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"Artistic Generosity" -- when a dancer focuses the audience on

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Opera News (Nov. '12) has a column by F. Paul Driscoll, in which he describes a performance given by Natalia Makarova as Giselle. She was dancing with a favorite partner, Ivan Nagy, who had just announced his retirement.

... this particular Giselle, their last together in New York, was extraordinary. I can't tell you how she did it, but that night Makarova made Giselle a ballet about Albrecht. The familiar details of Makarova's Giselle ... were all present, but their collective impact was completely different. Makarova danced every step and made every gesture in support of her partner; through sheer force of personality and craft, she turned the audience's eyes away from her in one of the greatest acts of artistic generosity I've ever seen. To me, that Giselle provided a defining diva moment: a diva is an artist who can make you see things her way -- and make you enjoy it.

Has anyone seen or heard of comparable acts of "artistic generosity"? (I don't mean the kind of male partnering which makes showing the ballerina part of the regular job.) It could be a special performance, a curtain call, or something else.

The key ingredient is .... using artistry and personality to take the focus off oneself in the service of a larger, or higher goal.

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I saw it every time Alonso made it onstage during the early 90's, completely blind and just for the heck of it. The focus of all her great partners of those times was basically to walk thru this old dame and make sure there were not embarrassing moments. The audience was always very aware and appreciative of the guys efforts, as I remember. When the thing was over a feeling of generalized relief could be palpated on the air. The great bravos were both for the legend and for the great guys that had carried such task.

More recently, I witnessed a beautiful act of solidarity and partnership embodied by Jose Manuel Carreno, when he graciously came over to support his senior peer, a technically diminished Dagmar Moradillos in her retirement's Giselle. Toward the end, while leaping into the wings, he injured himself, for which Moradillos had to carry the final segment holding a non existent Albrecht on the floor by herself and inventing solo dancing sequences-(including the iconic supported sautees in arabesque). Then the miracle happened...at the very end of the ballet Carreno reappeared onstage just to carry Moradillos in his arms and back to the grave. Just as I write this I get emotional, for which he was obviously in great pain, and still was there for her.

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I think that there are many instances where performers do this, because it's being professional to fulfill a role in service of a higher goal.

One that struck me was when Tom Skerritt portrayed Don Quixote when PNB performed Ratmansky's "Don Quixote." Skerritt is a film actor, and there were many wonderful things he did with his eyes and his face: he was especially effective showing Don Q's mood swings very vividly. He's also moves elegantly. However, compared to veteran Seattle-based actor Allen Galli, an actor with much experience in musical theater -- he really had the compas down in the little Flamenco riffs he did -- who played Sancho Panzo, Skerritt was the visitor on that stage. San Panza is already a part in which upstaging is built in, and I thought it was a remarkable act of generosity that Galli was very careful to modulate his portrayal to Skerritt's. He could have left Skerritt in the dust.

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Has anyone seen or heard of comparable acts of "artistic generosity"? (I don't mean the kind of male partnering which makes showing the ballerina part of the regular job.) It could be a special performance, a curtain call, or something else.

The key ingredient is .... using artistry and personality to take the focus off oneself in the service of a larger, or higher goal.

In the "special occasions" category: Philip Neal's farewell performance at NYCB. Wendy Whelan, his partner in "Chaconne," seemed clearly to be dancing to him and for him. (From where I sat it even looked as if she'd angled herself a bit so that she faced him as much as us during a couple solo passages.) It really did look as if she were saying "this is in your honor."

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Nice topic, bart. It would seem to be plain good manners for dancers to play for and to the retiree in farewell performances, but of course it doesn't always happen.

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I guess that retirements ARE the occasion for this sort of thing. (The description of Whelan's subtle readjustment of her performance with Neal is wonderful, and very comparable to Makarova/Nagy.) Cristian's account of the way BNC dancers cared for Alonso (their boss, but also a highly revered figure) is an extraordinary variant on the theme. I have seen elderly character dancers, especially those long retired from illustrious careers, receiving special consideration as well. I don't recall Balanchine getting anything like this when he performed the Don in his own version of Don Quixote. But he was strong and relatively young, and still a remarkable dance actor.

I can think of examples of selfish behavior on stage. (A NYCB principal guesting as Albrecht almost ignored his Giselle, a dancer from a much less prestigious regional company. Nureyev in his later career was nut unwilling to one-up the ballerina in bravura passages. Etc.) But for some reason no examples of special generosity of the self-effacing kind come to mind.

Perhaps this thread is destined, inevitably, to be a short one?

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Bart,

I had not read my Opera News since it came in the mail, so I did not connect this topic with it until I read the piece in question. Then, I remembered, "I think I saw a topic listed about this that I never read!"

This is a very minor and small example but just last spring when I saw 3 Bayaderes at ABT, I noticed that Semionova seemed to really make a huge effort to give David Hallberg lots of credit and attention at the curtain calls. I actually thought she was terrific and he was slightly off his game, but she treated him like a God almost. I mentioned it to another person, and he said she is always that way. She tends to really appreciate the partners she dances with. Her curtain calls were very, very different from Part's and Cojocaru's. I am sure those two dancers appreciated their partners, but Semionova seemed to go out of her way to give credit to Hallberg. And it came off as genuine.

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Of course, the opposite also happens. How about that infamous courtain call where Lifar had to be pulled and hold back by fellow dancers so Markova could take her deserve applauses, which he was so eager to steal from her...?

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Irek Mukhamedov -- when the Bolshoi came on tour in 1989 or 90, he stayed at the back during the bows and kept sending other people forward to bow. i was very moved, it was so handsome, so modest, so generous. It was the same tour when Maria Bylova threw her [colossal bouquet of] flowers into the orchestra pit -- but that seemed ambiguous to me, almost a gesture of defiance. Still, it was magnificent.

And two from San Francisco Ballet: when Joanna Berman danced Aurora, in her first act she seemed almost completely unaware of the difficulties of the Rose adagio -- all we could see was how happy the princess was, how much she loved all these wonderful people who'd come to her birthday party, she was aware of and alive to absolutely everybody onstage, even hte supers, and constantly exchanging glances with them, as occasion permitted; and another, at the bows for opening night of Don Quixote, when Lorena Feijoo handed her [again colossal] bouquet of flowers to Joan Boada, her Basilio, who'd just been pink-slipped [which was common knowledge to the audience], and let us know on the spot, she cast her vote with her compatriot and partner. [soon thereafter Boada's contract was renewed.]

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Of course, the opposite also happens. How about that infamous courtain call where Lifar had to be pulled and hold back by fellow dancers so Markova could take her deserve applauses, which he was so eager to steal from her...?

Yes, curtain calls can create issues. This isn't ballet, but when San Francisco Opera did La Gioconda with Pavarotti and Renata Scotto, SF Opera wanted Pavarotti to take the final bow, b/c he was the bigger star and the big draw for the audience. At least half of the audience was probably there to see him and although Scotto was a star, she was not the big draw that he was. However, in opera it is UNHEARD of that someone besides the title character (La Gioconda is the title character and so the soprano should always get the final bow whereas in Otello the tenor would get the final bow) gets the final bow. Pavarotti took the final bow, and Scotto was heard (and I believe seen on tv) yelling that these are "gente di merda!"

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Another example of artistic ungenerosity was the behavior of the ABT orchestra during Angel Corella's farewell. It was a huge occasion, with confetti and tears all around, but the orchestra packed up and bolted the minute the final chord ended, and not one of them stayed to honor one of the company's most beloved stars. I found that sort of sad.

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when michael smuin said goodbye to the audience after the san francisco ballet's last performance of his directorship (the ballet was "Don Juan") the orchestra stayed and played some music from romeo and juliet while the dancers came on stage, champagne was drunk and toasts offered and balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling his last toast (lipread but very clear) was 'to the company, to the public and to the future!'.

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The key ingredient is .... using artistry and personality to take the focus off oneself in the service of a larger, or higher goal.

I agree. Nice topic, bart, thank you. Surprised we haven't had more replies - surely there's more artistic generosity out there? :)

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A small but significant gesture by Marcelo Gomes that I especially like: during curtain calls with the entire cast on stage, he invariably looks back to the corps and soloists and gestures to them to acknowledge their contribution. He seems to remember what it was like working your way up through the ranks in the company. I rarely see that from other principals.

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On one performance that I did of Romeo and Juliet with the Israel Ballet (I play the Nurse) the soloist dancing Mercutio landed badly from his variation near the end of the first act and broke his ankle. Unable to continue he helped coach his understudy (who was dancing Benvolio)in the interval to replace him in the second act. He then came and sat on the well in the town square scenes in order to help prompt him discreetly. I doubt that the audience even realised that Benvolio had become Mercutio, but all of those who were there will never forget that performance. I don't know if that is artistic generosity or professionalism, but he certainly was a fine example of "the show must go on".

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I don't know if that is artistic generosity or professionalism, but he certainly was a fine example of "the show must go on".

It is certainly both, and an excellent example -- thank you so much for letting us know about this backstory.

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Yes, it is a good story! They were both blondes so it didn't notice too much and they changed tunics. However the story of artistic generosity actually continues in this way. Everyone was madly busy coaching the new Mercutio for his fight and death scene in the interval, but I had a different problem - he was also supposed to take part in the comic scene with me as Nurse when I bring the message from Juliet to Romeo about the wedding. In this scene the "boys" including Mercutio tease me unmercifully and it's quite slapstick. I realised that the replacement had enough on his plate without worrying about my scene, so I left him to it and took one of the boys from the corps to teach him what Mercutio usually did. He was surprisingly good at it and picked it up very quickly as he'd watched the scene a number of times. So that's how we got through the performance with a quarter of an hour very intense coaching session!

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Several years ago, during a performance of Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream, Ariana Lallone was dancing Hippolyta and injured herself in the middle of the scene with all the dogs. Brittany Reid was scheduled to perform the role later in the week, and was backstage that night -- they quickly swapped out the tutu, but they couldn't get the headdress off of Lallone in time to get Reid out on stage. (it was held on with a million hairpins) Lallone is taller than Reid to begin with, and the headdress, with a military cockade on top of the helmet, adds at least six more inches. I knew something was amiss, since there was a short sequence with a missing Hippolyta, but when Reid came out, I didn't recognize the change -- my first reaction was "I could swear Lallone is taller than that." Reid performed the rest of the ballet with aplomb, and Lallone healed nicely, but when people talk about last minute substitutions, I always remember this one.

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In the emergency substitution department, a notable one was the world premiere season of Barsyhnikov's Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center in March 1978. Kitri was danced by Gelsey Kirkland, alternating with Martine van Hamel and Cynthia Gregory. Kirkland and Baryshnikov had done the Saturday matinee, after already doing the world premiere on Thursday night and they were scheduled to do another performance on Sunday. But at the Saturday evening performance, van Hamel was severely injured in the first act and could not continue. Somebody found Kirkland and Baryshnikov having dinner next door at the Watergate Hotel and they came back to perform Acts II and III that night.

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I don't know if that is artistic generosity or professionalism, but he certainly was a fine example of "the show must go on".

It is certainly both, and an excellent example -- thank you so much for letting us know about this backstory.

A belated thank-you, Hamorah, that was a great story, as are the other anecdotes on this thread. Surely there are a few more such tales out there?

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Evelyn Hart was totally giving of her soul in performances that I saw live at various galas and such (Dying Swan, Jeune Homme, Juliet). I don't think I've ever seen anyone quite like her. Film does not do her justice. Kirkland, at her best, was similar but I'd have to give the nod to Hart.

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