A reader asks: if we think of a performance as a cover, do we fail to acknowledge its unique nature? Apollinaire responds
In a conference about Marina Abramovic's "Seven Easy Pieces" from last fall, Peggy Phelan referred to Abramovic's performances as "covers"-- a somewhat synesthetic approach.
I wonder about how we engage with pieces we've known in some non-live form before we experience them live. I wonder if in dance, this pre-knowing precludes us from fully acknowledging that the event we are witnessing is unique--and if this is a good or a bad thing.
hmmmm.... I'm not sure the event is unique--I mean, for the viewer. I'm not sure we can ever separate the current version of a dance from all the other versions we've encountered. Maybe the mind works like a palimpsest, or sometimes anyway: it probably depends on the dance.
The dance critic Arlene Croce once asserted that with "Swan Lake," you tended to construct the perfect "Swan Lake" from all the versions you'd seen. You could hear in the Tchaikovsky all that the ballet might be and had yet to achieve. For her, there was a unique "Swan Lake," but she had yet to see it onstage:
Like so many others, I go to see "Swan Lake" not to re-see a ballet, but hoping to see the ballet beyond the ballet. The performance is only the occasion for meditating on what might have been. (" 'Swan Lake' and Its Alternatives," The New Yorker, June 11, 1979)
If you love ballet, you revisit "Swan Lake" every year till you croak--and you need to organize all those experiences somehow! So this makes sense. But I, at least, do go to re-see the ballet. While I'm at it, I catch glimpses of the ballet beyond the ballet.
It's not the ballet itself that leads you to look past it to a Platonic ideal--the ballet before you is impossible not to absorb, in the moment, as it is. It's the music. Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" tells its own story--and you wait to see it. So, to get back to your question, sharkskingirl--does the tag "cover" give too much power to that first version? Might it be better to declare all versions equal?
For a dance to survive all its versions, it needs an anchor. Otherwise, you're playing a game of "Telephone"--by the end of the line, the ballet is gibberish. Often, though, not the steps but the music grounds a classic. The composer wrote a score; there is no dance score, just dancers' memories.
The Shakespeare scholar and literary critic Stephen Booth maintains that the viewer's anchor is always the first performance she saw of a work, however bad or good, early or late in the day. That first experience creates such a permanent groove in your mind that you fall into it with every new experience. "King Lear" will always be the same "King Lear" no matter how many times you see it. Over and over again, the same play, the same you, learning nothing. That strikes me as a bit unlikely, and also darkly funny.
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