Jump to content

Quantity or quality?


Recommended Posts

Just wanted to put this in as a placeholder for now, before I forget, but Aimee Tsao's recent piece for DanceTabs on San Francisco Ballet's latest triple bill http://dancetabs.com/2013/02/san-francisco-ballet-borderland-premiere-suite-en-blanc-in-the-night-san-francisco/ reflects a concern I've had for some years now:

 

"All great international dancers had/have the chance to perform their signature roles dozens of times and that is the path to fulfilling artistic potential. Even a genius needs more than two or three times on stage in a new ballet both to grow as an individual and to establish rapport with the other dancers. A pity that most of the dancers aren’t given the chance to grow that way."

 

Thinking of the different ways various companies cast ballets (and the amount of performances they put on), I wonder how this relates to different companies around the world?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In a way I think the paucity of performances (and, of course, this is always a trade-off but isn't that life) is - in the long run - a good thing.  It allows for the performances to become 'events' ... to be truly special ... to be a unqiue historical celebration both for the audience and the artists.  The time in between each 'event' allows the artists to absorb and grow.  What you don't blessedly get is the ESTABLISHED automatic responses that can so often blight in a commercial run ... especially now that things are expected to run forever if they are to be deemed a success at all.  (That didn't use to be the case methinks) .... Sadly, such rigor mortis has a deadening effect in ANY theatre where a triangle of artist/audience/orchestra needs to breathe.  I well remember going into my first Broadway show as a replacement.  The stage manager who was putting me in insisted I do everything EXACTLY according to the original stage manager's prompt book.  'You hold your arm like this at this point.  Then you move over here and you turn your head slightly to the right.'  If he perceived that you went one millimeter off course you would get a written note after the performance.  (Remember these notes were made according to what some actor did in rehearsal.  He may not have been aware of it at the time.)  Character development in such cases is no longer mentioned.  When it gets to this point things cease to live.  The artistry that made them somehow special in the first place has well and truly gone.  There can no longer be answers to any question 'why'? ... which is, I think, what real artists share in their exploration.  At such a point we are all artifacts in a museum and the viewers ... well, they become a very different kind of voyeur.  Their passivity can no longer be active.  It is not invited in.  Well, until, that is, someone breaks the seemingly established rules and we all have the capacity to catch a breath once more.    

Edited by Meunier
Link to comment
Share on other sites

You also have to bear in mind that if a company gives many many performances of the same ballet, how much demand will there be in the audience to have the same repertoire repeated over and over again? Even balletomanes who like seeing different casts of the same ballet may be restricted from doing so because they can't afford it. And the vast majority of ticket buyers will see only one performance in one run, and begin to baulk if that same ballet is repeated the next year, or even the year after that if they only get to see a total of 5 or 6 different programs in a year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is of course a big problem for the Royal Ballet, with its relatively fixed audience.  It seems to be generally perceived that there is only enough audience demand for a couple of performances for most casts (except possibly for Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake, where it seems they sell out irrespective of how many performances are put on) - I was quite surprised to see the Cojocaru/Kobborg cast (sadly unrealised, of course) getting four performances of Onegin, given what a difficult ballet it's been to sell in the past.  But then you get the situation where someone makes a debut in a ballet (say Giselle), does a couple of performances and then doesn't get a chance to do it again until it comes back into the rep two or three years later, which is not a good recipe for growth in any role.  Talking of Cojocaru/Kobborg, and with La Valse (with which it was twinned) coming back into the rep next week, that reminds me of Kim Brandstrup's relatively recent Invitus Invitam, which was originally scheduled as four performances for C/K and two for Benjamin/Watson, but as a result of an injury to Cojocaru ended up with B/W in all performances.  The amount they managed to grow in those roles over the six performances was very noticeable, and wouldn't have happened, I think, had they only had two.

 

Compare and contrast that with, say, BRB, ENB and NB in this country, where they're touring the same productions to a number of different cities, and therefore have more opportunities to showcase a given dancer in a role.  (I remember commenting a few years back to the effect that BRB's Jamie Bond, in 6 weeks, would have clocked up more Romeos than many RB dancers do in a career).  It seems to me that this must be a better way for an individual artist to develop in a role, and get it really deep into his/her body, so would be good for higher-ranked dancers.  On the other hand, what must it be like for dancers who are only doing the corps de ballet work (if that in fact is the case)?  Forty performances of a ballet must get a bit soul-destroying.  And I'm always amazed at how fresh companies like New Adventures, currently touring Sleeping Beauty virtually week in, week out for, what, four months, perhaps?, manage to keep the works.  There surely has to be a period after which "Broadway/West End syndrome" - another night, another performance, maybe on autopilot - has to set in with any long-running production, as Meunier indicates.   

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some of the RB's runs are very short: only five or six performances. Whilst it would make sense (from an artistic development point of view) to have only two casts for these, most dancers are hungry for new or infrequently performed roles and the company must feel under some obligation to spread the casting around. I seem to remember that there was a similar discussion in relation to the RB's last run of R&J in which Melissa Hamilton had a single performance as Juliet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall Natalia Makarova discussed this issue.  She stated that frequency of performances was one of the things she found very different and difficult when she defected from the USSR.

 

She said that she was used to a schedule that only called for her to dance a couple of times a month whilst in the West dancers perform much more frequently - sometimes multiple performances in a row.  She thought that only performing a couple times a month gave the dancer an opportunity to have more coaching, time to mentally develop the role and in general prepare.  She felt that in the West dancers were given little time for contemplation, good coaching and general preparation.   She also felt that the hectic schedule of dancers in the West led to much more injury.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...