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How much explanation do you want?

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#16 Ed Waffle

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Posted 06 April 2001 - 06:53 PM

How much explanation do I want? Simple—-I don’t want any.

Everything should be there on stage and in the pit (or the loudspeakers) and should speak for itself and to me directly. Program notes are useful in the same way that 'people watching' or chatting with those in neighboring seats can be useful, in filling the time between arriving at the venue and when the curtain goes up.

The impact of a performance on a person in the audience is an event in itself. Sometimes reading the program notes afterwards can be illuminating—finding out what the choreographer was setting out to convey and how she attempted it and comparing that against what one actually heard and saw.

Cargill wrote: “And a ballet like Harliquinade would certainly be richer if the audience knew some of the background of the Commedia del arte characters.” Not being familiar with “Harliquinade” (something I can say about close to 100% of the standard repertory) I will bow to Cargill's greater knowledge. However opera, an art form which has roots in commedia dell’arte, is not measurably enriched by knowing who Pataloon, Harlequin, Brigehella and others were. “Ariadne auf Naxos” the Hofmannsthal and Strauss collaboration, juxtaposed opera and commedia dell’arte conventions but with such audacity and truth that all you need to know is what you can see and hear during the performance.

"Happy are the fiery natures which burn themselves out,
and glory in the sword which wears away the scabbard:

Writing of Pauline Viardot

[This message has been edited by Ed Waffle (edited April 06, 2001).]

#17 Drew


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Posted 06 April 2001 - 07:32 PM

Ed Waffle -- I'm curious: when you go to an opera in a language you don't understand, do you read the libretto first? or a synopsis? do you follow the supertitles (if there are any)? Do you ever listen to recordings of the music before -- or for that matter, after -- the performance? I know from your posts that you are extremely knowledgeable about music and opera -- I can't help but think that when you walk into any kind of musical theater performance (including ballet), even if it's a world premier, you have a wealth of "internal" program notes you can bring to bear on what you are seeing -- knowledge about opera conventions, knowledge about the composer, etc. Do you think you would feel quite the way you do now if you didn't have that experience and knowledge? When you first started attending performances did you feel the way you feel now? (I'm not being rhetorical -- I'm really asking.)

Of course, choreographers have the right to judge how they want their work framed -- or not -- for an audience, to decide what's appropriate, what's useful etc. As it happens, I don't think anyone believes that a ballet (or opera) should in any way depend on some external, explanatory apparatus. But if a program note can help prepare an audience to see or hear better, why not? There seems to be a lingering suspicion that it's somehow getting in the way of the audience member's pure, spontaneous response -- but ultimately there's no such thing as a pure, spontaneous response. Someone who truly "knows" nothing (hasn't read reviews, hasn't seen other works by the same choreographer, etc.) will simply import knowledge or assumptions they have from other fields and experiences to the experience of the performance. Of course notes can be done badly -- ANYTHING can be done badly -- but they can also be done well and even sharpen people's perceptions. (And for the live theater most people want their perceptions sharpest when they are watching the work, not just trying to remember it.)

A more general thought. In many respects we live in a "culture" (hate the word) that does a lot to blunt people's capacity to respond to anything that requires a real capacity to perceive. Whether we're looking at something we consider art or entertainment -- literally, most of us don't know how to watch, how to listen, even how to respond viscerally etc. I think that's one of the things that has to be taken into account by theater/music/dance directors of all kinds even when they are hoping audiences will "just" respond to what's on stage etc. A great work of art should be an education in perception in and of itself, but it needs a context in which it can be perceived in the first place. Leigh Witchel is making (I think) a more pragmatic and modest point, but it seems to me partly linked to these larger questions...

[This message has been edited by Drew (edited April 06, 2001).]

#18 Paul W

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Posted 06 April 2001 - 09:27 PM

One thing that should be said about program notes, is that if you don't WANT to read them you don't have to. Posted Image As for me, I like all the notes I can get, both to pass the time while bobbing up and down in my seat while others arrive, and to have some basis for placing the art in context. I think it is absolutely necessary for people who are seeing a story ballet for the first time, to have some historical notes and synopsis. For abstract ballets, I would like some background information about the dancers and choreographer at least, but I agree with others that I don't want it overly "interpreted" for me prior to seeing it. I can't say that I've ever read anything in the program that I wished I hadn't read prior to seeing a ballet however. Often I've wished for more. As with all art though, I think its the PROCESS of experiencing it that is most rewarding, not that you arrive at the same interpretation of its meaning as someone (or everyone) else does.

#19 Katharyn



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Posted 10 April 2001 - 07:49 AM

When I see a ballet, I sit back and absorb. I take in as much atmosphere, nuance, characterisation etc as I can (I see so little dance I want to memorise as much as possible -- and its amazing how much you can miss just by looking a way for a moment).

If its a story then I read the program notes before. If it isn't, I prefer to watch, draw my own conclusions and after, I want as much information as possible. I'll often do a little research, if applicable, just to glean a little more insight into the motivation behind a piece. A choreographer is influenced by so many things, I find it intriguing to discover what those things are-- determining what inspired them to create what I just experienced.

I like there to be a lot of information in the program. There is still a lot of art/literature/etc/etc that I haven't experienced, I don't want to be excluded from an 'in' reference because of my ignorance! Teach me, please! I want to know! ;)

So I'm sorry Julip, but you might find me a little frustrating. I don't like to think that what I'm watching is there just because the choreographer felt like it. Art for the sake of art. Dance for the sake of dance. I may be being a snob, but I like to think theres a bit more intellect behind a piece and wouldn't be able to help being disappointed to find there wasn't. (not suggesting at all there's no intellect behind a piece that appears to have no deep 'meaning'. Please don't take that the wrong way)

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