Saturday, May 5, 2012

Words from a Grumpy Old Lady.

I recently wrote an article for the Danish Theatre Museum about the use of social media in the ballet world. My main points were that Twitter and Facebook are great ways for ballet as an art form to become more open and thus possibly – hopefully – lure some new people into those red velvet seats. Another option is savvy repertoire planning – exercised recently by Dame Monica Mason at The Royal Ballet in the triple bill that finished its run at The Royal Opera House a few weeks ago. It featured a new creation by Wayne McGregor, who is currently a resident choreographer with The Royal Ballet, as well as being the artistic director of his own company, Random Dance. He is also the choreographer responsible for Thom Yorke’s dancing in the video for Radiohead's Lotus Flower. McGregor’s new piece, called Carbon Life, featured a star-studded line up of fabulous dancers – and live music by, amongst others, Boy George, Hero Fisher, Alison Mosshart, Black Cobain and Mark Ronson. Now, I’ll be honest with you. Out of all those names, the only one that rang a bell with me was Boy George. Having now seen the performance twice, I’m thinking that I might be able to recognize Ms. Mosshart if I see her on the street – unless she changes her hair color. Then I’m screwed. And Mark Ronson? No chance, regardless of hair color. Not so the people sitting behind me at one of the last performances. It took me about 15 seconds to spot that they were there for Carbon Life. Or, more specifically, for Mark Ronson. Unfortunately for them, and me, Carbon Life was the last piece of the evening, and the first two pieces were infinitely more classical than Wayne McGregor’s creation. So as I sat through their giggling fits and noisy bags of ballet-inappropriate food, I started wondering – do I only approve of ballet moving forward and being innovative when it’s about The Royal Opera House being on Twitter and not when I’m seated in front of four squealing Mark Ronson fans?
Obviously the answer to that question is no. Sometimes it just takes me a few tries to kick the grumpy old lady out of my seat and replace her with the positive 30-year-old. So imagine my dismay when a critic at a national English newspaper basically dismissed the new audiences at the Royal Opera House as pushovers who don’t know a dancer’s foot from his hand because they are »unused to the flexible physiques that regular ballet-goers take for granted.« Now, I’ll admit that I may or may not have sent the odd tweet about my dissatisfaction with the ballet-newbies behind me. Nonetheless, during the first interval I turned around and offered them my program so they could familiarize themselves with the evening’s second piece, which had a somewhat tricky storyline. Because, noisy foods and cluelessness aside, they were enjoying the performance – even while Mark Ronson wasn’t on stage. They just hadn’t received the memo about ballet etiquette. And here’s the thing: with or without etiquette, the ballet desperately needs walk-in customers. Because even if we see every performance more than once, there simply aren’t enough ballet geeks in this world to keep filling those magic seats.
So dear critics – please don’t alienate the so-called new audiences. That is not your job. Your job is to either tell them what to expect of a performance or to give them an opinion that they can use as a discussion partner for their own experience.
Dear new audiences – just like it’s uncool to throw a fit when somebody accidentally steps on your foot at a rock concert, it’s equally uncool to be loud and fidgety throughout 2/3 of a triple bill just because Mark Ronson isn’t on stage.
Dear me – try harder when kicking the grumpy old lady.  
That is all. See you at the ballet.