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January 30, 2006

You know where you stand by where you sit

I was up in the fourth ring of the State Theater on Friday night for the first time in a long while. Press tickets are given either in the orchestra or first ring and the pecking order is perceived that you're more of a Lord High Muckity-Muck if the press office gives you first ring seats. I’m not a Lord High Muckity-Muck, so I get orchestra seats but in my experience the press office at NYCB is one of the most cooperative and I’m very happy with how I’ve been treated.

The conventional wisdom is that you see patterns better from higher up and that’s true. But there’s higher up and there’s way up in nosebleed country. I’m delighted the performance was almost sold out on Friday, but that meant I was in Row N, two rows from the top of the house. Fourth Ring Society discount tickets are in Rows C-O. I find row C undesirable because there’s a railing that can block views from certain angles, and prefer to be around Row E. If the house is uncrowded, I will often sneak into AA or BB, the two rows that are in front of the main access aisle, as soon as the house lights go down. Faces are still discernable in the front portion of the Fourth Ring, by the back you’re looking for different cues. I started my viewing up there; it’s interesting what changes when you become accustomed to the Orchestra. The Fourth Ring is much kinder to dancers with nerves or tics. Stage fright or fatigue that’s palpable from the Orchestra gets smoothed out over the distance. Sharply accented dancers read better than softer dancers as well. We can’t see facial cues, so we’re looking for those from the body.

Where you sit can change an entire dance. The Lord High Muckity-Muck seats for press at Covent Garden are in the Orchestra Stalls. Those seats have a face-on view of the stage. The other press seats are in the Stalls Circle, a horseshoe that surround the Orchestra Stalls. The farther out along the horseshoe you are, the less clear the stage. I saw La Fête Étrange for the first time from seat B36 in the Stalls Circle (relatively far out on the horseshoe, but still in full view of most of the stage) and the second time from the Orchestra Stalls. The first time the ballet seemed remote, the second time it had a subtle but definite impact. Yes, I saw different casts, but Zenaida Yanowsky in the first cast is not a dancer I’ve ever considered remote. The ballet was originally done on the tiny stage of the Mercury Theatre and I think it needed to be seen, if not up close, at least dead-on.

At the State Theater I’ve always had a preference for sitting House Right; my ideal Fourth Ring Society seats are around E2-8. It’s a coincidence, but I believe that Balanchine’s seat in the theater was all the way house right in the First Ring. Then again, I think his preferred place was to watch from the wings. That was something I refused to do with my own work. At some point I needed to abdicate from control of the ballet, because once the curtain went up there was nothing more I could do. So I sat in the audience, except for The New Rome in 2003. The composer, Evren Celimli, would pace nervously in the back of the house. Nervousness loves company, so I would join him to dig a furrow in the linoleum.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at January 30, 2006 5:20 PM

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