As I mentioned yesterday, I spent my Saturday in New York City with some fellow ballerinas. We did the requisite NYC wandering, but our main objective was to see the New York City Ballet perform a series of short works, including The Steadfast Tin Soldier (which I didn’t like because NO ONE MELTED), Le Tombeau de Couperin (which I loved, at least in part because RAVEL!), a Tchaikovsky pas de deux (more on that Friday, kinda), and The Concert (hilarious at the beginning, WTF at the end).
But this is not a post about ballet. This is a post about the pit.
The New York City Ballet performs with a pit orchestra, an increasingly rare luxury in these hard economic times. I’ve never played in a pit, myself, but I can only imagine it’s a very different experience from playing in a regular concert — and not just because no one can see you. Even if your work has been recorded to CD, when someone plays that CD it’s all about you and your music. In the pit, you become secondary, do you not? Important, yes, but not the focus. The conductor doesn’t even get to fully control the nuances of the piece, constantly adjusting to suit the dancers/actors/what have you.
I thought of this particularly because of the Tchaikovsky, the lost pas de deux from Swan Lake. It featured a violin solo, and I wondered — what’s it like soloing in the pit? Of course you still don’t want to make a mistake, but the eyes aren’t on you; hell, most of the audience can’t even see you. Are you still nervous? Do you play it your way, or are you more inclined to play traditionally, to keep things consistent for the dancer? Does it even matter if you snag a solo or not?
And conductors, how do you feel answering to dancers? Does it add an extra layer of difficulty, dividing your attention between the musicians and the performers on stage? Have you ever had a dancer ask for a truly ridiculous adjustment? Have the music and the dancing ever separated, and if so, how did you get it back? Did you get it back?
In short, does playing in the pit take the pressure off, or is it the pit of despair?*