at once. I wonder… if she would just let herself go at some point, and recklessly forget anything but the joy of dancing…

Natalia-Osipova-Firebird
Natalia Osipova in Firebird

So they are “hot” ballet dancers. Good!

IV&MV

I liked this article in Tatler (RU), with lots of beautiful photos that associate ballet in people’s minds with young, sexy and fashionable dancers. Excellent!

So they are “hot”, a charming couple that young people can identify themselves with, as they do with sport, music, movie stars – why not ballet stars? People under 35 that do not dance are underrepresented in ballet audiences, I bet because of ballet’s old-fashioned image. But even ballet is changing, so let them be lured in any way to a ballet evening – let them see Ivan Vasiliev dance just once…

I’m sorry for all defenders of ballet’s outworldly purity, but we live in 2015

Link to the whole series of photos in Tatler:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.757982010946729.1073742058.116589208419349&type=1

DANCE – KNOW THY AUDIENCE!

For some time now I have been wondering, and making comments, on the audience of Dance. I believe that the performance of ballet professionals and the big companies’ stagings were more foccused on pleasing dance experts and the conservative part of the audience, neglecting a wider one that could and would enjoy Dance, and ballet, it just some changes were made…This was more a feeling that a certainty, and of course I could be wrong.

But I have found a survey about audience made in 2010, in USA, comissioned by Dance/Usa , a national service  organization for the professional dance field, within the scope of one of their initiatives: EDA – Engaging Dance Audiences. The survey was made by WolfBrown, a specialized agency that provides ” qualitative and quantitative market research services to a wide range of cultural organizations.” In total, 7,454 dance patrons completed the survey.

*****6 out of 10 in the audience are dance professionals or ex-professionals

Now look at that:
“A quarter of all dance buyers take dance lessons or classes at least occasionally, and another 33% used to, earlier in their lives.” That’s 58% of the audience, or 6 out of every 10!”

WolfBrown sorted the audience, however, by another criteria:

– Active or Serious Dancers are people who regularly take dance lessons, perform in front of live audiences or choreograph. They constitute 2 out of every 10 buyers. I suppose this means: they are either active dance professionals or actively training to become professionals.

– Social Dancers are people who dance socially, either regularly or occasionally, but who are not “Active or Serious Dancers.” They constitute 38% ot the audience – this means 4 out of 10, and among these, 3 are ex-dancers.

– Non-Dancers are all those not included above. They constitute just 43% of ticket buyers!

Dance AudienceIn the report, there is this cautious remark beside this graph:

“– In other studies, we have observed the presence of artists in the audience, but not to this extent. The larger point here is one about the inter-dependence of different players in the dance ecology.”

************************************ I want an inspiring, uplifting experience

DanceAudience Motivation

“To experience the kind of magic only Dance can create” is not an item in their list… No wonder, as my clumsy, unprecise concept of “magic” means the kind of experience you have when exposed to Art: an experience that may be anywhere from the most subtle, unconscious to the most overwhelming one, but always touching  deep existential strings. Note that “to have an intense emotional experience” is low on that table, while “to be inspired and upflifted” is at the top. I imagine that respondents, like me, regarded the top one as a life-changing experience, and the  “intense emotional experience” as any kind of “emotional”, including the  predictable, shallow kind that newspapers and trash-talk-shows use “ad nauseam” to increase their sales. So I chose the top one as the closest, in fact as a synonime to my “magic”, and hope I’m not pushing it too far – because “magic” in the top position agrees with all I believe in!

The report states that to Active or Serious Dancers  the most important motives are:  to engage intellectually with the dance or choreography / to energize your own creativity / to see great works by the masters / to discover new choreographers and companies. This is a   pragmatic group, they want to enhance their skill and specific knowledge.

It follows that  “To be inspired and uplifted”  stands  on the top of the list because the Social Dancers and Non-Dancers want it,  it’s THEIR principal reason. If no real “magic”, nothing really special is created,  it will be a disappointing experience to THEM.

The performers on stage know that their peers are a large part of audience (roughly 60%) – with their keen, knowing  eyes hefted on the smallest movement, possibly looking for faults! I wouldn’t be surprised  if the wish to concquer their respect and praise became stronger than anything else….

That’s why I love performers who are more foccused on creating magic than in showing off their excellent technique. Remember: the most important motivation to see any kind of production, to a large part of the CURRENT audience, is the wish “to live an inspiring experience” – it probably is also the motivation that can win more “outsiders” over.

************************************Yes, I’m willing to see an unfamilar work

One last comment, now about constantly re-staging familiar works. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “I prefer to see familiar works that I know I will like rather than seeing unfamiliar or challenging work.”

And see! roughly 6 out of 10 disagreed! including Non-Dancers! If you take  10  Non-Dancers, then:
1 of them prefers a familiar work (only one!)
3 prefer new works
3 are willing to either kind AND
3 have mixed feelings about this (still hope on them!).

But there is an exception, and an expected one: when it comes to ballet productions, 45% prefer familiar works – the conservative traditional-ballet-loving audience I always talk about!

********************************************************* Young audience?

The survey also tried to find out about technology-based alternatives of watching a performance. All groups prefer live-performances (OF COURSE!, who wouldn’t?), so interest in technology-based viewing is not that big. Anyway, two conclusions stand out for me: the younger the audience, more interested in technology-based possibilities they are, not instead, but ALSO! A clear trend! The only exception is about sites with pay-per-view performances – these interest all ages and groups almost the same way.

(Don’t forget we are talking about audience with access to live-performances! What to say, then, about audience that has access to Dance ONLY through technology? Nobody remembers they exist, a “potential, still unexplored market”, in business wording…)

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These results must be viewed cautiously, of course. WolfBrown analyzed north-american audiences, in other countries they may have a different behaviour, and great companies like NYCB and ABT did not adhere to the survey.  (If I were bold, I would bet that Non-Dancers are an even smaller part of the audience of the great companies…)  Even so, to me these ARE interesting results, in that they prove that my complaints are not without reason, and in that it is the only effort to analyze Dance Audience that I know of, so far.

Link to report: < www2.danceusa.org/uploads/EDA/EDA_NationalSurvey_Overview.pdf >

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 are sometimes so diverse, they seem to be about different performances. We ALL  became incompetent to judge the the whole range of styles and techniques, to grasp adequately premises and goals of  every performance, we all…  just judge from where we stand!

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.

So this about common viewers, but then we have the professional 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 also a very confusing discourse, but sadly  (even dangerously?) it is authoritive one, the “legitimate” one, not because it is less “localized”, or really that much knowledgeable, or more objective – it has authority because of the press power, and because very little is publicly said and discussed about Dance, dance professionals seldom “think Dance” (more action-proned, I believe…).

What follows are excerpts of professional reviews I collected about ENB’s Swan Lake, production of Derek Deane, cast was Alina Cojocaru and Ivan Vasiliev.  I could have chosen excerpts about corps, great Alina Cojocaru, James Streeter, staging, settings, orchestra  –  all received contradictory comments,  but when it comes to Ivan Vasiliev, opinions are famously divided, and here became so contradictory, you feel the need to sort out the author’s biases, to know who you can trust. I have a dramatic friend who would say: yeah, comical, if it were not tragical (for Ivan, he menas). It seems IV himself does not take them too seriously, or he would already have turned to football, or gone crazy.

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 how diverse bias, values, pre-conceptions, pre-judices?

Maybe you noticed, as I did: there are more positive remarks. That’s nice, it is a relief when a performance is so remarkable it overrides pre-conceptions, and the Tower of Babel languages become more similar.

What  I value most, however, are comments written a short time after the performance, when the author is still under its spell… BECAUSE of it’s spell – I trust them more than a purely intellectual text that it took days to create.
And I don’t take into account those that like ballet restricted to pure visual aesthetic (and usually see flaws more than anything else). Why? because I have my one pre-conceptions. For me Dance is Art when it is Form+Content. Form+Content make possible what I,  not having found a better word, call “magic”. My (certainly biased) opinion is:  what ENB, maybe Tamara Rojo made possible, WAS  Art, and what Ivan Vasiliev and Alina Cojocaru created, WAS Art!…

 

Limitation and Innovation: the Art of Making it Work Anyway

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Nadia In Her Own World

On Monday, I went to a lecture by Twyla Tharp about her book The Creative Habit. Her talk included some ideas about how to develop creativity and stories of her own experiences as, peppered with a fair share of strong opinions and unfiltered sass. But what really interested me was hearing the about her modest choreographic beginnings and the extent to which her early career was shaped by adaptation to circumstance.

Her presentation stressed the importance of structure as a framework for creative innovation. This principle, though it might sound a little contradictory to someone with a more romanticized notion of free-flowing creativity, should ring true with anyone who has ever taken an improv class and realized that the instruction “go across the floor without lifting your left elbow off the ground” results in a lot more interesting movement than “just do anything,” or even anyone who has found themself making more progress on a paper during…

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