Amy Reusch

Presenting ballet on college campuses (campi?)

31 posts in this topic

Sandra Kurtz wrote an article on Michelle Witt, the new director of Meany Hall, the main concert venue at the University of Washington for Seattle Weekly:

Meany Hall’s new director, Michelle Witt, has to make sense of a hybrid institution

It does not sound like she was interested in speaking about programming, but there were interesting points on topic to this discussion:

In a brief chat, Witt told me her job is to "contextualize the work" and illustrate its place in society. Talking about lectures, reading groups, and other kinds of promotion, she makes her post sound like a combination of teaching and historiography, with stage performance the ultimate textbook. But Meany is very much a hybrid institution: not a commercial hall, not a nonprofit, not strictly a teaching theater.

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It does not sound like she was interested in speaking about programming, but there were interesting points on topic to this discussion:

It wasn't that she didn't want to talk about programming, but that she didn't want to be quoted about specific companies until she'd had the chance to do more of her homework with the organization.

The sense I had from her is that she sees a university presenter as a specific and distinct kind of arts promoter. They have a mandate to explore the context of the work they show, to bring the power of their intellectual home to the audience, but that this is also an obligation, and perhaps makes the job more thick.

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They have a mandate to explore the context of the work they show, to bring the power of their intellectual home to the audience, but that this is also an obligation, and perhaps makes the job more thick.

I'm glad that she wants to take this approach. It think it makes it richer for the audience than a smorgasbord. Themes can be a double-edged sword with audiences: on the one hand, it's easy to dismiss a season if the theme doesn't appeal, but on the other, by adding a series of activities around it, it can broaden the audience's understanding and prepare them for performance, and someone who might not have been interested in performance might come to a lecture or seminar, and then become interested in the performance.

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On the other hand, it might make work out of what's supposed to be fun. I've sat in both audiences - lecture and performance - and sometimes I've picked up from them that their attentions get aimed in the wrong direction. For example, the man next to me at a performance who remarked at the first applause, "That didn't look hard." "You thought it would look hard?" I said. "Yes, they told us it was hard." "Well, it is," I said, stunned by how far he'd been misled, "but they're so good they make it look easy." "Oh," he said, nodding in understanding.

What kind of preparation was that? If it looks hard, can it ever look graceful and beautiful? Not that ballet is always that, but still.

Of course it's possible to do most things badly or well, and I have an advantage few lecturers can have - in conversation I may be able to tell just what's on someone's mind, and speak to that. A frequent pattern is that they've picked up something from somewhere and aren't relating it to what they saw. Depending on what it is - I think there's an awful lot of distracting, irrelevant stuff being offered - I may just offer a substitute I think more apt, and if you'll pardon the boast, they usually appreciate it. After a couple of rounds with people near me, I may get, "Are you with the company?" "No, I'm with the audience," I quip, but it's true, I am, all the way. I want to share the fun. I've found ways to have fun watching theatrical dance, and I'm glad to share some of those sometimes.

But this experience leads me to be pretty skeptical of the presentation of "context" - if it helps an audience member into the world of that ballet, maybe it's worthwhile, but it's as - or more - likely to lead them away, I think. Okay. As they say on election night, "another county heard from"?

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They have a mandate to explore the context of the work they show, to bring the power of their intellectual home to the audience, but that this is also an obligation, and perhaps makes the job more thick.

I'm glad that she wants to take this approach. It think it makes it richer for the audience than a smorgasbord. Themes can be a double-edged sword with audiences: on the one hand, it's easy to dismiss a season if the theme doesn't appeal, but on the other, by adding a series of activities around it, it can broaden the audience's understanding and prepare them for performance, and someone who might not have been interested in performance might come to a lecture or seminar, and then become interested in the performance.

:clapping:

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At the university where i teach (make that taught: the administration eliminated the dance program in June. I was given the (ahem!) "opportunity" to teach in the Sport Management program instead !!!*#&!!--I who can't tell a football from a basketball!), and I retired instead. But anyway, in recent years I have seen a definite 'slippage' in the quality of the dance companies presented by the university.(And by the way, even though I was one of only two dance professors there, I had no say about which companies got invited to campus). Generally, they have presented two dance companies per year. When I was first teaching there, we got some really good companies, even including Martha Graham, Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, and then some second-tier companies such as the Pittsburgh Ballet, Garth Fagan, etc. The companies always presented a master class for the dance students as well as a performance. In the last 3-5 years, however, the quality of the dance companies has dropped precipitously. They are now bringing in very small dance companies, mostly ones I haven't heard of. They are what I would describe as "eclectic" dance companies, that often combine other things (theatre, gymnastics, juggling, etc.), or they have an ethnic flavor. I believe that the intention is to present companies that might bring in new audiences to dance, people that might not go to see what they perceive as "serious" dance. Certainly they do need new audience members: most of the heads are gray-haired at the dance concerts. But if they are trying to bring new audiences to dance, I think it was a grave mistake to eliminate the dance program!!! And I am not convinced that the way to attract new audiences is to present dance of lesser quality. For the last two years, there were also no master classes offered. So I would say that at this university, it's a downhill slide (or maybe avalanche is a better word) where dance is concerned.

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