We live in a fantastic digital age don’t we? There is always information right at your fingertips, now more than ever, with the advent of the smartphone. There is always something new to watch or to listen to, or news happening somewhere in the world.
This age is both a blessing and a curse to the ballet world. On one hand, the process of learning a ballet is a much simpler one with video being so easily captured and stored. It is no longer necessary for someone staging a ballet to be intimately familiar with notation; Benesh Notation being the most common form. This is a way of writing down dance in an internationally recognized form, which is laid out almost like written music when you see it. Now, my knowledge of notation does not extend much farther than that, and it looks just as foreign to me as reading Mandarin…but I digress. We can now watch a video of any ballet that we have been asked to learn, which allows for the rehearsal director to save much-needed time when there is a time crunch if the dancers already have a loose idea of the steps they will be asked to do when they come into the studio. However, this is also a hotly debated topic both by balletomanes (people who love ballet) and the dancers and ballet masters themselves. For instance, a dancer will always have in his or her mind the way that they saw a certain step executed on the video, and will inevitably try to emulate it, whether consciously or not. In a way, there will always be some hint of the dancer who inhabited that role before (however this is most certainly not always a bad thing!). From a more practical stand-point, there is the issue of “how was this step meant to be?” I can’t tell you how many times I have stood in the studio, watching some performance over and over again, only to reproduce what was actually a mistake that the dancer on the video made. Perhaps he had a mental blank for a moment, or perhaps his turn was not quite going the way that he wanted it to, and did something that was not in the original choreography to try to save it from really going sour. Either way, whenever a new ballet master sees you dance the role, or has a different memory of the way it was, it more often than not leads to no small amount of confusion.
I remember when I was in school, one of my teacher told me a story about one specific ballet that he had danced. Throughout the ballet (it was very abstract), those who were not supposed to be dancing at a particular moment were allowed to wander around in the back on the stage, and watch those who were dancing. It gave the ballet a great feeling of competition between the dancers; A sort of “look what I can do!” and “oh really? I can do better!”. However, there was one solo in the middle section of the ballet for the lead woman, and there were specific instructions that no one else was to be onstage during the solo, any other time, but not then. Perhaps it was the rebel inside him, but on one performance, he felt a little different, and decided to stand in the upstage right corner with his arms folded or hands on his hips; watching her. He then told me that a recent video that he had seen of another company performing that same ballet had one person in the upstage right corner during the lead woman’s solo, arms folded. He inadvertently had changed the history of that ballet simply through that one choice he made that night!
So you see, video is both a blessing and a curse for us. I just hope that when the time comes for someone to learn off a video that I danced in, that I will have done the ballet justice!