Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Learning From Performance

The Intro

SDP and POP are overlapping for me, which makes perfect sense. If I am going to write an essay about contemporary or cutting edge performance, it follows that it should compliment what I am doing in SDP, as for me, a huge part of creating costumes is about context. Where do they fit in? Why? For whom and what more does the costume bring?

Back to the Honesty Thing
I have talked before about honesty in my work, so here is an honest statement.

Before I had started this unit on SDP where I am learning about Ballet, making costumes specific to this discipline and so on, I had never even seen a live Ballet.
 Most of my knowledge of Swan Lake came from watching a psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman and I have vague rememberings of seeing part of a televised version of The Firebird on TV. If I go further back I remember a few very uncomfortable lessons as a child. But that is the extent of my exposure.

So there it is. I've admitted it, I may even go as far to say as I feel a little dirty.

If I was to take this even further then the truth is all live theatre production, dance or otherwise was almost unknown to me before I embarked on this course. Aside from the obligatory school English trips for one reason or another I was not a self elective theatre goer.
Now I could wax lyrical for several paragraphs about why this is; I have travelled a lot, never had any money growing up and only came into my passion for costume in later life etc. but I'm not going into that now.
The Point

The point however, is, that at the start of both these units I decided they needed to be underpinned by as much live performance within the genre as I could possibly fit in, dependant on time, travel and cost.

I can report, that it is going well so far.

I was told that in this unit I needed to "fall in love with the Ballet" and I have.

My first Ballet was Swan Lake, front row and performed by a live Orchestra, before the disapointing version we saw the following week by a different company as part of the unit. After that I was caught hook line and sinker and everything else afterwards would only be a bonus.

The Completely Unfounded Statement

More challenging for me was the issue of contemporary performance. To expand on my essay unit, I decided I wanted to look at my own "Perceptions of performance"(which is the title of the unit).

 I know what my perceptions are and I'm afraid to express them. They are akin to expressing prejudice out loud...

I am not a fan of contemporary performance, but I must stress *only* within the confines of dance.(Everything else is fair game).

But, what really? How can I say that? How dare I say that, I've already admitted to my complete lack of experience of seeing live performance. In the world of the arts you are meant to be embracing of all things new and exciting, are you not? The fact that I'm opening these blog post up to some of my tutors to read is enough to make me want to hide my head under a paper bag for the remainder of my degree.

My only saving grace is that as I write that statement it comes from a place of retrospect. Or we could call it enlightenment, humility, I could go on. Ah....

Learning From Performance

I should really say here that the reason I don't enjoy the more contemporary stuff is because of a few things. Firstly, I am a magpie and even though a love performance as a whole, costume will always be my first love and the reason I go to see it. This means big impressive made costumes. Secondly, I am a traditionalist. I like to see the preservation of classic stories, classic art and history. Lastly, I'm a little bit worried that cutting edge (or contempoary) is cutting edge just to be cutting edge- if you see my point; like its trying too hard.

But for the sake of expanding my experience, I have put all these things aside in a bid to educate myself and hopefully change my own mind as I'm sure these opinions are probably holding me, and therefore my work back- not to mention the looks of disaproval of my peers, after all these unfounded opinions unless challenged will possibly cost me a job in the future if I dont start to open myself up more.

The Performances and a Smallish Conclusion to my Ramblings

So what will follow is a list of the different performances I have been to see and a small review of what I gained from them and how I felt, and if they did anything to change my mind(These will be added to and updated as I have time throughout this unit).

I would like to point out that my opinion is changing; this weekend I am off to see a real contemporary ballet, where the artists will not be wearing shoes and I am probably more excited about seeing this performance than anything else I have seen yet, with the exception of that first experience seeing Swan Lake.

All of my musings are relevant to both units as are all the performances. It is nice to be able to express my thoughts down in such a raw manner, in a way that I will not be able to in the actual essay.

 In terms of SDP all the performances are deepening the context of what I am learning about the construction of the costumes, as well as giving me ideas on variations and what I would like to do next to move me on. Going to see all these performances was not expected of this unit, but then I keep returning to the fact that it is self directed, and all this falls happily under that umbrella, letting me soak up new information that I can use to benefit my work.

Totem,Cirque Du Soleil, Royal Albert Hall,  January 2012

Although not seen during the course of the unit this is fresh in my mind. I enjoyed the colourful costumes even though they wouldn't be my first choice of designs to construct. Thrilling to watch but more from an aspect of hoping no one would fall. Loose storyline and more about circus tricks than a story made from the movements of fluid dance. Great use of projection as part of a set. Great to see for inspiration and a fresh look at stage performance.

Swan Lake, Moscow City Ballet, Poole Lighthouse Feb 2012

This was my first experience of ballet. I was front row looking down on the orchestra. It was wonderful, loved the live music, costumes were very well coordinated and the dancing looked perfect to my newly critical eyes. Fantastic introduction into the world of ballet and it has set a bar for other Swan lake renditions.

Swan Lake, Moscow Ballet La Classique, Pavillion Bournemouth March 2012

A week later I went to see this performance. What a disappointment from the last. The costumes were disjointed with mixed colour palates. The music was recorded and the emotions of the dancers were stiff and unbelievable. It was interesting to notice that I could already make a comparison and decide that I did not think it of a great standard. The upside was being able to compare two performances and identifying what made one better than the other.

Balletboyz, The Talent, Poole Lighthouse March 2012

See here for my thoughts on this performance

Missing, Poole Lighthouse, April 2012

This was performed by a local company and was an intriguing mix of theatre and dance(not ballet). it was very filmic and stylised and included puppetry, technology, back lit frames, artists moving on long treadmills, mime, dance and minimal voiced script. I thoroughly enjoyed the mash up of such a contemporary piece and the storyline was easy to follow and left a 'food for thought' feeling.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Scottish Royal Ballet, Saddlers Wells, April 2012

At first I thought the expense of going to see this performance would outweigh the experience. It did not. I really fell in love with this piece, visually stunning, great use of costume all relevant to what I am learning in SDP and lying somewhere between classical and contemporary. I had not seen the film/play beforehand, but I did not need to as the characterisation through choreography and costume was strong. The set was exciting and the music was part live/part recorded. One of my favourite performances and reminded me slightly of Bournes- The Car Man.

Bitesized Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Poole Lighthouse May 2012

This was a last minutre decision to go and see. A dip into classical, modern and theatrical ballet. Again and suprisingly I really enjoyed the contemporary work, even more so because their representation of the Act 2 pa de deux in Swan Lake fell below standard for me. The simple contemporary Concerto with its plain bright costumes was the highlight, showcasing the enourmous skills of the female dancer. The 1920's comedic piece was also excellent and funny with outrageous characterisation and fabulous costumes.

Snow White, Preljocaj, Saddlers Wells, May 2012

This was a 'proper' contemporary ballet, with the ladies wearing no shoes(except for the 8inch heels worn by the wicked stepmother, certainly not satin slippers!) It was incredible, by far the most emotive, seductive and visually stunning performance I have seen. Costumes by the haute couture designer Jean Paul Gaultier transformed the performance and the sets were almost simple futuristic. Highlights included the pa de deux between the prince and Snow White when she was 'dead', so she danced 'inert'. Technique was top notch and even though it was not in a classical style the storytelling element was very strong and the costumes were magical. Contemporary ballet? Consider me a convert.

Matthew Bournes Early Adventures, Poole Lighthouse(with after show talk) May 2012

Matthew Bourne comes to Poole. This is the first time I have seen Bournes work live, and I was not disappointed. It is not strictly ballet- as he said in the live Q&A after the show "we just dance" meaning he like to mix up styles. The pieces were an interesting insight into his first works and at time I got lost into what the meaning of the pieces was. What was evident though was his great ability to achieve strong characterisation, and the choreography was immensely clever. I should have done more research into the pieces to get a better grasp of them before the show. Full of subtle and outright humour, a show to show that dance need not always be so serious.
After the show, Matthew himself came onstage to answer questions, giving further insight into his work. All he said made perfect sense, and there was a relieving lack of waffle. I felt very privileged and was a real highlight of all I have done this unit.

Final Thoughts...(20th May 2012)

All performance is subjective and so I am allowed my opinion. But because I have had some more experience of these performances, my opinion, at least is better founded.

I, at the end of this journey of live performance, would like to retract my statement about not liking contemporary(dance) performance. For I have been converted in a sense. I can whittle down my statement and opinion as I am beginning to uncover exactly the type of performance I dont enjoy, and the umberella under which it sits has gotten considerably smaller.

Reading back over all my reflective posts I have said on more than a few occasion that what I love most about performance are big, impressive costumes, and classical storytelling. What I noticed in the more contemporary performances that I really enjoyed is that they still retained these features like in Snow White and Streetcar particularly.

In fact the unusual contempory elements made the performance more exciting.
Suprisingly, one of my favourite pieces Concerto, by the BRB was a completely stripped back performance with simple one block colour leotards/dance wear costumes. I actually enjoyed this piece for nothing but the skill of the dancers, and I think this was a real turning point. Really falling in love with the dance.

My least favourite performance Balletboyz, just left me uninspired, no creative costumes or set or even a discernable storyline. So really this is a key element for me.

I can now understand that what I enjoy is a combination of good storytelling, creative costumes(modern, historical or fantasy) and live music. It makes no difference whether it is classic, modern or a mixture of both, there is something I can gain from them all.

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