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Performers and the audience

April 13, 2014

Have you ever been to a show – a concert, a play, a ballet, for example – and wondered about the performers? How do they relate to each other? What do they do in their spare time? Well, quite coincidentally, two shows I went to last week looked at this question from different angles.

First, Musica Viva. We in Canberra were the last concert in the tour by young London-based trio, the Sitkovetsky Trio which comprises Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Wu Qian (piano), and Leonard Eischenbroich (cello). They are all in their twenties and have been good friends since they met as young children – preteen – at the Yehudi Menuhin School. We decided to attend the after concert Q&A. While some of the questions related to their artistic practice and influences, some addressed those questions that clearly I’m not the only one to ponder, such as whether they remember their first meetings with each other, and how their current extra-curricular interests might influence their playing.

In the program, Chinese pianist Wu Qian talked about her fascination with English literature and how she read all the Jane Austen novels after arriving in England. She was 13 years old, I believe, when she started at the school. Most interesting though was Russian violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky’s answer at the Q&A. He arrived at the school when he was around 8 years old and, being so young, apparently lost all facility with his language. He returned to Russia for the first time when he was 17 years old and was embarrassed by his lack of skill in his own language. He couldn’t even read billboards he said. And so he set about rectifying that. It’s so wonderful, he said, to be able to read Tolstoy and Pushkin in the original language. As a reader, I totally understood that. German cellist Leonard Eischenbroich, on the other had, spoke of the importance of recognising the moment when you are independent of teachers and influences – not in the sense that you stop learning from others but in terms of being confident in the sort of musician you are and able to assess external input on your own terms.

And then, the next night we attended the Sydney Dance Company’s show, Interplay. It comprised three dances, “2 in D Minor” (by Rafael Bonachela), “Raw Models” (by Jacopo Godani), and “L’Chaim” (Gideon Obarzanek). They were three wonderful and very different performances, but the one I want to talk about here is the last, “L’Chaim”, which, you might know, means “To life” in Hebrew/Yiddish. It is a dance that directly addresses both the audience’s curiosity about the artists as well as what an audience member might seek from attending a performance. It’s a clever, entertaining and provocative piece.

“L’Chaim” is a work that combines dance (choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek) and text (written by David Woods). It commences with the dancers on stage in – hmm – play clothes, dancing or, perhaps, rehearsing a dance. They dance, stop and talk, and dance again. But, while this is going on, they are being asked questions from the audience. Often the questions are directed to individual dancers – “the German-looking one”, “the youngest”, “you with the spiky hair” – and so a microphone is passed around from dancer to dancer who attempts to answer questions while continuing to dance. And the questions are those we might like to ask: “Who is the youngest?”, “Are you grumpy”, “Does it take a lot of strength to do that?”, “Say your cat died yesterday and you had to bury it – would you be sad when you were dancing? What would it look like?”, and “Do you know what we want?”. The dancer’s answer to the latter was “to be entertained”. She went on to suggest that the audience doesn’t want to be made to feel sad”. The interrogation ends only when the questioner admits to being sad and is invited onto the stage.

The writer of the text, David Wood, writes in the program that we audience members fear being asked “What did you think”? (I know that feeling!). He says that “it isn’t easy to put into words the event that we have just been a part of”. And so, he says:

In “L’Chaim” we have attempted to dive into this murky zone … some of the questions are shallow and some downright disrespectful but our voice needs to wade through this initial trivia to get to the heart of its dilemma – to articulate something beyond the literal.

After the intensity of “2 in D Minor” and the confronting power of “Raw Models”, “L’Chaim” brought us back to reality, to thinking about what it is that we seek in dance, or, indeed, in any performance we attend. It didn’t provide an answer, of course, because there isn’t a simple one, but it gave us freedom to explore our reactions on multiple levels – the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. It’s an unusual piece, and may not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but I laughed when I recognised myself in the superficial questions and I appreciated its acknowledgement of my uncertainty about articulating the meaning of what I’ve experienced.

What do you ponder when attending live performances?

The Shows:

  • Musica Viva, The Sitkovetsky Trio, performed Lewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music, April 14, 2014
  • Sydney Dance Company, Interplay, performed Canberra Theatre Centre, April 10-12, 2014
17 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2014 18:51

    Lovely post, Sue !! – makes me wish I had someone to go to the theatre with, and that’s saying something. 🙂

  2. April 13, 2014 18:58

    We’ve been subscribers to the Flinders quartet for many years. I think it was on Facebook Zoe Knighton copied a piece from her blog about settling in with new members. If you can find her blog I think you’d enjoy reading it.

    • April 13, 2014 21:25

      It’s great subscribing to local groups isn’t it, crlbth59? We subscribe to the Griffyn Ensemble here too. I found Zoe Knighton’s blog and read a couple of posts about working with musicians. I’m not sure which particular post you are talking about but what I’ve read is interesting. Love her post A penny for your thoughts.

  3. April 14, 2014 07:59

    Aaaaaah so much to love in this post! Piano + Jane Austen! “L’Chaim” -> Fiddler in the Roof is now in my head! DANCE CLIP! AUSTRALIAN ACCENT! The thought that you might review Cirque!!

    • April 14, 2014 08:11

      It’s a great little clip isn’t it, Hannah. As for Cirque … I don’t review most performances we go too so we’ll see how the use takes me!

  4. April 14, 2014 09:29

    Aside from enjoying the performance I analyse the technique the artist is employing which at the most basic level boils down to ‘how did they do that?’. I played oboe in a youth orchestra many moons ago so I have some performance experience. Unfortunately I do not perform well in front of an audience – it terrifies me!

    • April 14, 2014 10:36

      Interesting perkinsy! I think my husband looks more at technique than I do. I’ve never properly played an instrument though I did do ballet until my early teens, and I’m sure my legs went to jelly often. I’m nervous even asking a question at a seminar. It sounds fine in my head but I have such performance anxiety that it often comes out inarticulately!

  5. April 16, 2014 01:45

    What two really wonderful performances you attended! When I attend live performances it is generally about enjoyment even when it is something that makes me sad and teary, there is still a certain pleasure in tragedy. In addition, it doesn’t happen with plays, but other things like dance and music, I often find myself wishing I could do that – sing/dance/play an instrument.

  6. Meg permalink
    April 29, 2014 14:46

    I have just returned from Spain. Here I saw Flamenco dancers and classic guitarists perform. As to the Dancers, I tried to analyze the technique of the steps they incorporated into their dance. I noticed many actions and movements from ballet and Irish dancing. Some of the dancers had solo performances and fellow performers sat on the stage and watched. I did wonder what went through their minds as they watched on. I know nothing about the technique of classic guitar music, all I know I just adore the sound of it. I also loved the passion shown by all the performers.

    • April 29, 2014 23:01

      Oh how wonderful, a meg. Where did you see the performers? We went to a traditional flamenco performance in Seville last September that sounds like what you’ve described though there were just three performers … Two dancers and one guitarist. They also sang as they do in traditional flamenco. It was wonderful.

  7. Meg permalink
    April 30, 2014 10:04

    I saw the performers also in Seville. There were three men and three women dancers. Two singers, and three guitarists. All were marvellous. The crowd were enthusiastic and the whole evening was one of the highlights of my trip.

    • April 30, 2014 12:25

      Sounds similar but possibly a different venue to ours Meg. But, isn’t Seville gorgeous? Loved the Alcazar.

  8. Meg permalink
    May 1, 2014 16:00

    Loved all of Spain. There are so many exciting places to visit, and the Alcazar is one of them. I didn’t spend enough time at Toledo so that is one place I will have to revisit. The queue was so long at La Sagrada Familia I didn’t get to see inside, I should have persevered. I also need to visit the Prado Museum again, and the list goes on!

    • May 1, 2014 22:57

      We agree. It was great. We bit the bullet and pre-ordered a Sagrada Familia tour before we left Australia, partly because it allowed us after the one hour tour to spend as much time inside as we liked. It seemed to be a good way of avoiding the queue, and the tour was was interesting.

      We only spent a day in Toledo, as a day trip from Madrid, so only touched the surface, had a lovely day there … Very, very hot compared to being every cold here. I know which I’d take anytime! But then I’m an Aussie.

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