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carbro

The Dancer or the Dance?

20 posts in this topic

In the discussion of National Ballet of Canada's Swan Lake by Kudelka at Kennedy Center, sparklesocks says,

I only go to see the dancers that I truly love in the lead roles. I don't spend any time at all "analyzing" - I just go to enjoy dance.
The observation was picked up in several subsequent posts.

Perhaps the features that please or bother you the most vary when you are watching your home company vs. a visitor. Or perhaps it varies depending on the ballet. Or the dancer.

What do you look for under what circumstances? Can great dancing save a terrible ballet? Can an ordinary dancer come alive in new ways when dancing beautiful choreography? Can you completely overlook one in favor of the other?

Thanks to bart for suggesting this thread! :)

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I'll take choreography every time. I'd rather watch Dinkle students do Swan Lake than ABT do Kylian.

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In general, if there are dancers I really love or a company I admire, I'll see just about anything once, even if I expect to hate it. It's pretty amazing how many interesting things there are to be found amidst the wreckage. I won't go back, though, if I don't like the choreography, and if I'm caught with a dog in the middle section of a triple bill, I'll sit in the lobby and read. This hasn't happened in Seattle during my 11+ years here, and I don't expect it to.

I'll take choreography every time.  I'd rather watch Dinkle students do Swan Lake than ABT do Kylian.

But if those are my choices, I'm with Hans.

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if I'm caught with a dog in the middle section of a triple bill, I'll sit in the lobby and read.

Mr. B caught me and some friends doing exactly that during Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir. Pretty embarrassing! :blush: I should add that I have come to enjoy Maria Kowroski in that piece -- once every few years.
This hasn't happened in Seattle during my 11+ years here, and I don't expect it to.

What high praise for PNB!

Some dancers -- maybe one or in each generation if we're lucky -- can turn a sow's ear to a silk purse. I wouldn't necessarily lump Kylian in the bad category. Some of his early works were pleasing -- Sinfonietta, for example -- and Return to a Strange Land was deeply affecting when performed by ABT Studio Company with Zhong-Jing Fang. At least Kylian chooses good music and responds with appropriate movements.

I couldn't imagine a ballet being so ugly and atrocious :wink: that Ashley Bouder couldn't find moments of beauty and magic -- or work her own magic. I'm not sure a mediocre dancer could carry Giselle, or even excerpts from it.

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Carbro, thanks for the topic.

Helene's comment on PNB -- that she hasn't found something truly bad at PNB and doesn't expect to -- also applies to my 5-year experience with Miami. This is of couse a tribute to the company Artistic Directors. But it may also be a function of their rep system, with a number of set "programs" a year, repeated over a 2-3 week period. It's quite different from the kind of rep system NYCB -- with its huge company and many performances a week -- is obliged to run.

At PNB and Miami, and similar companies, you have to sell the program qua program and convince the audience that there is a theme connecting the various parts. The program generally does not vary during the series of performances. Dancers get lots of time to prepare and rehearse a limited number of ballets. Audience members who read the literature or ads know exactly what to expect. The downside of this is that the ballets tend to disappear from the rep for a number of years after they've been performed in this fashion.

I have a ranking system. Dancers first. :wink: Since I go to multiple performances of the same program, there is always something on the stage that I can focus on and love -- and learn from. Opera glasses help. This has been my experience since I was a teenager long ago when I started with at NYCB at City Center. Lots of the ballets -- mostly non-Balanchine, but also some of his more esoteric stuff -- went over my head in those days. But there were always the dancers and their movements.

There's always someone -- often a demi-solist or corps member -- who is dancing his or her heart out, totally committed to the work and the music. I love this, and will trade perfect technique performed in an emotional vaccume for committed dancing that feels and expresses the music, steps and roles anytime. (And I go with Balanchine in feeling that every dance, even the most abstract, consists of "roles.")

Next is choreography. I favor classical and neo-classical, but also love contemporary if it's based on ballet technique and if the dancers are well prepared. I quickly get irritated with the overly gymnastic Cirque-de-Soileil-wannabes. When I feel this happening, I focus on individual dancers. It's amazing how good for the soul that is. Having taken up ballet class in old age helps enormously. I can feel the movement -- and therefore appreciate how difficult it is to make it look natural and easy.

Third, and this applies only to the classics, is the version presented. Unlike a lot of posters here, I rather like alternative versions, and wish we had a more European tolerance of this. Morris's "Hard Nut" -- yes! Even Matthew Bourne, though the dull and repetitive choreography gets annoying there. I've found much to like in every Nureyev production I've seen (revisions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, R&J, and Cinderella) and accept them as what they are -- one artist's individual VERSION of a standard classic, as happens continually with Shakespeare's plays. I'd love to see some of the far-out versions I read about in European reviews. I have difficulty understanding audience members who want things to be too similar every time. The classics can survive even Kudelka and Martins (who seem currently to be the villains of choice on the fiercely defended Swan Lake turf).

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Mr. B caught me and some friends doing exactly that during Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir. 

Errr...It would seem YOU caught HIM! Wasn't he supposed to be watching from the wings?

I'd see the right dancer in almost anything---they don't have the time to wait for an intelligent AD. Most often-seen classics can seem flat with weak casting; so with un-thrilling casting I'd more likely pick something unfamiliar by someone I could trust, like Balanchine, Ashton, Wheeldon, or which has a positive review by a good critic.

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I have difficulty understanding audience members who want things to be too similar every time.  The classics can survive even Kudelka and Martins  (who seem currently to be the villains of choice on the fiercely defended Swan Lake turf).

Bart, for me it’s a question of priority. Of course the classics wouldn't be classic if they didn't reward repeated viewings in, well, classic form, not to mention revealing new facets with new casts. In D.C., where I usually go to catch performances, even the most popular full-lengths like Swan Lake and Giselle come around once or twice a year at most, and travel time may keep me from seeing more than one performance a run. So you know, if I can only get to an old, distinguished 5-star restaurant once in a while, I don't want the kitchen's latest experiment, I want their classic dish.

Anyhow, dancer or the dance? Novelty aside, it’s a toss-up. When it comes to those traditional full-length "classics," I'm choosy when it comes to lesser troupes, because I don't know the quality of the choreography ahead of time. But I'll go see even a regional company if they're doing a ballet I love or have always wanted to see, one which I know will have been staged by the choreographer or someone loyal to his work. On the other hand, I'd go see Part or Vishneva, or just recently Boal, in anything.

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Yes, I'd rather not watch that every day, but well-trained recreational students performing something close to the Ivanov/Petipa choreography would be preferable (to me) to seeing the Paris Opera Ballet do the latest Mats Ek.

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An important aspect, for me, of any ballet performance has been missed so far - the music! I find I'm very sensitive to what I term "disturbing music" (Stravinsky comes under this heading) and I prefer not to watch ballets by these composers. On the other hand, if a dancer I'm desperately longing to see performes only in such a ballet, I'd go (which proves that I'm also a "dancer's first" person).

Sets and costumes can utterly destroy a good production, but I wouldn't go to see any performance purely on the strength of it's decor!

So it's first dancers, then music, then choreography (I'd watch even a poor company do a work I very much want to see, if I really have no other opportunity for seeing the work).

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I no longer find it impossible to enjoy a ballet if I hate the music. But it does make it harder. Conversely, if I like the ballet, it tends to make the music easier to take. I will never like the Debussy, but I can enjoy both Afternoon of a Faun (Robbins) and l'Apres-midi d'un faune (Nijinsky). A great Spectre (such as Herman Cornejo's, which is, IMO, peerless) can transport me, but Weber's score positively sends me into sugar shock. :D

I learned to love Stravinsky, because there are too many truly great ballets to his music, and Balanchine is a superb ambassador for Stravinsky. :tiphat:

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I find I'm very sensitive to what I term "disturbing music" (Stravinsky comes under this heading) and I prefer not to watch ballets by these composers.

When I first heard the "Rite of Spring" score, I would have agreed with you, ostrich. Even 10 or so years later, when I saw the Joffrey reconstruction of the Nijinsky "Rite," I felt the music to be ugly, too percusive and insistant, too self-consciously primitive.

But times -- AND the listener -- change. I saw 2 performances of Rite yesterday and found the music absolutely lovely. Not exactly "easy listening," but so much more accesible than I would have thought. And great dance music, too!

The lesson for me: to keep going to see difficult work recommended by people I respect, even if I don't like it at first. Over time, I find that I'm often the one who changes -- much to my own benefit.

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Certainly a well performed ballet does change one's impression of what the music is like. I remember 2 performances of La Sylphide - the first time I saw it I thought the music charming, the second time, too boring and trite for words (same orchestra, same conductor, different cast!). Maybe I'll learn to like Stravinsky yet.

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I love ballet and I haven't got a clue how to analyze it. I don't even know the names of most of the techniques (e.g., foites) much less the proper way to perform them. I go just because 1) it's fascinating to see how people can tell a story without words; 2) it's amazing to watch the incredible physical feats that the dancers perform; 3) ballet has a high goose-bump factor.

No matter how good the dancers are, if the choreography or story is lame then I will be bored (for me, there's only been 1 ballet that the I've seen at the Colorado Ballet that qualifies, though I have been to several performances by "modern dance" companies that were agony to sit through). Great dancers can make an OK ballet really enjoyable, however.

On the other hand, for me poor dancing can ruin the best of ballets.

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3) ballet has a high goose-bump factor.

Sure does.:(

I think that even if you don't have great technical knowledge, if you have an eye and an ear you'll notice when the dancing isn't right.

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YouOverThere, I enjoyed your post and I look forward to reading your reactions to what you see as you keep going to the ballet. I've been going to the ballet for over 30 years (with about 5 years off) and I'm still not terribly knowledgeable about step names, but I've never heard of a "foite." Is that an alternate word for fouettes? If there is no such step, they ought to invent or rename one, and meanwhile, thanks for the laugh, because the word is so fitting!

You also made me smile about the modern dance performances that were agony for you to sit through. I enjoy some modern dance choreography very much, but I remember once closing my eyes and bowing my head during a modern piece that followed the Balanchine classic "Agon." Other posters here have confessed to sitting out certain ballets in the theater lobby, and no less a balletomane than Edward Gorey, rumored to have attended every single New York City Ballet performance for many years, sometimes did the same. What is it about something we love that, twisted just the wrong way, turns into something we can't stand?

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ballet has a high goose-bump factor.

Yes indeed. And the great thing is, as you watch more performances, you see more and learn more, the goose bumps get even better.

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I've been going to the ballet for over 30 years (with about 5 years off) and I'm still not terribly knowledgeable about step names, but I've never heard of a "foite." Is that an alternate word for fouettes? If there is no such step, they ought to invent or rename one, and meanwhile, thanks for the laugh, because the word is so fitting!

I got the word "foites" from an email sent to me by another poster on this board. If it is mis-spelled, it is all THEIR FAULT.

You also made me smile about the modern dance performances that were agony for you to sit through. I enjoy some modern dance choreography very much, but I remember once closing my eyes and bowing my head during a modern piece that followed the Balanchine classic "Agon." Other posters here have confessed to sitting out certain ballets in the theater lobby, and no less a balletomane than Edward Gorey, rumored to have attended every single New York City Ballet performance for many years, sometimes did the same. What is it about something we love that, twisted just the wrong way, turns into something we can't stand?

I brought up "modern dance" because I don't have a lot of bad ballet experiences to reference. Most of the non-ballet dance performances that I've been to have been by local groups where the quality is very uneven.

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I have been to several performances by "modern dance" companies that were agony to sit through.

I used to avoid Modern performances. My ballet friends kept trying to get me to Paul Taylor, but I insisted "I don't like Modern Dance." They said, "No, you don't like Martha Graham. Give this a try." I finally caved in, and in a little over two hours, I'd fallen in love. :)

There's Ballet and there's Modern. There are good works and bad ones. But I don't think there's any correlation between one to the other. Of course, it may be that there is something about Modern -- the use of weight, the absence of pointe shoes or something else -- that doesn't allow you to be pulled in. I'd recommend trying to track down the Paul Taylor Dance Company video (I doubt it is available on DVD) that includes "Esplanade."

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I have been to several performances by "modern dance" companies that were agony to sit through.

I used to avoid Modern performances. My ballet friends kept trying to get me to Paul Taylor, but I insisted "I don't like Modern Dance." They said, "No, you don't like Martha Graham. Give this a try." I finally caved in, and in a little over two hours, I'd fallen in love. :)

There's Ballet and there's Modern. There are good works and bad ones. But I don't think there's any correlation between one to the other. Of course, it may be that there is something about Modern -- the use of weight, the absence of pointe shoes or something else -- that doesn't allow you to be pulled in. I'd recommend trying to track down the Paul Taylor Dance Company video (I doubt it is available on DVD) that includes "Esplanade."

My wording may have been a little misleading. I wasn't intending to knock modern dance. Because most of the "modern dance" performances that I've seen have been by local groups performing their own choreography, it's easier to think of examples of poor dancing and lame choreography from them than from the ballet performances that I've seen. Indeed, the Colorado Ballet has done several works that arguably aren't true ballet, such as "Appalachian Spring" and "Earth Tribe" (a hip hop dance piece). To me, art is art and as long as it's meaningful and challenging for the artists I can appreciate it.

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