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When comparisons work


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#1 samba38

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 10:40 AM

Let's see if I can express myself better on another try on this: Comparing performances past to a present one works online for me when the poster gives critical details of what made prior dancer's choices/delivery in some way different/better/worse/more intriguing/more or less faithful than the performer currently in the role. So please, you veteran eyes out there, pour on the descriptive details. I do want to know if the memory of some prima pack kicks the stuffing out of the Lise-du-jour in La Fille but I want to know how you reach this judgement so I can educate my own eye in the possibilities of a role.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 12:23 PM

I think that's a good point. I thought that's what most of us were doing, but I'll try harder :)

I thought I'd give the comparisons issue one more whack. I think probably most people when they're watching a ballet focus primarily on the dancers. And there will almost invariably be someone who appeals to you and someone who doesn't. Anyone who's seen a ballet has an opinion, and anyone who's seen two ballets has a comparative opinion: I liked her, I didn't like her. This is usually express as "She was great, she was terrible." And so when you read in the newspaper the next day that "Ms. Great" didn't match BallerinaX, who was, of course, definitive in the role, it's like a dash of cold water (or, if you're sensible, you just ignore it :) ) I agree with Samba that that's to be avoided -- except remember in writing for a newspaper where words are at such a premium, critics develop shorthand phrases, such as "definitive in a role" to get across several sentences they don't have room for.

For me, the point of comparing in this fasion isn't to trash dancers, but to try to see the ballet more clearly. If the point of a ballet was for the dancers to be subtle and smooth, danced with a creamy legato and a musicality that listens the melody of the music and it's danced jerkily square on the beat, if a solo is done on a very tall person and it's danced by someone six inches shorter so the geometry is off, then if one has seen the original intent, or the dancer(s) who made the ballet look like itself, I think that's when a comparison is proper -- in criticism. Of course, here any comparison is "proper" :)

Most of what I learned about watching ballet was from listening to people say, "Yes, but you didn't see Verdy in that role," and trying to figure out what they meant :)

#3 Michael

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Posted 09 June 2001 - 10:35 AM

I think it's important to see that both critical views are equally valid -- the view of the person who's seeing it without comparisons and who thinks it's absolutely sublime, and the view of the person who has seen it several times and compares. Both audience members should feel confident in what they see.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 12:44 PM

Another thought on comparisons coming out of the "Fille" discussions. It's good to remember (so thank you, Samba) the necessity for being clear. Although this is nearly impossible to do in a newspaper review (I had 380 words for three casts.)

It's probably not helpful to say "Yoshida's dancing wasn't as big as Ann Jenner's or Laura Connor's or Leslie Collier's" -- because "big" can mean so many different things. I liked Yoshida's neatness, but my memory saw more space between the legs when executing the steps by the ballerinas I saw in the 1970s and '80s. (I never saw Nerina and I'm not offering the subsequent generation as "definitive," just as people who danced the role in a particular way that made sense to me.)


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