CriticalDance Forum

appalled by dance audiences in NYC (and elsewhere)!!
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Author:  little tutu [ Sun Jun 26, 2005 10:47 am ]
Post subject:  appalled by dance audiences in NYC (and elsewhere)!!

I am a dancer and I am also a critic here at Critical Dance. I have had the opportunity to see alot of dance over the years, and lately I am noticing a very disturbing thing at many performances. I had the pleasure to see ABT twice last week, and was horrified at the behavior of the audience. While respectful of the dancing while the production was going on, as soon as it ended and as the curtain was coming up for the dancers first bows, I couldn't believe my eyes! At least a third of the orchestra, and I was in about the 13th row from the stage, got up and started walking out! No applause at all! Much of the front orchestra section just got up and left as the lights came up and the dancers came out- surely they could see this rude behavior! These stellar artists just danced their hearts out and worked so so hard for the audiences pleasure,and many of these people didn't even stay to clap and thank them! I find this extremely disrespectful, astonishing, and an example of poor etiquette. It is surely an issue of respect, manners, and the growing trend toward selfishness and self-absorption in our society, but I think it must be stopped. As a performer and lover of dance, I find it very insulting and ignorant.
How do you think we can go about re-educating dance audiences?

Author:  citibob [ Sun Jun 26, 2005 7:10 pm ]
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I'll take a stab at this one, admittedly from my own perspective.

One major problem with ballet these days, I believe, is its corporate nature. To some extent, many ballet companies can (almost) be compared with McDonald's franchises: they exist in a specific location to bring whatever the current "thing" is in the dance world to that location. The audience sees the ballet as another show, one that competes with Broadway, movies, TV and DVD surround sound home theater for their attention. You watch it, you move on. That is how we have been conditioned, and the corporate ballet company model is doing very little to change audience perception is that regard.

What chance does the average audience member have to connect with the ballet company, other than to buy tickets and give money? A more substantive community connection is required for the average audience member to have a good reason to stick around after the show. But in an age in which most ballet companies tour much of the time, how can that happen? What kind of committment to community do audience members sense when they realize the company isn't even IN the community half the time!?

Moreover, dancers are so important to building community connection, but at the same time, ballet companies try to make dancers into these etherial other-worldly "stars", almost untouchable. Once your dancers are untouchables plastered all over ads on the local busses, how can you then just turn around and let the audience "just talk" to them? No, access to dancers is too often used as a means for additional fundraising: "come to our benefit banquet, and you get to TALK TO OUR PRINCIPLE DANCERS FOR 30 MINUTES!!! You can LEARN THEIR SECRETS (both on stage and otherwise)." Really, now... How many audience members do you think just get fed up with this stuff and go talk to someone else? Maybe they go to a lecture by a world renowned local academic, and get to talk with him or her briefly afterwards (for free).

So many people I've talked to were spellbound by what they saw Mr. Balanchine put on stage. They couldn't leave. This genuine appreciation is not something that can be faked. If the audience all just gets up and walks out, maybe it was simply not a compelling performance to the vast majority of non-dancers out there. Remember, the average audience is harder than the average balletomane. They don't know or care about any technical details. But they can always sense whether or not the show was compelling --- did it have something to say, did it connect with them personally, did it have a sense of genuine authenticity about it?

Sadly, in so many ways really does just become a live version of the latest Hollywoold flick. We don't need to re-educate the audience, we need to change the ballet.

NOTE: None of this is to malign the ABT dancers. They are some of the best dancers in the world. But a ballet is more than the sum of its dancers. If the show was not compelling to 1/3 of the orchestra audience, it was not their fault.

(My own perspective: in my company, audience never just gets up and walks away with the exception of a minority of Nutcracker viewers. They always stay and clap, and many stay afterwards to chat. Time and time again, they tell the AD how much they appreciated it, which dance they liked the best, and how this is the first time they've ever seen ballet but it was MUCH more accessible than they had feared. Every now and then, we get fan mail that says about the same. We stay in the same city year after year. We don't tour. And most likely, not many of us could ever get hired by ABT.)

Author:  little tutu [ Sun Jun 26, 2005 8:58 pm ]
Post subject: 

this is an interesting reply, citibob.
I shouldn't make it seem like everyone got up an left early, but to me,if more than one person does it, it's alot! Many people did stay to show their support, but I felt like people, typcial of New Yorkers in every situation, were rushing to get to their next thing, or rushing to get on the cab line before everyone else, or just rushing for the sake of rushing which is contagious in NY!
Some of what you say may be true- the corporate nature of ballet today, but I still think the production was worthy of the audiences time. As are most.

Author:  ksneds [ Mon Jun 27, 2005 1:50 am ]
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It's very much a cultural thing....
There's definately a difference with US audiences. Even if the show was good or they like the dancers, they will still rush off to make the train/plane/dinner/be first to get out of the parking garage. They just don't feel the need to applaud - it's not a part of their thinking.

In Europe, it's completely different. Audiences, especially in Scandinavia, stay and applaud repeatedly, even if it wasn't that great a performance. And I think Citybob articulated part of the reason - they have an attachment to the company/dancers. The ballet companies are national companies, paid for mostly by tax money, and the companies are accessible (at least if you pay the $50 or so a year to join the 'Friends of' group), so audiences feel an attachment.

But, I also think there is more appreciation for the arts in Europe - more a part of the cultural tradition, and never so commercialized as in the US.

Give me Europe anytime.


Author:  little tutu [ Mon Jun 27, 2005 8:45 am ]
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I also noticed the cultural differences between American and European audiences- I spent a semester in London with the Theatre and Dance Program of my college and we went to the theatre every day for 3 and a half months! I definately noticed a difference in the audiences appreciation for art and performance.
It's interesting that you both say it is a result of the companies being more accessible in Europe. I guess, as a dancer, I never thought of it that way. I tend to think it is America's obsession with faster, bigger, more- with their growing greed and materalism and disturbing selfishness and self-absorption- but maybe i'm being unfair. Although, as an American, I don't think so! Its just how I see our society these days.
I do wish there was something that can be done about this.
Do you think there is?

Author:  Azlan [ Tue Jun 28, 2005 7:25 pm ]
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I have a cousin who was in the Vienna Opera. He recalls how aghast the Viennese were every time an American orchestra toured there -- they were not used to the cacophony of instruments being tuned prior to shows and to unpolished black shoes...

Author:  citibob [ Tue Jun 28, 2005 8:36 pm ]
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All I'm saying is, it is the responsibility of the company to win over the audience. They must earn every bit of respect they get. Once they've paid for their ticket, it is not the audience's responsibility to treat the performers with any sort of reverence. To be a performer is to be a servant to perfect strangers, it is a selfless task. In the best of situations, we do connect and we earn their genuine respect and admiration. But that respect can only be earned through genuine artistic integrity, not cajoled.

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Jun 29, 2005 8:24 am ]
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But there is also respect that should not need to be earned...and which I see increasingly little of in US, and even here in the UK...

That is a respect of the performers - this is their livelihood and people should come to theatre and be able behave themselves at a performance. Not to talk during the peformance, not to bring kids who yell/cry/disturb other, not to leave your cellphone on, not to jump out of your seat the moment the performance is done (or before that). Not to rsutle your sweet papers or much loudly on food.

I think the US is very much a 'me, me, me' society, and many people don't have much respect for the effort and time of performing artists. And, at the very least, performers should get that much respect.

The audience is important to the performers, and I've heard from dancers in Scandinavia how much it does mean to them that the audiences appreciate the applause, and the respect that it indicates.

So don't sell yourself short Citibob. As someone who hates having to dance even in small groups in class, I respect you just for being able to get onstage and perform!


Author:  little tutu [ Wed Jun 29, 2005 6:23 pm ]
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I agree with you whole-heartedly Kate- that there is a certain respect that does not need to be earned, it's just part of proper behavior at the theatre like not bringing small children who cry or not leaving your cell phone on. I do think as American society gets more 'me,me,me', our behavior gets worse and worse in public places, we lose even that decorum! I am quite embarrassed by it and how other cultures perceive it.

As a performer myself, I really do appreciate a respectful audience and one who appreciates my efforts, whether or not they love the actual piece itself.

I think it is an important topic that needs to be addressed in our society before it continues to get worse, but I do not know how to reach those people who need it most. Obviously on this forum, I am talking to like minded people with a greater than normal appreciation for the arts and for artists.

Author:  citibob [ Thu Jun 30, 2005 5:47 am ]
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I still don't agree with you. Dancers are there to serve the audience. Once we forget this and set up dance structures soley for ourselves, we lose the audience and then wonder why. In what other industries do employees think that the company is there to serve them instead of the customers? No... if you're paid to do a job, then you serve the people paying you to do that job.

Audience should not talk or use cellphones out of respect for fellow ticket-paying audience, not dancers. They should not use flash photography because it can be dangerous to the dancers. But really, we're pretty tough; we can dance through just about anything.

And the applause: I suppose dancers do appreciate it. But I quickly learned to ignore it. You must have an internal sense of quality in your work. Different audience will react to it differently on different days.

There are plenty of service industries in which the customers really are not required to pay much more than basic safety-level respect to the workers. Why should dance be any different?

If audience shows an automatic respect upon walking into the theater, it is out of a general respect that has been earned in the culture. If Americans do not have that respect for dancers, it is because we have never earned it. Remember, dance is very young in America. Balanchine earned a huge amount of respect, so did Nuryev and Barisknakov. Those three laid most of the groundwork for the nationwide ballet establishment we see today.

So many of the traditional ballets rely on traditional Aristocratic European modes of respect (i.e. royalty and peasants). How are Americans to relate to the Duke of Donnigen in the up-coming story ballet? Do we even know what a Duke IS? Americans will not automatically show deference to a duke, whereas Europeans with a strong royal tradition might. What do you think when you realize that every Thai restaurant has a picture of the Thai king in it? But that is most of what we present to our audience.

Time and time again, I have seen sincere respect for dance and dancers in America. Alvin Ailey in NYC comes to mind. Audience responded to Revealations like it was a church service. That was a high form of respect. And the standing ovation at the end was so long, the company had to do an encore. Martha Graham Company's first comeback performance got a lot of respect too. It does happen, but it must be earned.

Author:  salzberg [ Thu Jun 30, 2005 6:58 pm ]
Post subject: 

citibob wrote:
They should not use flash photography because it can be dangerous to the dancers.

...And because it's very rude to totally wipe out the lighting designer's work. It makes us very, very cranky.

Author:  citibob [ Fri Jul 01, 2005 4:23 pm ]
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...And because it's very rude to totally wipe out the lighting designer's work. It makes us very, very cranky.

Hence it also cuts into the enjoyment of the show for others in the audience.

Author:  salzberg [ Fri Jul 01, 2005 8:50 pm ]
Post subject: 

Oh, yeah. That, too.

Author:  osiris661 [ Fri Jul 08, 2005 12:03 pm ]
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hhhmmmm, interesting topic. I have some time this morning so I am going to throw in my 2 cents.
Currently, prices for ABT tickets at the MET in the orchestra list at 85 bucks a pop :shock: . IMHO if I pay 85 dollars to sit in a seat and watch a performance, I can do whatever I like when the curtain goes down. I have attended and performed MANY times in Europe and abroad so don't shovel that "everything is different in europe and outside the USA with respect" stuff to me. I can recall a Bejart piece being performed in Hamburg where the conductor came out before the performance began and verbally told the audience that he hoped they enojyed the show because in his opinion it was a piece of ***expletive deleted***. Lets talk about Pina Bausch in Vienna with the whole 'hair cutting thing", or how about Barishnikov in France doing the Kabuki thing that had people acting WAY less than cordial during the show and even demanding full refunds after. Oh yeah, there is always Nureyev being booed off the stage in Vancouver. Respect from an audience MUST be earned! Regardless of who is on the stage or what company is performing. It is not a god given right that if you dance on the stage that audience members who purchase tickets MUST embrace what you have choosen to do, even after the curtain has fallen. Now that being said, I personally don't think people should be rude during an actual performance but when the curtain falls and the dancing stops, anything past that is up to you as an audience member.
Now, here is another way to look at it. I am going to use myself as an example here :shock:
Right at the moment I am performing in NYC until July 9th. The show runs about two hours give or take a few minutes depending on audience applause :wink: With an 8 o'clock opening curtain that puts the final curtain around 10:15. Now, because of where I am staying, out in New Jersey, the last train I can catch to get home leaves NYC at 10:52PM. That means, AS SOON AS THE CURTAIN FALLS I have to haul some serious booty to catch that train or I will be stuck in NYC :( . I am almost certain that a percentage of all audience members in any given performance deal with the same scenario. It has nothing to do with respect but simply something that is out of your control. This is not a society issue, it is not an "American Thing", and it has nothing to do with a "decline in appreciation for dance", I mean hey, would you rather that people who leave during the applause not buy a ticket to come to the ballet? I know I wouldn't.

Author:  ksneds [ Fri Jul 08, 2005 2:01 pm ]
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Different people have different experiences...

To start out with, I am referring mainly to ballet audiences, not to modern dance audiences or audiences at more progressive programs.

Europe is different. Having lived on this side of the Atlantic for nearly two years, I can say that audiences, while not immune from the misbehavior that plagues some audiences in the US, have a very different feel. I've heard it from other audience members, from dancers and witnessed it myself. And audiences vary between countries in Europe.

I can't pretend to understand or be able to put into words, the reasons why, but to dismiss culture is to dismiss the fact the Americans are different from Brits are different from Danes are different from Parisians et al.

It probably has something to do that ballet has a much longer history over here and has been part of the state-sponsored arts offerings for centuries in many countries. I believe the Royal Danish Ballet school has been around longer than the US has been a country! And on the way, the companies in many countries have become part of the country's culture - RDB and it's Bournonville legacy in Denmark, Kirov & Bolshoi in Russia, POB in France.

And of course, we tend to have much better public transportation in Europe, though no system is perfect.

Also, I think there is much more a of a connection between audience and dancers here, something I believe has been discussed above.

I'm well aware of the public transportation issues in NY - I lived in the 'burbs for years. But for NJ and for NY, most commuter trains run until 1am or so, though only every 40 minutes or so. I definately hate having to wait for a train, but it's not the worst thing that can happen. And plenty of those audience members who leave as soon as the curtain drops have plenty of time to make a train or, in fact, have driven in.

And as a performer, you should know that very little of that $85 actually makes it to the peformers. So why should they suffer because the theatre (i.e. in this case, the Met) is taking a hefty share of the ticket price, thus raising prices.

I have immense respect for people who can be do dedicated at such a young age and perform through pain and exhaustion, and I just feel that the American culture (and unfortunately increasing amonst youngsters in the UK) is about insta-culture. They'd eat noisly, get up in the middle of and leave right away from a movie, so why not a ballet. It's probably not intentional rudeness, just ignorance.


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