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Alexandra

Applause During Works Of Religious Significance

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In Clement Crisp's review of the Royal Ballet's current triple bill, he writes this, after a mention of MacMillan's "Requiem."

One complaint: the audience must be asked, before curtain-rise, not to applaud during a work of religious significance. On both Saturday and Tuesday, clapping and baying “bravos” ignored a programme note to this effect.

I wondered how American audiences might react to such a program note, and such a custom (and this may well vary by region). This was once common custom, but in our "anything goes" age, I was curious if it were still generally known, or if things have changed.

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I'd say it would depend, especially in light of the broad range of appropriate behaviors in American religious life. In a procession, when the priest or bishop appears, the congregation applauds, sometimes. Among some, applause at a well-made point in a sermon, or a well-sung psalm or anthem is perfectly all right, even expected. In some places, vocal exclamation is a norm. In some places, the worshippers are the "Frozen Chosen" and don't make a peep. And of course, in some they just sleep. :(

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The Verdi Requiem is so wonderfully operatic that I wonder if anyone ever even tried to limit the applause for it. And of course the Pope gets a lot of applause from the faithful, even if he has a shaky voice.

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Also, at this point there is so much sacred music used for secular composition I think it desensitizes the audience to the difference. I've seen MacMillan's Requiem only once, but I don't remember feeling like it was a particularly sacred work - no more so than Voluntaries, which is done to secular music that sounds sacred because of the organ.

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That seems a curious mixing of functions on MacMillan's part. His choreographing the piece may have been an act of worship, or at least of solemn remembrance informed by his religious beliefs, but what is the dancer's part in that worship or remembrance, and what is the audience's? I suppose the dancers can just execute the steps with the proper solemnity, but to ask the audience to respond to the piece as he did, or at least to publicly limit their response to the piece -- a piece they've had to pay to see -- to his, seems a lot to ask. Personally, I'd favor honoring his intentions anyhow. That seems only respectful. But I still wonder if the request is appropriate. Isn't it MacMillan's job to elicit the response he wants instead of demanding it?

I'm not asking rhetorically and I haven't seen the piece. I'm just trying to think it through.

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......but to ask the audience to respond to the piece as he did, or at least to publicly limit their response to the piece -- a piece they've had to pay to see -- to his, seems a lot to ask. Personally, I'd favor honoring his intentions anyhow. That seems only respectful. But I still wonder if the request is appropriate. Isn't it MacMillan's job to elicit the response he wants instead of demanding it?

I'm inclined to agree. I’ve seen only bits and pieces of MacMillan’s “Requiem” on video and can’t really make a judgment in this instance (I’d also want to read the text of the program note). However, I wouldn’t think that a ballet audience would need admonishments from the stage or program notes for guidance, and depending on the circumstances such measures could be seen as a tad presumptuous. If the performance conveys a sense of the sacred, no matter if the music or subject matter is formally designated “of religious significance” – a sensitive audience will react appropriately. One hopes. :devil:

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To any BalletTalkers who happened to have been there:

When Balanchine staged the Adagio Lamentoso from Tschaikovsky's Symphony No. 6-Pathetique in 1981 did the audience clap at the end? With references to religion and the ending where the boy blows out the candle which some have intrepreted as a reference to Balancine's own mortality I've often wondered at the audiences response and this thread has reminded me of it. Thanks!

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My extremely non-religious parents instilled in me the etiquette that one does not clap in church. There was no explanation. It just Wasn't Done.

Times, of course, have changed mightily. At one time, gentlemen simply did not wear hats indoors. Nowadays, one sees baseball caps everywhere. I think some of the old customs -- say, stopping at stop signs -- just are not known or recognized by the general populace these days and it is hopeless to try to enforce the old etiquette.

In addition ... even my ingrained rule of "No Clapping in Church" would not have prevented me from clapping in this instance. For me, the rule applied to the locale, not the performance. In fact ... I do think I would be annoyed at paying for a ticket to the ballet, only to find that I was attending a religious observance. MacMillan may have meant it as a work of religious significance, but for me, once it is taken out of the proper venue for religious observance, i.e. a church, it simply becomes culture. This is where my ingrained rule becomes useful: if I choose to visit a church -- a place of religious significance, in which one expects to observe rituals and performances of religious significance -- I am content to follow the etiquette that demonstrates respect for the customs and observations therein. Outside of the church? All bets are off. Normal concert etiquette prevails.

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............. In fact ... I do think I would be annoyed at paying for a ticket to the ballet, only to find that I was attending a religious observance. MacMillan may have meant it as a work of religious significance, but for me, once it is taken out of the proper venue for religious observance, i.e. a church, it simply becomes culture.............

I don't see why it has to be taken as a religious observance, whatever MacMillan's intentions were. Surely one can instead take not clapping as a means to create (or at least not disrupt) the atmosphere of this profoundly contemplative and serene piece.

If MacMillan really wanted the audience to remain quiet throughout then I feel that silence becomes a part of the piece too - along with the music and lighting and so on. Why take that aspect way from it? I have seen this ballet performed with and without any capping and I prefer it when the audience doesn't clap. I like the difference ....and why not watch it in silence? - There's certainly enough clapping at ballet the rest of the time! :devil:

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GoCoyote! writes:

There's certainly enough clapping at ballet the rest of the time! :)

Far too much, at times. :thanks: Thanks for your thoughts, GoCoyote!, and welcome. (Thanks also to Alexandra for starting a very interesting topic.

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Applause in (Catholic) churches is now common in Ireland, almost routine, if the priest praises or thanks anyone. I don't like it as mass is claimed to be a sacrament, with trans-substantiation held to be a miracle occuring during each mass, and to me applause dilutes the sanctity the ceremony should warrant. I hold this even though I dwell at the atheistic end of the spectrum of agnosticism and am rarely seen in any church. My stuffy attitude about this and other similar informalities in church causes much amusement among the believers in my family, that is, everyone else. I recall Irish-led applause at the end of a Spanish-Irish family wedding ceremony in the 14th century Basilica in Barcelona a few years ago created overt astonishment among the Spaniards in the congregation.

Applause in the theatre is fine, even for a requiem.

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:unsure: I think clapping or applause in the religous works is okay if it is respectful, but the shouting of bravo and stamping feet is not appropriate, until at least the end of the piece.

I find the response of the Cuban audiences rather over the top, and some Japanese young ladies when they scream and shout at a performance. Recently on the TV programme Pop Singer to Opera Singer, the same happened when the performer was a young well known Boy Band Member, it seemed totally out of place. I felt the audience should have been advised how to behave. it was only a few girls, but quite different to the rest of the audience's behavyor.

Actually personally I find it distracting when people keep clapping through a ballet and the dancers have to keep stopping to take a bow. It is fine at the end of a scene or act, and even better to give them lots of curtain calls and shout Bravo (if you think they have excelled) at the end. I wonder what the Dancers themselves think about the subject. :thumbsup:

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I find the response of the Cuban audiences rather over the top...

If we are still talking within the limits of the OP religious issue, then yes, I agree...

Other than that...

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To any BalletTalkers who happened to have been there:

When Balanchine staged the Adagio Lamentoso from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6-Pathetique in 1981 did the audience clap at the end? With references to religion and the ending where the boy blows out the candle which some have intrepreted as a reference to Balancine's own mortality I've often wondered at the audiences response and this thread has reminded me of it. Thanks!

I just noticed that no one addressed perky's question back in 2006. My memory is incomplete, but I certainly don't remember that there WASN'T applause. In fact, I'm sure there was, but it was probably retrained (no cheering, for example). There may also have been a slight delay between the end of the piece and the beginning of the applause, something I've sometimes noticed with concert performances of especially iconic sacred music.

The procession and other liturgical aspects of Adagio Lamentoso were highly theatrical. It never occurred to me that anyone intended this to be an "act of worship" in kfw's sense. Instead, the piece came across as a highly personal representation of or comment on an act of worship . The emotional impact was not unlike the singing of the "Salve Regina" at the end end of Dialogues of the Carmelites. This is different, in intent and effect, from sacred dance in certain Eastern or Native-American traditions.

I suspect that each individual in the cast and in the audience provided his or her own "religious significance" to Balanchine's piece, as they did to MacMillan's. Dignified applause seems to be the best way we can all share what must be a very individual experience.

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One complaint: the audience must be asked, before curtain-rise, not to applaud during a work of religious significance.

If I am to take this complain seriously, does this mean then that I ought not to clap during a performance of The Rite of Spring?

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One complaint: the audience must be asked, before curtain-rise, not to applaud during a work of religious significance.

If I am to take this complain seriously, does this mean then that I ought not to clap during a performance of The Rite of Spring?

I may be missing your dry sense of humor, here, Sandy, but I'll answer anyhow. Maybe you should refrain if it's danced by Gaia Ballet Theater, or some such entity. Otherwise, no, because the ballet is just the creation of a religious rite, not an actual act of worship. :thumbsup:

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kfw, no you not missing my "dry sense of humor" (bye-the-bye, my humor can be dry, but it's more often satirical, usually attempting to point out some hypocracy or inconsistency).

I could make my own argument why I think the idea of treating religious themes with special respect is silly, but a man for whom I have the greatest respect, Richard Dawkins, recently wrote an entire book on the subject. I could not possibily improve on this brilliant man's words so I won't try. Quoting from the 2nd chapter of Dawkins marvelous book "The God Delusion":

"A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts - the non-religious included - is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other."

....and then....

"I am not in favour of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies. All politicians must get used to disrespectful cartoons of their faces, and nobody riots in their defence. What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect?"

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Whatever one thinks about Dawkins' point (and I tend to agree with him on this particular matter), it would perhaps be better if ALL persons -- whether religious or non-religious -- did their damnedest to treat other persons (including those of different belief and value systems) with "special respect."

The setting, of course, makes a difference. Behavior in a church (or equivalent) would obviously be more restrained and respectful than in a public theater. In a church, one is a guest. In a theater, one is a patron.

We also might be expected to behave differently in a performance that merely reflects religious faith and a performance which is aitself intended as act of worship.

Are there dance companies in the United States that actually treat their performances as worship? Would Ballet Magnificat! fall into this category? If so, I would hope to be told this ahead of time by the presenters.

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Sandy, I think Dawkins (who has not lacked for scholarly rebuttal, btw) confuses respecting people's feelings with not questioning the thinking behind them. The former is about presuming, in the absence of evidence otherwise, that people deserve respect, both skeptics and believers. I think we can agree that this is basic civility. I see no reason why that shouldn't apply as much in the theater as out of it.

Now tell me, would you really have the courage to boo Gaia Ballet Theater's Rite of Spring? :blink:

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Now tell me, would you really have the courage to boo Gaia Ballet Theater's Rite of Spring? wink1.gif
Well, I don't boo at performances. But I'd certainly be willing to say that the dancing and choreography were bad if the performance were being conducted in a theater and in front of a mixed audience. Speaking for myself onlyI would not comment on the religious sentiments behind the performance, or about Gaia worship (is there such a thing?) in general.

Getting back to Balelt Magnificat: I checked their website where I found that they consider their work to constitute a religious -- and specifically Christian evangelical -- "ministry."

Clearly that would make the experience of attending a Ballet Magnificat performance something quite different from attending Adagio Lamentoso or Requiem performed by a company which is not "faith based," or a concert performance of the Missa Solemnis (unless the Catholic Mass was actually being conducted at the time).

Also, I would think that writing a "dance review" of a performance of this sort would be almost impossible and something I would definitely avoid. For a company like Ballet Magnificat, dancing is the means to something they believe to be more important. For NYCB or just about all the companies we discuss on Ballet Talk, dancing is the whole point.

http://www.balletmagnificat.com/A_newfirst.html

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Now tell me, would you really have the courage to boo Gaia Ballet Theater's Rite of Spring? wink1.gif
Well, I don't boo at performances. But I'd certainly be willing to say that the dancing and choreography were bad if the performance were being conducted in a theater and in front of a mixed audience. Speaking for myself onlyI would not comment on the religious sentiments behind the performance, or about Gaia worship (is there such a thing?) in general.

I'd do the same, restricting my criticism to the standard of the performance, not the motive behind it.

Also, I would think that writing a "dance review" of a performance of this sort would be almost impossible and something I would definitely avoid. For a company like Ballet Magnificat, dancing is the means to something they believe to be more important.

That's true, but if their purpose is to "magnify Him," well, excellence does that better than mediocrity, so, to my mind, constructive criticism seems in order. I can imagine a critic being afraid to give offense, but that's where, :blink:, I find myself siding with Dawkins.

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We also might be expected to behave differently in a performance that merely reflects religious faith and a performance which is itself intended as act of worship.

Are there dance companies in the United States that actually treat their performances as worship? Would Ballet Magnificat! fall into this category? If so, I would hope to be told this ahead of time by the presenters.

As they say in real estate, location, location, location. Obviously no one would boo singers and dancers performing in church as part of a religious service. (Applause would no doubt be inappropriate in most cases as well.)

If you are in a theater charging spectators for the privilege of watching you, then you should expect to deal with audience reactions, which can range anywhere from ecstatic happiness to vocal disapproval, no matter what the religious nature of your material or intent. Such is life.

Thanks for reviving the thread, bart.

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Sandy, I think Dawkins.....confuses respecting people's feelings with not questioning the thinking behind them. The former is about presuming, in the absence of evidence otherwise, that people deserve respect, both skeptics and believers.

I don't think Dawkins is confusing anything. I presume you feel that way because you may be missing his point. Allow me to reiterate his main point:

"But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion......" (the emphasis is mine)

He (and I for that matter) are not saying, as you seem to imply, that it is OK to be disrespectful if you are so inclined (hurting peoples feelings in the process -- which seems to be your main concern), but rather he is saying: why do we single out the realm of religion for special consideration, such that for whatever the supposed reason is, we are expected to give extra leeway, or feel extra deference when a religious theme is involved.

Now tell me, would you really have the courage to boo Gaia Ballet Theater's Rite of Spring?

Like bart, I don't boo.....ever. I don't boo even at basketball games when the opposing team members are introduced as so many home team fans do (in fact, I often cheer for their best players in respect for their talent). I see no purpose in booing ever. However having said that, I would boo, cheer, or remain silent in exactly the same way, for exactly the same reasons, whatever the circumstance. I certainly would not modify my standard behavior for no reason other than the theme happened to be religious, or the performers were in a religious mood.

[As an aside, I can't for the life of me understand way we give tax breaks to religious organizations when a organization devoted to, say, the understanding of philosophy would not qualify for such tax breaks.]

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He (and I for that matter) are not saying, as you seem to imply, that it is OK to be disrespectful if you are so inclined (hurting peoples feelings in the process -- which seems to be your main concern), but rather he is saying: why do we single out the realm of religion for special consideration, such that for whatever the supposed reason is, we are expected to give extra leeway, or feel extra deference when a religious theme is involved.

Sandy, I keep writing and erasing things here, trying to respond to your thoughts without opening up a whole bag of worms. (This is Ballet Talk and I've never seen a bag of worms at the ballet!) Let me just say that I think we're right to give religious views special consideration because they are special to most people who hold them. For many they lie at or near the very base of identity. That's why I would give the expression of religious views special consideration in the theater and out of it. But I do stress that word "expression." The content of the views is of course up for debate, just as are any others.

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Let me just say that I think we're right to give religious views special consideration because they are special to most people who hold them. For many they lie at or near the very base of identity.

Political views are often held with the same kind of intensity and personal identification. But leaving that aside, if a work is presented for appraisal by critics and public, it should expect the treatment of any other work so presented.

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