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Message to Audiences: Put Down Your Phone!
-Hey. U up?
-Ya. I'm at the ballet.
-Oh ok. Talk later.
-Nah, it's cool, it's a slow part right now.
Nope, it's not cool. Put your phone away. In the hushed darkness of an auditorium, light explodes from that screen like shrapnel, blasting those around you out of their viewing experience.
Your fellow audience members have ponied up considerable cash for tickets, and the artists onstage and in the orchestra pit have devoted their lives, since childhood, to a single craft, spending weeks, months, years preparing their roles in any given show. Honor those investments. Honor your own.
A measure of interruption during a live performance is expected—the Marco Polo call-and-answer of sneezes and coughs, the matinee toddler tantrums, the occasional snore of the exceptionally aged or fatigued. I remember Mexican free-tailed bats dive-bombing us mid-show in Austin, Texas, and ground squirrels waddling, like overzealous supernumeraries, onstage in Vail, Colorado. I remember, during a wild thunderstorm that christened my retirement show with American Ballet Theatre, the Met roof springing a leak and a puddle forming downstage right, in prime pirouette territory.
Facebook can wait until intermission. Photo by Jad Limcaco/StockSnap
It's hard to control a cough or a cranky kid's wails. Tough to tame the artistic ambitions of bats or squirrels. And sometimes, I guess the rain gods want in on the festivities too. But most philosophers and legal scholars would agree that even the most strung-out phone addicts possess free will. Force majeure has nothing to do with Facebook.
On Broadway, the use of phones during shows is the new normal, as epidemic among the theatergoing masses as shorts and flip-flops. My sister, a ballet dancer with The Phantom of the Opera, could fill volumes with tales of outrageous cell phone behavior—viewers blithely carrying on phone conversations, ringtones that don't exactly complement Andrew Lloyd Webber's songs. Every night, multiple audience members are lost in their phones at once, screens beaming ignominious haloes around their faces. The ushers, by way of reprimand, march down the aisles and shine their flashlights at the offenders. These light shows erupt throughout the performance, from front row to balcony, as if the romance between Christine and her Angel of Music were flowering not at the Paris Opéra in the 1880s but at a Pink Floyd concert a century later.
Ballet audiences have yet to slide that far below a standard of decorum, but they're losing altitude fast. When I sit among them, I inevitably see people texting, scrolling through email, snapping photos, checking the activity of social media posts. Fortunately, the expanse between stage and seats in most opera houses is broad enough that the performers don't notice.
But those of us on the less sweaty side of the pit sure do. As far as I'm concerned, the instant those screens come up during a show, the spell is shattered. I'm no longer carried along by the story, the movement, the music; I'm wrenched back into my seat. And now, instead of enraptured and exhilarated, I'm just irritated.
The phone fiends are likewise missing out, so why are they there? Don't they, like the rest of us, come to the ballet in the hopes of quieting the chatter of the mind, touching a collective consciousness, being stirred, provoked, getting their hair blown back? By fixating on their phones, they swerve away from that purpose, away from the rewards of the three-dimensional present and a unique swath of space and time that will never be experienced again.
Don't the phone addicts realize they're missing out? Photo via StockSnap
These might sound like the puritanical ravings of an anti-tech grouch, but I love my phone too. I peer into its numinous fathoms far too many times per day, and I sometimes find myself doing the loathsome text-while-you-walk zombie zigzag down crowded sidewalks. I too tumble down the rabbit hole of animal videos on a shamefully regular basis. I too jones for the dopamine suckle of social media. But a trace of self-discipline stays with me from my dancer days, at least while the curtain's drawn. (And luckily, I take terrible selfies.)
It's hard not to view the illicit use of cell phones in theaters as symbolic of society's larger problems. If we're apathetic to the experiences of our fellow citizens in the audience, with whom we ostensibly share an interest, why would we empathize with people of different ideologies, races, sexual orientations, cultures and classes?
I'm not suggesting that bad phone behavior is necessarily a gateway to graver transgressions, that civilization will crumble if our phones don't stay in our pockets, or that world peace will reign if they do.
But I wonder how we'll ever begin to understand one another on this shrinking planet without a language of simple courtesy. Maybe that means, for the 40 minutes until intermission, letting that text go unanswered. Maybe that means powering down, opening up and checking the activity onstage.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.