No one wants to play the rube

Blogger Jolene of Saturday Matinee: Thoughts on Theater in the Bay Area writes in about my post last week on the Elo and Millepied ballets at American Ballet Theatre:

I completely agree with your interpretation of Elo’s and Millepied’s pieces. I just saw them this past Saturday at Berkeley and was a bit confused.

Do the choreographers really think that their pieces are going to be memorable or earthshaking? Did they push the boundaries of dance at all?

I felt that both choreographers didn’t accomplish much with the pieces, although they weren’t horrible either. They’re just solid, “modern” ballet pieces. Filler, perhaps. Thanks for validating my point of view. I thought I was missing something.

Apollinaire responds: Thank you for writing, Jolene. I’m glad you liked the post. I’m also struck by the fact that you felt you needed your point of view validated.
I think one of the reasons people are afraid of dance–particularly contemporary work– is they don’t feel secure in their own reactions. Even the kinds of pointers you might get in a gallery–you know, that big binder with xeroxes of reviews from previous shows as well as an essay written for the occasion that puts the artist in historical perspective–aren’t available.
And no one wants to play the rube–to come to some judgment that says more about his own ignorance than about the dance. So, you can’t even enjoying being disgruntled. Which makes people not want to take a chance on something they might not like.
The website Dance Insider has just republished an interview from a few years ago with the boyfriends and girlfriends of a few professional dancers and choreographers. These guys are smart and have an inside track to what’s happening onstage, and they still often feel that they’ve entered a conversation midstream.
The dance doesn’t always give them a way in to its structure of meaning. And that’s where dance, like music, makes most of its meaning–in its structure: how the piece transitions from section to section or step to step, how groups or individuals are used, how its language develops or not.
Part of the problem is us reviewers. I’ve been blabbering about this for a while, but here goes one more time! (From another angle, at least.) We tend to say what a dance means or what it does, but we don’t always put the two together. We too rarely give readers some idea of how you go from steps to meaning, or even mood, in dance.
Of course, sometimes the dances don’t mean anything to us. For example, until I’d seen the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve, the noodling arms of Elo and Millepied seemed like nothing but stylistic affectations. Afterwards, I understood where they were coming from, even if I felt that the movement had been stripped of its sense–deracinated.
But when a writer does see the whole picture, she needs space to convey that understanding–to say how the dance is doing what it does or saying what it says as a way to arriving at what it is doing and saying. And ample column inches is something very few of us have.
Which is why blogging is nice. (If only it paid.)

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