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The Not Terribly Good Club

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Originally posted by the much-moved, yet indominable, Mel:

This is the thread viewed through the other end of the telescope. It is intended specifically for the observer of the weird and strange things that happen when Things Go Wrong. I don't mean just a dancer taking a classic three-point landing (two heels and another part of the anatomy) in the middle of a classic variation, or somebody just forgetting the choreography, but those moments when things break down utterly and irretrievably and the only answer is the curtain or a blackout so that the stage manager can clear off the mess with a snowplow. Second-hand entries are OK, too, as in the lead for the topic.

In 1978, the Not-Terribly-Good Club of Great Britain (honest!) reported on a performance of Kenneth MacMillan's "Mayerling". At one point in the performance, a layer of the skirt of Lynn Seymour's costume came loose. David Wall, dancing Archduke Rudolf, gallantly tried to tear the offending textile away, but only succeeded in pulling more loose. Seymour dragged her new train behind her, but eventually it started to wrap her up, and more was coming loose with every movement. Audience excitement rose as they could see more and more of Seymour! Wall struggled valiantly, at first attempting to partner through the gauze, but he finally ended up partnering the bandages. After awhile, a viewer reported, "they looked like two piles of rags possessed by the Devil". A critic reported that he had often seen the tragedy of Mayerling through tears, but never of this sort! An opportunity for a timely exit saved the hapless dancers from a further exercise in Murphy's Law (If things can possibly go wrong, they will) and stage entropy (left to themselves, things will go from bad to worse). How about it? Any great tales of disaster onstage? (I'd appreciate it if stories where people end up getting hurt could be kept to a minimum, but they have to be allowed as part of disaster stories.)

Mel Johnson

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Ripped, stuck, and otherwise entangled costumes always make for an interesting performance, but how 'bout a bomb scare? When Paris Opera Ballet brought Nureyev's "Swan Lake" to DC in the mid-1980s, there was a bomb scare that emptied the theater (all the theaters at the Kennedy Center, actually), and it struck Swan Lake right before they started to dance the white swan pas de deux.

After 45 minutes outside on a pleasant summer night, watching swans sip champagne (who but the French would stop by the bar during an evacuation?) and Nureyev stride, his most princelike, even though wearing a bathrobe, up and down to the delight of two tour buses that decided to drive by at 11:00 o'clock on a Friday night, the building was declared save for swans and the performance continiued.

They skipped the second act and zipped into Act III. I guess they figured we knew the story. In Act IV, Nureyev inserted a pas de deux for Odette and Siegfried, and this is where my Great Save comes in. Florence Clerc and Nureyev danced the white swan pas de deux instead. I liked this; the audience expected a white swan pas de deux and a black swan one, and darned if we weren't going to get it.

But the white swan pas de deux didn't work here. It's a falling in love pas de deux, and the fourth act calls for a I know you didn't mean it but we're going to die anyway pas de deux, and seeing Clerk realize that 30 seconds in, and change, without changing a step, a falling-in-love duet into a farewell, was one of the most moving and most theatrical moments I've ever experienced, and worth every minute of the 45 we had to wait for it.


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I'd like to nominate most choreography by Ben Stevenson. I respect his desire to create evening-length works but most of his choreography is just so simple, better for a ballet school showcase. I don't understand because I've read good things about the Houston Ballet dancers, but could he be working off their capabilities? It's unfortunate because many companies are doing his Cinderella, including ABT. He moves the story along fine but his dances are just so boring...the dancers have nothing to do. It also gets repetitive. I also felt this way about the Snow Maiden. He should go out and watch Balanchine, Ashton, and real Petipa. I can't understand why ABT does his Cinderella when the Ashton is so good (having seen it a year ago when the Royal visited). -- Dale

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Oh, Dale, thank you for that, especially for the part about ABT's choice of Cinderellas. Stevenson's, apparently, is in more repertories than any other version; more than twenty, according to their last press release.

(I think the reason is that it's easy to dance and it looks like a ballet, especially if you haven't seen Ashton's.)

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Just for the pure deviltry of it, I think I'll repost an earlier tale of woe entitled "La Sylphide Attrappe' "

There was this performance of "La Sylphide", see, and Martine van Hamel was dancing the title role. I don't remember much of anything else about this performance's Act I, because when Martine tried to vanish up the chimney, she got stuck! She could come back down, but she couldn't go all the way up, leaving her feet dangling between heaven and hearth in the fireplace. Nobody watched James and Effie and Gurn and the rest of the good Scots' yeomanry spin out the story of Act I. Madge could have danced a can-can while playing a sousaphone and nobody would have noticed - we had all developed feet fixation. At first, the feet were very docile and decorous feet, framing themselves genteelly in cou de pied. But, after awhile, an occasional shake or flex became necessary to ward off cramp, and every little movement was greeted by the murmurations and chortlings of the audience. Of course, eventually, she could reenter from her perch in the flue, and things continued on without further incident.

Afterwards, Martine, ever the good-spirited trouper, just smiled it away, and said, "Well, I guess that they just built the chimney for a smaller sylph!"

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Re: Stevenson (in response to Dale and Alexandra, a few posts above)

The work by this choreographer with which I am most familiar is Dracula, which is a work that seems worse the more I think of it. Even to an untutored eye the parts that are not derivative are dull. The principal characters have almost no dramatic impact. There is a character pas de deux between two elderly characters that is OK for about 30 seconds but that quickly becomes one of those "is it over yet" pieces.

HOWEVER--there is a third act solo for Flora in which she attempts to remain the chosen bride of Dracula which, during the two times I saw it last year as presented by the Pittsburgh Ballet, was arresting in its depiction of emotional bleakness, hopelessness and fear. Both times it was a really cathartic moment. Much was due to the dancing and acting of the dancers in question (Kristen Wenrick and Mabel Modrono), but since they gave markedly different interpretations of this character, much of the credit must go to Stevenson.

But Flora was an exquisite fifteen minutes during a production that was otherwise full of flash and trash.

ed waffle

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It's strange but I had a similar experience with Stevenson's Snow Maiden. When I saw the ballet last season, I actually cried. It was not the first time I cried at the ballet but usually I get the chills or experience an incrediable high. I was surprised to have it happen during this long ballet because during the entire evening I was thinking that it would be a really good ballet if only a semi-talented choreographer had done it. Nina A. and Angel Corrella were great as were the costumes and the scenery but most of the choreography was boring and academic. It had a few nice touches, such as her symbolizing snow falling by twinkling her fingers. But in the last act, the Snow Maiden goes to look for her love. She finds him at his wedding and tries to dance with him but he spurs her. It was heartbreaking the way Nina played the moment. It choked me up. So let's just say that she's a great ballerina and Stevenson is a 1/3 of a talented choreographer. That's why I suggested he go watch the classics. He choreographs like a person with 1/2 the alphabet. -- Dale

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