On Tuesday night I was at the ballet: a triple bill called Edge of Night. And once again, being alone, I was tweeting in the gaps. (I’d say #foyertweets, but the Opera Theatre foyer is so cramped that I was actually doing it from my seat.)
And of all the random, sometimes whimsical observations made over the course of the evening, one pair of tweets received a surprising response.
I’d recognised a couple of the Rachmaninoff preludes that had been used for the first work, Edge of Night, but not all of them, so I was looking about for the list that would identify them in sequence. Nothing on the cast sheet, and nothing that I could find in a casual reading through the program book. Not even in Dr Mark Carroll’s article about musical matters.
Similarly, there was no real indication of which Handel numbers were to be heard in the final work, Molto Vivace. If you poked around in Dr Carroll’s article you’d find these identified in broad brush terms: excerpts from the Water Music suites, something from Xerxes (no prizes for guessing what that would be), assorted concertos from Opus 3 and Opus 6. But where was the simple sequential list?
You might argue that I should have recognised all the Rachmaninoff preludes for myself, and perhaps you’re right. But I didn’t. I have small hands you see. And in any case, not everyone at the ballet is an expert in piano repertoire or familiar with Handel’s music, so, as I said (but in fewer characters): it’s not unreasonable to expect that a handsome and in other respects thoroughly comprehensive program book will have, somewhere, a list of the actual musical selections used.
Documenting the music (properly, not just naming the composer or burying a summary in an article) is surely as important as identifying the other creative elements in a dance work. Not just for the benefit of the audience but for the value of the program book as a historical record of what was performed. And, as I also said, I’m sure I’m not the only person at the ballet who pays attention to the music and would like to see it identified.
On that point it turned out I was right. “Hear, hear!” came the first response. “YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE!” yelled the next. Then: “no you’re not! I often like the music I hear at dance performances but it is exceedingly difficult to find out what they are!”
Perhaps I should resign myself to a certain casualness about musical matters that permeates the dance world. Except it would be so easy for this to be done better. Grab one of your musical staff in the corridor; get them to make a list. Publish it – preferably on the cast sheet that everyone receives, but failing that, at least put it in the program book in a logical, easy-to-find spot.