Leigh Witchel

Seen and not seen . . .

37 posts in this topic

:) For SWAN LAKE. I agree with Leigh: NG (film-speak for "not good"), not yet, not anywhere.

But, like "nysusan" some bits and pieces are remembered with awe: Blair's version with Makarova/Nagy live or tape (good sets too), and better than Makarova/Dowell; Martine van Hamel's statuesque beauty and perfect control, and Susan Jaffe's debut and amazing extensions.

GISELLE: Always wait for those Grand Pas pique arabesque lifts to be timed like Gelsey & Baryshnikov, but never seen yet, so that perfection I guess will just live in my mind.

APOLLO--it's either too spiky, too slow, too wobbly, too technical, too...? Love the ballet, but so far hasn't matched mind/memory.

ROUND of ANGELS: The ballet has SO much resonance with me, it's hard to just watch. AND the fact that I haven't seen it live in almost 20years (does anyone besides Joffrey do it?)and it wasn't filmed that great for "Dance in America" AND not released, so have to trek to NYPL to see that so-so version.

Ditto: SINATRA SUITE--too much info, backstage memories etc. affect my viewing, and everyone still needs lots of work to match my mindset.

NUTCRACKER: I can't seem to recapture the investment/excitement I had when dancing it. So, except when required to film it, I've stayed away. So maybe I am still missing something?

Not exactly a production problem, but definately something that has an impact on the enjoyment of a production:

Partnerships--So many times I've seen a gorgeous, technically perfect, artistically expressive dance® that became that koan of "one hand clapping" because the partnership didn't work. THAT is depressing, and will always remain better in my mind, since great partnerships seem 'few and far between' these days. And if the partnership/dancing isn't interesting, no amount of staging/production will cure it.

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4mrdncr, it must be very strange to see peformances of ballets (like Nutcracker) that you have strong memories of dancing in. I'd love to hear more about that.

I have the opposite take on Apollo. It's one of those masterpieces -- like Hamlet (the play) -- that I actually love to see in in a wide variety of approaches. Within reason, of course, and always assuming a high level of musicality and technique I suppose that's because I've never seen -- or imagined -- one ideal Apollo or set of muses.

Same -- though to a lesser extent -- with Giselle, where I DO have an ideal image in my head, but usually quite happy to suspend disbelief and enjoy different approaches to Act I especially.

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Spectre de la Rose. Plenty of good spectres out there, but I'm still waiting for a female lead who will make the audience say, as they did about the original cast, "Well, Nijinsky was good, but Karsavina!"

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'Fountain of Bachshisaray' is incredibly boring even though short. I was only watching it for Sizova, and could only think of her in the film of 'Sleeping Beauty'. Still beautiful, but there was a lot of pallor-look in her face in this video. As Mel had said, it 'doesn't travel well', which is perhaps the most polite thing I've ever heard, even if he likes it somewhat more than I do. I don't even remember any sense of 'fountain' in it, even Respighi manages to pull that off.

I can't stand 'Mayerling', and never want to see it again, no matter who is in it. I actually would have liked to 'imagine' it, though, if I hadn't seen it, which even took that little pleasure away (I'm still getting over what was done to the 'Mephisto Waltz') but I definitely like to imagine all the wonderful performances people have talked about to Philip Glass scores, because 'it only takes a moment' and then it's all over with. Unfortunately, I did see Robbins's 'Glass Pieces' with all those 'wage slaves' trudging across the stage, dehumanized and deeply, if temporarily empathized with and pitied by the parterre box holders...

I don't care much for 'Raymonda', although I'd go see a great production if anyone thinks to warn me. Glazunov can be lovely, but a little bit goes a long way. I wonder if there are small works with just a few Glazunov waltzes, 5-9, which would be very nice, I think. There's one, I think in D Major, which is just ravishing when you hear its opening notes.

Several have explained that the truncated version of 'Apollo' is inferior, but I'm not experienced enough to dislike this version, which I have seen several times with Nikolaj Hubbe in the last few years, and never gotten tired of it.

I have the opposite take on Apollo. It's one of those masterpieces -- like Hamlet (the play) -- that I actually love to see in in a wide variety of approaches. Within reason, of course, and always assuming a high level of musicality and technique I suppose that's because I've never seen -- or imagined -- one ideal Apollo or set of muses.

I also feel this way, and that is wonderfully said.

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I have seen The Rite of Spring danced just twice - once by the Béjart troupe, maybe 25 years ago (?) on a double bill with Petrouchka, a performance completely blotted from my mind except I remember hating it; and once as part of the triple Stravinsky bill at the Met a few years ago, which I also hated. Petrouchka, on the other hand, at least as interpreted by the wonderful Sascha Radetsky at ABT last season, seemed to me an ideally stageworthy ballet. But like its creator, I much prefer Le Sacre as a concert piece.

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4mrdncr, it must be very strange to see peformances of ballets (like Nutcracker) that you have strong memories of dancing in. I'd love to hear more about that.

I have the opposite take on Apollo. It's one of those masterpieces -- like Hamlet (the play) -- that I actually love to see in in a wide variety of approaches. Within reason, of course, and always assuming a high level of musicality and technique I suppose that's because I've never seen -- or imagined -- one ideal Apollo or set of muses.

Viewing ballets I used to dance in, at first was almost impossible to do because I still wanted to dance and couldn't. Then, after almost six years of sort of self-imposed (my choice to take job there) isolation and not seeing any live performances, I was able to slowly acclimate myself to a viewer's POV. I couldn't stop myself from analyzing however, because I still felt each movement in my own musculature. In those ballets I was most familiar with, it was almost a "split-personality" effect of seeing/feeling both POV's: The audience's in the hall AND the dancer's onstage--ie. remembering the choreography, lights, wings, entrances/exits, proximity to other dancers, blocking etc. as a dancer, and seeing all of that as a detached observant audience member. (I have same problem with ballet sculptures, if the placement is wrong, my muscles will literally cringe--which is why I'm trying to find a class in forging/casting or other methods to make my own and save myself the pain.)

One-acts/neo-classical pieces were easier to view; not so the full-lengths...Nutcracker et.al. was hard, but Swan Lake was the worst because I never got to dance it--I was supposed to (one of the 4 cygnets) etc. and did all the rehearsals, but then we were given only 1week's notice we had to move back to the States, spent 3 days that week packing, and then they delayed us by 1 day, and I ended up sitting in first row watching all my friends onstage. :( Someday I'd love to be "3rd spear carrier on the left" just so I can say at the Pearly Gates I was in SL afterall. :clapping:

RE: Apollo--I never mind seeing it, but somehow I'm still waiting for the perfection I still have in my mind. Maybe it's a vague memory of Farrell/Martins, I don't know, I always leave though with a feeling of awe for the choreography, satisfaction for good dancing, and a faint disquiet/doubt that 'something' still was missing(?)

RE: Giselle--Last year saw Vishneva/Corella do it and though timed TOTALLY different than Kirkland/Baryshnikov, a weightless affect was still achieved because of superb partnering that night. So though I was disappointed timing was different, I was surprised by the choices made that could achieve the same affect.

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I really appreciate your post, 4mrdncr -- especially the way that your dancer's point of view and the audience point of view eventually came to coexist (not always easily or consistently).

After not quite 2 years of adult ballet class, I saw Miami do Raymonda Variations and was almost knocked out of my seat by the realization that almost all the (non-partnering) steps were those that were performed in beginners/intermediate classes. I saw the artistry in an entirely new way. The steps per se had lost the tyranny that they sometimes exert over untrained audiences. In many decades of ballet-going at rather high peformance levels, I had never experienced anything like it.

I should add that I also, now, have involuntary muscle reactions to some of what I see on stage. Strange and wonderful.

Any other dancers -- professional or recreational -- who can tell us about how your dancing has changed the way you "see" (or "don't see") what others in the audience appear to experience?

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I hope this is not too far :off topic: . I am responding to bart's curiosity and the current (?momentary?) direction of the thread. I always go to ballets accompanied by one or more dancers, and it is interesting to see how very different their audience experience is on so many counts. As I see you are especially interested in this bart, and since I have a very particular perspective (parent of pre-pro/almost pro/maybe never pro/ dancers), I wanted to share a few thoughts.

Not only do I see these dancers twitch though entire performances, I also see the heads nodding and shaking in agreement or disagreement with particular choices in staging or interpretation. My own daughters also grab my hand and squeeze it, or nudge my knee with theirs when they find something particularly outrageous. For the uninitiated, I think ballet can be somewhat like listening to singing in a language we do not understand. It can still be quite enjoyable, sometimes more so or in different ways than when we actually understand the words. I am reminded here of worshippers who, though they understood only a word or two, preferred to attend Mass in Latin. Certain opera fans also come to mind.

Once you are familiar with the ballet vocabulary, especially if you understand it as a physical muscle memory, it is an entirely different experience and not just because of the involuntary movements. It is a "conversation" you can decode, and can understand fully the "linguistic" choices being made. What was previously relatively undifferentiated (though possibly still sublime) movement, becomes a series of steps executed by more or less gifted practitioners in costumes and settings designed by technical experts and performed on specific stages with certain lighting in particular theaters on a given night.

For the accomplished former professional dancers, I imagine they actually must restrain themselves when they hear the opening sounds of what was once an entrance. My young dancers have the most difficulty with this aspect when they are watching ballets or variations they have actually learned and/or performed. This would be far fewer ballets than for the former professionals, but for highly trained students, this can still be quite a substantial repertoire. Every step (pardon the unintentional but still effective pun) of the way, the dancer is tempted to compare their own potential choices and abilities with those displayed on stage. As mentioned on our sister board, the market is now glutted with talented well trained dancers who will never work professionally not because of any grave deficiency on their part, but simply because of the lack of enough suitable jobs. Supply and demand is working against young dancers in a visciously disappointing way these days.

Imagine wanting so badly to dance, training so hard and long, and watching from the audience and knowing (I'm not just talking sour grapes here) or at least feeling you could do as well as dancers up on the stage, if only some Artistic Director would hire you and give you a chance. Imagine watching a ballet from that perspective, the perspective of dancers trapped in the current circumstances that possibly will never allow them to soar.

Conversely, when truly awesome dancers and companies perform, the dancers in the audience fully appreciate all that goes in to creating these transcendant events. They know better than anyone else exactly what it takes to get from the studio to the stage. Unfortunately, these young hopefuls sometimes get discouraged realizing they will never be (fill in the blank with the current favorite unbelievably talented dancer) as good as ____, so they might as well stop trying. They forget that most working professional dancers (even today) are not as good as ____ either.

I suspect that the current training situation with all the resulting disappointment, may be depleting audiences for the ballet. Maybe after a break, these former hopefuls will become the next balletomanes, but this is certainly a hard transition for many while the disappointment and dashed dreams are still fresh. I also understand why many teachers and academies are understandably reluctant to be brutally realistic with young dancers about the vanishingly small true chances for professional employment, but then the harsh reality becomes even more devastating when it eventually rears its ugly head.

To end on a more upbeat note, I am always amused to observe the extremely exuberant dancing that comes out of my dancers in the parking lot, on the street, and often for hours later continuing at home, after twitching through a ballet performance. Interestingly these dances are equally as exhuberant after frustratingly disappointing performances as they are after inspiringly excellent ones. How much more is going on in those darkened theaters than we will ever know.

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As a former dancer, I am happy to return some ballets to the mind--that is to say, there are some ballets that once I got to perform them, I found they disappointed my hopes for what could happen to the music. That list includes:

Petrouchka

Sheherazade

Firebird

Part of the problem with these 3 for me is the MUSIC--either they're played poorly for dancing or--much worse--they're danced to recordings.

[no, Rite is not in this list--I've actually seen versions of it that I've liked--but modern dances, not ballets]

Coppelia

Parts of acts 1 & 3, Swan Lake

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Not only do I see these dancers twitch though entire performances, I also see the heads nodding and shaking in agreement or disagreement with particular choices in staging or interpretation. My own daughters also grab my hand and squeeze it, or nudge my knee with theirs when they find something particularly outrageous. For the uninitiated, I think ballet can be somewhat like listening to singing in a language we do not understand. It can still be quite enjoyable, sometimes more so or in different ways than when we actually understand the words. I am reminded here of worshippers who, though they understood only a word or two, preferred to attend Mass in Latin. Certain opera fans also come to mind.
Wonderful analogy, 2dds. It's interesting to compare your observations -- based on young dancers in training -- to what 4mrdncr and Ray experience as former professional dancers.

I am assuming that you all do not go TO the theater with an "ideal performance" clearly in your mind -- but that your reactions occur spontaneously as your eye and mind register what is happening on stage. I can see that this can be frustrating. But it must also be rather thrilling -- and very, very emotional. :off topic::smilie_mondieu::helpsmilie::mad::shake:

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I've also never seen a really great performance of Les Sylphides--especially not at ABT, where they must pass out Sominex to the cast and conductor before every performance. (Those of us in the audience don't need it.)

I feel the same way, although generational change may play a role here, too. The Sylphides excerpt in the movie "Ballets Russes" with Toumanova, Riabouchinska, and Baronova is infuriatingly brief, but it's magical enough to suggest what once was.

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Although I've seen this ballet plenty of times, and performed very well, in my mind, I'd like to imagine Nijinsky and Karsavina in Spectre a la Rose and that mental picture is better for me than any modern performance I've seen. I imagine Nijinsky's legendary elevation and his huge leap out of the window, and his partnership with impossibly beautiful Karsavina.

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