Friday, May 04, 2007

Live performance is always a crap shoot. I know some people who won't go to anything without getting a lot of reviews or waiting for their friends to see what they're interested in so they can get their opinions. Or they'll say that they've heard something's "bad" and won't go near it. I don't understand this. I'll never understand this.

People's reactions to anything in life are essentially subjective, filtered through their personal experiences, what they know and feel versus what other people know and feel. I've connected viscerally to plays, operas, movies, and dancee pieces that have left others cold and vice versa. You have to experience the production yourself to know whether it works for you personally. You take a risk, of course, but that's part of the game when you're involved with the arts. Your ticket doesn't come with a warrantee or money back guarantee, but I learned early on that you can sometimes learn more from the failures than from the big hits.

Wednesday night, Fritz came down from New Hampshire because we had tickets to a performance by Kinodance, a small experimental company that synthesized dance, film, video and projections presented this year in the Celebrity Series of Boston. The work was titled Denizen and was billed as an homage to Armenia through the medium of Armenian cinema. The company had traveled to Armenia, worked with musicians there, shot images of the country and its characteristic architecture, and selected clips from the films by Sergei Parajanov and Artavazd Peleshian. It all looked great on paper.

Not ten minutes into the one hour performance, it became obvious that we were watching perhaps the single most boring production of anything we'd ever seen. The skill level of the dancers was basic at best, the choreography uninspired and, worse, repetitious. What was uninteresting the first time became stultifying the second and third.
The only element of the production that was in any way alive was the woven wood set by the wonderfully named Dedalus Wainwright, a handsomely textured wall that took the grainy, non-specific projections and inexplicable film clips (lots of Armenian sheep) very well, and a tall, striking bent-wood sculpture within which the dancers posed, but nobody found any compelling way to use.

Film and dance and Armenian history are each very dynamic in their individual ways. Why anyone would want to do this I don't know, but somebody worked very hard to make them all appear so dull. We went home and broke out good cheese, some liqueurs and cognac, watched a little Logo channel TV and made the best of the night.


Ive begun breaking up my office. Ill be working actively for about a month more but I dont want a huge job all at once and I do want time to pick through and make choices carefully. I'm leaving a lot of books behind--play anthologies, single scripts, art books, reference and craft books--to establish a design library for my colleagues and future students. A lot of stuff is going out and I'll begin to purge and reorganize the computer files next week.

The big farewell party is next Saturday the 12th at the MIT Hotel and from the few details I've been able to get, it's going to be big and fun. The planners are going to use stage models of some of my designs as centerpieces at the dinner tables.

Later on today I'm driving to New York citry for a packed couple of days. Tonight is dinner with my younger daughter followed by the first of three new productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Puccini's Il Trittico. Tomorrow I have the matine performance of Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice starring gay countertenor David Daniels, followed by a trip to Brooklyn for the Cinco de Mayo party given by a former lighting designer of ours at MIT and his wife, then back to Lincoln Center for Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

Sunday I head north to New Hampshire for a day with the husband. Happy weekend everybody

Designer -- how too funny. I saw the Kinodance performance last night. It was not my favorite ever, but I found it intriguing. I loved the Q&A afterwards and wished they had done it beforehand.

There were times I couldn't connect with it, and I agree that the "Bell curve" sculptures were underused. I didn't really get how the dance conveyed a sense of space and people fitting into the space, but there was a lot of internal processing going on with the dancers, it came out later.

There were some delightful moments for all the weirdness, and clearly, the creators were totally passionate about their work.

I figure that the greatest risk was on the part of the creators, more than the hour or so "risky" investment on the part of the audience.

Would I see them again? Hmm, maybe not, but I don't totally regret having seen them once.
Hi, eba and welcome. i'm grateful for your insights and have no doubt your perception benefitted considerably from having stayed for the Q&A.

My personal feeling is that if a performance has to be explained after the fact or otherwise footnoted, then it has failed in one of the most important of its goals which is communication of intent to the audience. If the dancers are getting something out of it (internal processing) that's fine but if that experience remains confined to the stage and doesn't take the audience into its confidence, what is the purpose of performing?

I hope you'll feel like stopping by again.
I remember raving about how utterly fantastic the Broadway-style show was on the cruise we was my kind of deal and they really performed well. But our friends? Nope..didn't care for it. Ahh, it was "OK." Two completely different ends of the spectrum.
And what I hate more than bad performance? Talking, gum chewing, cell phones being used, whispering, coming in late, children not behaving, etc. I am becoming a big avoider of going to performance because of terrible experiences.
Will -- thanks for your nice thoughts. You and I have often ended up at the same performances, and I've been intrigued by your reviews. I agree that having a piece stand alone is ideal, but given how puzzled I was at the end of the performance, the Q&A was helpful and perhaps a bit of performance art on its own. The cinematographer in particular was quite articulate and at least interesting to listen to.

One thing that we in the audience missed out on was seeing the film that this whole piece was created in homage to. At the Q&A, the film was spoken of with reverence. But of course, it's obscure, so very few people actually understand what it's all about.

Another layer was that four of the 10 or so creators went to Armenia. The other six had to hear about it second hand.

So yes, I think there was a bit of a miss between what was in the heads of the creators and how well it was conveyed to the audience.

Did you pick up, for example, that the male performer (poppy) was the shepard and the women were the sheep? I kind of got that, but it went over my husband's head. Or that the bell curves echoed the mountains and hayfields of Armenia and the film? I missed that -- I just liked the shapes -- but my husband picked right up on it.

And Lewis -- I see very few movies, so I'm not exposing myself to the worst of the audience behaviors, from what I hear. One way to avoid bad audience experiences is to sit closer to the stage. Behavior (imho) seems to degrade with distance from the performers. So we get a lot of subscriptions and we sign up early and that seems to help.
have a good weekend too, Will.
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