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Is exhaustion an important factor at NYCB?


bart

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A NY Times review today raises some questions about the aesthetic effects of NYCB's demanding rehearsal and performance schedule. On another thread, an interview with Miranda Weese suggests that these factors had much to do with her decision to leave the company to take a guest position at PNB.

Here's a quote from the NY Times:

New Yorkers are adept at running themselves ragged, so perhaps it’s only fitting that a company that bears the city’s name should put its dancers through such grueling paces. Still, while 38 different ballets over eight weeks may be impressive, wan dancers aren’t, and on Tuesday night the company looked exhausted.
And here's a relevant part of the interview with Weese:
[T]he struggle with the schedule is something that we’ve (Martins and Weese) both tried to accommodate over the years. There’s always been trouble. So he understood where I was coming from and needing to slow down and wanting a little bit more longevity for my body. I’ve suffered some pretty big injuries here. There’s only so much my body really can do at this point—it needs a little more coddling. [ ... ] I’ve had a fantastic career. I’m not angry, I’m not bitter. It’s just a different way of going about things. I’ve never been able to shake the way I want to work. I just couldn’t make it happen here.
What do you think about this? How serious a problem (or not) has it become at NYCB?
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I can scarcely remember a more devastating paragraph in a ballet review than the last one by Claudia La Rocco about The Four Temperaments, one of NYCB's signature works.

"But much of that 1946 ballet's frighteningly well-rendered structure was reduced to a blur of steps. 'The Four Temperaments' may be a ballet without a plot, but it's not without ideas. And visionary or not, choreographers are always, on some level, at the mercy of their translators. If the dancers don't know what they're saying, there's no way the audience will."

That's a criticism that goes beyond the company's supposed exhaustion.

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Well, I was there on Tuesday and I would simply not agree. I didn't think the performance was one of the best I've seen -- in general, I thought the corps was uneven. I thought Ask La Cour gave a really standout, nuanced performance as Phlegmatic. But that review was so negative, I simply didn't think it was deserved.

To me, it was a better than average night at NYCB. Some of that had to do with the choreography -- I really liked both Russian Seasons and adore 4T's.

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While I deplore the company's new Blockhead programming, one justification was that fewer ballets would need to be rehearsed each week, hence more time to prep each ballet. I came upon some calculations I did last August.

It could have had that effect, but the scattering of the individual blocks was not thought out properly, with the effect that there's been no change in the number of ballets per week:

For example, even if three blocks were staggered throughout a week there would be an average of 11 different ballets to rehearse.

Last winter with old-fashioned diverse programming there were five full weeks of rep, with an average of 13.8 different ballets performed per week.

This winter there are six weeks of rep. But the blocks are so scattered that the weekly average is 13.7.

We've sacrificed diversity without gaining quality.

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I wasn't there on Tuesday so can't comment on the specifics of the performance. Nonetheless . . . :P

Yes, this is a semiannual complaint.

The company as a whole has looked much better this season than it has for a long time. But not necessarily in the first performance of any given program, which Tuesday was. Again, that is not news with NYCB.

Wasn't it smart to program Circus Polka, which doesn't require any company members, for the last two weeks of the season?!

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If anyone should have been exhausted Tuesday night it would have been Whelan and Evans

who had lead roles in both Klavier and Russian Seasons. Marcovici was scheduled for both

Klavier and Melancolic but Tom Gold subbed for him in 4T's. So this blocked program

was tough on those Principals. And at first I was disappointed not to see Evans as

Phlegmatic!! But La Cour was very good ---- as was the whole cast. Maybe the

Times Critic was dozing off and only saw a "blur of steps". Another very unfair review

of a very fine evening.

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While I deplore the company's new Blockhead programming, one justification was that fewer ballets would need to be rehearsed each week, hence more time to prep each ballet. I came upon some calculations I did last August.

It could have had that effect, but the scattering of the individual blocks was not thought out properly, with the effect that there's been no change in the number of ballets per week:

For example, even if three blocks were staggered throughout a week there would be an average of 11 different ballets to rehearse.

Last winter with old-fashioned diverse programming there were five full weeks of rep, with an average of 13.8 different ballets performed per week.

This winter there are six weeks of rep. But the blocks are so scattered that the weekly average is 13.7.

We've sacrificed diversity without gaining quality.

"Blockhead programming" is a perfect description.

When I was called by the CB subscription office I asked if they wanted comments on the new programming system and was told "yes, actually, we do" so perhaps call/write if you feel the same way.

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While I deplore the company's new Blockhead programming, one justification was that fewer ballets would need to be rehearsed each week, hence more time to prep each ballet. I came upon some calculations I did last August.

It could have had that effect, but the scattering of the individual blocks was not thought out properly, with the effect that there's been no change in the number of ballets per week:

For example, even if three blocks were staggered throughout a week there would be an average of 11 different ballets to rehearse.

Last winter with old-fashioned diverse programming there were five full weeks of rep, with an average of 13.8 different ballets performed per week.

This winter there are six weeks of rep. But the blocks are so scattered that the weekly average is 13.7.

We've sacrificed diversity without gaining quality.

First of all, I'll reiterate (from the other thread) that to me the dancers did not look exhausted.

In terms of programming, and number of ballets per week, I looked at next season's programming, and while I am happy that several ballets appear on multiple programs, it looks as if there are even MORE ballets per week.

In the past -- more than 10 years ago, probably -- each ballet was done 5 or 6 times in a season, and performers could really develop in the roles (although there often were several casts). That's when I really enjoyed the programming. Of course, there was injury, overwork and other considerations every season, so there may not be ANY ideal way to program the company, unless blocks of dancers are rotated each week. That said, it would be interesting to see how Peter Boal is dealing with this conundrum. In the "Time Out" article, Miranda seemed to feel he had the ideal solution.

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I can scarcely remember a more devastating paragraph in a ballet review than the last one by Claudia La Rocco about The Four Temperaments, one of NYCB's signature works.

Not to mention nebulous. What on earth does the paragraph mean?

1) What is "frightening" about the well-rendered structure? Does poor Claudia go to bed suffering nightmares from the form of 4Ts?

2) What is a "blur of steps"?

3) What "ideas" does 4Ts have?

4) In what way is a choreographer at the dancers' mercy? Isn't there more a symbiosis between choreographer and dancers?

5) How does she know the dancers don't know what the choreographer is saying? Couldn't they just be tired?

6) How does she know the audience won't know the ballet and its "ideas" from previous experiences with it?

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...

Not to mention nebulous. What on earth does the paragraph mean?...

Maybe we're giving these Times reviews too much attention, more than the reviewers seem to be giving to what's on stage. Frankly, I'm beginning to miss Mr. Rockwell. He seemed to care, and didn't appear to need to huddle with other papers' reviewers at intermission to figure out what he'd just seen.

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Yes exhaustion is a factor and so are injuries, and, yes, Leigh you are right it's nothing new. Five weeks of Nutcracker, often two performances a day; nearly two weeks of Sleeping Beauty; then seven or eight weeks of repertory. Let us assume for the sake of argument, only speculation here of course, that the staging process involves, let us say, teaching the corps de ballet Square Dance for four hours the very afternoon of the first performance, or teaching Piano Concerto the evening of the performance itself, the rehearsals proceeding to an hour before curtain -- A young woman's foot is not designed to spend five hours a day in a toe shoe. At this point in the Winter Season, it's a question of who is left standing to perform.

Re Tuesday Night -- I'd come down somewhere in the middle. I thought Russian Seasons looked signficantly weaker than it did last Spring, the substitution of Krohn for Sylve in one of the central roles does not help this ballet and much of the choreography is built on making Whelan look dramatic and semi-narrative when that's a questionable idea at best, one would much rather see a stronger ballerina in this role. (Ratmansky did make it on her all the same, thus the responsibility is his). 4Ts looked, like many things this season, like the first performance was a dress rehearsal; and . . . Tom Gold dancing Melancholic? Savannah Lowery, Sanguinic? Time was Peter Boal danced the one role and Jenny Somogyi the other at the height of their strengths. If this is the standard of comparison (the recent past in fact), Ms. La Rocca has a point.

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Looking at the posts reporting falls on this thread, the Week 7 thread, PLUS those in the papers (ncluding the most recent by Gia Kourlas in the Times, I'd say we have a problem here.

You never know the source, however, in the 1986 (I think it was) tour of California, dancers slipped on the same spot on the stage of the Zellerbach Auditorium several nights in succession.

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Michael's post made me think of performances I saw this weekend of an entirely different company. A very strong and quite wonderful ballerina -- Mary Carmen Catoya -- was required to do 4 or possibly 5 performances of the demanding Raymonda Variations in 3 days. (Her replacement was cancelled in the last performance.) The first day, she had lovely epaulement and a spontaneous and charming smile that reminded me of Verdy or McBridge. Her eyes were expressive with warmth and delight in dancing. By the final performance in the series, although the dancing was as accurate as before, the smile was showing signs of strain, and the eyes were occasionally tensed half-shut.

Klavier asks: "What is a "blur of steps"? I don't know the details of the peformance being reviewed, but I have noticed that some dancers have a quality that allows you so see in sharp focus all aspects of the motion of arms and legs -- and, when a movement ends, you can see the foot or hand in repose, if only for a split second. Their movements are "there." Other dancers give the impresson of flurry and blur, even when seen through opera glasses. By the end of a long run, more and more dancers fall into the second category. Something, indeed, IS lost.

I guess it's no surprise that dancers get tired, and that this effects performance. But wasn't Weese raising issues of scheduling, etc., that -- as she seems to be suggesting -- make this worse than it need be?

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