Aug 20, 2013

Another great article in the Sunday NYT Arts and Leisure section

About the man in charge of the claqueurs at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, Roman Abramov.

"Claqueurs" have been a part of the theatre for centuries now.  The article, expertly and smartly written by Ellen Barry, suggests that this practice probably started in ancient Roman times when the Roman emperors would plant folks in the audience to applaud at certain instances to reinforce what they must have believed was their own personal good taste.

Two of the dancers who dared to challenge the claqueurs!

The French then perfected the modern claqueur system in the 18th and 19th century (the French term "claque" comes from the phrase, "to clap"), and The Bolshoi Ballet are still running a "claque" at their theater, and they are probably not the only ones.

The Claque works like this at the Bolshoi:  The die hard serious balletomanes enter in to agreements with the dancers for free expensive passes to some of the best seats in the house to applaud at certain instances for their specific dancers.  Plus, the Claqueurs will also receive other perks and access to the Ballet company and dancers.  But, it can get ugly, too.  If a dancer decides to go on their own, or not offer their passes to the claqueurs, then the claqueurs will turn on the dancers and cough at inappropriate times, or drop coins, or do other things to disrupt a dancer's concentration.  Mr Abramov is the one in charge of facilitating these relationships between the dancers and the claqueurs, and he is an absolute mordant hoot.  I would love to sit down with Abramov over a cup of tea, and get all the juicy details about the thousands of performances, and hundreds of dancers, he has seen at the Bolshoi.  He has some of the best quotes around:

On why dancers need the claqueurs:  "'Artists have very fine and delicate natures, they have a very delicate nervous system, and unfortunately, all of them have a strongly inflated self-image,' he said, a little mournfully.  Dancers, he said, have an additional problem:  'Mainly they are dumb.' He added, 'They can be told what to do eight times, and on the ninth time they will still go in the wrong direction.' "

On one of the dancers who dared to challenge the claqueurs:  "' Kolya fell down because of us many times, because I was at war with him for years and arranged these things for him,' he said, of Mr. Tsiskaridze.  'Poor guy, in Raymonda he screwed up the whole variation and flew off and ended up with his nose on the floor.  In Nutcracker once, I made him drop his fouetté, from way up high, and he sat down on his bottom, butt facing the hall.  And we all laughed.' "

On why he still does what he does:  "' You see, I have nothing but this in my life,' he told me.  'No sensible person would survive eight performances of La Bayadère one after the other.  Or twenty Nutcrackers in ten days.' "

Anyhoo, read all of Ms Barry's fantastic article here.  And, why do I suspect that the Bolshoi is not the only company doing this? Next time you are at the ballet or opera, take a look around at those furiously clapping or shouting Bravo! They might have an agenda of their own.  

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