IN WHICH TEAM GALLO TAKES ON NYCB
“I thought you said this was a matinee! Matinees start at 2 PM. 11 AM? Our weekend is ruined! Is it too much to ask to sleep in on a Saturday?”
Thus begins the next stop on my taking-Olivia-to-see-dance odyssey. This time, we are bringing the Daddy-O. For the record, the Daddy-O was my original going-to-see-dance date, but since becoming parents, we have found ourselves splitting our affinities. Or, as the Daddy-O would say, “We send a representative.” So today, I am determined to remain excited that Team Gallo is in full effect, regardless of the morning’s agitation. Because we are heading into the perfect storm of kid cultural currency: the New York City Ballet Family Matinee.
I want to be delicate about this, because I am about to write critical words about a sacred institution. And because, in concept, I applaud this valiant effort at artistic outreach and building future audiences. But, I have to wonder - as did the family next to us at Rosa Mexicano after the show - if anyone on the artistic team behind Saturday’s lecture demonstration has kids. The series really is a stellar idea, and is seemingly successful, but it could be so much more effective. The show needed a director.
There was just so much didactic talking. If keeping the attention of children is a goal of your performance, more lecturing than dancing is not the ideal ratio of activities. And, if you want to have some audience participation, that’s great! But you can’t repeat it more than three times. The children will become bored (and Olivia will start chastising the girls behind her for eating snacks in the theater). And, if you want to bring up the house lights during said audience participation, go ahead. But please bring them down again for the remainder of the performance. I get that you want to be non-threatening, but the effect is more like a convention of a thousand distracted pigeons craning their little ruffled necks around to see E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. other than what is on stage.
And the poor dancers! It had already been established that the audience was incapable of maintaining a clapped rhythm without speeding up exponentially. So when half of the audience (ahem, the Daddy-O included), began enthusiastically clapping along to the rhythm in “Agon,” I died a little. I was, however, gratified to notice that Stravinsky’s score to “Agon” seemed to capture Olivia’s attention more than any segment, because I share that affinity. And I loved seeing that ballet again from such close proximity. (All the tickets for the Family Matinee series are $20, so if you order early enough, you can sit in premium seats for fourth ring prices).
Okay, so today’s theme was music, and it makes sense that you had the instrumentalists onstage and that you introduced the different sections of the orchestra. And it was really fun to meet the percussionist who played the china bowls with chopsticks during “Varied Trio (in four).” But why did you then bury him behind three rows of music stands so his work was not a visible aspect of the performance? Blocking, people. Blocking. And risers.
When it was all over and the kids burst chattering forth in a swirling leaping mass of party dresses, the Daddy-O leaned in and asked whether I think it better to take Olivia to programs geared toward kids or to whatever I want to see. He had to know I would say the latter. I mean, this kid has a pretty long attention span and has shown herself capable of being taken along for the ride of a good performance, but throw a thousand other kids in a bright auditorium into the equation, and the performance is lost.
NYCB, I do love what you are trying to do here, and at these prices, even at this too-early-for-the-Daddy-O hour, we will certainly try again next year. But please, get that director. Preferably a parent. I can recommend a few.