Wednesday 27 February 2013

Made to Move - an experiment

Last night I took part in an experiment in live-tweeting from the dress rehearsal of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's season of Made to Move. It was an experiment in two ways. First, I haven't been to the ballet since a rather ill-fated night in seventh form; I'm pretty much a dance virgin. And second, this was an experiment on behalf of the RNZB; they have not allowed tweeting before, and the disembodied voice at the start of the performance instructed us all to put away our phones and cameras, making us feel very illicit.

The tweet-up was organised through Arts Wellington, and facilitated by Stephanie Alderson from Postively Wellington Venues. Thomas and Sally-Ann from the RNZB took care of us, telling us about the mechanics of a dress rehearsal, explaining that we were sitting down the bottom* with all the RNZB crew**,introducing us to the programme and telling us who all the people sitting near us were, and giving us stories and tidbits about the pieces, choreographers and dancers.

The aim of the experiment was, basically, to see if a group could be formed to live tweet an event like this, trading access for influence (a perfectly fair trade, in my view - I had an interesting, thoughtful, funny and moving night).

Made to Move consists of three new works by local and visiting choreographers; 'The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud', by Javier De Frutos, 'Of Days' by Andrew Simmons and 'Bier Halle' by Ethan Stiefel. There were, in turn, energetic and evocative, exquisitely sad and beautiful, and comically virtuoso.

'Of Days' was, by far, my favourite piece. I am a complete sucker for romantic minimalism in all its forms - visual, written, musical, and, it transpires, dance. There will be video of the dancers available soon, but until then, here are a selection of the pieces of music Simmonds used, by Olafur Arnalds, Dustin O'Halloran and Ludovico Einaudi. They are exquisite. The costume design, by freelancer and ex-dancer Kate Venables, was also beautiful; stripped back and soft. The stage set, with projected icy-white words and phrases and the use of multiple translucent screens went two ways for me - sometimes I found it wonderfully evocative, and sometimes I forgot to look at the dancers, because I was watching the words morph. (My neighbour said she could equally as happily just listened to the music and watched the words.) And I don't have language for the dancing itself, so I think you should just go see this.

I vastly enjoyed the evening, as did the other live tweeters (there were about 8 of us, all told, all - perhaps unsurprisingly - women). Here are a selection of the tweets that were posted.

(The international hand-sliding-down-face gesture for love pleases me.)

The key question though is - was the experiment a success? There are all sorts of thoughts I have here.

First and most basically, infrastructure. You need powerstrips for chargers (three hours of active tweeting can be very battery draining) and preferably a free wifi network for these kinds of activities.

Second, it's hard to tweet a live, visual performance. This might sound obvious, but you can tweet music and exhibitions in a way you can't dance and theatre, because you don't miss anything when you look down. So you either choose to miss things, or you time it in the intervals (which is just fine, and gives you time to reflect).

Third, not being allowed to take photos makes this much less fun, for us in the audience, and people following along at home. My fingers itched throughout to capture lighting, stage sets, costumes, poses and share them. (I mean, I've dedicated pretty much a whole talk to this topic). I completely agree with the reasoning that the dancers - and not to mention, the rest of the audience - may find this distracting, but I think a happy compromise might be to let people take photos during the applause section, which does go on for rather a while, and is also when you most want to say something.

Fourth and finally. We all sat there in the dark, in the caught-breath concentration, and our screens felt like a violation. I felt guilty every time mine lit up - I felt angry at a particularly large and bright Galaxy's glare. It wasn't just the sense that part of the audience wasn't paying attention (although I know that this is what playing with phones indicates to many people, this is a point I would debate: commenting and sharing is a form of attention, even if it's not the best for retention or for letting yourself sink into a moment). The screens are just really bloody distracting. They look weird and alien, and they detract from the overall experience for everyone. Even as an overly avid tweeter (I passed 20,000 tweets today) I felt it was wrong. I want to go back and see these performances with every bit of my attention fixed on that stage and that music.

Maybe there's a point coming where, when you buy tickets for an event like this, you can select tweeting or not tweeting, like smoking and non-smoking. But following on from attending the Webstock conference and deliberately trying to minimise my online activity over those two days, I'm likely to be firmly in the non-tweeting section.

Having said that, attending the dress rehearsal was a privilege and a pleasure. I find the ballet a little intimidating - I don't know the rules, the audience (I forecast) are not "my people", and it feels like a formal event that I'll be uncomfortable at. The dress rehearsal however was warm, friendly, relaxed, jokey yet intense. It was the best possible introduction, and it's given me real confidence.

*Technical term
**Another technical term

1 comment:

Sonja said...

Firstly - because of your tweeting I went (and took Tash) and I know of others who did the same. I saw the tweets so paid attention to the review and remembered to buy tickets - as someone who does love the ballet but somehow hasn't managed to find time for it in the last few years that has to be a plus for RNZB.
Secondly from a tweet perspective in this case there were three quite reasonable intervals - I was iPhone-less this week and I would have tweeted then. I wouldn't have wanted the distraction of taking my eyes off the stage. Although I also agree a bit about photos. Having said that the tweeting was inspired and inspirational - capturing the sense of what was on stage in a very contained way. I'm not sure it would have worked as well for a classic ballet (like Swan Lake) which is more tightly focused on story as compared to mood.
And third - it was a magical night, I'm so glad we went. Of Days was worth the ticket price alone. Anatomy of a Passing Cloud was also as interesting and original as the tweets suggested. And Bier Halle was traditional but with that twist of fluidity and engagement which makes RNZB stand out.