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Booing at the ballet???


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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 20 April 2002 - 09:56 PM

In a thread on a different subject Nanatchka asked: "How about a thread on booing and hissing????"

First things first—for purposes of this post, the term “booing” will mean the opposite of “applauding”—an audible expression of displeasure concerning what one has just seen or heard, or, in some really malicious cases, what one is about to hear.

Booing is more prevalent in opera than ballet audiences and more prevalent in Western Europe than in North America or at least Canada and the United States—not sure about Mexico. Italians seem to boo more readily than do the citizens of other European nations and those in Parma are the most audible and insistent regarding their unhappiness with the state of the lyric stage.

Wherever they happen the worst cases are booing someone because she is not someone else. Opera lore is full of instances of catcalls aimed at a singer because she was singing a role in an auditorium that another singer had made her own.

I never boo performers and consider it reprehensible when it is done. One always assumes that the singer or dancer is doing the very best she can and may be having a bad night—or in some cases, a bad decade. Very occasionally I have wanted to shout a rude expression at someone who has obviously phoned in a performance and is trying to milk the curtain calls. If one simply doesn’t like an artist, though, either don’t go to the theater when he is on stage or don’t applaud. An example is a tenor who often appears here in Motown. I have heard him in heroic tenor roles in the German, Italian and French rep and can say that he is my least favorite singer. I don’t think he does anything well—or even adequately. Lots of people do like him, though, including many critics, conductors and other singers. This is the case where simply not applauding when he comes out for a curtain call is appropriate.

I did feel that Jean-Christophe Maillot who choreographed “Cinderella” to the Prokofiev score for his Ballet de Monte-Carlo did a horrible job of it and booed his appearance with the company. Choreographers in ballet and directors in opera have much more control of how a work is presented than do the performers they direct. The audience should feel free let them know when a work is executed as planned and is still garbage.

#2 Ed Waffle

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 07:58 AM

Just to make it clear (which I didn't in the original post), Maillot took his bow after his dancers bowed--they were still on stage but had already been applauded and had a few curtain calls. I had been clapping and yelling "Bravo" and "Brava", especially for Bernice Coppieters who is one of the most elegant, expressive and beautiful dancers working today.

I even made a point of identifying Maillot from his picture in the program before I began booing him. I think a pie in the face would have been more appropriate, since his "Cinderella" was farcically bad.

#3 Ed Waffle

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 04:25 PM

Nanatchka wrote: "I find myself worried about the cat."

So did I. Pet murder to express displeasure is going way to far. Vegetables, however....

Maria Callas, cancelled a performance of Norma after the first act--she had bronchitis, tried to go on anyway and wasn't able to continue. It was with the Rome Opera and the President of the Italian Republic was in attendance. Callas was attacked in the press (the headlines are amazing), it was discussed in Parliment and she was quite unpopular at Italian houses for several months.

After one performance in Milan soon after the Rome incident, someone threw a bunch of radishes onto the stage, instead of the usual flowers. There are as many different accounts of what happened next as their are people who have told the story, but just about everyone agrees on one thing.

Callas picked up the offending vegetables and said "You can't get radishes at the opera house."

#4 Ed Waffle

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Posted 29 April 2002 - 06:24 AM

alexandra wrote:

He complained later that Americans watched dance the way they drove -- asleep.


At least he didn't say that Americans watched dance the way they drove--while talking on the phone and eating a cheeseburger.

#5 Ed Waffle

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Posted 29 April 2002 - 08:46 AM

I do wonder if opera audiences might be more prone to booing than ballet audiences. Thoughts, anyone?


Opera audiences are generally more boorish, ill mannered and short tempered than ballet audiences. Renee Fleming was booed off the stage at La Scala when she did Lucretia Borgia there. Not because of any terrible flaws in her performance--the tapes from the one show she was able to get through were quite good--but because she wasn't the singer they wanted to hear.

At Beyreuth, the altar of Wagnerian truth, new productions are regularly booed, hissed and screeched at, just becauset they are new. The Onegin production at the Met was roundly booed when it premiered--it seemed that no one like it.

#6 Ed Waffle

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Posted 29 April 2002 - 06:49 PM

Well, I liked it. But what do I know?


What I should have written (since it is what I was thinking) is that, like many new and untraditional productions at the Met, the current Onegin production was not well received and it seemed as if no one liked it at the time.

This was obviously not the case since there were a lot of defenders of the production when it opened and it has become much less controversial. The fact that there was a significant amount of discussion and that it was quite heated but also often well founded shows that direction and production design remain important to opera goers in New York City.

And the fact that the Met was willing to do a relatively standard work in a nonstandard but ultimately effective way speaks well of their artistic administration.

#7 Estelle

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 11:56 PM

I have very few memories of booing for POB performances (on the other hand, I've read it's quite common for opera productions at the Paris Opera- I don't know if it's because the audience has a different attitude, or because the opera productions are less good than the ballet ones!)

And the only real booing that I remember was a bit odd: it was for the creation by Odile Duboc on "Rhapsody in blue" a few seasons ago. It was not especially successful, and was not danced again after the season of its premiere. The dancers were applaused (a bit tepidly), and then a lady came on stage and was booed by one part of the audience. But she was not the choreographer but... the pianist. The choreographer herself didn't come. Either there were some problems with the pianist that I didn't notice, or (which seems more likely) one part of the audience erroneously though that she was the choreographer, and booed her because of that. It must be awfully frustrating to be booed because of such a mistake! :rolleyes:

#8 Estelle

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 12:55 PM

I haven't seen any work by Jan Fabre, but what I've read about his works (often performed in France) looked a bit similar to what you depicted.
Recently, one of his works in Avignon was called "Je suis sang" (I am blood) and included quite a lot of (fake) blood, nudity, people doing a (fake) circumcision, etc. Not very surprising if some people booed! Actually, the Benois de la Danse look a bit odd: isn't it a bit strange to mix classical productions and such modern works?

#9 Jane Simpson

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Posted 03 May 2002 - 07:20 AM

The only time I can remember more than an isolated boo at the Royal Ballet was at the first night of Kenneth MacMillan's full length Anastasia, and it was rather pointless as no-one knew if it was directed against the 2 new acts or the existing 3rd act, or both.

I do sometimes boo myself, but only very, very quietly.

Sylvia, I do agree about the ROH orchestra - they sounded far better at Trovatore on Wednesday than at R&J on Tuesday.

#10 Pamela Moberg

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 01:19 PM

I have read about worse than booing. In the late 19th century, a ballerina (have forgotten her name, must look it up) in S:t Petersburg got a dead cat thrown at her.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 29 April 2002 - 05:46 AM

Thank you for that story, Rick! I've never heard of a dancer booing the audience :)

I wonder how much of this varies from country to country? I had a German friend once whom I took to a local modern dance performance which he loathed. After the first number, he stood up and enthusiastically booed. It was a very small crowd, maybe 40, so people noticed.

He complained later that Americans watched dance the way they drove -- asleep. What was the fun of going if you couldn't boo? He claimed that German audiences booed all the time.

Sonja, is that true? Or perhaps the Stuttgart and Munich audiences are different from Cologne and Hamburg!

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 29 April 2002 - 06:27 AM

Ah, Ed, this was in the 1980s. We were more civilized then! (I've been to dance performances where people talked on their cell phones and ate cheeseburgers!)

His analogy to driving was based on fun on the autobahn, where there are no speed limits. American tourists ruined the whole driving experience by insisting on sticking to 70 or 80 mph and freaking out at hairpin turns.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 07:46 AM

rubria, I think it's also dependent on the culture. I think what you wrote is what my German friend meant by "Americans sleep" at the theater. We're very polite. We'll clap for anything and then tear it apart during intermissions :) That's one of the things that drives me crazy about audiences. There are times when you can feel that they hate the piece -- especially a new work -- There's no applause during the ballet, just a sulky silence, and then at the end there are bravos all over the place. A friend explained that she's clapping for the dancers, not the work, and I can understand (and respect) that, but a good boo or too would certainly break up the boredom.

#14 atm711

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Posted 10 May 2002 - 10:31 AM

I don't think I have ever booed a ballet performance--in fac t, I saw the 'Pied Piper' last year at ABT and did not Boo---I never realized I had that much restraint.

#15 Nanatchka

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 03:57 PM

I find myself worried about the cat. I hope it wasn't murdered for the occasion. I mean, how else? {"Oh look, the cat's dead. How handy, we're going to the ballet tonight!"---?) Speaking of cats, on extremely rare occasion I have been known to hiss (the girly version of booing), but never at a performer. I would probably hiss more often, but I feel constrained to behave like a guest when attending performances as a guest of the company or the house. By the way,I hissed for content--or against it, really, or for the magisterial complaint Ed Waffle delineates in his last line. I also have left things at intermission, perhaps most notably MacMillan's Manon, which I found nauseatingly misogynistic. I only once walked out in the middle of something, and it was very bad behavior on my part. (Exit, pursued by amplfied Irish music.) Lately, I find myself thinking very carefully before going out. Perhaps the ultimate refusal to applaud is just staying home in the first place.


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