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Where you sit - does it make a difference?


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#1 Dale

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 09:57 AM

The NY Times has a blog tease for what is supposed to be a longer article in Friday's edition about where you sit during a performance and the different experiences to be had.

http://artsbeat.blog...=tw-nytimesarts

The Times sent several of their critics to watch Sunday's performance of NYCB from different locations in the orchestra, first ring and the back of the fourth ring. Having spent a lot of performances in the 4th ring, I thought it was an interesting experiment. I've been able to secure closer seating here and there, especially now that I don't go 4 times a week (!) - it's definitely a different experience. Critics, choreographers and company execs almost exclusively see performances from the orchestra or first ring. And I think that's a mistake. There are dancers that just don't project up on high or ones that don't ever even tilt their faces to the rear of the theater. Or there's dancers I love from the back who are "too much" in an intimate setting. There's dim lighting that is just worse in the 4th ring. Of course, patterns of corps work are more visible as you move up. And there's always choreography that I can tell the maker didn't think of how it would be seen by the whole theater and not just the orchestra/first ring. I don't think it's a surprise that the work I enjoy the most (Petipa, Balanchine, Ashton) have facets that can be fully experienced no matter where you sit.

#2 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 10:27 AM

Having a poor vision has obliged me to choose within the first 5 rows of orchestra center the most of the times, which has the advantage to be at pointe shoe level-(but also the disadvantage to x-ray all sorts of trembling limbs, shaking hands, sweating faces, grinding teeth and fake smiles). I've tried third level too-(always facing the stage...I can't stand the one side view of the laterals with all the visible action on the opposite wing). Having seen Balanchine's Snow Scene from the upper level was a real revelation, but in general I like to see individual FACES instead of blurry all-alike moving bodies.

#3 JMcN

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 11:19 AM

I prefer sitting in the stalls, preferably on the front row and preferably on the left hand side of the auditorium.

I started trying to sit on the front row many years ago when I discovered in a lot of the older theatres there was not enough rake in the stalls and I ended up sitting behind enormous heads! I discovered I liked the left hand side when I started aiming at that end to watch the action at the card table in Onegin.

Sitting in different parts of the row/theatre definitely gives a different perspective on the performance but I do have this preference.

#4 SandyMcKean

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 12:13 PM

I sit all over the Seattle Opera House (McCaw Hall). I typically go to every ballet program 3 or 4 times (opera usually 2 times). I specifically and eagerly pick different sections in the opera house to sit in......partially to keep costs down, but primarily because I find my perception of the performance varies greatly depending on where I sit. Such aspects such as how high up you are has obvious implications for how one sees the choreography; I am also always amazed how different the orchestra sounds from various locations.

#5 Amy Reusch

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 08:45 PM

There is something to be said for sitting where the lighting designer sat when s/he designed the lighting for the ballet...

At times I've shot the same production from various vantage points... I always prefered being in the front row center of the first balcony to see the ensemble work, but in the orchestra for the soloists.... there's something about looking down at a jump that just deflates its elevation.

If one has never been to the ballet, it's rather exciting to sit in the upper balcony to get a sense of just how big the house is (from the orchestra, huge theaters can seem rather intimate).

I recall an audience member at Merce Cunningham's studio telling me he prefered to see everything from a corner angle ... Sometimes for shooting dance I find the corner shows the relationships better, but only for a few short sections... only if I had the luxury of adding in a few moments from a different angle.

I find the quality of the soloists is stronger as one moves down the rings and closer... but if they're lousy quality, it might be better to be up high & far back... diminished size can be a great equalizer...

Personally, I don't like to be too close to ballet... one wants the pit in between... we don't want to see the Ballerina's sweat or hear the foot falls... but I must say, those front row center seats of Violin Concerto's late friend must be an incredibly vibrant place from which to view dance... but then again, there is the orchestra pit to give some distance. (In some places where only recorded music is available and there is no real pit, I wouldn't want to be front & center for ballet... modern dance maybe... but not ballet with it's efforts at illusion.)

#6 4mrdncr

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 09:23 PM

For Petipa, Balanchine, and the like, I usually prefer to sit slightly higher to see the choreography. If I can afford it, I like GT or DC at the Met (very rarely Parterre Box which is a sort of "happy medium" between high and low, but usually way beyond what I can afford these days), or 2nd-3rd Ring for NYCB etc. (though I usually do 4th Ring and have no problem at all there.) I also choose seats depending on the action within a ballet--eg. for SL, I try to sit to the left (if I can't get the center seats), because all the entrances (and those 'big exits' at the end) are usually to the right (ie. upstage left). Ditto Macmillan's R&J.

In lower levels I usually prefer not to sit too close to the stage, so I have a "full-shot" instead of only a CU or someone from the waist up. So I will try to sit about 1/2 - 2/3rds of the way back, in the most center seat I can get. A few times I have had a seat in the 1st row of a foreign theater, but because I personally knew and was friends with the dancers onstage I didn't mind the proximity. Twice I have sat between 7-15 rows back and found them quite adequate if no one tall is directly in front of me. I have also stood at the back of the Met Orchestra section, and thought this was actually a great view, because I could see over anyone taller than I, and was almost in a direct line height with the stage.

In theaters not in my home area (different cities/states; different countries), again, I usually try to get a seat in a slightly raised section as close to center as I can get.

I NEVER sit in a side box, because I hate having only a partial view. However, when shooting, I love diagonals or side views, because they provide more detail regarding spatial relationships on stage, and are usually more interesting kinetically since the added dimension of "depth" is provided, so movement is "through the frame" rather than just across it.


PS. A quite interesting angle to view is the direct overhead provided by the grid catwalks. (But that's not for everyone, esp. when the lights go out.)

#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 11:08 PM

In one production where they bounced me around the theater from night to night was very frustrating to shoot because the ballet looked so very different from the different angles... I'd prepare to shot looking at the previous show's tape and and then of course the same moment was not to be found from the new vantage point... [I must explain that it was a 2 hour long work pre-destined never to be edited, and dress rehearsal was the first opportunity to look at the choreography... watch a 2 hour long piece 4 times through and you've already put in 8 hours, more if one stops to make notes].... so I feel that seeing dance from different spots in the theater can make a huge difference in how one perceives it.

#8 Dale

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 07:55 AM

Thanks for all the responses.

Here's a follow-up from the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.c....html?ref=dance

I'm glad they included the price of the tickets. I once remarked to a critic, "Well, that wasn't worth $85." And they hadn't known what the ticket prices were. They hadn't paid for a ticket in years.

If I had to have one place to watch a performance, I'd take 2nd or 3rd ring (at State Theater) and something similar at other theaters.

#9 carbro

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 09:54 PM

I've been able to secure closer seating here and there, especially now that I don't go 4 times a week (!) - it's definitely a different experience.

Aha! So those are two reasons why I haven't spotted you this year!

Critics, choreographers and company execs almost exclusively see performances from the orchestra or first ring. And I think that's a mistake. There are dancers that just don't project up on high or ones that don't ever even tilt their faces to the rear of the theater.

And non-performing dancers, too! Only once during all my years in the Fourth Ring did I see a dancer up there -- someone joining friends who had bought cheap seats.

It's a treat for me when a friend has an extra ticket and I get to sit in a lower location. The change in perspective is refreshing in a way that the opposite would be true, were the orchestra my usual home. One exception was when a friend invited me to join him in a close-to-the-stage seat at the Met. The ballerina was bifurcated by her tutu, and at times, all I saw of her was her lower half. I felt impolite and awkward.

If I had to have one place to watch a performance, I'd take 2nd or 3rd ring (at State Theater) and something similar at other theaters.

Me too! See you there when we both collect our Lotto jackpots! :thumbsup:

#10 dirac

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 11:44 AM

Dale writes:

Of course, patterns of corps work are more visible as you move up. And there's always choreography that I can tell the maker didn't think of how it would be seen by the whole theater and not just the orchestra/first ring.


And then there's choreography like Balanchine's for the corps in "Diamonds," which is pretty but not terribly interesting at orchestra level, but when viewed from upstairs the jewel-like patterns are clearly visible.

#11 bart

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 12:45 PM

Rearding the comment on Diamonds -- Can anyone think of any big ensemble ballets that actually DO look better when seen from center orchestra? I mean, apart from the end of Symphony in Three Movements and the grand finales of something like Stars and Stripes or many of the big ballets of Petipa, etc.?

I ask because MCB consistently sits major donors in the center section of the orchestra, starting in row 5 (or so). This is obviously considered a prestige or privileged location. The seats are the most expensive in the house. When I've sat in that area at other performances, I have often found it difficult or impossible to see what's going on behind the first group of dancers. It often becomes a visual mishmash, especially when big skirts or other kinds of costume are involved.

#12 puppytreats

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 04:49 PM

I sat upstairs at the NYCB yesterday and missed seeing the dancers' faces. I felt I was missing a lot of the emotion.

#13 dirac

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 10:20 PM

I tend to agree that the closer, the better, in general and up to a point.

#14 puppytreats

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Posted 11 October 2011 - 06:28 AM

On a very superficial level, I admit that I was distracted by all the balding male heads when I sat upstairs.

I would have liked to have seen "Jewels" once from the orchestra and then once from the fourth ring. The geometry would have been interesting to observe from above.

#15 koshka

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 01:50 PM

For me, it's the front row if at all possible. I am not all that tall, and I like the close up view. Every so often I sit somewhere else, and then I can't wait to get back to the front row.


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