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Lousy ballet performances


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#16 felursus

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 01:21 AM

Actually, my favorite disaster occurred during a performance of Nutcracker by Northern Dance Theatre some years ago. The set had two tables on wheels set at angles about 3/4 the way upstage on either side. During the party scene they contained "food" items (including an edible cake) and small toys. During the tree-growing scene they reversed to reveal the same toys much enlarged. When the pas de deux music starts (after Clara has killed the mouse king), the tables were supposed to pull off. For some reason one got stuck and then overturned scattering rubber chickens, "salads" "cakes" "puddings" and the like all over the stage. Fortunately the vast majority of the items landed upstage of the tables, but some made it downstage center. The choreography called for Clara's older sister, now transformed into a Snow Queen to dance a pdd with the transformed Nutcracker, while Clara oohed and ahhed from the sidelines. The Clara, rather cleverly, oohed and ahhed as she gracefully picked up "magical chickens" and tossed them off stage. The pdd couple managed to fit their choreography into the downstage portion of the stage, while the lighting board operators killed the lights on the upstage portion - allowing the stage manager to sweep up the debris and the stage hands to manually remove the offending table.

This was the occasion of my one memorable encounter with Ross Stretton. He was sitting next to me in the wings, and as we both laughed helplessly, he grabbed my arm so hard that I was black and blue for a month afterward. :o

#17 Sonja

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 04:25 AM

Talking about skirt desasters makes me think of a "Lady of the Camellias" in Munich, when in second pdd Marguerite's skirt started to rip off. In this act, she wears a beautiful white dress, and the skirt must consist of many metres of white chiffon - audience held their breath while the dancer tried not to step onto the remains of her skirt... After they had finished the pdd without falling over, she sent off Armand as usual - and then Nanina came on stage with HUGE scissors to cut the skirt to make it less dangerous.
What is normally a highly dramatical scene (Armands father arrives to convince Marguerite to give up his son) failed a bit this impression in that performance...

#18 Autumn7

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 06:41 PM

I'm sure that this is only one of a myriad of curtain mishaps we've all witnessed. Back when ABT was performing Baryshnikov's production of 'Swan Lake' the curtain started rising on Act IV. In this staging the corp of swans were on the stage floor face down presumably weeping in sorrow at the betrayal that Odette had received in
Act III. The floor they were laying on swirled with the thick fog from the machines and the corp was buried in this. They were suppose to rise as the curtain did but the curtain only rose about 3 or 4 feet and got stuck. There was a delay, the music started again but the curtain went neither up nor down. The music stopped and finally one of the black swans lifted her head from the fog and looked around as if to say "Do something!" They finally got the curtain to lower and, after a few minutes, got it to work correctly. I can't say it made for a terrible performance but I've alway felt sorry for those dancers breathing that fog. I wonder if it's hard to breathe in and if it's toxic?

#19 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 07:07 PM

No, it's no worse than drizzle and smells faintly of vinegar, because there are small amounts of acetic acid created when the dry ice is immersed in warm water. You would breathe more acetic acid while walking through an apple orchard.

[ 08-20-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#20 felursus

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 08:05 PM

There was always the time Arthur Mitchell stepped on Jillana's hand in "fog" during A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was Puck and she was Helena. She waslying on the floor pretending to be asleep while Puck arranged the lovers correctly. I heard he broke one of her fingers. I think that qualifies as a real "disaster".

Then there's the story of Markova as Giselle. She had to go down a trap door at the end of Act II. The elevator went down and up and down and up....until the curtain, mercifully, fell.

There was an occasion I witnessed when, just before the start of a Royal Ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Met, someone accidentally pushed the curtain button. It rose to reveal dancers draped over the thrones, lying on the floor, stretching, or practicing assorted steps. Most of them reacted quickly and jumped up and ran off before the curtain could be lowered again. The audience had a good laugh. :o

#21 Autumn7

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Posted 21 August 2001 - 04:20 PM

Mel, thanks for an answer to my question about the fog. I'm glad to know that the dancers weren't in danger of suffocation! I should have realized that safety issues had to be in place to satisfy theater or union standards.

#22 Jack Reed

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Posted 02 September 2001 - 07:08 PM

Not surprisingly, donkeys onstage can, well, extemporize the same way as horses do. My only experience of this was during a performance of "Union Jack", when the donkey that drew the cart onstage for "Costermonger pas de deux", uh, relieved himself part way through, in full view of the audience, as this section is done in front of the lowered curtain. What made the event memorable, aside from its uniqueness in my experience, was that the, uh, mishap was cleaned up by Peter Martins, no less, who entered on the opposite side, already in his sailor suit for "Royal Navy", and equipped for his task with a broom, a dustpan, and a look of grim determination.

On another occasion, the curtain came down to within a couple of feet of the stage, about half a minute before the end of "Scherzo a la Russe"; we could see that most of the dancers continued to dance, but a few in back stopped momentarily.

NYCB never was strong on handling props, so that we weren't suprised when the girl dancing the trumpet solo in "Stars and Stripes" did it with an "invsible" one; but they were extremely adept at getting stray objects, usually a boy's slipper, into the wings. Usually two kicks were sufficient, nobody missing a step, much less bending over to pick it up, all to giggles and a whisper of applause from the audience.

Other minor glitches would occur, like two demis turning too close to each other so that outstretched hands would hit with a resounding slap and a gasp from the dancers, but a major one, like a bad fall, forcing the dancer to hobble off, sometimes provoked nervous giggles which spread around the stage and then faded. And there was one tall soloist I won't name in public who didn't seem to require anything at all to inspire her giggles, and once she started...

But I missed by one day an instructive mishap. In a short ballet, a dancer fell twice and nearly knocked someone else down, which wouldn't have been so awful if it hadn't been her professional debut! Nerves, we supposed. The night I went, her alternate was listed in the program but she was cast again instead, and danced superbly, if not quite justifying the wild enthusiasm of the regulars seated around me, I thought. Asking for explanation, I learned of the bad debut the night before. There was nothing wrong with her alternate. The management was not going to let that dancer stew for two days about an inauspicious beginning to what turned out to be an admirable and quite long career with NYCB, but put her right back out there to do what they knew she could do. It was one of those times I felt the depth and the wisdom of Mr. B's little empire.

#23 Andrei

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Posted 03 September 2001 - 09:28 AM

The story from the glory of the Kirov. I will not give you names, but a very famous male dancer in the end of variation in "Don Quixote" fell off pirouettes. He immediately stood up and without music repeated pirouettes beautifully, provoking rave applaudes from the crowd. The next morning we had "Swan Lake" and the young soloist, dancing pas de trois, fell off his pirouettes also. He also stood up, lifted his hand, like wanted to bring attention to what he is doing and repeated pirouettes. Unfortunately, he fell again. Without any confusion he stood up, repeat his gesture, made pirouette again and fell again! He was willing to do it all day long, I believe, but somebody from the wings just pulled him out of the stage. The conductor couldn't continue performance for few minutes, everybody was laughing as crazy, musicians included. :o

#24 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 September 2001 - 10:24 AM

Oh dear, Andrei! Pride goeth before a fall. Or several ;)

#25 mbjerk

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Posted 03 September 2001 - 03:23 PM

My favorite was a 4th act Swan. This was a version with the jump off the cliff. Siefried seemed to bounce back up over the waves a few times. I guess the mattress was not too firm or his love was not sincere.

Andrei: Is this a tradition at the Kirov? I remember N. Makarova in one of her first Swan's in the West doing this with the fouettes (in Chicago). She fell after about eight, went downstage to the conductor and asked him to begin again. She then eeked out the thirty-two to thunderous applause (much more than if she had done them outright). Not a bad stage trick.

#26 Richard Jones

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Posted 13 September 2001 - 02:31 PM

Another skirt problem!....this time during a Birmingham Royal Ballet 'Swan Lake'. It was either during Act 1 or Act 3. One girl found her underskirt was suddenly drifting around her ankles. She stepped out of it very neatly, and it was then picked up by a courtly onlooker and thrown into the wings, while the dancer continued to twirl with a lighter skirt.

In the pop-art 'Paradise Lost' which Petit made for Fonteyn and Nureyev in the 1960's, the women wore strange little white PVC costumes. Fonteyn had to come up through a trapdoor; getting to the lifts understage at the ROH could be a grubby experience in those days (I saw for myself when on a tour backstage with a school party). On one night it was reported that when Fonteyn appeared on stage Eve was not exactly whiter than white!

One of my best experiences of a similar happening was playing the cello in an orchestral concert which included the Grieg piano concerto. The soloist was a late replacement, and must have hurriedly chosen a dress that she had last worn before losing weight. During the last movement, her energetic actions made one of the shoulder straps fall - so she was gamely trying to incorporate enough of the right kind of arm movement into her playing to get the strap back to its right place. As the platform was a bit crowded I had this in full view, and found my attention divided between that little scene, the music, the conductor, and the other cellist with whom I was sharing the desk and whom I had just met, - and eventually married!

[ 09-13-2001: Message edited by: Richard Jones ]


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