"Behind every Ballerina is at least one crazy Russian teacher with a cane." Tesee G.
Part of the reason why I was so focused on Europe being the past in regards to dance was my own experiences. As the quote suggests, I too had a crazy Russian Ballerina as a teacher that had a cane and would walk around smacking our derrière's or the backs of our knees when they were sticking out too much. In my head, I had applied these experiences to the rest of Europe.
Russia has always been the standard for classical Ballet technique. As you could see in the video, the dancers are in unison despite being young and only in class. While France was the beginning of dance, Russia was the beginning of the intense technical training that became a standard around the world.
"I have many injuries. It is better not to talk about them." - Natalia Makarova
As the quote suggests, dance is not an easy art form or sport. Natalia Makarova was one of Russia's most famous Prima Ballerina's and the quotes summarizes what I assumed dance in Europe would be like. Focused on technique and pushing past any pain you may endure. In my mind I assumed that it would be entrenched in only tradition and lack the drive or creativity to move forward. These assumptions were incorrect.
During my first few weeks in Reggio Emilia I had the opportunity to see a performance by the Hofesh Shechter Company and my preconceptions were turned on head. It was shocking to say the least. While I knew it was going to be a modern production, I did not look much into the company until after I saw the performance. Not only was the content surprising, but the experience of seeing a production in Europe was completely different than it is in America.
An evening at the theatre in America:
- Dress nicely, dresses and suits are preferable.
- Always arrive at least a half hour early. If purchasing tickets, an hour or an hour and a half early.
- You are allowed to be seated at least a half hour before the performance.
- Though some seats are not great, all have an unobstructed view of the stage.
- Attendants will check with you multiple times before you find your seat.
- There will be warnings of possible seizure, allergy, or ptsd triggers.
An evening at the theatre in Italy:
- Italian casual dress is typical. I felt overdressed in a sweater and nice dress.
- Programs are, in fact, in Italian. So reading program notes as I had planned was not successful.
- Doors do not open until close to 15 minutes before the performance starts.
- Rarely anyone arrives earlier than that.
- The theatre's are extremely old, which means giant pillars might be in your line of sight.
- Nudity is not censored in Europe.
- There are zero warnings for flashing lights, gun shot sounds, or smoke.
"To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself."-John Berger
The aspect that most shocked me about this production was the nudity. Aside from the overall experience of being in an old theatre and the different traditions and norms of seeing a dance production, this aspect was the most interesting to me. Knowing and having worked with many choreographers back home I wish we had the freedom that is available here.
At first, when the dancers appeared on stage, I did not realize they were nude because that just does not happen in America. Then, I realized they were not wearing nude coverings of any sort and I was completely shocked. After the shock wore off I realized how intense that moment was, having the dancers standing front and center with a spotlight on them, allowing the audience to see all of them. It was a moment that I had never been able to witness before. In America, this would not be done because of censorship laws and people would honestly freak out about it and social media would inevitably be involved.
Because nudity in Europe is a completely different situation, this moment was allowed. It was in this moment that I realized that the freedom I assumed America had because it isn't tied down to the past or the expectations of tradition is not actually true freedom. I assumed innovation would have been a larger piece of American modern and contemporary dance, but this has not been my experience since coming here. The production I saw included voice-overs, intricate lighting, changing costuming, complex story-lines, and many other aspects that are only beginning to grow in America.