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Wonderful dancers / poor material-- how do you handle this kind of performance


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#1 bart

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 09:19 AM

We have all been to performances in which wonderful dancers give everything they have to the performance of poor material -- I mean, material that is either unimaginative, derivative, exploitative, pointless, painfully superficial, or all of the above.

Alistair Macaulay's recent review of an Ailey II performance is an example:

The way to survive Ailey II’s quadruple bill “New Works” is to concentrate on the dancers, who are young, engaging and remarkably individual. Otherwise it’s like an exaggerated version of too many evenings at its parent company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, when “Revelations” isn’t on the program: attractive dancers, limited and repetitious choreography.


Of course, not everyone will agree with Macaulay's estimation of either Ailey company -- but we have all had similar experiences with some company or other at some point in our lives. (My most recent was with Rasta Thomas's Bad Boys of Dance in their "Rock the Ballet" program.)

Has this happened to you? How do you handle such experiences? Can one distinguish between the dancing and what is being danced? Can you really enjoy and appreciate skuch a program? Do experiences like this make you feel uplifted by the quality of dance training, or despondant about the state of the art, or some wierd combination of both?

P.S. I ask because I grew up on Balanchine in New York, which makes me tend to think of dancers as servants of the choreography. This means I myself have a hard time separating the two.

#2 sz

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 10:02 AM

>We have all been to performances in which
>wonderful dancers give everything they
>have to the performance of poor material --
>I mean, material that is either unimaginative,
>derivative, exploitative, pointless, painfully
>superficial, or all of the above.

And then there are wonderful ballets with poor to mediocre casting.....

I avoid both unless there are other, good to wonderful, reasons (ballets and/or dancers) to stay for on the program.

#3 Helene

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 12:41 PM

I would assume that the dancers in "PAMTTG" and "Tricolore" gave it their best shot. My reaction in these situations is usually:

1. The dancers looked great.
2. The dancers looked energized.
3. The choreography wasn't worthy of the dancers.
4. What was the Artistic Director thinking?

The bottom line is that the choice of choreographers belongs to the Artistic Director, and I think they should have a reasonably good expectation that any new work will fall into the guidelines they set based on the needs of their dancers and programming, unless they either give a dance genius a clean slate or agree ahead of time that that choreographer is plannig a major experiment or change in style and/or philosophy.

The AD might have been thinking deeply; this could result in having chosen someone of great value who missed, or someone with promise who missed, or a choreographer who has little respect for or facility with ballet and/or whose last 10 pieces were predictable and/or self-derivative and look like a great idea for the marketing campaign poster.

#4 kfw

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 01:15 PM

I can't say I've been in this situation often, but when I have I've tried to disregard the overall choreographic patterns and instead study and better get to know individual dancers. Or I've tried to sharpen my eye by comparing dancers doing the same steps, to see who I like best and why.

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 01:20 PM

In Cuba I saw this a lot. Being the performances so easy to afford many times I did attend just to focus on a favored bailarina, and would just go and enjoy HER...(somehow separating the dancer from the work). Those nights were good to concentrate on her feet and turnout, her port de bras, etc. It was nice to have the time to detail the body, if I didn't have to be paying that much of attention to the choreography. At least this worked for me...(althought I haven't done it in a lot of time...For once I have lately chosen to left the theater before something I don't like starts...and the same if the not so good work is the first one...I would arrive AFTER the Intermezzo.

#6 diane

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 02:20 AM

this happens a lot to me. :/
There are so many talented dancers around, and not so many talented choreographers getting the commissions, apparently.

Or something along the lines of "the emperor's new clothes" is happening with the choice of who-decides-what's-on-the-program, perhaps? ;)

-d-

#7 jonellew

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 05:30 AM

I had this experience when I recently saw the main Ailey company on tour here in Austin (they did a narrative something with Sweet Honey and the Rock that seemed like a didactic children's ballet and the 1971 Suite Otis in addition to Revelations). I have also experienced this recently at Ballet Austin. I do try to focus just on the dancers, but it doesn't usually make for a fun evening. It was especially difficult at the recent Ballet Austin double bill in which the dancers were utilized wonderfully in a Nicolo Fonte work in the first half and then, I felt, thrown into a cheesy muck in the Stephen Mills work in the second half.

Helene, I love how you've enumerated your reaction. Here's mine from a recent blog post (though this reaction was to mediocre dancers, as well):
Cycle of grief over poorly used stage time:
1. Disappointment. (Well, this kind of sucks.)
2. Boredom. (I wonder when this theater was renovated.)
3. Denial. (Maybe it's not that bad. Please, let me find something interesting onstage!)
4. Offended. (I can't believe I paid for this! Do they think the audience is stupid? I should just leave.)
5. Disappointment. (This just makes me sad. Oh no, really, a standing ovation?)

And then there are wonderful ballets with poor to mediocre casting.....


We get this a lot in Austin in contemporary dance. There are lots of interesting independent choreographers, but most of the good dancers move away.

#8 Helene

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 07:36 AM

Cycle of grief over poorly used stage time:
1. Disappointment. (Well, this kind of sucks.)
2. Boredom. (I wonder when this theater was renovated.)
3. Denial. (Maybe it's not that bad. Please, let me find something interesting onstage!)
4. Offended. (I can't believe I paid for this! Do they think the audience is stupid? I should just leave.)
5. Disappointment. (This just makes me sad. Oh no, really, a standing ovation?)

:dunno:

#9 bart

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 08:57 AM

5. Disappointment. (This just makes me sad. Oh no, really, a standing ovation?)

This one really rings a bell. :dunno:


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