Dancing memory lapses in performance
Posted 11 December 2009 - 02:11 AM
I imagine that this sort of catastrophe must have befallen dancers from time to time, and I am wondering how they might deal with such an event. Laurence Olivier, on forgetting lines of Shakespeare, would launch into a sort of Shakesperean 'word salad', and few in the audience would be any the wiser! I suspect it is not quite so easy for a dancer. Having said that, how do dancers improvise or ad lib their way out of tight spots? I imagine the main problem would be for ones partner. Are young dancers encouraged to extemporise as part of their training?
Maybe members have had their own such horrendous moments, or can tell me of classic instances of this happening.
These are my first questions, and I'm feeling very nervous about posting them!
Posted 11 December 2009 - 03:43 AM
Still, there are events which require improvisation, some of them even lapses in memory. Not all dancers learn the same way, nor have the same capacity for memorization of steps while learning. Some, famously - John Clifford comes to mind - only need to see something once, even impossibly long sequences, and they know it from there on out. Others take longer to get the movement into their bodies. By performance time, the dance is second nature, again with exceptions. The New York City Ballet, for example, has, at least in the past (I don't know about now, but I suppose it's the same), put dancers into a role at the last minute and they rely on their fellow dancers to talk them through the choreography onstage.
But I was going to say when I began the preceding paragraph that there are other events which require on the spot adjustments. At the Erik Bruhn Competition a couple of years ago, Tina Pereira's partner injured himself during a pas de deux and had to be helped offstage. Tina kept on dancing, right through the rest of the pas, through her partner's variation, and ended with a long series of turns that she devised when faced with the situation of all eyes on her and the music playing. She won the competition, partly, I'm convinced, for her chutzpah.
Posted 11 December 2009 - 06:07 AM
At a performance of David Bintley's Seasons (Spring) the male partner was injured and Ambra Vallo did the coda on her own. Again, if you hadn't prior knowledge of the piece you never would have realised something was wrong.
I'm sure most audience members (including me) must see dancers having "memory lapses" without ever realising what has happened unless they are very well acquainted with the work.
Posted 11 December 2009 - 06:56 AM
Thank you Marga for your excellent, insightful, and incredibly prompt response. I see exactly what you mean about muscle memory. However, I think I shall probably persist a little longer with my admiration for dancers' astonishing capacity to remember it all! It's fine for me here at home educating my fingers to do the right things on the piano, for example, but up there on the boards, with so much going on around one, like other dancers not getting it right, I marvel at the sheer professionalism I see before me. Dancing is such an incredibly dynamic activity, involving such terrific leaps of faith, and literally so at times. Dancers seem to be tested in performance to a much greater extent than in other artistic disciplines. As a beginner, I'm just enjoying so much marvelling at the obvious risk-taking demands of ballet. I think every dancer has chutzpah!
I don't want to drift off-topic, but you mention of dancing to atonal music intrigues me. It's got me wondering how dancers cope with music they may very well not even like. That must surely make it much harder to 'get it all right', not to mention turning in a convincing performance. Professionalism again, I suppose. I can feel other questions coming on, so I'd better stop while I'm ahead!
Thank you again for your, if I may say so, beautifully composed reply. It's been a great experience to have received such a valuable insight into ballet from one with such obvious authority on the subject.
Posted 11 December 2009 - 08:14 AM
To be fair, I was an understudy!
Posted 11 December 2009 - 09:21 AM
Posted 11 December 2009 - 09:31 AM
I can't recall ever seeing a professional dancer loose the choreography completely (students, yes). I have admired how they handled a host of other situations, though. I remember once seeing Alexandrova in a gala in South Africa. As she did her supported pirouettes, a very large pearl flew off her costume and landed in the centre front of the stage, right where the next dancer doing en menage turns was sure to slip on it. When she took her bow, she moved towards the pearl, sunk into a deep curtsey, picked it up and flicked it away to the edge of the stage as she recovered.
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