The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

April 7, 2009

Hootie patootie?

Well, if nothing else the Columbia City Ballet’s presentation of the Hootie Ballet has gotten people talking.  Interestingly enough though, many of the people talking don’t know what they are talking about.  And I don’t mean that in a snide way — I mean it literally.  So many of the people with opinions on the subject either did not attend the ballet or never had any intention of attending it.  Which raises the question — how did they arrive at such incredibly authoritative positions on an arts adventure that they had absolutely no authoritative information about?  Fascinating.

I mean, I’ll be the first person to admit that if one really doesn’t care for the repertoire or the style of a musical group then ones chances of enjoying seeing them perform drop dramatically.   The thoughts of seeing someone dance out an interpretive piece on the work of Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney, for example, makes me a little nauseous.   So in other words, if you don’t like Hootie, then you don’t like Hootie and you’re dismissed from the discussion.  You didn’t do anything wrong — you’re dismissed because you don’t have an open mind about Hootie, having already arrived at a stance on the music, very much the way that my closed mind would disqualify me from the discussion if we were talking about a Toby Keith hoe down.  And again, let me just say ugh.

Music having been dealt with, then let’s move on to dance.

It is quite fashionable to criticize one ballet company or another in this city, dependent primarily upon who you know who dances or what you’ve heard about the artistic director.  There are really only a handful of folks who regularly attend the majority of dance events in our city.  I know this because I am one of them and I see who else is there.  Given this rather unscientific conclusion that I have made, I posit the obvious — that having seen only one or two performances by only one or two companies does not make one an expert on Columbia ballet, and certainly does not make one capable of predicting the quality of dance that will be showcased on any given night. 

In other words, for every principal dancer in a company, there is the dancer who just barely made the cut – hence there is a wide variety of talent on display no matter what company you’re talking about.  Factor in the good nights and bad nights that every dancer experiences with the dancers who may be dancing corps roles now but are on the cusp of breaking through to soloist positions (and these really always are the ones to watch — the ones who are still fighting their way up), and all predictions are off. 

Therefore, if you are a person who, a priori, arrived at the position that the Hootie ballet arts adventure was going to be sub-par based on the assumption that the dancing and or choreography was going to be poor, then you have shot yourself in the foot and therefore don’t have a leg to dance on.  Not because Columbia City Ballet is always good, but because Columbia City Ballet, like almost all arts organizations, is sometimes good.  It is absolutely illogical to summarily dismiss an arts event because you think you are certain an event is going to suck. 

Now, I’m not talking chances here as that would require mathematical abilities I do not care to engage.  What were the chances the show would be good or the chances it would be bad — yeah, I’m not going there.  It should also be said that if you have seen a specific artist or arts organization many, many times, as have some of our local ballet aficionados and, through your exposure, you have learned that you do not care for the particular dance or choreography coming out of a specific camp, then I am not talking to you.  You have made an informed decision, rather than floating along on the breeze that is popular discourse.  That is the prerogative of someone who really follows the arts.

I bring the whole argument up primarily in response to comments made on the Free Times blog about the Hootie ballet, prior to the ballet event.  Most people who commented were either definitively certain the performance would suck or definitively certain the performance would be stellar.  Neither stance made much sense prior to the show.

But what I’m really talking about here is not logic or premature and ill-informed judgement.  What I’m really talking about is the vast number of luke warm arts patrons out there who, let’s face it, want to look cool.  And that, my friends, is just sad.  With barely enough artistic energy to combat the nay-sayers who argue that there is little to no room for the arts in our economically threatened environment at all, how silly is it for patrons and artists themselves to expend an ounce of that valuable resource on becoming nay-sayers as well?

When it was all said and done, the show wasn’t bad; it wasn’t bad at all. 

But interestingly, having seen the show both Friday and Saturday nights due to ticket issues, the Friday night show was quite different from the show on Saturday night, which I preferred by far.  And this proves my point again.

I’m not an expert on ballet, but I am quite good at being a ballet patron, having seen upwards of a hundred performances by companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet, the Kirov, the Bolshoi and more, not to mention quite a few by the student company at the NC School of the Arts and almost everything any of our local companies have done for the past twenty years.  That said, there were some fine moments in the Hootie Ballet.  Regina Willoughby and Maurice Johnson are beautiful dancers even when they are just taking class, and Katie Smoak and Jose Serano have enough energy and stage presence for the entire company.  Of course, as an armchair artistic director there were certainly things I would have done differently, (most notably doing away with the finger spin at the temple crazy mime in I Only Want to Be With You), but who knows how it wouldhave turned out.

But one thing I can safely say is that the crowds for the most part were happy.  And if just a few of those first-time ballet go-ers come back to see this company or another company dance — or if they learn that the arts aren’t quite so stuffy as they thought and they come out for Artista Vista, or to see a play at Trustus, or they hit a gallery opening and check out some visuals and munch on some free nuts — then good.  Good for William Starret, good for all of Columbia ballet, good for Hootie, and good for Columbia.

Good for the world of art.  Good for the world.

(Disclaimer — I am a Hootie junkie.)

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2 Comments »

  1. Brava.
    ‘But interestingly, having seen the show both Friday and Saturday nights due to ticket issues, the Friday night show was quite different from the show on Saturday night, which I preferred by far.’ In the years (gulp) I spent watching multiple performances of ballet productions, I always enjoyed the second night better than opening night. IMHO, I believe the dancers did, too.

    Comment by Sydney Miller Norris — April 7, 2009 @ 07:42

  2. Thank you very much for your honesty. It was refreshing to hear someone tell it like it is and I agree with you 100%.

    Comment by Vivian — April 7, 2009 @ 08:15


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