Radio 3 has now added to its on-line archive the series of 'Work in Progress' features in which Mark Baldwin discussed his ballet, 'The Bird Sings With its Fingers', a collaboration with the composer Julian Anderson, based on Jean Cocteau's film noir, 'Orphee'. There are five programmes, each one just under five minutes long. The realplayer audio can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/speech/workinp7.shtml while the actual scripts are at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/playlists/wiptxscript07.shtml
Balletco's previous Mark Baldwin thread is at
Scrolling through the Radio 3 scripts, I was reminded of just how little light the printed programme notes for the actual performances shed on the final work. Although I found the lyricism and inventiveness of Baldwin's dance-language quite thrilling, I just did not 'get' the piece. At the time, the national critics, who were in the main enthusiastic, identified obscurity as an issue. Here are some quotes:
Jenny Gilbert in the Independent: "The sequence of musical events didn't fit my understanding of the story. As for the dance, it was impossible to tell who was who".
David Dougill in the Sunday Times: "The action is too condensed and elusive to make sense unless one is very well up on the source".
Jann Parry in the Observer: "We need time to tease out the references, rehear the score".
Ismene Brown in the Telegraph: "You would need to know that film very well to spot the references".
Judith Mackrell in the Guardian: "Watching the dance we get an inkling of the images that may have played though the collaborators' minds as they created the work. But we need more. Without the visual fantasy of design, the choreography seems too meagre".
I feel very strongly about the issue of programme notes. During the ROH season, we are used to essays of impeccable scholarship, which set the context for the evening's performance in satisfying detail. Unfortunately this is not the case during the Hochhauser season, still less at any contemporary dance performance I can think of. Last week in an interview with the New York Times, the choreographer Eliot Feld attempted to justify the lack of explanation:
"A dance is the best explanation of itself. You don't want to understand a poem or poetic thing the way you understand things that are prosaic. They have an ambiguity that is their most divine quality. Explaining can explain away".
I suppose this is another rendering of the Balanchine credo that "there is no story". Except that, as we well know about Mr B, there is always a story, always a context, always a good reason to "tell the dancer from the dance".
The NY Times piece by Jennifer Dunning bears reading. At present (but perhaps for not much longer) it can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/dance/16EXPL.html
She documents the increased demand from audiences for explanation, and chronicles an interesting phenomenon at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival - that pre-performance talks have had a transformative effect on audience reactions to work that was problematic or obscure.
I find it extraordinary that the contemporary dance community is so bereft of the need to communicate itself - either theatrically or in the context of the spoken word. They have forsaken the idea of 'story', and when - as in the case of the otherwise excellent Mark Baldwin - they do play with stories, they run for the cover of obscurity. I wonder why.