How Often Do You Get It?

by Leda Meredith

photo by Tom Caravaglia

What if you were to walk down the street and randomly interview passersby with the question, “How often do you buy tickets for dance performances?” Now imagine asking the people who sometimes do, what would motivate them to buy tickets more often. Then imagine asking the ones who never do, “Why not?”

Tickets for dance are generally less expensive than for a Broadway show. Some downtown dance venues are cheaper than a movie-plus-popcorn. So why aren’t the houses packed?

Dance is a performing art. This sounds obvious, yet is often ignored. Why perform for an audience? Why not simply practice in our living rooms because we love exploring movement? Why not choreograph and rehearse a piece (and pay our dancers for their time) without making any attempt to get it onstage?

I’m asking many questions here, and I don’t have as many answers. But I do strongly believe that those of us who work in the field of dance need to take a long, hard look at why we do what we do, and at our responsibilities to the audience.

Communication is the heart of any performing art. No audience, no performing art form.

I have been to many performances lately in which I felt as if I was watching choreographic warm up exercises. There was really no reason for me to be there. The choreographer and performers didn’t seem to care whether or not their ideas were communicated clearly. Eventually I gave up trying to “get it” and just felt bored. I will not pay money again to go see works by those artists.

So why doesn’t your average passerby go to see dance more often? Maybe she or he got tired of “just not getting it”. Maybe they took boredom as a sign that dance just wasn’t for them, rather than realizing that the artists were not communicating anything in particular.

On the bright side, I once had a man come up to me after a performance whose wife had dragged him protesting to the show. He explained that he’d really wanted to stay home and watch football, “…but that dance you did with the tall guy, that was really something. It was over too soon, though. Are there more dances like that?” I wonder if he did give dance another try? If so, I deeply hope that there was something to delight him on the program.

I believe that the arts provide an essential service. Yes, we need to keep ourselves clothed and fed. We also need to laugh and cry, to be inspired or sometimes disturbed, to shake up our old ideas and see things from a new point of view. The arts do that, and more.

Do that for whom?

To the Audience: the next time you go to see a dance concert, please invite someone whom has never been to one. I will cross my fingers and hope that the work you see is something which might inspire your companion to come again.

To the Choreographers and Performers: please remember that creating and fine tuning movement is only the first draft. First drafts by writers don’t usually get published. Why should an audience pay to see yours? What is it for? Who is it for? What is it that you care about so much that you need to share it? I hope it means enough to you that you will do whatever it takes to communicate as clearly as possible.

Leda can also be found at ledameredith.net

About the writer:
Leda Meredith’s biography deserves to be reprinted in full. the-vu proudly welcomes her exceptional talent to our pages.
As a performer, Leda Meredith’s career spans contemporary dance, classical ballet, and theatre. Her performances have taken her to twenty-five countries on four continents. She has been a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre II, Edward Villella, Manhattan Ballet, Dances Patrelle, and others. She was a company member of Jennifer Muller/The Works for over seven years, and originated numerous roles in the repertory. She returned as Artistic Associate Director for the company’s 25th anniversary season in 1999-2000.
Her piece Lullabye Lane, premiered as part of Jennifer Muller/The Works’ 25th anniversary season at the Joyce Theater in New York. With original music by composer James Sasser, Lullabye Lane marked their seventh collaboration. They recently completed the full evening work Small Talk At The Volcano. In Spring 2000 she co-created a cabaret style piece entitled All About Angels and Eggs, with Michael Jahoda and Maria Naidu at Dansatelier in Rotterdam. Other choreographic credits include works for Malaparte Theatre Company, the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York, Dixon Place, Peridance International, the Hatch Saturday Series, First Fridays at Five, and the Arts on the Hudson Festival.
She is a returning guest instructor for the Henny Jurriens Stichting in Amsterdam, Western Washington University; and Dance Loft in Rorschach, Switzerland. Leda is currently on faculty with Ballet Academy East. She has taught as part of the 1996 Iles de Danse in France, and for the Artist’s Trusts International Course in England. In December, 1999 she was guest instructor for Carolyn Carlson’s Atelier de Paris. Other dance programs she has taught for include the California State University at Los Angeles, and Brigham Young University in Hawaii.

1 Comment

  1. Leda,

    It’s so great to hear an experienced dancer/choreographer/performance artist remind us that the performance means little without a receptive audience. Again, to comparing dance to literature, if no one “gets” your writing, then there is much room for improvement.

    Furthermore, as a patron, I would like to feel confidant that a show I am going to see is at least going to have behind it, an earnest effort to communicate, even if it’s not in my language.

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