Spartacus? Sleeping Beauty? Jewels? N.N.N.N.? or… What makes us tick!

jewles x NNNN

Dance as Form+Content – meaning imparted through dance, the importance of body-language, good acting – is this blog’s theme, my theme.

Now I believe, however, that the way I was taking is unfair: I must not fight other kinds of performance. Most of my former posts fighted fiercely anything different from what I value.

ReproachfulEventually I realized what we all need – we, belonging to the several kinds of public that dance has – is to have a clearer understanding of what we want from a performance, and a clearer understanding of what each choreographer’s, director’s or dancer’s style and premises and goals are…  so we can attend those performances that make us happy, instead of complaining and criticizing those that fail us (mea culpa, I’m included here)!

Performances may fail to please us NOT because of incompetence or bad taste or poor quality, but just because what they are bringing us – what they on stage priorize – is not what WE put more value on. To begin with, we must be able to grasp how diverse WE are. A few examples.

During VERY stressful times, I may want to defend myself from any additional stir -good or bad, it may shake my balance even more.  This might explain why so many love Pure Form dance (ballet and/or contemporary alike): they want an intellectual or aesthetic experience, a predictable one, and no more – they want to be able to see something beautiful that does not immediately remind them that… life sucks! we do not live in easy times! Pure Form dance is one of the last strongholds of Art where you can see beauty with no demands on your emotion! There are certainly several in the audience feeling that way!

There are those that need to sublimate their pleasures – for them dance must be pure and idealized, nothing that reminds of individuality, sensuality, physicality and feelings, must be visible. If you think they must be few, remember how prude classical ballet is… in fact the only prude kind of Art nowadays!

The do-not-disturb-me and the sublimating kinds of audience will welcome and value the beauty of staging and costumes, the purity of lines, whatever physical feats their knowledge enables them to recognize, beautiful dancers with idealized looks, no plot (or a plot far away from reality).  A very expressive choreography, or very impressive acting – too much meaning – will truly spoil their pleasure! They prefer works where no acting is needed, or a formalistic one is used. For them, dance must bring peace of mind and heart!

Than there are those who were dancers themselves, maybe successful, maybe in a life-long struggle… these will have little patience with novelties – they are there to remember and revive, to envy, admire or reproach new performances of the same pieces they loved to dance themselves.

Aurora x Spartacus

There are those who are competitive active professionals, who attend to evaluate and rank, positively or negatively, those on stage with other performers and themselves… it is not their intention, but they are almost hoping for flaws! They are the ones with keen, bright evaluating eyes and wrinkled noses…

Dancers and ex-dancers are not a small part of public, they may be up to 60% of the audience!

There are those who seek Art because it gives them a way to connect with great truths and deep questions about being human, to be reminded again of what life is really about. For these, Dance must have meaning, more than anything else – for them, physical technique should, and must be subordinated to Content, all they ask is the necessary and sufficient level needed to impart Content, and they value good, believable acting, expressive choreography  and body-language very high. For them, dance is one of the most powerful kinds of Art.

There are those that don’t know the first thing about dance, but attend the performances because it sounds so sophisticated when you tell your friends…

There is the great-show-loving kind, who comes for easy emotion, a lush staging, impressive music, outrageous, easily to recognize feats, special effects, gold and sparks, in short, great entertainment. They don’t care about meaning or if there is acting at all.

I could go on, but I believe I already made my point. Of course, I exaggerated and oversimplified these characteristics, but even so, you recognized yourself and others you know, didn’t you? And remember, critics are not gods, they belong to some kind of audience too!

The big problem is, we ALL go to ALL kinds of performance, probably because there are so few of them (dance productions ARE so few, compared to other Performance Arts!), and a great part of us leaves disappointed… if not angry!

And that’s my point, you know? Let’s fill our glasses again and think together:  if your priority is Form, whatever the reason you have for that, why don’t you stay away from performances where you KNOW this is NOT a priority?  there is no NEED to go see them, is there? As I MUST not go see what, for me, is just pretty-but-bland technique display, if it is not the kind of performance I like (if I would go, I would, out of pure boredom, search, obviously, for the kind of flaws that bother ME! mea culpa, again!). It makes no sense, and anyone of us who likes theatre, movies, opera, music knows how to choose! So why don’t we choose when it comes to dance.

ReproachfulThis is true even if I’m critic! Then I will not have to write texts that are a long sequence of good-but-bad phrases like “Her … was gorgeous, but, disappointingly, she…”, and have, in the end, my readers more confused than before: was it worthwhile or not?!!?? Or worse, when feeling acutely uncomfortable with a staging or performance, and not being conscious of mine/their disparate premises and goals (so out of objective arguments), I will not be reduced to criticize the performer’s (assumed) personality or feelings, or gossip about his private life… leaving my anyway not very motivated readers – more than ever – wishing distance from such a messed up dance community!

Dance deserves a wider audience, and can please all kinds of audience – just not all of them at once! We should not attend, and then harshly criticize, productions we know have different premises and goals than ours. I realized I must treat them more kindly… respect difference!. Let us treat OURSELVES more kindly and respectful, and attend the kind of show, and see the kind of performer, we know intends to address US, that tries to come up to OUR standards…  we will know better, then, how to evaluate them (or at least to criticize fairly)!

It brings us no credit that we like A, go see performances that strive for B, and then criticize them for not achieving A!  WE are being unfair and… making a public statement about our short-sightedness! Let us be more aware, and happier?

 

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!

The beauty (or not) of contemporary dance!

Evolution of Mankind
Evolution of Mankind 

 Edited one day after first publishing: it’s an awful long post, again. If you’re not patient enough, just go to the to examples in the end – they speak for themselves.
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I have a problem with overuse of weird and ugly movements in contemporary dance.

I know it sounds unsophisticated and simple-minded, but am I just a traditional ballet lover with an idealized view of dancing? I believe not, I have a few arguments, and they may be not that naive (although I love this little figure, I stitched it together myself!).

To begin with – and this is important: my problem is NOT with ridiculous, weird, strange or ugly movements used to impart the wealth of negative emotions and ideas that are part of life – just when they are used for other reasons and in other contexts. Some of them:

# 1: “I want to shock, I want to push you out of your comfort zone!”

Reality is not a nice place to live, but classical ballet refused the notion and presented us with an idealized view of human being.  In this context, the use of ugly and weird movements in contemporary is a way to give a good push on ballet’s complacent audience, as a shocking device to make them again aware of the real facts of life. I subscribe to that! BUT…

… nowadays they became overused. It’s like these American B-films, where the characters use FUCK as their every fifth word. It should show how the character is bad, or messed up, but fails, nowadays, to have the desired effect. You see, I’m a clumsy person, and this puts me in frequent situations when swearing is needed…  and heartily done!!!  It would not be THAT satisfying, though, if I used swearing in every sentence. Overuse kills the effect of trespassing, of rebellion, of a striking-back reaction. It becomes just bad manners, and does not make us jump in our seats anymore, or even uncomfortable.

If ugly movements are used to shock us, or to remind us of the ugly side of reality, well… it’s not working anymore, they are, nowadays, just… boringly ugly!

# 2:  “Contemporary dance is not falsely prude, or falsely nice”.

And there comes bottoms facing audience, or held up high facing the sky, or the common lift where the female dancer is held high, back against her partner’s chest, horizontally not-fully extended, half-open legs, crotch facing the public.  I used to look for the sex act key of that movement, since a woman in that position, in all our minds, with legs tensed that way, is a powerful and beautiful image of sexual desire, very rarely seen in other contexts, if any – I would welcome that, by the way, sex is still taboo in ballet, even in contemporary, and many choreographers and dancers are still uncomfortable in acknowledging even that sex exists – as Theatre, for example, has been doing for a long time. But… no, it is mostly just a slightly out-of-tune movement that, more often than not, has nothing to do with sexual drive.  So what does it mean, this position that, taken out of its context, is not exactly graceful? The same applies, for example,  when dancers crawl on all their fours…  in my body-language lexicon, this is about very little children (the child inside us?), or about a very desperate, in sheer terror human being, that turns animal-like for lack of options. So I look for hints either way, but more often than not… they are not there! Made by an adult, and without the archaic corresponding meaning, this kind of movement is not graceful or makes sense anywhere in the world… So?!??

# 3: It is original!

In a world with too many people, ideas and images, originality is an important way to stand out. For the sake of originality, people go to any lengths, pushing boundaries of aesthetics to ultimate extremes. If it comes from a deep understanding of hidden possibilities we common people are not aware yet, I love it. But sometimes weird, ugly dancing does not seem to have any meaning, or belong to an intended aesthetic statement, they come and go in the dancing, and you can’t make any sense out them.

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We, social beings as we are, live inside a symbolic universe, which allows us to communicate. We share words, concepts, tastes, ideas. Even if I see blue were you see green, even if Thai food feels so hot for me I have a hard time identifying the other ingredients  through my tears, even if my fragmented notion of time is different from my Arab neighbour’s flowing one… even so, we have more in common than we have differences.  Every social group shares a symbolic universe, deeply grounded on its language, and part of these diverse universes is common to all mankind. It is not different with body language. Different cultures have different conventions about the meaning of movements, and some of this meaning is common to all humankind.

The common aspects are rooted mostly in archaic fears and needs. So if you are standing up and stretch yourself completely,  as far as you can, your eyes not on someone else, but focused far away, or unfocused – what does it mean? Here? In China? In Iceland? You see what I mean? INSIDE a specific culture, it is even easier, because all body-language – partly deeply rooted, partly convention – is understandable, is a language like the spoken one.

Our ears, our eyes, our nose, our tongue, all our senses, are trained since early childhood, so we can share images and colours, flavours and smells, sounds… and concepts related to them, and ever more abstract ideas construed using these as ground-stones.

Now, coming back to Art. Art is part of our symbolic universe, both the specific one, and the general one.  I may have trouble understanding a Japanese Opera, or Indian music, when I’m seeing it for the first time and without preparing myself. But I can learn! I can learn its aesthetic criteria, the difficulties of performance, the concepts that are imbedded there, the culture where they came from, and then… THEN I will be exposed to the full power of that kind of Art. What I mean is: Art exists INSIDE a symbolic universe, and can only reach me if I share this universe.

There are artists that have an instinctive knowledge of our symbolic universe, but so a deep and great one, they are able to show us things we are not aware, that are in the boundaries of, or hidden from our “Weltanschauung”. And still, they share our symbolic universe, or they would be just psychopaths, living in a world of their own…  It is my belief that this kind of Art, even if you can’t understand it rationally, will get at you anyway. Provided it is Art, provided it comes from a knowledge that includes mine and exceeds it in some way, and brings me a new truth I will recognize once seen, and then not be able to dismiss again. Problem is, this is not the kind of artist we are discussing here. This kind of artist is Beethoven, is Isadora Duncan, is Van Gogh, they are rare, so, SO rare!  Most artists are not so far away from our everyday reality, and share our symbolic universe as it is. There is nothing less valuable about them, because Art must not throw our symbolic universe upside down, everytime, to be Art –in fact it rarely does, for it is, most of all, a way for us… just to live! Nietzsche said: “We have art in order not to die of the truth!”. We need Art in order to cope with what being human is, just IS!

Many artists strive, nowadays, to be boundary breakers, but if they resource to artificial means to become that, it is of no avail – this kind of issue should not even worry them – in fact, articialism gets in the way of creation! The points I enumerated above about the use of strange movements ARE artificial ways some choreographers are using, and do not convince me. At all.

To be original guarantees… originality, not that the work will be Art! To unveil hypocrisy and false moral values is always good, but does not guarantee the work will be Art (but a valuable socio-political statement, maybe?), and so on.

Our culture shares an immensurable knowledge on body-language and concepts of body beauty and body-movements beauty… and their corresponding ugliness.  This wealth of meaning is just beginning to be explored by Dance. I wonder why so many choreographers are dismissive about our shared language, and try to create something that is not really new, just weird – to create something that is just…  not understandable!

How many writers you know that use as much words they create from scratch as existing ones? How many perfumists do you know that create perfumes that smell like rotten eggs, or a car’s exhaustion?  What happens when you hear music  that uses not the kind of “hamony” your culture shares? even if it is Art, will it reach you?

I will a give an example, and a counter-example.

My example of weird, not understandable dancing is Ohad Naharin’s Passo. Passo is part of a larger work, and was presented, out of context, in Solo For Two, with Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, where I saw it the first time. Despite being performed by outstanding and expressive dancers, it was a shot off the mark, if I, in the audience, was the intended target. Even seeing the whole work, I doubt I would get what was to be imparted through the choreography.  It was lost on me, I did not understand the body-language, and could not see, also, a possible internal coherence or consistency of Form, some aesthetic proposition I could recognize.  Was it necessary to know about Gaga-technique? Well… Naharin could not expect that from me, could he? I must say:  simple-minded me did not get it at all… I wonder if someone else did!
(The strange thing is, there are several choreographies of Naharin that I like  – and, I believe,  understand…  so what is the matter with THIS one?

14natalia-osipova-and-ivan-vasiliev-c2abpasoc2bb-from-c2absolo-for-twoc2bb-moscow-russia-c2a9-philippe-jordan
Small excerpt of Passo by Ohad Naharin, performed by Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev

The counter-example is Mats Ek’s (he is Swedish) work, based on a play of Garcia Lorca (he is Spanish), using music from Bach (he is German), Villa-Lobos (he is Brazilian), Albeniz and Tarraga (they are Spanish): Bernardas Hus, or La Casa de Bernarda Alba. An extraordinary work, “readable” by anyone, despite the multicultural aspects… at least by any occidental one (due to Catholic religion references). But then,  Mats Ek is an extraordinary choreographer, I’m fascinated by his work!  Even if you do not know the original play (I did not), you get it, both emotion and plot, through the cleverest use of body-language in – and this is what I like the most – IN the dancing,  THROUGH the dancing!

bernardas hus
Small excerpt of Bernardas Hus by Mats Ek – link to complete work below

Link to complete work: << https://youtu.be/l2Sxi7USgzw>>.

Quote of the Day – Twyla Tharp

twyla tharp“I don’t see it as pandering to the public when the work I do becomes slightly commercial in a sense, and succeeds. I always assumed that if one did quality work one would be like any other worker in our culture: able to support oneself, taking the responsibility of not being in an ivory tower.”

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In an interview to Sharon Basco in Cambridge (Creativity Forum at Lesley University), 27.04.2015.  Twyla Tharp has written extensively about knowing your audience, and creating work that connects with people.

Quote of the Day – Lar Lubovitch

my funny valentineThe dancer I value is a movement poet. They intuitively invest movement with depth and gravity. They recite a line of dance with imagination beyond what the steps alone possess.

Steps are empty vessels until a dancer infuses them with meaning and physical poetry. I don’t think this can be learned I think it is inborn and comes naturally from a place that is not the conscious mind. It’s a gift. I have found that many dancers have this gift, but have not tapped into it. The dancer I am looking for can’t resist it. It’s automatic. It’s who they are.
(…)
I don’t care about your height, your face, your race or body type. It’s the way that you dance that matters. I am looking for the dancer with movement imagination who imbues the phrase with something poetic.

Excerpt of “Letter to a Young Dancer”.

Links to complete letter:   Alessandra Ferri’s FB Page, posted on 5th April 2015
or on the site of Skidmore College.

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Lar Lubovitch
Lar Lubovitch

I was so pleased when I read this! What he wants, and what he asks from his dancers, is what can turn a performance into an unforgettable experience for US.

And what pleased me more: AFTER this description, he goes on and writes about the need of technical skill too – but the quality above is a pre-condition, the first thing Lubovitch looks for!

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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Uffff – too many issues!

I’m having trouble feeding my blog, because I have so many issues dancing (!) around on my head… I’m writing about all of them at the same time, and nothing is ever ready to post! I’m so confused I posted  THIS before it was ready, sorry!

mess of letters

Issue #1: the recent episode of  Bolshoi x Stanislasvski conflict involving Ivan Vasiliev brought back memories of several similar conflicts, involving both him and other dance professionals, that often guest around the world. It made me reflect on the current ability of ballet companies to effectively cope with the changes in their reality: the increasing numbers of independent great stars; the cost/benefit of their productions; customer satisfaction; visible aging of their audience in live performances; globalization of information; the new ways (mostly digital and far from ideal, but THERE, their importance increasing as we speak) to access ballet/dance productions; the inadequate competitive attitude in a risk situation. I wonder if their funding agencies impose restrictions to effective management? It seems (lack of information!) they have, most of them, professional managers, so why are they so slow to adapt? Does that sound too businesslike? Well, it should!!! Dance companies, as every enterprise and institution nowadays, CANNOT ignore good business practices! Ignore them, nowadays, is to be doomed!

Issue #2: important dance professionals in UK complained about UK dancer’s training – they say contemporary dance schools do not prepare them well enough. On it’s wake, I became aware of information on UK’s Dance audience’s, agencies and training (I did not know where to find that, before). There is a LOT to think and ponder about here, and I follow the debate, and write to clear my ideas, and re-think, and get new information, and re-write… It has been highly interesting, but I’m still processing all these new data!

Issue #3: the general Prodigal Son Parable feeling about Ivan Vasiliev’s “return” to Bolshoi, and its consequences – there are very nice, really exciting consequences, and also, I foresee, some that may not be that nice. As always, Ivan Vasiliev has my interest as himself, but also as an emblematic dancer who raises issues that go far beyond him. There is a difficult, tense, even painful trade-off between an artist’s right and need of independency, and the means to realize his artistry – in Performance Arts even more than other kinds of Art. When I see dancers and choreographers potential unfulfilled, I long for them to find a “home” to fully realize them, but… which of the dance agencies available nowadays is willing to let them realize their potential to it’s full extent? Not a new question, and I don’t have an answer! I keep a keen eye on all agencies I can… there seems to be a great polarization: those “homes” that can afford to stage properly the greater ones, are the less bound to favour their individuality, and vice-versa! Either way, the artist looses, and WE loose!… that’s why I cannot but worry and wonder about solutions! This issue, obvioulsy, is related, but not the same, as Issue#1.

Issue #4: what is Dance about, nowadays? A recent interview of my amazing Natalia Osipova brought me once again to this issue. She is SO accomplished, I cannot imagine a more beautiful 2nd Act Giselle as hers, OR a more fiery Kitri, and the improbable possibility of a dancer to excel the way she excels in BOTH prooves her greatness! She is, however, haunted by doubts about herself, and seeks harder and harder for perfection, but to such an extent! it broke my heart…! Problem is, to be perfect does not mean, necessarily, to create magic, and she, sensitive as she is, KNOWS that, and fears that. Is perfection important to create an objet d’art? If at all, in what ways, and what KIND of perfection? When I reflect about this, I always feel Terpsichore – “the joy in dancing” – looking, very interested, over my shoulder…

Issue #5: I have a post to finish about overuse of strange – and ugly – movements and costumes in contemporary dance (that I love). I’m reticent about them, and try to explain why  – just a humble, but as so often here, radical personal opinion. It involves body-language, the symbolic universe of a culture, and relates the way we see and interpret movements with words, smells and music – for now. I wouldn’t dare to question their artistic value or the creator’s need of them, but I can give a feed-back on how I receive/perceive them!

… and new issues keep arising!

It strikes me as little odd that in “other lives I lived”, in business, science, human science – and for all I can see but lived not, in other kinds of Art and every other organized human activity, issues like that are deeply important and openly and fiercely discussed… but I find so little open discussion and open opinions in Dance! I want to stand up and cry BRAVO everytime I see someone dismiss platitudes and state unconformity in a loud voice! … in good time, all these voices will grace this pages! But they are few, too few…

Quote of the day – Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

“As a choreographer you always have a choice. Do you want to impress the audience with speedy movement, intricate footwork and tricks – or do you risk simplicity, and try to touch people with the facts of life and death that all of us experience?

The audience always knows if you’re going for flashiness at the expense of meaning.”  

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa - choreographer
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – choreographer

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Oh, yes, we know! Sad thing is, even knowing, part of ballet’s public prefer empty flashiness, or pays attention only to the flashy aspects of a performance. I have seen dancers truly ripping themselves to impart the dramatic content, and being applauded in the middle of it, because of a well-done jump or something like that!  It outrightly shocks me!

But another part of the audience, where I include myself, cannot see worth in a piece that does not touch you, be it of the utmost simplicity, or include the flashiest features.  By the way, simplicity may be very hard to dance properly!

Quote of the day – Leo Tolstoi

War and Peace

“She danced the dance so well, so well indeed, so perfectly, that Anisya Fyodorovna, who handed her at once the kerchief she needed in the dance, had tears in her eyes, though she laughed as she watched that slender and graceful little countess, reared in silk and velvet, belonging to another world than hers, who was yet able to understand all that was in Anisya and her father and her mother and her aunt and every Russian soul.”

Leo Tolstoi – “War and Peace”

Ivan Vasiliev in Mayerling… not this time, yet!

Ivan Vasiliev decided not to perform Mayerling. Frustrating, for both audience and himself, who had told, more than once, Prince Rudolph was a role he wanted to dance. Appalled sighs from everywhere! What happened?

From Stanislavski’s Theatre letter on Facebook:

“However, on 6 April, in the midst of the rehearsal process, just five days before the performance, Ivan Vasiliev refused to perform, thus violating his commitments to both theatre and his audience. We are deeply sorry about how some of our colleagues refer to their responsibilities and the public, and we apologize to our viewers for the disappointed expectations.”

From the letter Ivan Vasiliev publicized, explaining his decision.

“I applied to the repetiteur from the Kenneth MacMillan Foundation asking to find a compromise solution and to draw up a different rehearsal schedule that would be convenient for both The Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre and the Bolshoi Theatre and to make it possible for me to perform in the ballet “Mayerling” as well as in the ballet “Ivan the Terrible”, but my inquiry was denied.”

I may not have all the facts, but seen from far away, on the available information, this is what I see:

Two ballet companies want the same dancer at the same time. The dancer, at his own health’s risk, is willing. Instead of cooperating and trying to reach a compromise at management-level, the two companies behave like spoiled children quarreling over his time. It comes down to the dancer – who, don’t forget, wanted to dance for both – to try to sort things out, and eventually make the decision of which of them he must dump…

The Victory of Intransigency!  Can you find ANY OTHER benefit from the outcome? For Stanislavski? For Ivan? For the Kenneth MacMillan Foundation? For the audience? For Ballet? A perfect loose-loose situation!