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Right reaction, wrong venue

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So here's a question ....

Friday night we went to see the musical "Cats". The audience went nuts for Mr. Mistofelees' solo -- the most balletic choreography of the show. They loved his 25 something-or-others -- not fouettés or pirouettes, but something of that nature -- and his Russian splits. Mind you, they were fairly sloppy and absolutely nothing compared to what any of the Joffrey dancers could do.

So why is it the audience loved the stuff, but hardly a one of them would consider buying a ticket to the Joffrey and seeing the real thing?

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Hi Treefrog -

I'm betting a lot of the answers to this aren't going to be pretty. I can think of many reasons why the people who went to Cats wouldn't go to the ballet. For some, there's probably a prejudice about the ballet as being too elitist/feminine/intellectual/obscure/you name it. I've always believed a lot of people are very uncomfortable with abstract dance or art; things that need interpretation. Cats is safer because it means what you see. It's another reason more people will go to a story ballet. There's swans, and there's a lake. No danger of getting it wrong.

Also, if what you're looking for is sensation, ballet can deliver, but sometimes isn't interested in that, and Broadway almost always is. Not everyone wants ballet to be exclusively about Russian splits and twenty five turns a la seconde (which is I think what that darn cat does) or fireworks. There's a story of a producer screaming at Balanchine in the thirties because a dance number was too slow. "I'm building to a climax." Balanchine tried to explain. "I want you should start at a climax!" The producer sputtered.

I remember a ballet I once saw which was greatly loved by its audience because it had breakdancing and back aerials in it. In fact, everything that a section of the audience liked about it was what wasn't ballet. I'm afraid I loathed it. I really don't want to see ballets for people who don't like ballet. I'd rather they weren't even made.

This isn't to say there aren't people who go to things like Cats, who if we could get them in to see a ballet would fall in love with it. It's just that ballet won't be everyone's cup of tea even if the tricks from it are, and I don't want ballet to be more like Cats to "develop a new audience".

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Leigh, what you say makes a great deal of sense. I hadn't really separated out the whiz-bang pyrotechnics from the artistry of ballet. In that sense, Mistoffelees' solo is no more balletic than the rest of the choreography in Cats (which, I'm proud to say, I found downright boring for two whole acts).

What I wonder, though, is whether some of the folks in that audience aren't "trainable". I am reminded of the slogan of a local restaurant:"Come for the pie, stay for the food", or something like that. If they get lured in by the promise of pyrotechnics, mightn't they come to like the artistry?

I'm still such a newbie myself, I'll admit to being wowed by the things people can do with a well-trained body. That's still a primary draw for me. There is something lovely in the movement itself (or combinations). I often don't understand what the ballet is "about". Someday, maybe I will.

I agree that program of "ballet for dummies" would be horrible. That's kind of, sort of, what Cats is, and it is boring, boring, boring. I guess I'm wondering how to convince people that they can enjoy ballet on many levels -- "come for the pyrotechnics, stay for the beauty, learn to appreciate the interpretation"?

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Treefrog - I thought Cats was a very expensive way to be bored for way too long too! I feel better just for saying that. :D

As for the pyrotechnics that can sometimes be seen - I often enjoy them myself, if they're in good taste. But, as we all know, there is no accounting for taste. ;)

Today I was at the YAGP finals in NYC, and I saw a bit of both the "whiz bang" and the artistry that can be seen in ballet. I prefer the artistry. But as Leigh wrote, you can have both in ballet...but sometimes you don't always want both.

I think one of the hardest parts for me, as a relative novice, is knowing what I should be seeing when I see a particular variation, or even a whole ballet. In other words, unless I know the dance very, very, well - I may not be aware that a "whiz bang" step has been added that wasn't there in the original...thus, changing the choreography so radically that the original intent of the dance has been altered. Does this make sense? For example, today while I was watching a young man perform a variation from Le Corsair...he was doing a fine job and then suddenly through in this strange move that I guess was supposed to "wow" the judges...but my companion, who is very well versed in all things ballet, commented that she had enjoyed his dance up until that very moment and that there was absolutely no reason to throw in that gymnastic trick at the end.

I think that in general our culture today is very narrow minded and has not got a clue as to what it means to be a ballet dancer. I am guessing that in Europe things are quite different owing to their long cultural history of ballet. In this country it is still very rare to find many young people who have even been exposed to it. MTV just doesn't do ballet.

Boy do I sound like a curmudgeon! :eek:

One way to encourage more of the public to try ballet might be to have several performances through out a season for which the ticket prices are lowered substantially. Paying high prices for something one really isn't too sure one even wants to see is a tough one for most to swallow. Another plus would be to have more well done programs on television...and not at 8 o'clock in the morning like the one this past Sunday! How many people are going to turn on their TVs at that hour and look for dance? It would also help if the interviewer had some knowledge of the art so he could ask intelligent questions of his guest! Oy! Poor Albert Evans had to suffer some pretty dumb questions...but he did it with grace. :)

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