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NYCB's Block Programming

NYCB Block Programming   27 members have voted

  1. 1. How did the block progamming fare in its first year?

    • Disaster! It cut my attendance significantly.
      3
    • Not good. There were ballets I would have liked to see, but I didn't like the rest of the program.
      13
    • It made no difference.
      6
    • Good. The company looked more polished than before.
      1
    • Great! As long as the programs are this good, let it stay!
      4

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23 posts in this topic

Please explain your vote, and if you can point to some specific examples, all the better.

May the best option win! :thumbsup:

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I chose option B (2) whatever it was called.

Why?

well, I'd like to be able to see new Wheeldon without seeing Peter Martins :thumbsup:

Actually I just would like to never see Martins choreography again, but that's me

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Personally I was unhappy sitting through Dybbuk which was placed between two wonderful ballets. Likewise with Orpheus (not a favorite of mine) which was between Apollo and Agon. Two examples of ballets that fit a "theme" but that did not, in my opinion, make for good programing. So for me option B

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Like Aurora, I chose the 2nd option..... I really felt hemmed in by the block programming. I couldn't go to see my specially beloved pieces more than once if there was something I really didn't like playing with it (I can't give examples right now, I don't have the schedule handy.) Previously I would try to see a ballet I loved as often as possible. (Of course, years ago, individual ballets were shown 5-6 times each season, and that was heaven!)

So for me, the Block Option was a dud. I really was happy for the first week's programming, "For Lincoln." More like the old days.

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For folks who don't live in the NYC area (like myself), the block programming is a Godsend. It is easier to make a choice about sets of ballets to attend, as almost every 'block program' had one weekend-matinee presentation. It made it easy for me to take the bus up to NY on a Saturday (or Sunday) morn, see the program, then return home to DC in the evenings! This has been, by far, the season in which I've attended the most NYCB performances at the State Theater -- four in winter and six in spring/summer.

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I chose no. 5 without a moment's hesitation. I gather I am in the minority in actually preferring block programming to the alternative. Yes, the program titles are lamer than lame. And yes, the company sometimes elects to drop a clunker smack dab in the middle of an otherwise delightful program. But, after 30 years of regular attendance, I can attest to the fact that this has ever been the case and that “non-block” programming is unfortunately not a reliable solution: clunkers wander through the rep like malign planets and one finds oneself trying to dodge several in a single season in an effort to catch a program not marred by their baleful influence. Just when you think you've ducked "Dybbuk," "Irish Fantasy" swims into view.

Here’s what I like about block programming, more or less in order of importance:

1) It presents the company with the opportunity to craft programs designed to amplify the resonances between ballets – resonances of style, of vision, of subject matter. Whether the company elects to make consistent use of that opportunity is another matter, but I believe it will grow more thoughtful and skilled at exploiting these opportunities as it gains experience in building seasons this way.

2) I would be very shocked if it did not make things simpler and more straightforward administratively. A single conductor can be assigned an entire evening, for instance. Life must be less complicated for the musicians, stagehands, costume people, etc. Living life and doing art is hard enough; something that makes it simpler without undermining the truly important things – that may make the truly important things easier to achieve -- is worth embracing.

3) I have limited opportunities to attend performances outside of my regular subscription. As much as I might like to juggle my attendance to catch multiple performances of a favorite ballet while avoiding the ones I hate, it’s just not going to happen. Block programming makes it easier for me to select which programs to see and to see more of what’s on offer during a given season.

4) Once I stopped weeping, wailing, and gnashing my teeth over being forced to endure “Vienna Waltzes” twice in order to catch a second performance “Episodes” and just relaxed about it, I found things to like about “Vienna Waltzes” that I’d missed before, even though I will never rush over to State Theater just to see it again. Sometimes we dislike things for the wrong reasons. (Yeah, I’m probably the only person on the planet who both likes block programming and finds “Vienna Waltzes” a total yawner.)

Thumbs up! (But work on the titles, please ...)

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2) I would be very shocked if it did not make things simpler and more straightforward administratively. A single conductor can be assigned an entire evening, for instance. Life must be less complicated for the musicians, stagehands, costume people, etc.
....But there were still many evenings that used two (or more!) conductors.
4) .......(Yeah, I’m probably the only person on the planet who ......finds “Vienna Waltzes” a total yawner.)
I confess that the two moments I love most in VW's are when the set changes for the Gold and Silver Waltz, and then the swooping exit of the female lead (often off into retirement!) leading to the swooping swoops of the entire elegant black and white cast.
(But work on the titles, please ...)
AMEN!!! How about titles aimed at literate, intelligent adults, and not Mr. Rogers' neighbors.

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My vote: 4

Symphony orchestras, not to mention other ballet companies, have used the block programming concept for years, more or less successfully. One advantage is that you avoid seeing duplications, though of course if you want to see the same work twice you have to put up with the rest of the program.

The main complaint here is that this or that viewer doesn't like all the works on a particular program. But that could be the case with the older style of programming as well; and unfortunately so long as Peter Martins continues to believe he is a master choreographer, we will be treated to more ballets by Peter Martins.

The other complaints, both of which I agree with, concern the titles and the imposition of an artificial "theme" (rather than simply a nicely selected, balanced program of contrasting works). However, I'm less impressed by the complaint against Apollo-Orpheus-Agon, because the idea of a Greek trilogy had been a wish of Kirstein's for many years.

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In my case, it made no difference and that's how I voted. My wife and I became subscribers to NYCB in the 1960s, and I still maintain three subscriptions. So I've long been used to a kind of "block programming." This has often meant I see the same ballet three times in one season. I don't mind. Back in the old days, subscribers stayed away in droves from Balanchine's "Don Quixote," but we went to every performance. So I was able to greet it as an old friend when Suzanne revived it. Now that I've mentioned her name, there's nothing more I have to say.

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In theory I don't really like the block programming but in practice it proved interesting. Being 'forced' to see DYBBUK three times this year made me try a different approach on the third viewing: watching specific dancers, especially among the corps, rather than following the narrative and steps. This ended up being the key to liking the piece; it even got me listening to the music differently.

I'd like to see the block programming continue - I do think it makes the corps work-load more manageable - but also at least once a week there should be a 'Wild Card' programme in which ballets are mixed and matched in the old format.

I would also suggest that the most successful programmes were the ones which mixed composers and styles; the all-Bach and all-Stravinsky evenings were lacking in contrast.

In the poll I voted c: no difference. I went even more than usual.

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Although I didn't see this NYCB season, I do live in an area where block programming is the norm. I was impressed by two posters who found, contrary to their expectations, that there are sometimes real benefits to be derived from having to see ballets we don't especially like.

Once I stopped weeping, wailing, and gnashing my teeth over being forced to endure “Vienna Waltzes” twice in order to catch a second performance “Episodes” and just relaxed about it, I found things to like about “Vienna Waltzes” that I’d missed before, even though I will never rush over to State Theater just to see it again. Sometimes we dislike things for the wrong reasons.

and ...

In theory I don't really like the block programming but in practice it proved interesting. Being 'forced' to see DYBBUK three times this year made me try a different approach on the third viewing: watching specific dancers, especially among the corps, rather than following the narrative and steps. This ended up being the key to liking the piece; it even got me listening to the music differently.

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I voted disastrous. Easy way to measure: I used to get two subscriptions, now I’m down to one, and I gave away a ticket this year for the first time in a decade.

To me, there are two problems with the blocks, one avoidable and one not:

Avoidable: the blocks are poorly designed. e.g., I really do not think a program of all Balanchine black and white ballets works. For newcomers, it gives them the false idea that all Balanchine is like this and it’s all the same, so they don’t have to see any more. for people like me, who love those ballets, its still overkill. And even if the block makes some sense, the idiotic titles NYCB is using rarely give you an idea what you will actually see, unless you already know.

Unavoidable: I cannot choose, as I often used to do, to arrange my tickets so as to see the ballets I love (or new ones I am interested in seeing), often more than once, and avoid the ones I hate. I don’t have enough time in my life to sit through, e.g. Reliquary or Dybbuk or a host of others twice in a season in order to enjoy a new cast in Agon or Serenade or Dances at a Gathering. So while I used to happily get my 2 subs and mix and match my own season, now it’s not worth it. I get one sub, I go, I live with it. But I sure enjoy things a lot less.

I also think that its enjoyable and thought-provoking to see ballets in different juxtapositions, which you can’t do, at least not in a single season, with blocks.

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I voted #3, which isn't exactly how I feel but the closest choice to "ambivalent", which is.

The first season I didn't like the block programming, primarily because I had to exchange so many subscription tickets at the box office; I had fewer exchanges second season. CB makes it very difficult for subscribers to exchange for comparable seats as they don't mail out the tickets until just before the box office opens. This past season 2 subscription sets arrived the day before the box office opened and the third the day after. I did my exchanges on the fifth day and got horrible options.

Midway through season II of block programming, I decided the company was looking so fine there must be something in this idea. Most ballets looked well rehearsed and most were very well performed.

Dybbuk we were not looking forward to, having seen it perhaps 20 years ago with no fond memories. This time around we were astounded to find it absorbing and well performed. I do love Orpheus but was not looking forward to another Nilas rendition. We saw the Orpheus after the one so trashed by Macaulay and I thought "wow, Nilas has finally gotten it!". So both dreadeds turned out quite positive.

So .. a) I hate the necessity of schlepping to the box office and getting inferior seats but b) the company looked great and I had a chance to re-visit some oldies I hadn't previously enjoyed.

Ambivalent ...

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I voted No. 2.

I prefer programming done the way it was in Balanchine's day, that is, ballet was served up as a complete meal: appetizer, meat and potatoes and then dessert. Appetizers would be Serenade, Raymonda, La Source, Scotch, etc; meat & potatoes would be Agon, the Violin Concerto, M/M, Four Temperments, or any other "black & white"; dessert would be Symphony in C, Who Cares, Vienna, etc. This type of program was good for both newbies and old timers.

The current theme programs, particularly the black & white evenings or the Greek evening -- as E. Johnson pointed out -- are not good for newcomers. You need to have the audience walk out -- if not snapping its fingers -- at least with a sense of joy and wanting to come back for more. There have been recent evenings that have ended with Episodes!! Are they trying to drive people out of the theater? The themes are thought up, I think, by people who don't actually go to the ballet. After a hard day at the office, you don't necessarily want three "serious" ballets -- no matter how great they may be.

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I voted 1. I actually attended frequently this season, but would have gone even more without block programming. There were two reasons for going that often:

1. Loads of Balanchine. That aberation will not continue, as is evident from the early information for the winter season. Three full-lengths: NYBT?

2. Ashley Bouder, Kyra Nichols, Ashley Bouder, Tess Reichlen, Ashley Bouder, Sara A. Mearns, Ashley Bouder, Maria Kowroski, Ashley Bouder.

Certain perceived benefits from block programming failed to materialise. The number of different ballets performed in a given week of rep was NOT decreased. It was just that the one you really wanted to see more frequently was always stuck with the same others, and in the same order (so if it were on last, you were trapped, or decided to wait till next year). Without choice, the average number you really wanted per performance was lowered. Dancer workloads remained unbalanced, perhaps even moreso, especially when one of two dancers for a given ballet was out with injury. As discussed at various times over the two seasons, Ashley Bouder had an extremely taxing interval last winter, and Maria Kowroski was overloaded the last half of the spring season.

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I chose #3. It really makes no difference whether it's blocked programming or not, or what ballet's the companies perform. They are all under rehearsed, performed sloppily (with the exception of a few principals/soloists), and is difficult to sit through in general. It's enough for anyone to return their ticket and buy a cheap bus ticket to Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet or Pennsylvania Ballet to go see a quality production. I believe any ballet can be made into something beautifully compelling by a dancer. Even the stereotypical long boring ballet's (Liesberger Waltzer, Dybbuk, for example) can be made beautiful by the company if they just had a little more integrity. I found it interesting that Dybbuk (a Robbins piece, therefore rehearsed by outsiders from NYCB) looked much cleaner than the other two bills for the program. Doesn't that say something? I hate saying it, but the Times got it right when they reviewed Miami City Ballet as a better Balanchine performing company than NYCB. I have been nothing but dissapointed, not to be a debbie downer or anything. Of course I have my staple favorite dancers, but sometimes, they alone cannot save the entirety of the ballet.

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Jean-Pierre Frohlich, who staged Dybbuk, was a dancer with NYCB in the 1970s and 1980s and has been a ballet master there since shortly after (if not immediately upon) his retirement from the stage at the rank of soloist. Hardly an outsider. :thanks:

ETA --

I suddenly remember: JP's association with NYCB goes back to childhood. He was a Drosselmeyer's nephew and also originated the boy's role in Balanchine's Don Quixote.

Edited by carbro
Memory flash

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Jean-Pierre Frohlich, who staged Dybbuk, was a dancer with NYCB in the 1970s and 1980s and has been a ballet master there since shortly after (if not immediately upon) his retirement from the stage at the rank of soloist. Hardly an outsider. :thanks:

Frolich, a wonderful dancer, retired at a time when Robbins picked his own Ballet Masters to rehearse his rep. (Bart Cook was another.)

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Responses to this question, it seems to me, have a lot to do with whether one expects or wants to see the same work multiple times in a season, with or without different casting. Those who do so seem to dislike the block programming concept the most. For someone like myself who lives outside the city and is satisfied to see perhaps 4-5 performances a season, block programming does not disturb as much. Ticket prices aside, I could not afford the time and expense of travelling into NYC more than once a week as a rule. So I just pick and choose the programs and casts I want, and if I get a clunker once in a while, so be it.

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Responses to this question, it seems to me, have a lot to do with whether one expects or wants to see the same work multiple times in a season, with or without different casting. Those who do so seem to dislike the block programming concept the most.

I think its true that it bothers those of us that have strong feelings about particular ballets, and probably more scheduling flexibility, the most. For me, if I am honest, the main reason i hate it is its MUCH harder to avoid the ballets I hate, which, again, being honest, is most of the Martins rep -- unless I also give up the chance to see ones I really want to see. The ultimate result for me was that not only did I go less often, but I forewent seeing ballets I wanted to see in order to avoid clunkers. For example, I realy liked Russian Seasons in the Winter season and woudl have loved to see it in the Spring but it was programmed in a block I had zero interest in otherwise.

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I answered that it made no difference, because it didn't. My aim, each year, is to see everything in rep at least once, and some more than that. So block programming, in its way, made that easier. Those programs that had more than one of my most-liked ballets were attended more than once. (OK, I'm a NYCB junkie.) And yes, there are some clunkers in the block programs. Unfortunately, those clunkers will always come back to bite us - whether in blocks or in the old NYCB format. For example, THOU SWELL, which is likely to return to us (based upon its scheduled appearance during next spring's London tour) was premiered before the block progamming concept arrived, and was awful at that time too. It will be awful in the future, also, no matter what the scheduling format.

I agree that block programming provided me with the opportunity (?) to see DYBBUK more than once. And while I still dislike it quite a bit, being 'forced' to watch it when Rachel Rutherford and Joaquin DeLuz had debuts in it made me see it (and Rachel) somewhat differently.

I also agree with all the comments about the program titles: they are trite, often inappropriate, and talk down to the audience.

Finally, to the poster who spoke against the "all Balanchine black and white evenings" - those ballets are among my favorites, which meant I went to most of the performances containing them. So for both of us, the block programming of those ballets together was a great idea - I got to see them all multiple times, and you got to avoid all of them (if you so chose).

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I voted for "not good". I don't hate the block programming, but it certainly makes life difficult when you're stuck with ballets that you loathe (Dybbuk being a favorite example for me, too, but also Martins' Jeux de Cartes and Nilas in Orpheus) in order to see those that you either love (Apollo, Agon, Raymonda Variations & Stravinsky Violin) or new ones that you want to see (Wheeldon's Nightingale & Rose). I would have tried to get tickets for another Nightingale program, but the thought of sitting through Jeux de Cartes a second time made it seem like too much effort.

I do like the idea of one "wild card" program each week just to mix things up and juxtapose some different ballets where you might see some new relationships.

I also feel that the "one note" programs come off badly -- all Bach or all Greek/Stravinsky/Balanchine or all Robbins are just too much. Balanchine masterworks are easy to program because he created masterpieces in so many styles. Robbins masterworks are harder to program because he became quite repetitious and the lesser works are too obviously knock-offs of the better works (Tschaikovsky Piano Pieces vs. Dances at a Gathering for example).

On the plus side, the corps often seemed better rehearsed in some of the big works. And the orchestra usually sounded good, too.

For me, the best programs were those in the "For Lincoln" week of Balanchine "black & white" works. They were mixed and matched all week in interesting programs and there were enough ballets that there wasn't excessive repetition.

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I voted for #2 because that's how I felt, even though I went quite often this season. My attendance was up because the rep they offered was so good, many individual dancers are looking wonderful lately and because they offered $10 fourth ring tickets. How can you not go at that price? But I find the season much more interesting when they mix the rep, and I'm reluctant to go see multiple performances of a piece I like when it's coupled with one I dislike. After seeing Dybbuk 3 times last season I decided I only had one more in me this year. But I wanted multiple performances of Raymonda and SVC. I wound up choosing 2 performances and taking a long tour of the Kirstein photo exhibit during one of those Dybbuks. It's no big deal to sit through a ballet I don't like once – I like to revisit things to see if my feelings have changed. The problem is having to sit through multiple viewings of the same piece you don't like to get your fill of the ones you love!

Unfortunately I missed the entire week of "For Lincoln" Balanchine black & whites – but I love maddam's idea of a weekly "wild card" to break up the block programming – surely Martin's can give us that much!

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