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Is The Triple Bill Dead?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 01 April 2006 - 04:30 PM

Has it happened? Dirac posted a link to this review, on Links. It started with the comment that some people say that mixed bills are dead, but when they work, they can be magnificent.

David Lyman of the Cincinnati Enquirer on Cincinnati Ballet:

http://news.enquirer...04010410/-1/all

(It would be best if we did not get diverted by the reviewer's take on "Stars and Stripes" but stick to the health of the triple bill :) )

#2 Helene

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Posted 01 April 2006 - 04:49 PM

I'd have been in serious trouble if I had gone to NYCB several times a week for almost two decades and didn't like triple bills!

Sometimes I'd like to reformulate one into: Concerto Barocco, Symphony in C, Symphony in C, because I always want to see Symphony in C again the minute it is over.

Along the lines of the approach that Carnegie Hall is taking to present one artist in a series of theme concerts, after seeing modern dance choreographer Mark Haim's superb Goldberg Variations last night at On the Boards in Seattle, I would love to see the work performed back-to-back with Jerome Robbins' ballet version. (With one pianist playing each half, and maybe a long picnic lunch in between.) In a post-performance Q&A after the recent "Points of View" program, Peter Boal said that the solo that PNB does in Melancholic is unrecognizable from the later version he performed with NYCB, and that he would love to see the two versions back-to-back.

I have like the themed triple bills I've seen. Even though I didn't like all of the ballets in PNB's "Tangos" program, I did like the juxtaposition of seeing three different balletic choreographic approaches to a non-balletic dance style. When I was working on the Calendar, I was struck by what seemed to be randomness of some of the choices, although from an administrative standpoint, I'm sure they made internal sense, based on scheduling or the traditional appetizer/primi/secondi planning process.

Triple bills perform several functions for a company:
  • There are often many more principal roles and soloist opportunities in three ballets than in one full-length.
  • Stylistic differences play to the strengths of different dancers
  • The opportunity for audience education by pairing something different and unusual with a familiar work
  • Having a greater chance of finding one "hook" that will bring a person -- or especially a couple with divergent tastes -- into the theater, as opposed to the "all or nothing" approach of a full length
  • For a company with an orchestra like PNB's, to give the musicians greater and new challenges
  • The decor tends to be less elaborate and expensive
My only mixed feelings about the last mixed bill I attended was that Raymond Variations ended too soon :)

My experience is that they do cause fear in the audience, like planning contemporary classical music, and that houses for triple bills tend to be smaller than for the big, classical full-lengths. The only full-length non-classical ballet that I can remember at PNB was the revue-like Silver Lining.

#3 drb

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Posted 01 April 2006 - 05:48 PM

One reason that triple bills work so well at NYCB is that each work gets around five performances, but not the same three together: you can choose the combo you like the best. Most other companies seem to only offer multiple replications of the same thing.
I rather liked the review of Stars and Stripes, my main complaint being that if the triple bill was so wonderful, why wasn't the third ballet even mentioned? And, that Mr. B. was called a Russian. But they've been making that mistake since Nijinsky, all the way up to the present with Zakharova, and ABT's Irina, Max, and Vladimir...

#4 Helene

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Posted 01 April 2006 - 05:53 PM

One reason that triple bills work so well at NYCB is that each work gets around five performances, but not the same three together: you can choose the combo you like the best. Most other companies seem to only offer mutiple replications of the same thing.

That's so true -- it's possibly to tailor choices around seeing and avoiding certain ballets at NYCB. I can't think off hand of another rep company. Even San Francisco Ballet, which offers two different programs over the course of several weeks still keeps the same three-four ballets on together on a program. (Ballet Arizona did the same during the Balanchine Centennial celebration and will again this year in June.)

#5 dirac

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 03:55 PM

My experience is that they do cause fear in the audience, like planning contemporary classical music, and that houses for triple bills tend to be smaller than for the big, classical full-lengths. The only full-length non-classical ballet that I can remember at PNB was the revue-like Silver Lining.


I've noticed that in San Francisco. Even when it's a fabulous mixed bill, the houses tend not to be quite as packed for even the less attractive of the company's evening length offerings. Very often the latter have easily recognizable names -- "Romeo and Juliet," etc. and I have a sense that casual balletgoers sometimes feel that they're getting a "bigger bang for the buck" by seeing a big story ballet.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 04:08 PM

I'm surprised to learn that about San Francisco. I thought Tomasson had tried very hard (and successfully) to build an audience for the triple bill. Thanks for that info, dirac.

What struck me about the article was that the writer had to explain triple bills -- a sure sign that the times have changed. A historical note: in September 1956, writing about the Royal Danish Ballet's production of Ashton's "Romeo and Juliet," John Martin (an ardent modernist) wrote -- paraphrasing from memory -- that "in 50 years when the full-evening ballet is again predominate, people will look back to this production as the start of its resurgence." It is exactly 50 years past 1956!

#7 bart

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 04:33 PM

One possible reason for the rise of the triple bill was the relative lack of full evening ballets. Even the Danish Sylphide lasts only an hour. And, couldn't one argue that a number of full-lengths llike Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Balanchine's Midsummer's Night Dream, etc., , are actually shorter story ballets filled out with character dances and divertissements, often at the end?

Like Helene, I grew up on triple bills at the NYCB and tend to assume that they are natural, god-given, and on the whole wonderful. When most of the ballets were Balanchine's and Robbins', the assumption was valid. You went to the ballet because of the choreography, the dancers, and the music.

Since then, I've observed other companies trying to market triple-bill evenings under a unifying thematic concept. Some work better than others. "Poetry in Motion" was the utterly forgettable, utterly meaningless title for Miami's last triple bill: Seranade, Funny Papers, and Symphony in C. Superb dancing, but more empty seats than usual.

Does anyone know how much attention Balanchine gave to the selection and balance of the ballets selected for triple bills? Were they ever marketed thematically?

Also: how do the great European companies -- Paris, Kirov, Royal, Danish, etc. -- construct and market their triple bills?

#8 Paul Parish

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 05:38 PM

I'd say that Tomasson HAS had good success with the triple bill at SFB -- true, Swan Lake sells more tickets, but triple bills don't do badly here. The SF opera house was virtually sold out for last Sunday's triple-bill matinee (and that's a 3000+seat house). "Artifact Suite" went over huge, and there was a strong word-of-mouth. Many people came back to see it two and three times.

#9 Helene

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 08:32 PM

I'm really glad to hear that about the latest SFB triple bill. PNB's Valentine program had a big success, also partially due to repeat viewings.

But I do hope Sylvia is also a success its second time around.

#10 sandik

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Posted 11 April 2006 - 09:49 PM

The Joffrey Ballet, which used to tour annually to Seattle until the early 1980's, performed almost nothing but triple bills -- in fact it was a program-length work (Cranko's Shrew, if memory serves) that did badly enough here that it put its presenter out of business.

#11 whitelight

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Posted 21 April 2006 - 07:27 PM

I'm confused about why someone even asked if the triple bill is dead. I am pretty young-- about to get my B.A.-- so I don't have much context. But I haven't been to a full-length ballet in years. I love the concept of triple bills, and as far as I can tell, there's an audience for them. Certainly in New York, but I remember going to Richmong Ballet's triple bills in Virginia, and they did alright, especially for a smallish conservative city.

Also, thanks Helene for posting the list of functions. I agree completely, and can hardly imagine a ballet company that didn't present such evenings. Can someone tell me what I am missing?

#12 Treefrog

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Posted 22 April 2006 - 05:17 AM

I was confused too. Triple bills are still the mainstay of the Joffrey, which now typically offers two triple bills and one full-length in its three seasons (not counting Nutcracker).

I haven't thought to notice whether the audiences are greater or smaller for triple bills.

#13 Jack Reed

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 01:28 PM

Does anyone know how much attention Balanchine gave to the selection and balance of the ballets selected for triple bills? Were they ever marketed thematically?


Almost exactly coinciding with my years of seeing Balanchine's company intensively, 1973-1986, I believe that the programs were arranged by Robert Gottlieb, although there have been some who don't find this story credible. (I think he was only too happy to leave to others work they could do to his satisfaction.) I would guess that Mr. B. looked over the results of Gottlieb's work, and might have made some changes, and of course circumstances forced changes - I well remember arriving in New York to find five performances in a row of Divertimento No. 15 cancelled, the remainder of the weekend being only moderately sensational in their absence, as we reflected on with laughter at our good fortune to be alive in that place and time - but I wasn't privy to the decision-making, or -makers, myself.

As to theme marketing, why, no, except maybe for the Stravinsky, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky Festivals. Only since NYCB has become Martins's company has there been much of that - "All Balanchine" evenings, and the like. (Imagine that, "Balanchine's company" presenting an all-Balanchine program? I think that's another demonstration of the emperor's nakedness, but that's another story, for another thread.)

I loath theme programs myself, wherever I find them, for example in concert and recital schedules as well as ballet evenings - they show a brutish, mechanical insensitivity to what goes well with what. What kind of a Chinese restaurant makes you choose one from Column A, one from Column B, and so on? And who eats in a place like that? I hestitate to use the metaphor of the bouquet, because I prefer my ballet-flowers uncut and living, rather than arranged in a still-life, but even there there may be a clue to an answer to the question: Yes, the triple-bill is dead artistically in the hands of those who can't arrange one attractively.

Yes, there is the ignorant, fearful public to contend with. Educating them to find their own satisfactions is the job of the press, isn't it? *sigh* No wonder they're ignorant and fearful...

#14 carbro

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 03:39 PM

I loath theme programs myself, wherever I find them, for example in concert and recital schedules as well as ballet evenings - they show a brutish, mechanical insensitivity to what goes well with what. . . . Yes, the triple-bill is dead artistically in the hands of those who can't arrange one attractively.

I once made a snide joke about a program of the three Robbins concerto ballets -- the Ravel, the Gershwin and the Prokofiev. Wouldn't ya know? A couple of years later it popped up. Well, since it was "my" idea, I had to go. It did Robbins no favors.

One of the problems of the Martins era (to be expanded on another thread :wink:) is the artistic staff's lack of sensitivity to nuance and subtlety -- in dancers, in roles and in ballets. The miscasting of present is less egregious than it was five or six years ago. I think genuine efforts are being made to reduce the miscalculations of suitability in casting, but hasn't quite taken hold in programming.

I remember Divertimento 15's cancellation for all of not one, but two seasons! Word circulating at the time was lack of rehearsal, which is understandable. In those days, the company danced almost 10% more ballets per season, and there were eight performances -- instead of the current seven -- per week.


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