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Where were you sitting ?!*?$

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I've gotten a couple of emails that began this way -- most in jest, but it's a phrase we hear often. The assumption is that if I think that a particular couple has no rapport and you don't, then either: you were there a different night, or sitting close, while I was sitting far (or vice versa), or (getting a bit huffy now) had never seen the ballet before or, if you had, had certainly never seen La Sublimova in the role.

The first inkling we get that there's something wrong with this logic is when the friend above DOES see La Sublimova, sitting next to you, on the same night, and both of you have had a good night's sleep, and s/he HATES La Sublimova and doggedly prefers La Nadirova who, of course, you think looks like a ... I was about to say chicken in pointe shoes; that's where I'VE been this past weekend. (The Royal's chickens were lovely.)

The Royal week here was especially interesting to me because I talked to so many people either at intermissions, or otherwise, each with widely varying backgrounds -- from those who'd seen the Royal since the 1930s to those whose acquaintance was more recent -- and different perspectives on what makes a good, not to mention great, performance.

For such a modest, pleasant dancer, Yoshida turned out to be a lightening rod here. Several times, I'd hear someone say, "Dullest dancer I've ever seen" to be met with an astonished -- "I can't remember when I've seen a ballerina I was so taken with. She sparkled!!!"

We've seen a wide range of views on the board -- as almost always happens, we nearly all agree on the big picture and disagree wildly on the details. Someone wrote on another thread that this is what makes this board valuable, that there are so many opinions, and I agree. In the old days, there would be six, up to ten, newspapers in a city, each with a review, and often the papers had two or three reviewers, so you had the chance to read lots of different takes on dancing.

I'm curious as to what people think about this issue. What makes the difference? It's often not how many performances you've seen, or even who they were; it can be where you're sitting, but usually isn't.

Also, what do you think when you read ten different opinions of something you haven't seen OR something you have (and you have an 11th view)? I think sometimes people think there is only ONE way to look at something -- it's either good or it's bad; there's a right or wrong to it, and there are some rules, or some expertise, that will solve the puzzle. I think there are only different perspectives -- a performance is like a diamond, and you'll see something different depending what angle you have, and the fun is trying to decode the angles.

What do you think?

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The revolutionary stood on his soap box thundering, "Come the Revolution we will all have strawberries and cream!"

A pipsqueek in the crowd piped up," but,,, but... I don't like strawberries and cream."

The speaker shouted:" Come the revolution you WILL like strawberries and cream."

Of course the mix of tasts and experiences on this board are what make BA so valuable. People who agree with me teach me nothing.

And for the record, La Sublimova in my mind isn't fit to understudy Sheezno Fonteyn.

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I think everyone has different standards that determine who Sheezno is related to, for starters. Although Sheezno Fonteyn is certainly the most talked-about on Ballet Alert, I have also become acquainted with Sheezno Makarova, Sheezno Kirkland, and Sheezno Evelyn Cisneros, a local Bay Area favorite. People also have their own criteria for deciding if a dancer is any good. Also, I don't think that where I sit makes as much of a difference as what frame of mind I was in, and for one-act ballets, what I saw it paired with. For example, the first time I saw Helgi Tomasson's Silver Ladders at SFB, it was paired with a rather bland Mark Morris piece and an over-the-top piece by Lila York. I loved it the first time, it almost sent shivers up my spine. I didn't like it as much the second time around, when it shared the bill with Agon and Etudes. Somehow it just didn't measure up.

[ 06-12-2001: Message edited by: BalletNut ]

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Oh I found the varied opinions wonderful. When someone tells me a completely different opinion, I tell myself: " oh ! that's a way to look at it -- I've never realized that before!" And then I realize that I've gotten so much more in-depth look at a dancer/performance after reading everyone's opinions. I also think there is a time factor involved with these opinions. I think I've seen Yoshida since about 7 years ago and to be very honest, I wasn't very impressed with her in the beginning. And then I saw her in Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and then I began to really see her wonderful qualities that I hadn't realized before. Of course, it could go the other way around. It also depends on the role too. If I had seen Sylvie Guillem perform Lise for the first time, I don't think she would've left much of an impression on me.

Anyway, back to the heart of the question. What makes the difference on a particular dancer/performance that specific night/matinee? I think a lot of it has to do with what kind of certain qualities you are looking for in a dancer. If you're focus is to look at the dancer's acting capabilities, then you might find Yoshida dull. On the other hand, if you were looking more keenly at Yoshida's footwork and her port-de-bras, you might find her brilliant. The seating might have a little to do with it. I always envy someone who can sit in the orchestra because I think it's a little more easier for the audience to be totally absorbed into a performance that way. I know I'm forgetting some other factors too, but I'll leave that to other members so that we'll have 10 different outlooks or even more!

[ 06-13-2001: Message edited by: Terry ]

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For me, there can be an intellectual appreciation (e.g., Sheezno Nichols' technique was not up to snuff tonight), but that's not why I go. I go for the emotional response. A performance can click for me, just as I can click with another person. So, just as we are attracted to different people (fortunately) we are attracted to different aspects of a performance (alexandra's diamond).

But, I still cling to the belief that seating can make a difference. I have seen the same ballet frm the fourth ring and the orchestra with the same cast (sure, different night) and had very different reactions. There are fewer dancers and ballets that I can fully enjoy from up in the fourth ring. I have found that my optimal enjoyment ('cuz, I have studied this and done the stats!) ;-) comes from sitting in the 2nd ring. For me, basically, Orchestra = the trees and no forest, while fourth ring = forest and no trees. Clinging to this belief, I often wish that certain members of the artistic staff of NYCB would go and sit higher than orchestra or 1st ring level-- believing that if only they saw how Sheezno Ringer does not project at all to the 3rd ring, they'd cast ballets differently. I can dream...


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I think these are all good points. Context, time, experience ... and yes, where you are sitting :) I agree, Amanda, it does matter sometimes, and I think your forest and trees analogy is quite apt.

I wanted to focus on one thing that Terry said about Yoshida (not to pick on Yoshida, but to illustrate the different perspectives point). Terry wrote: "I also think there is a time factor involved with these opinions. I think I've seen Yoshida since about 7 years ago and to be very honest, I wasn't very impressed with her in the beginning. And then I saw her in Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and then I began to really see her wonderful qualities that I hadn't realized before. Of course, it could go the other way around."

I'd agree. Often when one first sees a "subtle" dancer (especially when one is first going to the ballet) one simply doesn't see it. It's the grinning fellow with the big jump that catches the eye. Ten years later, we may completely reverse this -- or Person B may like grinning jumpers and Person A may like smallscale dancers for a lifetime. On Yoshida, there's at least one other aspect to the diamond, though, and I thought Anna Kisselgoff articulated it the most clearly of those I've read so far: that she looked overcoached in a pseudo-English style. (The overcoached is a quote, the rest is paraphrased.) I don't know whether or not she's overcoached, but I could see the rest of the point. If you look up Ashton in a book, it says "soft, subtle, small English style." Yes, he's subtle (we'd have at least ten definitions of that), which means that the Widow Simone's clog dance is balleticized music hall, NOT, as it was performed here, music hall plopped down in the middle of a ballet. And yes he's soft, in the sense that the line is never hyperextended; the line is stretched -- stretched far -- but never to the fullest possible extent; 98% percent, perhaps, so that the movement isn't stopped, there's the possibility of further movement left. And he doesn't whap you in the face with angles. But he's not small. This is where memories and films agree -- I was shocked to see film footage of the Royal (Sadler's Wells) in the late 40's. Very small dancers dancing faster and bigger than I've ever seen.

So someone seeing Yoshida who's sick of seeing dancers who seem concerned only with tricks might see her as a breath of fresh air, others who remember what the ballet once looked like will think, "She's not really getting it," a third (another opinion I heard here quite a lot) that the softness is external; she's got a sharp technique and learned to soften it, rather than it all coming from within, which impresses some as "fake." And a fourth just won't see her because someone else catches their eye. (And of course, there are at least six more views, to get our ten.)

[ 06-13-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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