They Shoot Dancers Don’t They?

In one of my first blog entries I noted a speech by Chris Lavin promoting the idea that the arts be covered like sports. I still get a kick out of his suggestion that:

When compared to the open access a sports franchise allows, most arts organizations look like a cross between the Kremlin and the Vatican. Casting is closed. Practices closed. Interviews with actors and actresses limited and guarded. An athlete who refuses to do interviews can get fined. An actor or actress or director or composer who can’t find time for the media is not uncommon. How would a director take to a theater critic watching practice and asking for his/her early analysis of the challenges this cast faces with the material — the relatively strengths and weaknesses of the lead actor, the tendencies of the play write to resist rewriting?

Over in the UK, The Guardian has taken up that idea a little. They had their arts writers review sporting events and their sports writers review arts events.

Since the critics approached the events they attended from their own point of view, some of their observations were rather fun. Writing about a horse race, dance critic Judith Mackrell notes that unlike the race ballet attendees have no desire to see a dancer fall to the benefit of another ballerina.

“And if, by some horrible chance, she gets injured, she isn’t going to be put down after the show.”

Visual arts critic Jonathan Jones went to a football/soccer game and noticed that:

“Wembley is a thrill, for all sorts of reasons. There’s the architecture – the raised external ramps are like walking on a north London Acropolis, and the roof leaves a small space over the pitch, generating powerful contrasts of light and shadow.”

Being an arts person, I was more interested in what the sports writers said about their experiences. In some cases, their comments echoed those of many first time arts attendees. Rugby columnist Thomas Castaign├Ęde noted, ”

I’ve passed Covent Garden so many times, but I had no idea it was so beautiful inside. As a social phenomenon it surprised me as well – the champagne, the way the audience had dressed up, the feeling that people were there to be seen, as well as to see.”

Golf writer Lawrence Donegan went to see the San Francisco Symphony perform and exclaimed,

“…when this concert ended the audience went (and I use the following word advisedly) bonkers. This reaction shocked me, because I had no idea that people who were into classical music were also into going bonkers at the end of a performance.”

Two of the sports writers were ultimately disappointed in their experiences because the unpredictability and high stakes inherent to sports was missing. Two others stated their appreciation for the parallels of mastery and passion common to both athletes and performers. Steve Bierley, a tennis writer who went to a gallery was greatly affected by what he saw.

“It should have carried a warning: This woman is deeply dangerous. I go back to the comfort of Roland Garros, though Bourgeois remained a haunting and disturbing presence. I’m still spooked.”

I thought that was great. What I really appreciated was Castaign├Ęde’s observations about seeing Tosca. I think he states the case for the value of arts attendance best. Perhaps it is because he was a top notch rugby player he was best of all the sports writers to appreciate the mastery possessed.

“I came to the conclusion that there is a parallel between what you feel during a top-class rugby match and what an artist feels on stage – and it’s not just the roar of the crowd. The people who are watching influence how you behave: they were viewing Kaufmann and driving him forward, just as they used to inspire me. I could empathise with Kaufmann’s total concentration on the performance, and the way he had to become one with the orchestra, who gave him the power to go beyond the norm. There is a physical aspect to opera, certainly; but more than that, on stage you see what in rugby we call “automatisms” – where you become conditioned to move and act by pure instinct. I had a sense of two completely different worlds coming together.”

As I noted, it is fun reading how each person filters their experience through the lens of their particular expertise so take a gander the both full articles.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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