There are few things that can throw me into a blind rage like shitty staging.
Earlier in the week I’d read the Chicago Reader‘s picks which included the Dance Chicago festival featuring a piece performed by a man with no legs. He’d lost his legs in a manufacturing accident when he was 19 and happened upon the work of a choreographer without legs and saw his work and asked if he could reproduce the piece, ‘Ashes’. The man performed the piece suspended in some kind of structure and I believe his wife was his dance partner. I immediately called Ron and told him we had to see it. I got tickets through TicketMaster and we walked to the Athenaeum for the matinee performance today.
We get there – nice crowd and get our tickets. We’re midway back and on the left. The far left. Seats 1 and 2. That’s what I get for trusting ‘Best Available Seating’ on the TicketMaster website. I thought surely my $5 per ticket processing fee would get me something right?
I sighed. Ron sighed. I was pissed. But perhaps, since it was dance, it would be further downstage and closer to the audience. No dice.
I can stand modern dance. In sips. What I can’t stand is endless modern dance pieces with no narrative. No beginning, middle and end. Just lots of shapes and usually some kind of apex of someone… being… set… free! That or the usual tired boy-girl paus de deux that is as tired as a motherless Disney heroine. It’s like a Seinfeld dance piece – a dance about nothing. Also, modern dance makes me giggle. Or I guess I should say, mediocre modern dance makes me giggle. Granted, I’m no dance connoisseur – I just had a few months of modern training in college. But it all seems to me to be a symbolic system where no one knows what the symbols are. Isn’t all performance about communication?
Second piece was good. Featuring 2 twelve-year olds that had fantastic technique but, Ron tsk‘ed, no expression. And so on.
Third or fourth was a fun tap piece. I can watch tap dance all day. Love the stuff. It’s like playing piano with your feet.
Then more abstract strangeness – one featured a girl I’d gone to school with in Ohio. Poor girl nearly fell on her ass when she messed up a jump. Ron and I both gasped as she did a stutter step to catch herself. Ron later intimated that’s the only reason dancers go see other dancers – to see them fall. I made a mental note in the back of my head to check the rumor mill to see if she was still shacked up with that Slavic guy she sham-married so he could get his citizenship and she could net a few grand. You think I’m joking, don’t you?
More abrastractness and then finally. Last piece of Act One.
A great piece by Randy Duncan who Ron immediately recognized was using Alvin Ailley technique. Graceful, athletic, expressive. Finally, something.
My piece with the man with no legs was the first part of Act Two.
So despite our crap-ass seats we probably saw a good 90% of all of the pieces.
The curtains open. Emotive music. A woman crooning. Something happening far upstage right. Something that we can’t see. For one minute. For two minutes. Three minute of staring at the backdrop cyc lit in expressive blue. Chick comes out and paux de burees around and then dances back far upstage right out of view. I am incensed. I get up and try to view the piece from the back of the theatre but there’s no walkway in the back so I’m standing there. Missing the piece that I came to see. The sole reason that I went to this dance event. Another four minutes. 1/4 of the audience is missing this entire performance. I begin composing my rant letter to the artistic director of the festival. Lights out. Curtain. Loud, raucus, bravos from the other 3/4’s of the audience that evidently saw a thing of beauty – a profound expression of a triumph of the human spirit and surpassing one’s limitations.
I didn’t see jack shit.
The rest of Act Two. A nice tap number. More modern: shapes, fly, soar, bore.
I spent the rest of Act Two mentally mapping out all of the perspective lines of the theatre. In theatre school we would be heckled if we cheated a paying audience member out of a good view.
So I’m hear to tell you that I think it is absolutely incompetent for a director or choreographer to only work from the center seat of row M. You’re an idiot. You are so in love with the perfection of your vision from one vantage point that you forget you’re not making a movie – live performance is 30d. You are doing the audience, the performers and your artistic vision a gross dis-service. Plus, taking my $23 ticket and laying it in the middle of Southport Avenue and setting it on fire. I think every stage floor should be permanently engraved with perspective lines that convey If you stand here – you are alienating an entire fourth of a paying, enthusiastic audience.
I’m still pissed about this. I know you think I’m an elitist prick. But the foundation of theatre and dance is: Watch this. If a dancer dances out of view – is she really dancing, really performing? If an actor pratfalls on the forest set-piece and no one sees him – is it theatre? No!
I guess I’m done for now. I’m just pissed off that the entire reason why I came to see a dance festival was totally out of sight for the entire piece. I’m not joking you – I thought the man’s apparatus would move or swing or something. Hell, I don’t even know what he was mounted to because I never saw the damned thing.
And I am never trusting TicketAssholes again. I’m going to walk to the theatre and choose my seats myself!