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Are we too complacent in our perception of our “home team”?


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I'm sure this was discussed on the old forum but I can't find anything on this one. It is prompted by some of the discussion on the threads “Commenting on reviews”, “Royal Ballet Firebird/In the Night/Raymonda Act III bill” and “Do professional critics write for their perceived audiences?” but mainly by a comment made at the end of the last night of the Raymonda triple bill at the Royal Opera House.

 

As the house lights came up, a lady with an American accent said, “If they did that in New York, they'd be on the bus to Pittsburgh.” She has every right to express an opinion, especially a witty one, and no rudeness was intended: her remark was addressed only to her companion and she apologised profusely when she realised others had heard. Though my only involvement with the ballet world is as a spectator, the Royal Ballet is my home team and my unvoiced, instinctive reaction was outrage – but it has got me thinking.

 

In the course of that evening I had:-

initially regretted the many cast substitutions but realised that the replacements were dancers I am happy to watch;

seen nothing to condemn and much to admire in the first and second pieces;

enjoyed the solos in “Raymonda”, especially those by the replacement dancers, and decided the ensemble dancers were having an “off” day, perhaps due to the many last-minute revisions, despite the presence in the ranks of many I admire as individual dancers.

 

I look to the London visits of the Mariinsky and Bolshoi as setting the gold standard and I have seen enough to know which of them is in the doldrums and which riding high – and how that changes over the years. However, I appreciate the fact that the Royal Ballet draw their dancers from a wider range of physiques, which is obviously going to affect the impact of the corps. Because I have come to recognise and appreciate the individual Royal Ballet dancers, especially through their roles in the more dramatic works, I excuse the lack of uniformity but should foreign visitors do so? Is it for the same reason that I thought English National Ballet's “Sleeping Beauty” London first night superior to the Mariinsky one I saw here about six years ago? I certainly enjoyed ENB's much more.

 

The New York City Ballet's visit here a few years ago disappointed me. They dance fast and they're very thin and Balanchine is great and I'd love to see them do “Western Symphony” again but I missed the individuality I see at the RB or ENB and the grace and intensity of the Russians. It was really good to see legends like Wendy Whelan, Albert Evans, Damian Woetzel, not so good to see some of their other icons – but if those others had been long-serving ballerinas whose careers I had followed, I would have been more tolerant.

 

One of the best things about this forum is the positive and mature level of debate so I'm definitely not advocating more venom, but there might be a good outcome from the American lady's comment after the RB “Raymonda III”: Tamara Rojo was seated immediately in front of her so if she heard it, we can expect a humdinger of a “Raymonda III” from ENB this summer.

 

The forum has enough non-London members to refute any suggestion that it is a Royal Ballet fan club, how do you assess your local companies against the visiting? Anyone want to defend the honour – or honor – of Pittsburgh?

Edited by Grand Tier Left
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What an interesting topic, and one i was thinking about the other night as i was watching Youtube. I think my answer would be ,it depends on what they are dancing.I have always thought that the royal ballet give their best performances in dramatic works and that,s why i like them.I accept that the technical standard of dancing may not be as high as other leading companies but their characterisation is better.

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GTL, do you know what the American woman was so unimpressed with? Are you sure that she wasn't referring to all the last minute cast changes?

 

I think that if you "follow" a company and its dancers you are instinctively a bit protective of them and subconsciously a little blind to, or at least more forgiving of, their failings. There is something of the indulgent parent about a person who has a "home team". We get used to, and accept, the foibles and faults of our chosen companies. I don't know enough about ballet to comment on the differences between companies and countries. The Mariinsky Swan Lakes which I saw, whilst beautiful, left me strangely unmoved. Ekaterina Kondaurova's Firebird, however, was one of the most exciting performances which I have seen on the stage. I obviously can't speak for British ballet-goers in general, but I think that many value dramatic interpretation very highly, and above perfect technical performances. The Russians are known for their formidible technique and, in the case of the Mariinsky, its perfect and uniform corps, and these things seems to be prized above everything else. We I'd be very interested to hear people's opinions of the European companies.

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Great topic! What I find particularly funny is the phenomenon of "our company is the best" without ever seeing other companies in comparison, as if it were a law of nature. I experienced that with the Hamburg audience (orthodox Neumeier devotees) and the Paris audience – no offense, just an observation.

 

Of course you see your home company in much more performances and you can forgive a bad performance much easier (because you know they can do better) as when you watch a guest company just one or two times.

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The forum has enough non-London members to refute any suggestion that it is a Royal Ballet fan club, how do you assess your local companies against the visiting? Anyone want to defend the honour – or honor – of Pittsburgh?

 

They have a very good football team in The Steelers

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"I look to the London visits of the Mariinsky and Bolshoi as setting the gold standard and I have seen enough to know which of them is in the doldrums and which riding high – and how that changes over the years"

 

We ALL change over time. My mirror reminds me of this fact daily. This is I should think as true, for ballet companies as it is for governments who, in the larger picture, are known to change rapidly. Our memories - especially when witnessing things that are informative for us - tend understandably to be much more rooted in time. Surely that makes all comments (as indeed it does lives) relative. Time is the great boundary in which we must ALL live with. A list of greatest dancers is usually made up of those one has in some fashion seen (bless Youtube). Myself, I have on occasion seen VERY good performances by the Pittsburgh Ballet - and just look at the lineage there including Franklin, Gilpin (British) and, especially - when I think of it - Patricia Wilde for whom Balanchine created so many key works including his incisive one act Swan Lake. Perhaps the 'American lady's' comment was a compliment. I have, on occasion, seen some underwhelming dance performances in New York ... but then I lived there for 17.5 years and saw some life-altering ones - which remain vivid in my memory - as does the wonderful Robbins Dance collection (OPEN FOR FREE TO ALL) which was forged long before the internet became a reality.

 

The idea of Albert being a 'dance legend' is - as young people today might put it - 'rare'. Having known him a little bit, I can in my mind's ear hear him guffaw even now.

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Yes, a very interesting topic. I think that watching large companies will always involve compromises....I have been watching ballet for 50 years and I still haven't found one company that has it all: perfect technique across the board, perfect corps, uniform dancers, great dramatic skills, amazing orchestra, etc. etc. I think what you enjoy from a performance is very subjective. For some people, Swan Lake is ruined if the corps is ragged, no matter how wonderful the principals might be, whereas others would forgive that if they get an amazing Odette/Odile. My personal preference is to get the drama and emotion out of a role, so if an O/O only manages 28 fouettees instead of 32, but she makes me cry at the end, job done as far as I'm concerned! This is why I have such affection for the Royal Ballet (and of course, they are the company I see all the time; I would love to see more of ENB but they aren't in London enough)...as someone mentioned above, they have a wonderful line-up of individual dancers, all of whom have something unique to give, which is why I am never bored (my 'non ballet' friends often ask me how I can see the same ballet 6 times in a month and it is hard to explain how different each one can be depending on who is leading it). I have seen many companies in my time, and always go to the foreign companies visiting London, but I have never seen a company that comes close to giving me the emotional and dramatic experience that the RB does. Maybe this is also because of the repertory; I know that dancers come here from all over the world because they want to dance what must be one of the most varied reps around. So....I am willing to overlook a bit of raggedness in the corps if I get an amazing emotional journey. I often compare this feeling with the two great opera singers of the 20th century. In my humble opinion, Joan Sutherland had the most amazing voice, technically. It was clear and crisp with wonderful timbre and no-one sang the coloratura roles like she did. However, give me Maria Callas every time, because you can feel the emotion in every note she sang, even though those notes were often not quite there...but Sutherland never makes me weep when she sings Vissi d'Arte or Casta Diva, whereas Callas puts a lump in my throat whenever I hear her sing the great tragic heroines.

 

When comparing the RB with the Russian companies....I love seeing them when they come to London, as it is a completely different style and we usually get technical perfection across the board. However, as Aileen said, the performances always leave me emotionally cold; I can't remember ever coming out of a Russian performance feeling drained. On the other hand, I always come out thinking 'wow, what amazing technicians they are; you will never see corps like that anywhere else on earth'. So...to sum up my ramblilngs, no one company has it all, and that is why I like to see different ones, so that I get technical perfection on one day, and high drama and deep emotion on the next...but if I had to choose, give me the latter every time.

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some of those well regimented, rehearsed to perfection, corps de ballet dancers look so BORED, bless 'em. May be great for us seeing them a couple of times, but for them, that's they're life until they retire, either through 'old age' or injury. Also, that boredom sometimes comes across - the dancing may be technically perfect, but it so uninvolving, I get restless. If they are bored doing it, why should I get excited watching it. Like Sim, I admire the Russian companies when they visit London, though often underwhelmed by their productions (and jesters!!). Watching the dancers on the side of the stage waiting their turn - they could be waiting for a bus (even if ever-so-elegantly).

 

I love the Royal Ballet, warts and all, because I see them the most (living just outside London, but working in central London not far from Covent Garden, they are the easiest for me to get to see), and so have become aware of when dancers are in form (or not), who is rising through the ranks, when a performance really crackles, or when its a bit off. I feel involved and invested in the company, which adds hugely to my enjoyment and satisfaction, when a show really hits the heights. And of course a bit low when it doesn't! The dancers seem invested in what they are doing too - the rep is obviously interesting and challenging for them, so that a long run of one of the old 'warhorses' can be got through, as there is something new (to them) and interesting around the corner, and for the younger ones, interesting and hopefully leading roles, in those warhorses!

 

I do enjoy seeing other companies (e.g. San Francisco Ballet last September were a joy, as they dance with such joire de vivre its utterly infectious) but just don't know enough about the technicalties of ballet to say how good (or bad) any company is technically - I can only judge on how it looks to my eye, as to whether it 'zings' along and looks effortless and 'right'. If they dance it right, it usually looks like that's how its supposed to be (even if in fact, the purist may say, that a foot or finger wasn't fully extended or whatever).

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I think the ordinary audience member (ie the ballet lover but not intense balletomane) is indeed very tribal about their home ballet company, especially if, as in Toronto, we almost never see any visiting companies. I think the analogy with the local sports team is very apt. I noticed this particularly when I volunteered as the person in charge of DVDs at the National Ballet of Canada's ballet shop. People would ask for, say, Swan Lake and I'd say, "Well, we have the Royal Ballet with ANTHONY DOWELL and NATALIA MAKAROVA..." and they'd say "Don't you have the National Ballet of Canada?" and walk away. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

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Yes, I've always liked the football fan / ballet fan analogy, though perhaps ballet fans don't chuck things at each other as much, get drunk as much, and tend to be a bit quieter on the trains.

 

But there is a lot of prejudice and home and visiting companies are not on a level playing field.

 

Of course, many people are on close terms with home team dancers, chatting in person and via social media. That's bound to have an effect.

 

Complacency? Perhaps it may happen that some home fans become, to a degree, blinded by prejudice or perhaps even tiredness (not in the literal sense), such that they do miss or overlook things that others, with fresh eyes and thinking, see and are less tolerant of. I suspect however that many people are well aware when they see shortcomings in their home team - how much of this they are prepared to say in public however is another matter.

 

Don't think the criticism of NYCB dancers in the first post is fair - it was only a short tour with a narrow rep - are they not entitled to the benefit of the doubt as in "I have come to recognise and appreciate the individual Royal Ballet dancers" - emphasis being on "come to" i.e. it takes time.

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Aileen, I only overheard American lady's remark and the start of her apology to her neighbour as I passed on my way out, so I don't know how the conversation continued. As it came at the end of Raymonda and I was aware it wasn't the corps' finest hour, I felt pretty sure it was a comment on its quality, the cast changes being old news by then.

Meunier, thanks especially for your transatlantic input. Glad to hear Pittsburgh Ballet's reputation survived their encounter with “Flashdance”, but I think our American lady would have upgraded the RB dancers from the bus to limo if she was being complimentary. Re Albert Evans: somewhere on the web Peter Martins is quoted as saying he was a favourite with foreign choreographers at NYCB. It just shows what a difference local or expert knowledge makes!

Paul, I didn't mean to criticise NYCB, I'm not qualified to do so, I'm just trying to rationalise my response to them in the context of the topic. As you say, given time and more exposure, I might appreciate them better.

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I don't think companies can be compared - the differences are more to be celebrated.

 

The only thing that matters to me is "did the performance touch me?"

 

Naturally, if there is shoddy technique or execution of patterns that will probably interfere - or distract - from the emotional communication.

 

Even cold beauty - sometimes known as perfection - needs to say something.

 

Am I protective of the home team? I surely hope not. Everyone has a less than stellar outing now and again, but not as a trend.

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This is a very thought provoking topic and I respond as one who supports two ‘home teams’ (the RB and ENB) as, noticeably, do many posters on this forum (RB/BRB; BRB/NBT etc.). I also try to see most programmes by visiting companies and find the comparisons with British ones illuminating and helpful in keeping me ‘grounded’.

 

I need such ‘reality checks’ because I know that, in common with many others, I am really quite indulgent where my ‘home teams’ are concerned. I think that this is because:

  • we feel that we ‘know’ the dancers even if that sense is borne solely of seeing them regularly on stage (and this applies as much to the Corps as to Principals and Soloists)
  • we derive very real pleasure from seeing talented young dancers essaying their early roles and developing over time into fine artistes
  • we feel a dramatic connection with certain dancers and, once we feel we have seen their souls and they have aroused our emotions, we tend to follow their repertoire and performances avidly
  • we want, and have the opportunity to, attend multiple performances and savour the interpretations of several casts
  • we get to know and love the repertoire
  • we eagerly anticipate new works and an introduction to unfamiliar pieces in the knowledge that the dancers will be familiar to us and thus help us embrace the unfamiliar.

Ballet-going thus becomes a very personalised thing which comes to shape our lives and influence our thinking in a way that attending a series of performances by visiting companies would not do. [i have to say, however, that some performances, perhaps by the Russians in particular – for example, recently, Ekaterina Kondaurova in Firebird which has been mentioned above – leave an indelible image which shapes one’s view of a role, perhaps for ever.]

 

There are, of course, some fans who can appear a touch obsessed with individual dancers or a little biased or blinkered in their appraisal of performances or companies. But, generally, I don’t think that having a ‘home team’ means we lose our critical faculties. After all, along with others and however rosy-tinted our spectacles, it seemed to us that the corps for Raymonda was not looking its best at the last performance on Friday.

 

But, hey, here’s to more ENB Sleeping Beauties and RB Onegins in the immediate future.

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I don't think that we as the audience are complacent - I fear sometimes it is the "powers that be" in companies that are resting on their laurels who are at fault. Carrying on with the football analogy, a manager that doesn't deliver doesn't last long. Producing first class ballet is very hard, but at times it can seem as though a little "that'll do" creeps in. It is probably not one individual's fault, but an unlucky mix of injuries, lack of time for rehearsal, poor scheduling etc. etc.

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If you have a home company, you grow up with their style and you get an expert in their way of dancing, you know every detail - it takes time to learn about the qualities of other companies, to appreciate the difference.

 

I grew up with Cranko and dramatic ballet, so it took me a while to appreciate the qualities of the Mariinsky Ballet ("they don't act!") or NYCB ("not in line!", and "they don't act!" :rolleyes:) . Now when I've seen the Mariinsky ballet, I miss their clear academic purity, the perfection of the corps de ballet when I see the next performance of Stuttgart Ballet. Although, and I say that without any chauvinism, the Stuttgart DQs were so much better than the DQ from Paris I saw on TV last week - my oh my, what happened to that famous company? Sorry, off topic.

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GTL, I've bumped the font size in your posting no. 13 up a bit, as it was a bit tiring for my ageing eyes (and a good reminder that I was going to go to the optician's tomorrow and order some new glasses :) )

 

Angela, I believe POB were having a lot of casting problems with their Don Qs - very large numbers of dancers injured, I think.

 

Yes, I've always liked the football fan / ballet fan analogy, though perhaps ballet fans don't chuck things at each other as much, get drunk as much, and tend to be a bit quieter on the trains.

 

I was coming home on the train about a year ago with a load of football fans who were dissecting the evening's match. I remember coming away, having listened to their conversation, thinking there really wasn't that much difference between us.

 

Back to the subject in hand, I was going to draw a parallel with international-level orchestras, where one is noted particularly for its woodwind, another for the quality of its strings, and so on. It doesn't necessarily mean that one is better than another, just that certain works may suit one better than the other.

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I was coming home on the train about a year ago with a load of football fans who were dissecting the evening's match. I remember coming away, having listened to their conversation, thinking there really wasn't that much difference between us.

 

 

I can make it from the front row of the Royal Opera House to my seat at Stamford Bridge in 25 minutes (on a good day!).

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As the house lights came up, a lady with an American accent said, "If they did that in New York, they'd be on the bus to Pittsburgh."

 

Americans don’t have accents! ;)

 

Anyone want to defend the honour – or honor – of Pittsburgh?

 

I lived in Pittsburgh as a graduate student. No, I don’t want to defend Pittsburgh. :)

 

Now, on a slightly more serious note...

 

I was coming home on the train about a year ago with a load of football fans who were dissecting the evening's match. I remember coming away, having listened to their conversation, thinking there really wasn't that much difference between us.

 

Very insightful.

 

I like watching American football, but the hometown team is not necessarily my favorite team (sorry, Bears). I don’t have a favorite team, but I do enjoy watching a good game. I also enjoy traveling to stadiums in other cities to experience a game there. Sometimes it’s a good game, sometimes it’s not. Some teams are excellent, some teams are ... less excellent. :) Sometimes the fans are nice, sometimes they’re not. Some stadiums are beautiful, some are not.

 

Same with ballet.

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Yes, I've always liked the football fan / ballet fan analogy, though perhaps ballet fans don't chuck things at each other as much, get drunk as much, and tend to be a bit quieter on the trains.

 

 

Nick Ahad, a journalist with the Yorkshire Post has written this thought provoking article:

 

http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/sport/cricket/nick-ahad-congregation-gather-to-worship-at-the-altar-of-yorkshire-cricket-1-5311477

 

When I read it this morning I could see many similarities between his passion for Yorkshire Cricket and mine for watching ballet.

 

I've been mulling over this topic since GTL first posted at the weekend and so many people have added thoughtful and insightful comments to the thread that it has been like following a constantly moving goal post.

 

Everybody on this board is probably aware that I am a keen follower of 2 ballet companies in England. I don't think I make allowances as such but I do appreciate different qualities not only with those 2 companies but with the other companies I see on a much more occasional basis. Where I do perhaps feel that I, as an ardent follower, sees things differently with someone who may be an occasional watcher is that I positively relish the thought of seeing dancers in roles new to them. I am lucky to be able to see so many performances and to be able to see dancers grow into roles. I am not alarmed by the fact that they may not be "perfect" first time out. I don't on reflection see these thoughts as complacency.

 

Angela makes a very good point in post #18 about growing up with a style. That does not necessarily make you complacent but as companies are all so different when you see another company you may or may not be comfortable with their style.

 

There was a discussion on another ballet forum a couple of months ago. One of the members, who is a Cuban living in Miami and brought up in his formative years on the Cuban National Ballet, saw Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee on a trip to Paris. He was extremely dismissive of the production and did not seem able to see its qualities because he was so bound up in the version he has grown up with. As you can imagine it led to quite an interesting debate(!) with, in the end, no resolution. As far as he seems to be concerned, unless it is Cuban/Russian style it is not worth seeing. I would describe that as the height of complacency!

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As far as he seems to be concerned, unless it is Cuban/Russian style it is not worth seeing. I would describe that as the height of complacency!

 

I agree, Janet. That seems to be a common (and infuriating) attitude on that site, at least from people posting; perhaps there is a vast majority of silent lurkers who are more reasonable. The latest comment that flabbergasted me was when someone's reaction to learning that Kondaurova would not be at the recent YAGP gala in Tampa was a completely dismissive "meh" about the whole gala, which I thought was insulting to all the other fine dancers who would be there. The poster's loss if they chose not to go, in my opinion. I am glad to say I do not find this kind of attitude on balletcoforum!

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I agree, Janet. That seems to be a common (and infuriating) attitude on that site, at least from people posting; perhaps there is a vast majority of silent lurkers who are more reasonable. The latest comment that flabbergasted me was when someone's reaction to learning that Kondaurova would not be at the recent YAGP gala in Tampa was a completely dismissive "meh" about the whole gala, which I thought was insulting to all the other fine dancers who would be there. The poster's loss if they chose not to go, in my opinion. I am glad to say I do not find this kind of attitude on balletcoforum!

 

The guy in question was a fan of Kondaurova's and backed out of an expensive trip because she was a no-show. If I had planned a round trip of over 500 miles to see someone special and I subsequently heard they would not appear I would have done the same thing, and I travel around the UK and Europe to watch ballet a LOT.

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The thing with being a ballet watcher is that there is never a cast iron guarantee that you will see the person you have booked to see. If that happens to me, even if I know in advance, I still go and enjoy. Usually when that has happened I have been very pleasantly surprised. There's no way I would back out if I had already paid for a ticket (and possibly a hotel and plane/train fare).

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I recall once having tickets for a major company dancing Romeo and Juliet with an internatinal "star' cast as Romeo. When we arrived there were notices posted throughout the lobby that the star Romeo was injured and there was an offer of a refund or ticket exchange. The dancer replacing the star was a young member of the corps de ballet.

 

It seemed to me that any corps member chosen to replace the star had to have something to recommend him to being chosen. But, I would have stayed in any case.

 

However, what ensued was an evening of insight into the creation process. This corps dancer had no difficulty with the technique but one could almost visibly see him feeling his way into what can be - should be - a complex role. Because he was young, less experienced with staggecraft and new to the role, he brought an authentic innocence when faced with the fact of Juliet. The energy with which he scampered around the plaza with his friends was very naturual (he had probably been out with such friends just the night before!).

 

The transition from that free for all to the serious consequences of connection to Juliet - his sense of surprise with his sudden depth of feeling - different from just attraction - toward Juliet and then her even more surprising response to him. What does a young scamp do when suddenly life turns serious?

 

This was many years ago and yet the pleasure of watching this young corps dancer becoming Romeo - and all that that name implies through the centuries was a riviting evening in the theater for me. And, as you can see - it has remained with me - maybe even more than if the original star had danced.

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The thing with being a ballet watcher is that there is never a cast iron guarantee that you will see the person you have booked to see. If that happens to me, even if I know in advance, I still go and enjoy. Usually when that has happened I have been very pleasantly surprised. There's no way I would back out if I had already paid for a ticket (and possibly a hotel and plane/train fare).

 

It's happened to me twice, once when the dancer I'd planned to see in Paris was seriously injured and I went because the ballet he was appearing in was an major work I'd never seen before. In general I'm more interested in ballets than dancers, but that particular dancer was a friend. The second time was when the Kirov cancelled a series of performances in Switzerland, but as it was over Easter when I would have gone away anyway, I used my air ticket to take a short break in Alsace. I'm not so well heeled that I could afford an expensive trip if things had fallen through and would definitely attempt to cut my losses and try to secure refunds where possible.

 

btw, the flurry of returned tickets that show up here after major cast changes suggest a lot of people do the same even when air and hotel expenses aren't involved

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Well, I'm frequently surprised at the *lack* of flurry :)

 

(And if I return my ticket for Onegin on Saturday it'll be down to worries about whether I will be able to get back to London in time with snow forecast, not because of the cast change)

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