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Boycotting A Ballet

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I know I'm probably in the minority here, but I declined to watch the telecast of New York City Ballet's Romeo And Juliet.

Now, I love NYCB and I have for over two decades. I don't live in New York City so getting to see the company only every 2 or three years is just something I have to accept and deal with. You would think I would be thrilled to know the company in going to be broadcast on television. But, I'm not.

First off, I loath, absolutely loath the Prokofiev score for Romeo And Juliet, but that's not the main reason I didn't watch. What upsets me is that with NYCB''s vast and glorious repertory what gets chosen to be shown is freaking R&J! Not Balanchine or Robbins or even Wheeldon, but a full-length, unnecessary mess of a production that shouldn't have been done in the first place.

I'm not trying to stir up another debate about the lost aesthetic of Balanchine's NYCB, but I have to mention that as the reason I boycotted a performance on television of a company I love.

Has anyone else ever gone against the grain and boycotted a ballet performance? What was your reason?

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I skipped it, too. I hesitated a moment because I'm interested in the technique of putting ballet on screen, but there are plenty of examples of good and bad around already. To judge from the thread discussing the broadcast, it wasn't a particularly good job of that, although some think anything is praiseworthy, just for being done at all:


I happen to disagree with the hope sometimes heard behind this way of thinking, that if the mediocre is supported, "it will get better". I've lived too long to believe that, because I've seen so many things just stay mediocre, sometimes until they fizzle out entirely.

But the main reason I skipped it is that I saw the Love Scene on a Workshop program a year ago, and found it watery, to say the least. If what should be the peak of the ballet is so weak... And I also find the Prokofiev music awfully heavy, too heavy to be a basis for something aerial. (I've not yet seen the Lavrovsky ballet film and hope to eventually, nevertheless; the MacMillan film I watch for Fonteyn and Nureyev, as well as for Czinner's filming technique, and wish they were doing something else. Which of course they did before the camera at other times, fortunately.)

I'm not sure I'd use the word boycott for this, though. I think a boycott is a protest with the aim of some improvement. I just think I'm finding better uses for my time -- like socializing online in one of my favorite interest communities -- or protecting myself from disappointment, sometimes to the extent of depression or trauma. I sat out Watermill years ago, because I thought it squandered resources or was pretentious or something, and I usually skipped performances of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet in those days because I'd found that the fewer ballets I saw on my visits to New York, the more I remembered, and I wanted very much to remember certain things I saw. Brahms's quartet put me off as another of his projects to impress without charming.

(Until the final Gypsy Rondo. The spirited competition between serious friends Farrell and d'Amboise made of it was wonderful, but for me it was a long haul getting there. [And one time as I was leaving early to savor and preserve my fresh memories, coming down the nearly-empty stairs to the lobby just before the curtain went up on Brahms-Schoenberg, I had the embarrassment of passing the choreographer, going up the stairs to watch his good friend Karin von Aroldingen dance in it. At least, he didn't know me from a door handle!])

Times change and we with them. Decades later, I would see a program of SFB which concluded with Brahms-Schoenberg: It towered over the three dances by contemporary choreographers that had proceeded it like the Rocky Mountains tower over Denver.

But trauma is the word for what I felt at a performance of MCB just a few years ago:


I watch dancing with some awareness of what sorts of people dancers are, even if I don't know them, and realistic images of one being caned or another hanging herself clash too strongly with my regard for these wonderful creatures. I couldn't see that again.

But although I saw around forty programs a year of Balanchine's company, and still respond to the occasional good video of it, these days, I rarely look at NYCB in the theatre. Not boycotting it. Just protecting myself.

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Has anyone else ever gone against the grain and boycotted a ballet performance? What was your reason?

Yes I have, and I was in it! Because it was SO bad.

Your complaint about NYCB broadcasts is even more trenchant if we remember that PBS has already--and fairly recently--represented Martins's full-length oeuvre by broadcasting his Swan Lake!

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All of the rep. that NYCB has

FWIW, I'm one of those -- Robert Gottlieb is another who comes to mind, just to illustrate -- who thinks that if the movement is just dutifully, indifferently, uncomprehendingly performed, not to mention the absence of some of the movement in the ordinary sense, the ballet isn't really present, it's disappeared, to use a word Gottlieb also uses, and so maybe NYCB doesn't really have such a great repertory. Much of what little I've seen of it in recent years looks pretty dim, and some of it looks like caricature. Which is not to disagree with what's been said -- it was a missable broadcast.

There is another thread going on about the broadcast:


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I've certainly walked out of ballets I thought were terrible, though never demonstratively; I wait for a pause or intermission to make my escape. And if I watch a ballet and find it to be a waste of time, I don't go back for seconds. Where I live now, I have relatively few opportunities to see live ballet, so I hate to do it, but there's only so much frustration I can stand.

I suppose I am intending to boycott a work my local company is planning for next season because I think the music and subject matter are unworthy, and because I disliked a similar project undertaken by the same choreographer a few years ago. As Jack Reed put it, it's a matter of protecting myself.

As for the Romeo + Juliet broadcast, I did watch it, but took the unusual step, for me, of not recording it. As it turns out, I was correct in predicting that I wouldn't have the slightest desire to watch it again.

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I tend to agree with those who see "boycott" as a matter of ideology or principle. I've avoided certain works but never really thought of this as "making a statement."

Nowadays, my local company performs the same program 4 times on a given weekend, I confess just didn't show up for my 4th subscription performance of the Twyla Tharp/ Elvis Costello ballet last season. Trendy, hyped, and over-produced works (TA-DAH !!!) leaves me feeling like I'm trapped in an airplane, strapped into my seat while others wander about peddling food, drink, items for sale, and noise.

I have in the past, with another local company, felt myself in an ethical bind: not wanting to see a certain program, but feeling obliged to "support ballet" by purchasing a ticket. And then, there's the problem of having to suppress expressing my true thoughts as others gush about how wonderful it was.

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I know of several people who sit out performances of MacMillan's The Judas Tree because they find the subject matter (gang rape among other things) to be really offensive. And I've done so myself for the same reason.

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I happen to disagree with the hope sometimes heard behind this way of thinking, that if the mediocre is supported, "it will get better".

An even more depressing thing is seeing the "mediocre" presented as The Classic or, in this case, a Comic Book version of a classical work treated by those in cultural power with the gravity with which they would treate a great work; to see the Classic Comic discussed with hushed voiced respect and palmy accents.

An even more extreme argument is that the Comic Book is today's equivalent of the Classic or of High Art - the Roy Lichtenstein, and to some degree the Andy Warhold and Robert Rauschenberg argument - though Rauschenberg and Warhol went in for pastiche and irony. Pop culture has become High Culture. I don't think, though, that Martins consciously tried to make the Classic Comic Book version of R + J (though that's what he did). He's just got no taste.


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