Morphoses' First Full Program: A Complete and Utter Bore, Unfortunately

And anyone who has been reading my blog for the past couple of weeks knows it pains me to say that. But unfortunately tonight was one of the most mind-numbing, boring nights I’ve ever had at the ballet. And I was looking so forward to it! Maybe too much…

First of all, when I referred earlier to Christopher Wheeldon as a genius, I meant the Christopher Wheeldon who’s choreographed some of my favorite ballets for NYCB, like “Scenes de Ballet” his first, “An American in Paris,” “Carousel,” “Klavier,” “Evenfall.” What happened to him? Not that I like everything syrupy sweet — definitely not — but those ballets had meaning you could latch onto, a storyline even if slight, SOMETHING. Tonight was like an extended Rorschach test, and even those can be more fun assuming you’re with someone who’s oversexed and keeps seeing genitalia in everything. Tonight was completely meaningless weird abstract shape after completely meaningless weird abstract shape after completely meaningless weird abstract shape. I’m not stupid, can you please engage my mind, Mr. Wheeldon? One abstract piece fine, but a whole night of them is insulting; I have better things to do. I probably shouldn’t say it that way: I mean that I just get tired of visuals all the time; can a dance-maker alternate the visual with the intellectual? I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting out of all this abstraction and it gets so frustrating when that’s all there is.

Second, regarding my earlier pronouncement of Wheeldon a genius: I think either I need to stop going to the Guggenheim Works & Process things or else I need ONLY to go to those, because everything looks so different on that small stage and in that intimate setting. All of these ballets tonight were not only abstract but when they weren’t pas de deux they utilized very few dancers, and I think either these dancers didn’t know how to dramatize or project or emote, or else the stage was just too vast and the audience too far away to really see any subtlety, to make any sense of anything. Either Wheeldon needs to make larger-scale works for a larger stage or keep these smaller scale ones and put them in a more intimate setting.

Okay, first on the program was “There Where She Loved,” a piece which I’d just raved about after seeing it at the Guggenheim. Unfortunately, the only part of it that was really compelling was the part that they staged at Works & Process. The whole is about 20 times longer and it’s so long and drawn out, it really loses its steam; it’s just completely boring. And by the time we get to the good part which I’d seen earlier (and was waiting and waiting and waiting for), I was so on the verge of falling asleep I almost missed it. To be sure, there was one earlier sweet little pas de deux evoking young love danced by Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia whose charm is likely due to its prettiness (lots of “awwwwws” in the audience), but it only lasted a couple of minutes.

Second was “Tryst Pas De Deux” which was danced by just-retired Royal Ballet legend Darcey Bussell, and Jonathan Cope. All I could see in this ballet was: two people come out onstage, regard each other, walk toward each other with purpose (making me momentarily intrigued), but then simply begin doing lifts, making a series of abstract shapes with their connected bodies. Then it was over.

Then came William Forsythe’s “Slingerland.” From what I’ve seen of his work, Forsythe is a choreographer who really respects the intellect of his audiences; he’s a very smart man and he really gives you something to chew over with his dances. And everytime I’ve seen anyone other than his own company perform his work: it’s a no-go. I wish if others were going to put on something of his, they’d work directly with him, let him coach the dancers. He has something very specific in mind and if the dancers or the person who staged the piece isn’t in on it, the audience certainly isn’t going to be. The way this came out here, it was now Wendy Whelan and Edwaard Liang who walked out onstage, regarded each other, then proceeded to make weird meaningless abstract shape after weird meaningless abstract shape with their bodies.

Next was “Prokofiev Pas De Deux.” What can I say: more abstract shape after abstract shape, although these shapes were more traditionally balletic than awkward, and the female lead was danced by Tina Pereira, who is one of the few exceptions to what I said above in terms of dancers not really knowing how to emote, dramatize or project. Other exceptions to that are: Sterling Hyltin, Gonzalo Garcia, Ashley Bouder (for sure!), Michael Nunn, and sometimes Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski depending on the piece. Unfortunately, for anyone who wasn’t there tonight, you’re not going to get to see the affecting Ms. Pereira because she’s being replaced by Alina Cojocaru for the remainder of this program.

Next was “Dance of the Hours.” Okay, I’ve never seen this one, but, according to the Playbill, it is taken from La Gioconda, Act III from 1876. The audience found this funny, and I easily got the idea that it was a riff, a joke on something, but I didn’t know what. Because of the way the magnetic Ashley Bouder dramatized it, I laughed along with everyone else, but the problem I feel is that if Wheeldon wants to draw new audiences to ballet through his work, he has to make sure everyone gets the joke. The humorous riff is a lot funnier if you have a sense of what is being “riffed” of course. And the program doesn’t tell us.

Then last was “Fools’ Paradise,” another Rorschach test, this one involving several dancers instead of just two. At one point Maria Kowroski came alive, she had a series of abstract, awkward shapes, but she had a real intention to them, her body was making a shape for a reason, and believe me the entire audience in my section leaned forward almost simultaneously. Dancers: please understand, we can tell when you think, when you’re not just doing a series of steps by rote. Unfortunately, within 15 seconds she’d disappeared into the wings.

In the New York magazine article, which I linked to in my last post, the writer frames the piece by showing Wheeldon’s venture from the perspective of a very young girl who happens in on a rehearsal, presumably the kind of new viewer Wheeldon wants to attract. The little girl likes sports, not ballet, which she knows nothing about. Wheeldon invites her in, lets her watch. At the end of the first performance, he asks her if she likes ballet now. She says no. He asks her if she likes ballet dancers, she smiles and nods yes. He says, “well then you like ballet.” But is that true? I think that’s a big part of what goes on in the ballet world right now. People are connecting to their favorite dancers. Do NYCB fans really love Balanchine and all that his ballets stand for, or are they connecting with their favorite dancers? Would I like “Clear” and “In the Upper Room” and “Sinatra Suite” as much if they weren’t danced by Marcelo Gomes and David Hallberg and all of the ABT faces and bodies and personalities that I’ve come to know and love over the past few years? I don’t really know; I’ve never seen those ballets performed by anyone else. Maybe part of the reason I wasn’t so enthralled with tonight’s program is that Wheeldon has used many dancers with whom I’m not familiar; I’m positive Philip is going to have a completely different take when he sees the program tomorrow night, and I’ll bet you he focuses mainly on his favorite dancers and not on Wheeldon’s work. Is this a good thing though? I want to get something from the choreography; I want the choreography to speak to me, the same way Forsythe’s choreography does, not just the dancer. Otherwise, I’ll only ever want to see ABT. And, how will new fans be made, who don’t already love these dancers, who don’t already have favorites? In my opinion, there’s far too much, almost absurdist, abstraction in contemporary ballet, that speaks to no one. On Friday afternoon, at his open rehearsal, Wheeldon really should spend a good deal of his time explaining to young newcomers exactly how they are supposed to read these ballets, exactly what they are supposed to get out of them. Because I’m almost positive that, with this program, no new fans will be made.

Anyway, I feel badly disliking my evening as much as I did, since I had such high hopes. As I said at the beginning of this post, maybe I had been looking too forward to this, with all the hype. So, the good thing is, if you’re reading this and haven’t yet seen Morphoses and are going to, now you’ll have this nasty review in your mind and can think how off the mark that crazy blogger was, how it’s not at all as bad as she said it was, she was just nuts. So there, I just made your enjoyment of it that much better :)

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21 Responses to Morphoses' First Full Program: A Complete and Utter Bore, Unfortunately

  1. Bob says:

    Tonya,

    I just got home from Morphoses (it’s a long train ride from NY out to Eastern Long Island) and read your comments on Wheeldon’s big opening night. Wow – talk about being tough – that’s probably the harshest criticism that Wheeldon will get this side of Clement Crisp. Actually, while I don’t in fact think it was all as bad as you said it was, I don’t think you’re just nuts either. You make several excellent points – one being that if Wheeldon’s new vision of ballet is what we saw tonight – one mystifying abstraction after another, then maybe the future of ballet is not as bright as we have been led to believe by all of the media hoopla of recent months and weeks. I mean, being a devotee of Balachine’s neoclassical abstract ballets, I am probably more attuned to abstraction than you are, but some of those pieces tonight just made no sense at all and more problematically, there was almost no variety. After awhile, almost all of his works dovetailed and formed one big blur. The other great point you make is that if Wheeldon’s master plan is to bring young people to the ballet and get them to fall in love with it, what was on display tonight is not likely to cut it. I can’t imagine any young people that I know rushing out to see what we experienced tonight. Having said all that, I still have to admit that I did find some of his choreography tonight haunting and powerful and you have to admit that much of it is very original. But again the problem is that for all its originality, it does tend to become very repetitive – you see one ballet, you’ve seen them all. Balanchine was at times very abstract, yes, but there was always great variety in his abstractions – ballets like Apollo, Serenade, Symphony in C, Agon, Who Cares all provide very unique aesthetic experiences.

    Actually, I did like There Where She Loved and Slingerland Pas De Deux, and Dance of the Hours tonight but that brings me to the other thought-provoking point you made. Did I like them primarily because of the choreography or because of the dancers performing them? The pieces I enjoyed the most were those featuring some of my favorite NYCB dancers, like Ashley, Maria, Wendy, Sterling, Craig (and the new guy in town – Gonzalo). Would I have enjoyed them as much if they had been performed by dancers from other companies or ones I was totally unfamiliar with? I really have to do some soul-searching on this question. I can at least tell you why I liked Dance of the Hours so much – it was the one piece that provided some variety in the evening – thanks in part to the divine Ashley Bouder (and Gonzalo did his part too), it provided some much-needed energy, virtuosity, and pizzazz to the evening. It was actually FUN – it brought a smile to my face – and it was not just another, to use your expression, “weird abstraction.”

    But watch and see – a substantial segment of those “in the know” will rise up and laugh at some of these comments and lament our blindness and proclaim everything that Wheeldon produced tonight as works of “genius.”

    Just to retain some sort of balance here – I still think that Wheeldon is extraordinarily talented and I still greatly admire and like many of his ballets, including some of the ones you mentioned above, but to anoint him as the new Balanchine and the “savior” of ballet, well….in my book, not quite yet.

  2. Cindy says:

    Wow….haha…it seems like you disliked it ;-)

  3. Selly says:

    AAh! This happened to me with my favorite company ever once. They did a mini show at my studio/team’s NDW (National dance Week) Celebration and it was amazing. So, me and a couple of dance friends bought tickets to see their full show.

    They were a poor new company that had been rehearsing at our studio all summer and we knew they were great. But, at their real show they did the 9 1/2 minute version of our favorite piece… not so great after seeing the 4 minute version.

    Then, there was a pas de deux. There was about 3 paragraphs in the program explaining what it meant. Let me tell you, I wouldn’t have understood any of that piece (yes, it was a contemporary company. Forgot to say that) if it werent for the program. The two dancers came out in those dance undergarment things. Like tan mesh-ish bandeau bras, things, bike shorts, etc.

    According to the program, they were “spelling their names” through contact improv.

    First, they flailed around like they were being tortured to death. Then, they ran to eachother and started rolling all over eachother on the ground.

    It was pretty… abstract. But the company really did end up being great. Just… odd.

    Wow, the mother of all long comments.

    Selly

  4. tonya says:

    Thanks you guys :) Thanks Bob — I’m so glad someone else who saw it felt similarly. I was worried people would be mad, but I had to say how I really felt; otherwise it wouldn’t be honest! Yeah, if only they would have varied the program more — that was the main problem to me. I don’t even know if I would have liked “After the Rain” (which I liked so much at Fall For Dance recently) if it would have been included in this program because it would just have been more of the same. They needed far more variety. And Selly, yeah, it’s true about the lack of funding a new company has. A lot of those works I mentioned that I loved I’m sure are a lot more expensive to put on because of elaborate costumes, number of dancers needed, props, sets, etc. etc. I’m glad you had the same experience with one of your favorite companies :) — so it’s not just Morphoses then, this kind of thing just happens! Oh well… And program notes, yes, they needed some here, definitely! I know choreographers think the works are supposed to speak for themselves, but abstract ones like this just don’t.

  5. Philip says:

    People find the Dance of the Hours humorous because they associate it with Walt Disney’s FANTASIA and with the 70s gimmick song “Hello mother, hello father; here I am at Camp Granada”…

    In the opera LA GIOCONDA it is staged as an entertainment for Alvise’s guests at Ca D’Oro during a party which ends with Alvise revealing his wife’s corpse to the assemblage. He thinks he has poisoned her for being unfaithful but in fact she is only sleeping: Gioconda – one of opera’s most complex characters, has substituted a sleeping draught for the poison. It gets more complicated from there. Christoper re-choreographed the piece for the Met’s last revival.

    Anyway, it was a tradition in the 19th century for grand operas to include ballets and the music has often been lifted by choreographers for stand-alone pieces. Thus we have Balanchine’s BALLO DELLA REGINA using the ballet music from Verdi’s DON CARLOS (the French version) and his DONIZETTI VARIATIONS with music from DOM SEBASTIANO.

    I would guess that HOURS was added to the City Center rep to give the evening some colour and fun…

  6. tonya says:

    Oh and Bob, I was also going to say, I know a lot of Balanchine’s ballets are abstract, but I still feel there’s so much more going on in them. Like in Serenade for example, there is some kind of a story, although it’s really up to you, the viewer, to figure out what exactly it is. And some of those abstract images are so beautiful, so majestic. I think with a lot of the contemporary, so many of the abstract shapes are awkward, and sometimes that has meaning, like in Forsythe where he’s trying to show you the devastation of war and cancer, etc., how those things can distort a body beyond recognition, or in Mats Ek who may be trying to illustrate emotional pain, or Jorma Elo where he’s trying to “deconstruct Mozart” in his words… with all the inwardly pointed toes, knocking knees, etc. you just expect the awkward shapes to have meaning since beauty seems not to be the point. Unless someone is challenging our notion of beauty, but I don’t think Wheeldon was here… And I don’t know what to get out of “Slingerland”…

  7. tonya says:

    Oh, I just received your comment, Philip. Thanks for explaining! I’ll be really interested to hear what you think of the program tonight.

  8. Bob says:

    You hit the nail on the head, Tonya, with your comment on Balanchine. He always said that there was no story in Serenade but what he meant was no obvious, literal story (like Giselle or something) – the reality is that there is a story (and meaning) in Serenade but as you said, it is for each individual person to see and determine it for himself or herself. And of course, there is great beauty in the images he created in all of his best ballets and sadly, that is one of the things I find missing in many contemporary ballet choreographers (including Wheeldon at times) – there is just no beauty there and without beauty, ballet loses its appeal for me.

    As for Forsythe’s Slingerland, I didn’t really get it either. What partially redeemed it for me was the incredible artistry of Wendy Whelan. But take away Wendy, and Slingerland (What does that title mean anyway?) falls flat.

  9. Larry says:

    It would have helped a lot if the program was shorter and more selective.

  10. Griffin says:

    In the paraphrase words of Balanchine…put a man and woman on stage, you already have a story.

    One more thing..””Abstract ballet” in Balanchine’s world always was associated with the music the dance was set to, even in his most abstract works: Episodes and Movements for Piano & Orchestra. As mentioned above, abstract meant there was no literal story to attach to the ballet, not that there wasn’t some sort of theme or connecting thread in the work itself.

    Not having seen the new Wheldon work, I wonder if abstract in this case also means detached from the music or lack of thematic structure in the dance.

  11. Selly says:

    And there really is a difference between “neoclassical”, “contemporary” and “abstract” ballets. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain to people that in my world, taking your jazz shoes off and doing 40 fouettes and some aerial flips does not make you a contemporary dancer. It really is an entirely different thing than classical ballet. Their small town narrow minds just can’t seem to comprehend that or the fact that neoclassical= George Balanchine. Appearently this is hard to understand.

  12. jennifer says:

    i was just thinking “Gioconda wasn’t supposed to be funny”..but I think Philip is right … people associate it with Fantasia, which I didn’t really grow up watching so I don’t automatically associate that music with dancing hippos. I associate it with the opera (thankfully).

    I am a bit on the fence about Wheeldon’s work, it really seems to be hit or miss. But that’s what I think about Balanchine, which I know many people disagree wtih me about :)

    btw, I actually didn’t like Wheeldon’s “American in Paris”, I thought the movie original choreography was so much more interesting …

  13. Susan says:

    I ‘m not sure that Wheeldon’s Gioconda is necessarily supposed to be funny, but the music itself always illicits giggles due to the cultural associations, and he definitely plays on that. II see it as a pretty straightforward divertissement that acknowledges the humor and kitsch in the music. There’s lots of bravura dancing, and then the ballerina mimics the hands of a ticking clock with her ronde de jambes and by varying the level of her leg in arabesque.

    Tonya, in a nutshell – I agree with a lot of what you said but with nowhere near the degree of disappointment that you experienced. I think the pieces on the program were much too similar – so the program became monotonous. But I actually liked everything I saw, it just needed to be spread out over several programs and mixed with some different stuff.

  14. I think what made Dance of the Hours funny was the association with Fantasia (which is not exactly obscure) and the choreography itself–its the dance of the hours and she pancheed like the ticks of a clock–the movement created the humor.

    On the whole I loved the program. I do think there could have been more variety (it, and of course ashley bouder was what made Dance of the Hours stand out so dramatically).

    I also think that if he wants to make a go of it as a company, he needs to do works that aren’t based purely on partnering, he needs to move dancers individually as well as in groups. That said I thought the partnering was fantastic and was in fact quite varied between the works and within the larger works (though there things were sometimes echoed creating a sense of theme).

    I also DID feel that stories were being told in the works. More in some than in others, but I didn’t think it was as abstract as you clearly did. And I felt that the works (especially the first) were things that I would understand and appreciate more deeply based on repeated viewings.

    I guess I also disagree with you on your definition of “depth” or however you would phrase it, in ballet. I love story ballets. In fact I’d say they were without question my favorite pieces, but I can appreciate the sheer aesthetic beauty of works. I don’t think dance shouldn’t try for intellectual content. If thats what the choreographer wants, I’m all for it. But you can have a bad ballet with a lot of content, if its visually uninteresting and pedantic.

    Personally I found the Morphoses program aesthetically pleasing and intellectually challenging and interesting.

    Of course its hard to define art, and personal taste can and does vary widely.

    PS–While I’d be very interested in seeing Pereira I don’t think you need to feel sorry for those of us who saw Alina Cojocaru–She was engaging and beautiful. And I’m very glad for the opportunity to see her perform live at long last.

  15. Meg says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but have never commented. Mostly because I don’t see all that much dance so I thought it was better to just stick to reading and learning about some of what is going on in the city. But I did go to see this, and I read this review before I went. The result was that I was pleasantly surprised by finding it rather more interesting then I expected. Who knows, maybe it didn’t hurt to go in with lower expectations.

    Although I definitely agree with you about the mounting sameness of the choreography and the endless pas de deux, I find myself disagreeing about the abstraction. First in a general sense: I don’t think that exclusively abstract work shows a lack of respect for the audiences intelligence, but rather that it forces us to think differently about what we’re seeing and consider different aspects of the work. I think some (perhaps many) of the story ballets are actually rather less intellectually challenging because the stories don’t necessarily hold together or make sense. In some ballets they’re just a kind of framework on which to hang various dances.I also find it’s very easy to ignore anything going on beneath the surface of the stories, in which case they become about as deep as a kiddie pool.

    In this case though, I also agree with Delirium Tremens about the work not being entirely abstract. I thought that there were threads of emotion and story in the works presented, although at times these threads could have been developed better.

    On another topic, I think they idea of being a fan of the dancers as opposed to the dance is certainly plausible, although not something I feel particularly positive about. I’m so new to dance that right now pretty much all dancers are new to me. When I go to something, I’m often seeing those dancers for the first time. I haven’t even really had a chance to develop favorites. But I can certainly imagine that after seeing a dancer many times one would notice the nuances of their dancing and performance to a greater extent and that this would lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of their work. At the same time (going back to that negative feeling for a moment) it seems to me that it should be possible to separate one’s feelings toward a dancer from one’s thoughts and feelings about the choreography. I don’t know though…I’m new to this, after all.

    Sorry to leave such a long and rambling first comment, but this post gave me a lot to think about. :)

  16. tonya says:

    Thanks for all the great comments, you guys! Thanks for reading my blog and commenting, Meg! And glad to see the rest of you back :) (now that’s it’s finally ballet season again, right!)

    Griffin, that’s what I was trying to say, that’s what I meant by abstract — not that there was no story but that there seemed to be no theme. I don’t think that abstract necessarily means themeless, right? It just means lacking a linear narrative. I think it can also be what Natalia called “representative” in a comment on an earlier post, which I took to mean evocative of some thought or idea. (I feel like representative is an art term, but evocative is the term dance people use, although I may be completely wrong…Maybe Delirium knows?) Anyway, to me, that’s what was lacking here — a discernible theme or evocation, although obviously some of you found themes albeit maybe not fully drawn out.

    And it’s not that a dance that’s visually stimulating is always bad. Sometimes I like those kinds of works (like “Clear” that ABT does); I just can’t take that for the whole night, and especially if the visuals are so similar throughout. Someone on Ballet Talk called the shapes the partners made “pretzel lifts” and that’s exactly what they looked like to me too. When I first started watching, the pretzel shapes were really visually interesting, but when they just kept repeating and repeating, I felt like, okay enough of this already, give me some content, some idea of what is going on here or what I’m supposed to be getting from this.

    Sometimes the theme can be stated in the program notes (as they were in last night’s performance of Nacho Duato’s company at BAM, which was marvelous and which I’m going to blog about today), and sometimes, as Duato said during the audience Q&A after the show, the audience gets something entirely different than the choreographer intended, because they hadn’t read the program notes! He said that’s okay, that’s great actually, as long as I made you feel something, as long as it worked for you on some level, evoked something for you. I don’t think dance (or any art for that matter) has to tell a linear story but I do feel that if dance isn’t evocative of something, if there’s no theme whatsoever, if it doesn’t make me think of something, then what is the point?

    Also, regarding beauty and visual stimulation, I don’t really think that was what Wheeldon intended here. The problem is that I don’t know what he intended because I felt he didn’t give me enough to go on. Certainly he didn’t mean for me to think, oh that’s an interesting pretzel, another interesting one, oh yet another cool pretzel twist. Wow, I’ve never thought of that kind of pretzel shape before. I guess that’s what’s so frustrating: I feel, not that he’s just a crappy choreographer whose work I don’t ever want to see again, but that he really meant for his viewers to take something away from it all, and I can’t figure out what it was.

    You guys are right though: art is subjective and different works speak to different people. I’m just trying to figure it all out for myself, I guess. Thanks for writing, you guys!

  17. Barbara says:

    Delirium, you are so right about Cojocaru! She was one of the reasons I wanted to go last night having seen her in a Giselle in London several years ago that brought me to tears. She was lovely last night and altho I was disappointed she didn’t dance with Kobborg, I enjoyed Nehemiah Kish too. And Prokoviev’s 2nd Violin Concerto is one of my favorites. Another highlight for me was seeing a bit more of Darcey Bussell who I had only seen dance once before and now probably never will again. So while I agree with the repetitive nature of the evening as a whole, I still enjoyed it and joined right along with the audience cheering for Wheeldon’s continued success as he puts his company together. As time goes on perhaps he’ll sprinkle in additional choreographers (maybe more Forsythe) so he’s not doing EVERYTHING himself. To end, I found it a kick to see some familiar faces in the crowd like Jacques D’Amboise, Allegra Kent, Martine Van Hamel, Nicolai Hubbe and Allesandra Ferri.

  18. Pete says:

    Wow! I almost feel as if we had seen different programs. I did not find the evening mind-numbingly boring in the least. I will grant that there could have been more variation in the programing, but I completely disagree that the evening consisted of one meaningless, abstract shape after the other. Overall, I really enjoyed the evening, but I have to admit I didn’t know that there were so many verses to “Surabaya Johnny” before.

    I think part of the problem is the performance space itself. I *hate* the City Center with a passion. I can’t imagine that it’s a good performance space for anything. There are only certain seats in certain sections that have decent sightlines. If you are on a budget and cannot afford the more expensive seats, you must suffer with the lousy sightlines and equally lousy acoustics. I was actually disappointed to hear Wheeldon announce that City Center will be Morphoses home for the next few years.

    I wish they would gut the interior of the City Center auditorium (but not the facade which I find fasinating) and replace it with a redesigned theater. Sadly, I doubt there’s any chance of that happening.

    I didn’t go to the Fall for Dance Festival this year because I had forgotten that the tickets went on sale that Sunday morning. By the time I got to the website that afternoon, there were only seats left in the rear mezzanine and the rear gallery. I hate those seats! To me, they’re not even worth $10.

    As far as separating the dancer from the dance, or any performer for that matter from the work they’re performing, I’d say that’s difficult. Everyone has favorite performers. Obviously, the “classics” in the various arts are acknowledged as great works, but that doesn’t guarantee that I’ll love every performance of Don Giovanni or Swan Lake. This all depends on the level of performance. On a certain level, I can separate a work from its performer, and realize a its greatness, but, at the same time, a good performer always brings something special to the work.

    For instance, most people would agree that the aria “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is beautiful, if overly familiar; however, in last year’s production at the Metropolitan Opera, the soprano who sang the aria was inconcievably bad and simply miscast.

    I have no idea whether she could sing the role well, but at the performance I saw, and the broadcast I heard on the radio, she did not deliver the goods. Her phrasing was horrible. She took breaths all over the place. All I could think of was, “Out of all the sopranos in the world, why is *she* singing at the Met? And yet, there were people shouting “Bravo” when she was done, which makes me question their knowledge of opera and what constitutes a performance worthy of “Bravos”. Perhaps, they were expressing their admiration for the aria itself and not the actual performance? I can only hope so. :^) But I digress…. Long story short, she gave a lousy performance, but I still know that “O mio babbino caro” is a beautiful aria. Does that make sense?

    Another example comes to mind. You might see a play one time and not think much of it, but then see it later with a different actor, and suddenly, you find you like the play. Does that mean the play is not good? The second performer brought something else to the dialogue. Was it the actor, the director, a coach, or the actual play that you liked? Sometimes it’s not possible to separate these things out.

    It makes me yearn for the good ol’ days when one could see Herman Cornejo and Joaquin de Luz alternating performances of the same role at ABT. Their performances were different, yet equally valid. Of course, the best was when they danced together in Carmina Burana. :p

  19. tonya says:

    Hi Pete– thanks for writing! Yes, I TOTALLY agree with what you said about City Center — can you tell I was all the way in the back for this performance!! I tried hard not to let it get to me and ruin my enjoyment though. Everyone complains about the sightlines — why don’t they get a clue and do something about it! Sometimes I’ll splurge for my favorite company (ABT) but I definitely can’t do that all the time. I completely agree and really wish they would redesign the interior.

    Yes, I agree about the dancers too. I definitely have my favorite dancers, as well as my favorite roles and pas de deux — MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet pdd being one. And certain dancers surely do excel in certain roles (and I’m sure it’s the same for opera, though I don’t really know much about it so can’t really speak to that!) I’ve definitely seen dancers flub my favorite parts, or maybe not completely screw it up but just not really do it to my liking, but then I know I still love the pdd and whole ballet and will see it again and again. I think the problem is when someone is new to ballet and they don’t know the dancer or the role yet; they have a hard time connecting because they haven’t had a chance yet to develop a favorite. I sometimes forget that and will bring a friend to the ballet and they won’t understand my fascination with it because they don’t share my love of the particular dancer or ballet we’re seeing.

    Yeah, I think there were just too many pieces in this particular program that contained themes that I couldn’t identify (I think I’m going to use the term “unidentifiable theme” from now on instead of “abstract” now since I’m not really sure if “abstract” adequately conveys what I meant). I’m definitely willing to give it another chance though. I’ve liked too many of Wheeldon’s other works not to.

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