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dazedandconfused

NPR Opinion on "Nutcracker"

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Wish I knew how to post a link. Apologies, but felt this was important since I haven't seen a link to any NPR commentaries under the "Links" section. Yesterday, December 9, NPR ran a radio commentary by a reporter named Tonya Barrientos at The Philadelphia Enquirer titled "I Hate the Nutcracker" that I felt should be listened to and commented on by Ballet Alert members. Usually I have a lot of respect for NPR opinions aired, but this one was unbelievably bad. It's on the NPR.org site for today, December 9. Please consider putting it in the Links forum. Thank you.

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I've added the link in today's Links forum, and here it is again for discussion:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5046837

Thank you, dazedandconfused, for bringing it to our attention.

This is a link to an audio download page on the NPR site, and it requires Windows Media Player or Real Player in order to listen to it.

The reason I put moved this thread to "Issues in Ballet" instead of "Ballets" is that I think that at least part of the issue is how dismissive and mocking people in media can be, especially when they think they are being funny. And while "All Things Considered" doesn't have the audience numbers of say, Rush Limbaugh, I am guessing that the NPR demographic is close to people who are open to the arts.

Any comments on the piece?

:blush:

dazedandconfused and anyone else who is interested in creating a link: for audio and video downloads, we allow a link to the downloads page. To post a link to a downloads page, the simplest way to do it is:

1. Copy the URL into memory (Highlight and CTRL+C or Apple+C or right-click/Copy)

2. Paste it into the post.

The link will appear on the page like this:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5046837

A fancier way is to create a text link, which isn't required:

1. Copy the URL into memory (Highlight and CTRL+C or Apple+C or right-click/Copy)

2. Click the http:// button above the posting box if you're in Reply or "Reply. If you're in "Fast Reply", click "More Options" to make the formatting buttons appear.

3. Paste the URL into the little box that opens and click "OK."

4. Another little box will prompt you to type some text, which, when clicked, will bring up the linked page. For example, "This is the link" and click OK.

5. Finish the end of the sentence, if you have more to add. For example "to the audio download page."

The post should look like this:

This is the link to the audio download page.

If you want to test to see if this has worked, you can click "Preview Post". If you click "This is the link" you'll go to the download page.

[end Off Topic]

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Sorry about my ignorance, I really enjoy this board, but not everybody is american. What is NPR, what does the acronym stand for :blush: ? More explanation of the entity could better clarify ( and make understand) the depth of the matter discussed.

Thanks.

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NPR stands for National Public Radio. One of its goal was to add something more like the BBC to American Radio. They're still working on it.

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Last week there was an NPR story featuring the students at Ballet Academy East and the Nutcracker. I forget the shows name, but it was on NPR. It was rather positive. I missed the segment that started this thread.

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I am guessing that the NPR demographic is close to people who are open to the arts.

Yes, public media should support the arts. But should they support Nutcracker?

I see this piece as a sign that the U.S. over-marketing of Nutcracker as "a holiday tradition" is reaching a saturation point. I'm sure marketing people think they are being very clever. I mean if you're going to have synergy with another event, what's more well publicised or feel good than Christmas, right? Short answer: no. It creates a serious branding problem.

The intention of all the Nutcrackers is obviously to fill the theater, pay the bills on the short term and introduce some members of the audience to ballet, so they'll come again. But what happens in the mind of the audience is this:

"FACT 1: There are kids on the stage, in the audience and this is a children's story" => "Nutcracker is a kiddie ballet"

AND

"FACT 2: Nutcracker is the only ballet I know"

=> "Ballet is for kids".

On the long term ballet as a brand is associated with kids. Most of the adult audience will come again only for Nutcracker, therefore creating a vicious cycle where more Nutcrackers have to be performed to survive financially.

Another point she makes is that watching mediocre dancers is not that fun for the untrained eye. This is a good point. Contrary to what you'd expect, the less you know about ballet the more unlikely you are to enjoy a bad performance. It takes knowledge to separate the specific performance from the ballet and you must already be interested enough to make the effort to disregard the mess and search for what is beautiful.

The funny (and sad) thing is, living in Europe and having seen more than my fair share of gimmicks and novel ideas, not one of the "outrageous" ideas she proposed at the end seemed outrageous to me. Nutcracker with scateboarders? No, but I have seen Coppelia with footballers... and as far as these things go, it was rather good...

Perhaps what this commendator needs is Pina Baucsh. A few hours with Pina and she'll learn to appreciate the simple things in life. :blush:

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I am guessing that the NPR demographic is close to people who are open to the arts.

Yes, public media should support the arts. But should they support Nutcracker?

I see this piece as a sign that the U.S. over-marketing of Nutcracker as "a holiday tradition" is reaching a saturation point. I'm sure marketing people think they are being very clever. I mean if you're going to have synergy with another event, what's more well publicised or feel good than Christmas, right? Short answer: no. It creates a serious branding problem.

The intention of all the Nutcrackers is obviously to fill the theater, pay the bills on the short term and introduce some members of the audience to ballet, so they'll come again. But what happens in the mind of the audience is this:

"FACT 1: There are kids on the stage, in the audience and this is a children's story" => "Nutcracker is a kiddie ballet"

AND

"FACT 2: Nutcracker is the only ballet I know"

=> "Ballet is for kids".

On the long term ballet as a brand is associated with kids. Most of the adult audience will come again only for Nutcracker, therefore creating a vicious cycle where more Nutcrackers have to be performed to survive financially.

Another point she makes is that watching mediocre dancers is not that fun for the untrained eye. This is a good point. Contrary to what you'd expect, the less you know about ballet the more unlikely you are to enjoy a bad performance. It takes knowledge to separate the specific performance from the ballet and you must already be interested enough to make the effort to disregard the mess and search for what is beautiful.

Chris, you make great points, but nowhere in the piece does she make those points**. She makes two references to quality of performance: "Even when staged by professionals, it's not exactly what you would consider white hot entertainment" and that the Kingdom of Sweets contains "a lineup of talent that would make Simon Cowell cry."

To which I would reply, "Exactly." "White hot" entertainment is not what The Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake or Agon is supposed to be. A performance of The Nutcracker with skateboarders and a car befitting NASCAR might make Simon Cowell happy, but it would make me want to hurl.

**Because your points are important ones and warrant a thread of their own, I've split off bart's response to your post -- which quotes all of your main points -- and created a new thread here:

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=21188

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Helene, sorry, I did not express myself clearly. What I meant to say was that these points are implied by her attitude. She probably hates Nutcracker because she has been overexposed to it and she is bored by it because has no idea how to look at it.

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The irony of this genre of critique "Oh, these ballet folks need to get with it; Nutcracker with skateboarding kids would be much more exciting" is it is so passé.

I have heard this kind of I'm-hipper-than-thou stuff for so many years (most of my life actually) that one thing is for sure: this is not hip.

However I have no doubt some people at NPR thought it was reall racy.

Other than that it is pretty obvious US ballet companies have made themselves much too dependent on the Nut. Imagine how much more exciting it would be if companies put on a Nut every two or three years. In that case it wouldn't be such a grind.

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A couple of barely related thoughts

For the most part, NPR stations are quite pro-arts. In Seattle, KUOW runs a weekday arts and culture show in the afternoon, with a mix of studio interview and prepared pieces. (This week there's a series on public art running on the national morning show that originated here -- listen for Marie Sillman) Although music and theater get more airtime than dance, the coverage is generally smart and positive.

I didn't get a chance to hear the negative commentary that starts this thread, but I've certainly heard many others like it. It's snarky and funny, and a popular kind of essay whatever its actual topic. (I've heard it recently about graduation speeches, blogs, student theater and holiday cards -- "once is hard enough and more is infinitly more awful") Although it's never fun to hear people expose their ignorance about dance, I'm not as concerned about the long-term affect of this particular essay.

On one level I have some sympathy with the commentator's points (as I understand them from the excerpts here), but I think those thoughts belong in the other Nut thread, so I'll slide over there.

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I heard this piece when it first aired. My first thought was, "Boy, I bet THAT sparks some discussion on BT!"

On the whole, I thought as commentary it wasn't terribly interesting. Sandik's comment was spot on: it fell into that "trash the ..." genre, without enlightening us at all. In fact, it just felt a little grinchy and mean-spirited. (For our non-English speakers, "grinchy" refers to a children's book called "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss.)

Still ... there's little question that Nutcracker is overdone in this country. Not only does every company big and small mount a production, the music cannot be escaped. It's little wonder she feels saturated. I think her main issue, though, was that it isn't very entertaining, which I take to mean as there's no discernable character development or plot to whet the intellectual appetite, and no whiz-bang technical novelties to arouse the passion. "All" there is is art -- perhaps that's just too subtle for her to appreciate.

However, there is a lot to be said for family traditions, and as traditions go, attending the Nutcracker each year is a pretty good one for the right sort of kid. Tanya Barrientos sounds like she is way too young to have kids, so she might not appreciate this aspect.

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I guess the impression I'm getting these days (I listen to only NPR basically) is that the current political administration is pushing for NPR to correct its "liberal bias" which irks me to no end. I don't want to get political but this is exactly the sentiment I felt that came across with this opinion piece. They selected this piece to cater to those in the NPR listening audience that feel like a little less of an "artsy-sounding" piece might make them more appealing to those who see NPR's basically neutral stance as being "liberal." I fear for the future of NPR, frankly. I think they are being unduly influenced by the might dollar and the current political climate. This opinion piece really got to me. I appreciate those with more knowledge posting a better link to the site.

Granted, ithe editorial was only one person's opinion, but it got to me. I wrote to the NPR Ombudsman and told this person that I didn't know which was harder, seeing the look on my daughter's face as she listened to this sad commentary or seeing the pain in her face as she soaked her blistered feet after 4 hours of nightly Nutcracker rehearsal.

Sorry to get on such a soapbox, but I'm so disappointed. We here in San Antonio try and try and TRY to get more publicity for the arts (basically, our symphony is the only arts entity in town or so it would seem), and then these kinds of opinions are broadcast over the airwaves. We opened a vein for this community during our 5 performances (one of which was basically a freebie to the local school community) and if our ballet company cleared $5000, it will be a blessing.

Sorry for the rant, but after our dancers pulled off such spectacular performances, to consider that we basically "met expenses" saddens me to the point of despair.

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Thank you, dazedandconfused (I was going to shorten to d&c, but decided against :wink: . . . ), for stating the situation with such clarity. Not on our local affiliate's own programming, but in the NPR network stories I see a trend towards the middle brow. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but it's not what I turn to NPR for. :angry2: And it surely isn't available elsewhere.

On the other hand, it is still maintaining a higher standard than its tv cousin, PBS, who seems to think Sarah Brightman and her ilk are the immortals of our age :yucky:. Actually, they may be right, but if they are, it's largely of their own doing. :wacko:

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Don't know if this will interest anyone or not, but on one of the day's links over the holidays (I know, I should tell which, but I'm in too much of a hurry just now :speechless-smiley-003: ), the same reporter who did the Nut-trash opinion on NPR did another story on a dancer in her area -- one who practices the martial arts. It was a very well-written story, IMHO. A story that revealed a bit more respect for the demands of ballet, I thought. I saw her link at the bottom and I emailed her that I enjoyed her story about this dancer much more than her NPR opinion and I was surprised to find out that she used to be a dancer (she said) and that the piece was meant to be funny. I expressed my opinion that I found it condescending rather than funny and she said she was very glad to receive the feedback. We mutually agreed that what is humorous to one can be, at the very least, NOT humorous to another and left it at that. I did mention to her that it was a topic of discussion on this forum and again, she appreciated my passing this information on to her.

I was quite honestly stunned that this opinion piece came from a former dancer. Anyone else have an opinion?

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Well, there is a kind of "insider" attitude that can disdain the familiar world, and in ballet Nutcracker is very familiar!

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Last Nutcracker season (2004) the same writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an opinion piece about hating the Nutcracker. I clicked on the link at the end of the piece and sent a her a lengthy email about how publishing her opinion could negatively impact ballet. She replied that I misuderstood the story, and that she meant to be funny. It sounds like the same opinion piece ran this year on NPR. Maybe I am a little slow, but it seemed genuinely negative to me, even reading it with her explanation in mind.

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It's possible that NPR pulled the old story out of its archives to fill air time.

Nothing in the piece suggested to me that she was either a) being funny or b) knowledgable about ballet.

If the piece's "funny" aspect escaped so many intelligent and sophisticated readers of BT (granted, all ballet partisans), I wonder who laughed.

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Well, now I'm wondering if she was shooting straight with me at all?! I do tend to give one the benefit of the doubt unless I have good reason not to, but I'm relieved to hear many others heard the opinion and were of the same mind I was. Not funny, AND not knowledgeable about ballet (I had actually forgotten that connection). If NPR pulled it out of the archives to fill air space, that only sinks them further in my mind for trying to appeal to the skater dudes out there by taking a swipe at ballet.

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