Attending the Stars of the 21st Century Gala reminded me of the rush I always get from live performance. It doesn’t matter if I’m performing or if I'm in the audience—I’ve done enough of both to know—just the idea of live performance gets me excited. I was particularly excited in anticipation of the Koffler’s Stars of the 21st Century Gala. Described as the most prestigious ballet gala in the world, it was to bring together principal dancers from eight world-renowned ballet companies for one night only. As with all live performance, it was to have the two key elements that make this kind of performance unique: the live anything-can-happen element, and performers responsible for transporting the art.
The entire evening was outstanding, and with a diverse mix of music, costumes, styles, there was truly something for everyone. The show was full of traditional ballet that audiences have come to expect as Bridgett Zehr, and Zdenek Konvaline from the National Ballet of Canada started the night off with a beautiful pas de deux to an excerpt from Delibes Coppelia, yet it was infused with modern ideas. Danii Simkin, with the American Ballet Theatre, performed solo to Les Bourgeoise, a twentieth-century French jazz piece by Jacques Brel, with a style and choreography that was modern and nothing less than exhilarating. Later, infusing ideas old and new, Elisa Carillo Cabrera, and Michail Kaniskin with the Berlin Opera Ballet performed their pas de deux, titled Le Grand, to music by classical composer Rossini, while taking a satirical approach to the style of classical ballet. Their on-stage tension and awkward interplay—including one loud scream by Cabrera—had the audience laughing as they fought eachother for stage time and occasionally broke out into dance moves better associated with jazz or hip hop.
The thing is, though I expected the Gala to be great, and in fact it was, no one could have promised this ahead of time. Regardless of how talented, experienced and prepared performers are, and regardless of how many times a performer has outperformed your expectations in the past, you just can’t know if you’re going to see a big hit or a big flop. I’ve seen performers who have put in months of focused and intelligent preparation completely blow it when the time came to show off their hard work. On that particular night they just couldn’t find their focus. I’ve also attended performances being sure I was going leave with a self-gratifying list of things I could have done better, because I knew the performer was not prepared. Instead, I've found myself shocked at how well they pulled it together and blew the competition out of the water. There are so many things that can go wrong or right in a live performance. You just never know.
It’s this pliancy—really, an inherent part of any live performance—which makes live performance truly valuable. It’s so human. Unlike so many other art forms there is an added element of vulnerability in live performance, a partial lack of control. Because live performance is ephemeral and each moment is fleeting, there is no opportunity to erase, paint over, or reshoot the scene. Whatever happens onstage becomes part of the scene, the song, the dance, and there is no way to change that. Each and every performance you see is unique and temporal.
The other element that is so unique to live performance is the performers themselves. Like any artist, they bring their own perspective and experiences into their performances, but unlike many other mediums of arts, the art cannot travel without the performer. At the MIXEDFIT exhibition opening and fashion show in September many of us here at the Koffler were able to experience art as we viewed and tried on four unique t-shirt designs, without any of the designers themselves being present. With the Toronto Jewish Book Fair last week, many of us were be able to read works by a variety of authors, even if we were not able to attend their talks. However, without fifteen different ballet dancers, from many different cultures and backgrounds, collaborating in Toronto for one performance, we could not have experience the ballet. The music had been written, and the choreography could have been learned, but without the performers we could not have experienced it.
Live performance can be preserved, transported, and made permanent through video or audio recording, but it loses the live element—the vulnerability, the flexibility, and the uncertainty integral to live performance—and it loses some of the rush, too. Each and every performance is different and can only be created once. If you miss it, it’s gone.
(All photos: Hudson Taylor Photography)
(All photos: Hudson Taylor Photography)