We Can Do Better: The Need for a Fresh Approach

Well, the Ovation Channel was at it again. Evidently their “Battle of the Nutcrackers” is an annual event; those who watched have had the opportunity to see five different versions of the seasonal ballet again this year and vote on their favorite.

Although I have written about this television event before, it is still a very interesting thing to watch five different interpretations of the same basic story, told to (mostly) the same music.  What struck me this year, however, was the effort that the director/choreographers put into making their work fresh and new.

We all know of recurrent productions, be they plays, musical performances, or ballets that simply repeat every year what has been done by that particular producing organization before. It’s much like they know there is a market for the seasonal production, but somehow they can’t put their hearts into it—after all, they’ve done it and done it and done it before. We also know of directors and choreographers who, instead of doing what is required to bring a new vision to the stage, will attempt to reproduce other productions or movies of the work they are staging.

Not so with those who produced these world-class versions of the famous ballet. Productions ranged from the traditional to the surreal to a complete restructuring of the story and the characters.  Each is remarkable in its own way, and each fresh and new in some way. And each seems to be aimed at a different audience. It does not seem to matter that the directors have done the show before; this time it’s different and new and important that it be that.

Certainly, I do not want to tackle the question of which one was the best. That, after all, is the point of the “competition,” with the audience favorite having been aired in prime time on Christmas Eve. But some departures are worthy of note. One is British director/choreographer Matthew Bourne’s version. To say that Bourne has reimagined the Nutcracker is a gross understatement. His version retains the plot and a few of the characters, but the rest is completely new and different. Of course, Bourne has the habit of reimagining almost all of the traditional pieces that he directs. And there are other innovators: Mikhail Chemiakinâ’s surrealistic approach is  a “darker and more adult retelling” of the familiar story, produced at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. And then there is the version by Patrice Bart, set during the Russian Revolution, which, again, is a significant reimagining of an old story.

The point, of course, is that each of these artists works to make his work his own.  Moreover, these director/choreographers do not rely on what has gone before, or the interpretations of others. These works, although retaining identifiable parts of the traditional story, are fresh departures, new ways of telling that story, and aimed at a particular audience. These artists are following Ezra Pound’s injunction, “Make it new.” We would do well to do likewise. And although I have written on this topic before, it is a topic that deserves to be discussed repeatedly for those interested in art and creativity.

Regardless of the medium in which we work, we could learn a lot from these experts in staging ballet. We might step out of our comfort zone, let our imaginations run, and follow where they lead. We might consider our audience, or rather, a different audience or segment of audience.  We might find that stepping into the scary world of the unknown is just what our art needs. If all we do is repeat our past successes (or someone else’s), we cease to be artists and become artifact- or performance-producing mechanics. We can do better.


Date: Monday, 26. December 2011 0:29
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Creativity, Originality

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  1. 1

    I would have enjoyed seeing these productions…but, I can only envision some distant day when it will be possible for me to have the luxury of the time to watch 5 versions of anything. I’m sure the experience would serve as an inspirational boost.Good reminder.

  2. 2

    I was thinking how one of the ways to “make it new” is by experiencing other artists’ work in various mediums that serve to influence and inspire. I received a Christmas gift – Paul Simon’s album, “Songwriter.” A forward in the liner notes by Chuck Close reminds us that “Artists are by nature generous in sharing their interest in and passion for the work of other artists of different generations and cultures. Think of Van Gogh and Japanese woodblock prints, Picasso and Afican tribal art, de Kooning and cubism, Warhol and advertising and pop culture. As an artist in a different medium, Paul shared his passion for doo-wop, R&B, Caribbean, Latin American, and Cajun zydeco music, and the artists who invented those sounds. He has collaborated with other singer/songwriters, jazz and pop musicians, and vocalists of every stripe.” Soaking up art in any medium and from many artists nurtures and encourages all artists and may help to keep the work new.

  3. 3

    I agree completely. Actually, I often find that absorbing work in different media is more inspiring than work in the same medium. It gives you new perspective, and that’s always a good thing.

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