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Alexandra

Does it bother you when dancers fall?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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. :)

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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. :)

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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.

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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 :)

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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!

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

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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.

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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). :)

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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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The only time I have seen a dancer fall on stage (I've seen plenty fall in class!) was during a BRB performance of Tharp's 'In the Upper Room' in March. It is a very hard ballet, and the dancers were doing it flat out.One fell, and got straight back up and picked up his place in the choreography without missing a beat. It made me feel proud of the dancer. They love ballet so much, they dedicate their lives to it, and to me that fall symbolised all of that.

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The only dancer I can remember seeing fall was Nureyev, when he was young - I think it was in one of the very early performances of the Bayadere Shades scene, but I have an idea it happened more than once. He took such risks, something was bound to go wrong occasionally. It was just another thing to gasp at!

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For some reason, I love it when a dancer falls and gets back up with a big grin on his/her face and just keeps going. That just shows you how strong dancers are. I do however feel bad when it is a really bad fall and you can tell the dancer is in serious pain. It bothers me when audience members make a big deal about someone falling and judge the company on that one persons fall. I'm like HELLO!!, just because X fell doesn't mean that co. sucks!!! Come on lets loosen up people!!!

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I have seen lots of dancers fall, and, like Michael, I admire the way they tend to bounce back up and find their places and continue on, like troupers. I've always observed that the gal (or guy) with the biggest smile onstage is always the one who's just pulled herself up from a fall, because she knows everyone is watching her (to see if she'll do it again?).

Falls come with the territory. Dancers aren't machines, and mistakes happen. It's really no big deal as long as it doesn't happen every night.

When dancers actually injure themselves, it's another story. I'll never forget poor Robert Weiss's busting his Achilles tendon during Ballo de la Regina, which led to Merrill Ashley's legendary act of finishing the ballet alone. Or a recent opening-night performance of Symphony in C where Nikolaj Hubbe took a hard fall and hobbled off the stage, not to return (thank God he was back dancing shortly thereafter). One doesn't deduct points in such situations, of course, but simply pray for the dancer's speedy recovery.

It is sobering to realize just how much these people put themselves at risk every night for our entertainment and inspiration.

(Funny, I don't think I ever saw Kirkland fall.)

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For me, when I saw my first on-stage fall (during, I think, those tricky traveling fouettes in Pas de Quatre), my response was, "Mommy! Tell the people to stop making the stage slippery!" There are a lot of things that contribute to a fall, i.e. miscalculation, raked or non-raked stages (Americans must have fun tumbling around on sloped Russian stages), not being an "on" night, or just bad luck. When a dancer can get back up and return to what they were doing before, that's true professionalism, to me. The people who curse, slam their feet down and get back up with chin jutting out like a grumpy witch may have the best technique in the world but lack artistry.

I saw a video of Nureyev as Conrad in Le Corsaire, and during his variation in the Grand Pas de Deux, he really went for the jump, and sort of slip-slippety-tumbled his landing, only to return in true form and style for the next attitude pique. When a dancer holds back and doesn't make the tiniest slip or stumble, that's nice for them but then I get the feeling that ballet isn't really the place of safety. It's an art that revolves entirely around the body, and a dancer should take risks to make the dance that much more pleasing.

I couldn't imagine a timid Lilac Fairy taking baby steps up to the King and Queen. Her status seems to represent a ground-covering, large-movement lady who's really presenting the ballet for the Prologue and First Act.

Now that I've exhausted my virtual vocal chords, I'll reiterate.. You don't become a dancer for a career that spans forty years and pays so well that you can own a Beverly Hills home. That should tell you something about risk, and falls are part of that. :)

Ta!

Luka

[ 06-10-2001: Message edited by: Luka ]

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I have been sitting here blithely reading and enjoying these comments thinking that I certainly have nothing to add to the conversation because the last time I saw a dancer fall was in 1965! Now, that in itself is incredible! When you think about the feats of artistic athleticism that are accomplished onstage everyday, it's amazing that it doesn't happen more often.

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When a dancer falls onstage, my reaction to it usually depends on theirs. Several years ago, I saw SFB in Swan Lake, and David Palmer missed the final landing in his variation in the Black Swan pdd. I remember it not because it was a terribly nasty fall, but because I heard him say "SH**!!" all the way from up in the balcony. On the other hand, if the dancer just picks him- or herself up and continues as if nothing happened, I think nothing more of it.

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I am so glad to hear that falling isn't as criticized as I would imagine... (at least not by people who MATTER)Let's just say my nickname is "Trip" and I do it in grand style. But the worst was when I fell during Reed Flutes in Nut., and I was doing hops on one pointe, and my ankle gave out. It has taken me almost a year to forgive myself, and I have been so afraid of going on stage and falling. So thank you, everyone for making my "boo-boo" better! :)

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It bothers me very much when the audience reacts the wrong way more than when the dancer falls. Dancing at full potential, and trying as hard as possible is bound cause a few accidents. The only proper way to actualy go to a live performance at all is to expect a few mistakes and falls. When a member of the audience retorts a bad word about the company just because a dancer fell, or accidentaly hit a piece of scenery (which most people actualy don't notice) tells me a lot about the person. I see the person as innexperienced in seeing a ballet performed live, and expects mistakes to be hidden or be put at the end of the show as "out=takes," like you would expect on telivision. I feel that this person has little sympathy towards this poor dancer, who has worked so hard to become a performer, and has tried so hard to please the people.

When this person happens to be sitting near me, I give them the usual speech at intermission. ("Don't you feel sorry for the dancer? They work so hard just to please you, and it caused them pain, and all you can do is critcise?") It's happened before.

[ 06-11-2001: Message edited by: ~A.C~ ]

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I would rather see a dancer "go for it" and fall than to play it "safe".

That said though, I don't like when dancers make up their own choreography to show off some of their talents and miss (badly) I've seen a few male dancers in NY do that this year, I have to admit when they miss, I kind of smil and think they should have left the choreography the way it was.

I've also seen dancers laughing, someone falls and shoulders start shaking. :)

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