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Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Got Rhythm. By John von Daler


                Choreographers and ballet dancers see eye to eye with conductors and musicians: we all serve the music. The sounds of a ballet should be just as the composer imagined them and the movement of the dance should describe, interpret and embody the music. We agree on that.
                However, a little devil usually gets in the way of this covenant; he often is disguised as the rehearsal pianist. His tricks are subtle and well thought-out. Everything usually starts fine. The pianist has practiced on the music. He knows the tempi.
                When he starts to play the choreographer shows the steps to the dancers and then steps back himself, one hand under his chin, the other under his elbow.
                "Hmmm. Looks a little dumpy. Could you speed the tempo up a bit, please?"
                The rehearsal pianist should at this moment say, No, Rossini wrote it like a minuet. It should be played like a minuet and not like a jig. But, wanting to keep his job, he lets the devil get to him and speeds the music up. He does similar naughty things to quite a few of the pieces.
                Then, after a month of rehearsing when the ballet and the orchestra get together, each dance is accompanied by a polite but sharp exchange between the conductor and the choreographer. Things are said under the breath about taste, talent and ancestory. Compromises are reached, meaning, of course, that in the end the music is compromised. The audience ends up hearing and seeing minuets danced as jigs.
                I tried to get around this unfortunate string of events when I conducted at the Pantomime Theater in Tivoli in Copenhagen. I demanded to go through the music with the choreographer and the rehearsal pianist and wrote down the metronome speed for each movement. They stuck to our agreement in rehearsals. We got friendly. We even greeted each other, tipping our hats on the pleasant walkways of the amusement park. And we got almost a perfect rendition of sound and movement. Every evening the ballet would last exactly 29 minutes and thirty seconds of well-timed music.
                When a dancer would come up after the evening's performance to say that she thought the gavotte seemed just slightly too quick this evening, I would just look at my watch and say, No, no the ballet lasted 29 minutes and thirty seconds as usual. Are you sure you haven't eaten too much for dinner, my dear?
                And then with the confident step of the well-prepared and the victorious I could stride out of Tivoli, Rossini's legacy well-protected in my care. At least this once.


My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through Amazon.com, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at Amazon.com or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!



                                

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