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Does it bother you when dancers fall?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 09:40 AM

During the recent Miami City Ballet engagement, a dancer took a bad spill. She was dancing BIG, really going for it (in the proper Balanchinean way, IMO) and went down splat. Instinctive reaction, the audience gasped. At intermission, as I wandered through the crowd, I heard several references to this, and all were very negative--it was seen as a mistake, and a sign that this really wasn't a very good company.

Is this a generally shared perception, or did I just hit the wrong half of the hall?

#2 Sonora

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 09:58 AM

I'm surprised the audience reacted that way. In my experience, the audience is usually startled by a slip or fall, and may buzz about it, but in a concerned-for-the-dancer's-welfare sort of way.

Of course slips, falls, and other unplanned stage occurrences are part of live performance. I wonder rather darkly if audiences aren't less and less accustomed to live performances, particularly younger audiences, and more inclined to expect perfection - the perfection they get from television and film.

#3 Natalia

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 10:00 AM

You probably just hit the wrong half of the hall -- the half that goes to the ballet only occasionally and doesn't truly understand the training and discipline behind the art. Those folks, too, probably equate ballet a bit with figure skating and gymnastics...where a fall on a triple axel or off the balance beam knocks-off two-tenths of a point. That sort of thing. It's hard for those of us who see a lot of ballet (most readers here) to comprehend that the casual, occasional American ballet audience probably lumps ballet with skating or gymnastics. Remember the 'Dancing for Dollars--Bolshoi is Vegas' TV documentary....in which the Oklahoma farmers who bank-rolled the Bolshoi tour were commenting things like: "I've never seen ballet, but I've seen Olympic ice skating and it must be just like that."

To answer the question of whether or not it bothers me when dancers fall in performance? It bothers me only from the point-of-view of concern. I am worried that they may have hurt themselves, if it looks like a hard fall.

[I missed the MCB season, as I was out of town...so can't comment on the specific incident that you cite.]

[ 06-08-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

#4 Giannina

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 10:15 AM

What bothers me when a dancer falls, or even stumbles, is my reaction. For the life of me I can't stifle my loud "Oh!" nor control the spasm that shakes my body. I'm so engrossed in the dancing that the dancer's slip is an intrusion in my concentration. I feel badly for the dancer who must be embarrassed to the bone. My only other reaction is amusement when a dancer finishes a series of, let's say, fouettes and ends up facing the back of the stage. Ta-DA!...to the back of the stage; cracks me up every time. Forgive me.

Giannina

#5 samba38

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 10:27 AM

I think there is a certain spot on the KC opera house stage on the audience's center left side of the stage where one person slips in every company visit, sometimes every performance (San Francisco had many slips although the one serious injury occurred mid-stage when a fellow came down out of a jump into agony). But I always thought most Balanchine companies took their lead from Mr. B who thought anyone dancing with their full powers was bound to slip sometime. When it happens, I wish the dancer well and keep my eyes on the overall performance.

#6 Ed Waffle

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 11:35 AM

Although I have seen dancers fall quite often, it is still always a shock when it happens. By its nature, slipping and falling is an ungraceful action which is at odds with everything else that one has seen up to that point.

It is the same when a singer in an opera cracks on a note--not just sings flat, but either completely misses it or makes a really odd and unpleasant (and painful sounding) noise. As part of a three hour performance of hundreds of steps or measures of music it doesn't mean much.

I wonder what dancers on the board feel, when instead of "bourree, bourree, jete" the steps become "bourree, bourree, splat".

Is it the same attitude as a professional athlete--you have to forget about the errors right away because dwelling on them will just distract you from the rest of the perfomance?

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 12:30 PM

I think Ed's question to dancers is a good one. When I trip in my living room -- a not unusual occurrence -- it takes at least a minute to stop feeling shaky, even if there's no break or sprain. Now, I realize that dancers are not mere mortals, but still...

Kirkland always fell. You wanted her to do it and get it over with. But I heard a story once that makes me feel many people do think of a fall as a "mistake" -- as Jeannie pointed out, losing two-tenths of a point. Kirkland was going to appear as a guest with one of our best regional ballet companies. The board, or at least some board members, wanted a Big Name guest star (this is one of the things that makes a company "regional" :) ) She came, she fell. The company's ballerina, dancing the same role the next night, never slipped once. This, I was told, "proved" to the board that the company had outgrown the need for guest artists, because they were better. :)

#8 doug

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 01:16 PM

Yes, she fell (hard) during the fouettes in Black Swan. Cussed up a storm. She had also brought a red tutu that she wanted to wear. Right. :)

#9 Michael

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 01:16 PM

I always particlarly admire the aplomb with which I've seen dancers get right back up, find their place in the choreography, and carry on.

Luckily, I've never seen anyone get hurt.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 01:33 PM

Just a gentle word to say that anyone who is moved to say, "Hell, I didn't pay 70 bucks to see people take pratfalls" should not be discouraged from posting :)

#11 Alina

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 07:02 PM

The most difficult thing about seeing a dancer fall for me is two-fold having at one time been there. First is the possibility of injury. There is nothing worse than seeing a dancer hurt themselves seriously during performance. A dancer limping or even being carried off stage is for me one of the hardest, most devastating events to witness.It really gets you in touch with how fleeting a dancers career can be and how this art form is so immediate, one of the elements that makes it so unique and exciting. Secondly, if it is apparent that the dancer is okay a quick recovery and an "on with it!" attitude is greatly appreciated and admired I believe by a knowledgable audience. Yes, as others have posted there unfortunatly is a large population out there that views ballet as a sport with the attitude that any fault should subtract a point!

#12 LMCtech

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 07:05 PM

I like falls. Sometimes it breaks up the monotaony of this ballet I've seen twenty times before.

#13 Drew

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 09:13 PM

When I saw Kirkland fall in big story ballets she would always pick herself up "in character" -- Sometimes, I found this rather charming.

Overall, I more or less have the "Balanchine" attitude. With certain dancers in particular, one can see them "going for it" and it's so thrilling that one supports and applauds them even if they fall. (Certainly, other than concern for injuries, I do not, in those cases, react negatively.)

The first time I saw Elizabeth Platel, I had never heard of her, and was just delighted as she danced the Queen of the Wilis with real daring -- big expressive jumps -- but did in the end take a pretty bad fall. As I remember, the Kirov's Chestyakova fell or slipped at the company's Kennedy Center appearances quite frequently; she was usually cast in some top soloist variation and she always was doing, seemingly, the most difficult imaginable version, e.g. triple piroettes where others settled for two, extra beats during a jump etc. However, the Kirov (at that time) had such a surface quality of classical precision that I sometimes found myself wishing she would just do the simpler thing and do it smoothly and accurately. But I still admired her guts.

On the other hand -- and concern for injuries aside...if I see a lackluster or problematic performance in which, for example, a dancer is quite sloppy in all of his/her landings and the whole thing culminates with a slip or a fall, I'm more inclined to view it critically. I'll think "x" wasn't in control of the movements and the slip just confirms the larger problem. I think I've even written things to this effect at ballet alert -- 'so and so having an off night and slipped out of her turns' etc.

I do very much agree with what has been said above about general audiences. I think, for many of them, a fall does mean that obviously, the dancer has screwed up and that's just bad. I've noticed, too, that when I go to the ballet with someone who really knows NOTHING about dance, there is a certain insecurity factor; when they see a fall they feel at least that they know what they saw and that they know what it means -- a mistake. Although, at the risk of contradicting myself, I do think that in an inchoate way even a less educated ballet audience can occasionally tell the difference between an exciting dancer who takes a spill and a dancer who just isn't dancing well. Don't know about the Miami ballet incident -- and of course with a corps dancer one may not be noticing that dancer in particular until the fall. Occasionally, too, one gets a sympathy response -- you can hear it in the applause when the dancer who stumbled takes a bow.

I am interested in Sonora's comment about the audiences lack of experience with live performance -- I bet that IS an aspect of the problem. Everybody is used to the often inhuman and usually manufactured polish of film and video...so they really don't know how to 'see' a fall EXCEPT as a blot.

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 09:41 PM

I think Sonora's point, which Drew amplified, is a good one, and it's related to Jeannie's comments about how many audience members may confuse ballet with sports in which scores are given -- AND there are constant instant replays of "mistakes." Personally, I like the Balanchine attitude, too. Go for it. Don't take unnecessary risks, of course, but a dancer's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?

A lighter side of falls, from Ivor Guest (from memory, so I hope I'm not combining two different dancers into one story), there was a young coryphee who fell during a solo and did not get up. Her fellow dancers were terrified and thought she had suffered an injury bad enough to render her unconscious. They "formed a pretty little grouping" and carried her off. Offstage, she revived instantly, dusted herself off and thanked them. They expressed their displeasure, but she replied that her lover was in the audience and she had no intention of making a fool of herself in front of him. I believe this is the same girl -- but it may have been a different one -- whom the ladies of the Opera in the 1850s dubbed "La Niagra" (because of her falls). :)

#15 petitallegro

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Posted 09 June 2001 - 07:14 PM

When I see a dancer fall, I just let it pass and don't think about it too much. Let's face it: there is no perfect stage (slippery spots, spots with too MUCH traction,) and there are no perfect people. When it is clearly the dancer's energy that has made him/her fall, I am glad that they are going all out for the audience. Just my 2 cents.


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