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Clapping question

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Being new to Ballet, I figured that a standard etiquette would be to wait until the music has stopped. On the other hand, I remember that in the 1989 Bolshoi performance of Swan Lake (Mikhalchenko) there are several instances where the audience applaudes in unison at moments that probably seem inappropriate to the sensibilities of some of these forum members. One would be when Odette first appears, another more obvious one is in the middle of the 32 Fouettés. In fact, it surprised me at first to hear that the general audience mood during any applause was more like excited soccer fans than prim and proper audience members concerned with formal applause etiquette. I am by no means inconsiderate or anti-etiquette, but I believe it bears mentioning that our ideas concerning this matter might be affected by our local cultures and not to be confused with some ideal of a universal etiquette. When the Tchaikovsky Ballet from Perm performed Swan Lake here last month, I was the lone applauder when Elena Kulagina first appeared as Odette. Realizing that my fellow locals were not familliar with the "Bolshoi Etiquette" :), I toned down my responses somewhat out of general consideration.

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I am by no means inconsiderate or anti-etiquette, but I believe it bears mentioning that our ideas concerning this matter might be affected by our local cultures and not to be confused with some ideal of a universal etiquette.
And "local" can mean very local. Balanchine did not like the music to be interrupted for applause and bows, and while there has always been spontaneous applause at NYCB when a major dancer makes a first appearance in a ballet like Sleeping Beauty -- I've never seen this for Agon or Four Temperaments, for example -- at American Ballet Theatre across the plaza at Lincoln Center, this is much more customary.

When Russian touring companies appear in Berkeley, a large portion of the audience is Russian-speaking and observes Moscow/St. Petersburg customs. In Seattle, where there is a much smaller Russian-speaking population, the visiting performers from the Bolshoi must have thought we were zombies :)

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Thanks for that insight, Helene. Since my hometown has been doing fairly well in bringing in more quality ballet to our new state-of-the-art facility (The River Center), I will plan to think in a more international way and clap when the music stops. However, when I do clap there will be at least one bellowing BRAVO in the Bolshoi style. :)

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The first time I ever went to the ballet I was shocked when people began applauding during the dancing. I just assumed it would be like the opera - which I had been going to for ten years: applaud at the END of the aria, not DURING!

But I quickly adjusted. There are times when applause during a ballet ruins the mood, but other times when it is practically written into the piece. Bravura combinations and flashy exits often seem to be constructed by choreographers as an invitation to the audience to express their esteem for the dancer who's just pulled it off.

Dancers I've known have told me they LOVE to hear applause when they've done something difficult and nailed it. It gives them an energy boost and makes them want to push the level higher. During recent performances of Peter Martins' FRAINDISES at NYC Ballet, Tiler Peck & Daniel Ulbricht drew not just waves of applause but audible gasps as they executed turns and flying, whirling leaps that seemed beyond human possibility. The applause, as well as the music, clearly buoyed the dancers and kept the electric atmosphere of the piece on the ascent til they struck the final pose, unleashing a torrent of cheers.

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Years ago when applause got out of hand Mr. B. would have an insert placed in the program to the effect that one should not applaud while the music was playing. I was always grateful to find such an insert in the program because it meant, that night at least, one could fully enjoy his choreography. Obviously for certain show pieces, that rule would not apply. But for a great choregrapher working with great music it always should.

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I don't remember those inserts, drb, except for Goldberg Variations. But as one critic wrote regarding those slips (and sometimes announcements), what do you expect when a dancer finishes the variation facing the audience and holding his palms up? Personally, I found those announcements (and to a lesser degree the inserts) obnoxious and vain-sounding. And I'm one of those who almost never applauds while the music is playing.

A really good performance is only momentarily disrupted by intrusive applause, anyway.

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Dancers I've known have told me they LOVE to hear applause when they've done something difficult and nailed it. It gives them an energy boost and makes them want to push the level higher.
Francia Russell once mentioned that while Balanchine didn't like the music to be interrupted, the dancers felt the same way as the ones you've known. She also said that the dancers can feel when an audience is engaged and responsive over the footlights.

Speight Jenkins said on Saturday night after Cosi fan Tutte, a very witty production directed by Jonathan Miller, that the performance was as good as any in the run and that one of the reasons was that the singers heard the laughter and enjoyment from the audience, and that spurred them on to give their best. A win/win situation.

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I'm with you, oberon, on this one. Nothing is more deadly -- especially for dancers, I would imagine -- than the passive, nonresponsive audience, just sitting there (for their monthly dose of "culture"?). I can't recall ever feeling that spontaneous bursting into applause during particularly dramatic bits was overused by an audience. :)

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I'm sure the dancers can tell the difference between pin-drop silence because the audience is so profoundly engaged and the muffles of an inattentive house. I have sometimes been made aware of the audience's oneness of sharpened attention at peak moments. I've also seen dancers feed off that brand of quiet.

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It depends very much on the mood of the piece and the music being used; SERENADE for example is a ballet I want to watch in total silence. I don't want applause after the individual movements of the ballet. I want to be in that world, almost like a religious experience.

In more extroverted ballets, it sometimes seems odd when people DON'T applaud certain combinations or exits; almost like the dancer has failed somehow.

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I loathe 'random clapping.' My particular peeve is when the principals make their first appearance on stage. When people applaud their entrance it makes me think of sit coms. This has started happening at the Royal Opera House and I hate it. Hating this also makes me feel like a terrible snob. :clapping:

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I think the absolute worst audience reaction is the groan that follows the announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. X is unable to dance this evening. Instead, Mr. Y will be dancing the role of Albrecht." Very ungracious to the unscheduled dancer, who may have had to throw the performance together under less than optimal circumstances, possibly with an unfamiliar partner.

And this before he even appears!

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I think the absolute worst audience reaction is the groan that follows the announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. X is unable to dance this evening. Instead, Mr. Y will be dancing the role of Albrecht." Very ungracious to the unscheduled dancer, who may have had to throw the performance together under less than optimal circumstances, possibly with an unfamiliar partner.

And this before he even appears!

I'm going to veer a little off ballet here -- the worst case of this I've ever witnessed was during the performance of Rigoletto in the 1970's in which Ingvar Wixell made his Metropolitan opera debut in the title role. Originally scheduled to sing with him were Reri Grist and Luciano Pavarotti. I had been at the Opera Guild dress rehearsal in which neither appeared and was prepared, and, sure enough, the pre-curtain announcement came that both singers had the flu-of-that-year. A man just below us in the Balcony yelled out an expletive at full voice and stormed out before the performance began. The audience was kind to the Gilda, who I think was Gail Robinson, but had no tolerance whatsoever for the tenor, Enrico diGiuseppe, whose third act aria was greeted with a number of boos. I just thought of this the other night, when I read his obituary in Opera News.

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had no tolerance whatsoever for the tenor, Enrico diGiuseppe, whose third act aria was greeted with a number of boos. I just thought of this the other night, when I read his obituary in Opera News.

That's so rude! No audience should behave like that, even if the performer is not very good, which I imagine was not the case in the situation described above. :jawdrop:

Edited by Kate B

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As a dancer, and regarding applause in the middle of a variation, I can tell you that I am both pleased (and honoured) AND distracted by applause. Last year I was doing the diagonal of ballones in Dulcinea's variation (2nd act Don Q) and the people started applauding... I got too emotional and sort of wobbled at the end of the diagonal!!!!!!!

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That is true. Madrid's Royal Opera House audience, the one I know better, is very, very cold. Last september, Ballet de la Scalla was performing a program very interesting in perspective, not in reality: Theme and Variations, The Cage and Le Sacré du Printemps. I couldn't stay for the whole performance because I was very disappointed with what they did with Balanchine. The silence was very eloquent.

But, last week, the Royal Opera House was staging La Bohème, and the audience was mad, clapping at almost every aria end. In december, in the Auditorio, I attended a Messiah. I couldn't believe when I heard the bravos after the Alleluiah...

Opera and ballet... A very different approach in Madrid.

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i say, as far as applauding a dancer while he or she is still performing is a matter of personal preference. i don't applaud during a dancer's fouettes merely because i am always silently egging them on. i know how difficult those turns are and am always gripping the edge of my seat watching every detail of the turns! once they finish, i clap until my hands are raw! however, the dancers are up there performing for the audience and probably love to hear their reaction to certain steps as they occur. if the audience is too reserved, then it can be a bit of a letdown to the dancers and they will lose some of their performance energy. it will make them feel as if they haven't engaged their audience. i feel that some of the best performances are done for children because the kids laugh, gasp, boo, scream, etc. whenever they feel like it. that shows they are captivated by what they are watching and the dancers know they are really reaching out to the audience.

also, the corps de ballet loves to get applause. they work for hours trying to match each other, reviewing every detail of the head and arms. so if their formations are neat and they move in unison, please let them know you appreciate it!

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Thank you for weighing in on the topic, jessemoo.

Please take the opportunity to introduce yourself on our Welcome Forum.

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if the audience is too reserved, then it can be a bit of a letdown to the dancers and they will lose some of their performance energy. it will make them feel as if they haven't engaged their audience. i feel that some of the best performances are done for children because the kids laugh, gasp, boo, scream, etc. whenever they feel like it. that shows they are captivated by what they are watching and the dancers know they are really reaching out to the audience.

Thanks, jessemoo, for making these points.

I am conscious of trying to attend ballet as a supporter of the art rather than just as a consumer. Sometimes, if I'm deeply involved in a ballet -- for example, at recent performances of Balanchine's Serenade -- I tend to get lost in my own feelings and thoughts and have to remind myself to communicate this to the dancers -- and to my fellow audience members.

When you are able to attend a number of performances by a single company, you quickly learn to tell the difference between a curtain call smile is mostly a formality and one that communicates ... "wow! they love us! and isn't that great!" Audience enthusiasm does make a difference.

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I'm sure the dancers can tell the difference between pin-drop silence because the audience is so profoundly engaged and the muffles of an inattentive house. I have sometimes been made aware of the audience's oneness of sharpened attention at peak moments. I've also seen dancers feed off that brand of quiet.

I completely agree.

In any case, there can be no "rules" for applause. Applause ought to be an organic thing.....something that happens in the moment. No audience is right, and no audience is wrong......they are just The Audience. The Audience that nite does what it does....that's what makes it real and not gratuitous or phony.

Sure I am distracted sometimes when an audience claps at a time I would perfer it not; but then I sometimes get annoyed when a audience seems relunctant to clap. And of course the scariest time is when YOU are the first to clap. I did this just in the last couple of weeks (perhaps for the 1st time). It just errupted out of me (yes, it was at the end, and the music stopped); there was a rivetting silence; someone had to break it; it happened to be me; I felt my instinct was right on (thank God!).

When all is said and done, I remember a comment Jonathan Poretta once said at the Q&A after a PNB performance when someone asked this very question. His answer (paraphased): "We love clapping; there can never be too much clapping; clap as much as you want".

(But having said all this, the most magical of all I think is what happens as stated in the quote above. The piece ends and all sit stunned in silence having been transported. I too have experienced "audience's oneness of sharpened attention" and that is the most magical of all.)

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As a dancer, I can confirm that we definitely can tell the difference between attentive and inattentive silence.

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There are times when applause during a ballet ruins the mood, but other times when it is practically written into the piece.

Oberon, I agree completely. I think that it's more 'production specific'... the rules change according to the show.

This subject came up recently with Colorado Ballet's triple bill 'Choreographers Showcase'. The three productions were very well received by every audience that saw them; the first was Paul Taylors 'Company B', and the last was Twyla Tharp's 'Nine Sinatra Songs'... and during both of those the audience was whipped into a screaming pitch by the time the curtain fell - and had clapped and yelled continuously during, and the dancers loved it. However - the second piece was designed for CB by Jessica Lang (just stunning), but it was different... it's very unusual... dark and curious, very contemporary. The only music is live accompaniment (the piano was situated in front of the stage, just off to the side, under spotlight), and the mood is one of introspect... observance and silence. During this piece there was intermittant scattered applause that grew into thunderous applause and the dancers REALLY didn't like it, they said it was distracting and annoying because it ruined the mood. And it did, to a point. When the audience wasn't clapping, there was a definite pin drop silence and at the end a collective witholding of breath throughout until the final moment.

I'd say that it depends on what production one is seeing as to whether or not it's appropriate, as there are so many different variations and styles on stage... I don't think it's a 'one size fits all' kind of question and answer - it can't be, with such a vast array of productions offered up in so many different places. Location has a big role in it, as does production - which usually determines the ilk of patron... there are different patrons for Cinderella than there are for Dracula... than there are for a triple bill... and each group is expecting different things from the talent onstage, and each group responds differently to their respective situation.

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Here's a different but related issue.

As I've said here before I think the audience is the audience, it will applaud as it does. There ain't much right or wrong about it. However, I will admit to something that can annoy me, and that is standing ovations (SOs).

Here in "polite, nice" Seattle, I think we give too many SOs. To me a SO ought to be a bit rare and reserved for truly great performances. Too many SOs destroys the meaning in time. There seems to be an unfortunate habit that if after a performance, during the applause, 1 or 2 people stand up, then everyone somehow feels the need to stand up. I refuse to do this......and it ain't easy I can tell you to sit there with your vision blocked when all around you are standing! I just feel it is disrespectful to those future and past artists to whom I do give a SO to "water it down" by giving a SO at 50% of everything that is ever performed.

To be fair to the Seattle audiences: I see this mostly at plays (Rep, ACT), and less often, but a bit too often, at the ballet; OTOH, it does not seem to be much of a problem at the opera.

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To be fair to the Seattle audiences: I see this mostly at plays (Rep, ACT), and less often, but a bit too often, at the ballet; OTOH, it does not seem to be much of a problem at the opera.
For music, it happens on a regular basis when there's a guest soloist with the symphony, for Visiting Orchestras, and for at least some of the pianists in the President's Piano Series. For dance, just about everything in World Dance seems to get one, with lots of hooting and whistles, and often at On The Boards.

I believe that the recent symphony performances with Rostropovich deserved it, but even he had put an end to it. To get the symphony off stage, instead of going offstage by himself again, he started the Rostropovich Conga Line, where he grabbed the concertmaster and the next nearest musician and proceeded down the opening to backstage, while the musician at the end of the line grabbed another, until the first violins had made their exit.

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What SandyMcKean said, but add the Bravo, Brava, Bravi business.

If it happens six times a night, what's the big deal anymore? When the response to dancers is out of proportion to the level of performance, I tend to applaud less -- or not at all -- in an effort to equalize things. One versus 3,000??? Ah, well!

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