Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dangerous Decisions for Conductors in early 20C Russia

There was even more to the balletomanes' discussions in the Smoking Room. Having talked about the ballerinas, they would touch on the activities of ballet administration, including those of theatre's director. There was discussion of ballet production, decor, costumes as well as music. The conductor's work was touched on, and his skill in accompanying the dancing, and his readiness to repeat a certain ballerina's solo. The balletomanes especially valued the conductor's discretion and his ability to guess their intentions. Occasionally, the balletomanes were unruly, demanding with loud applause that a dancer repeat her number: the dancer, for whatever reason, they deemed worthy of an encore. It often happened that the leading ballerina, not wishing to let her young rival repeat her solo, would come out of the wings, and as the young soloist was completing her number, the ballerina would take up position for her first steps. In such a difficult situation, the conductor's position became untenable -- he would be blamed by both sides, whatever he did. If the balletomanes could force him by loud shouts and applause to stop the orchestra and repeat the music for the young artist's variation, then the ballerina would curse him for his lack of tact, his insufficient respect for her personally, and for undermining the public's impression of her dancing. If the conductor did not play an encore, in spite of ovations, then this brought on the balletomanes' anger, while the object of their enthusiasm, providing she felt sufficiently influential, would attack the conductor in the interval, asserting that he did not pay enough attention to her and her talent, and that he intended to destroy her career.

"Memoirs" by V. A. Telyakovsky and Nina Dimitrievitch in Dance Research, Vol 12, No 1, Page 46.

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