I have been fortunate enough to see the Moscow Ballet, in Moscow, Russia. The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow is breathtaking and the experience watching such a high caliber ballet perform “Spartacus” was awe inspiring. So, when Neal told me we could go see the St. Petersburg ballet perform “Swan Lake” right here in Guangzhou, China for my birthday, I was ecstatic! We had been to the symphony in Guangzhou numerous times, but never the ballet. And to top it off, the St. Petersburg ballet is supposed to travel with their own orchestra! Two for one!
The ballet was at Sun Yet Sen Memorial Hall. It was our first time seeing anything at this hall and we were all excited. It’s beautiful! Take a look at some pictures we took from outside and inside the hall:
So there we were, excited to see some high caliber ballet. I had noticed that the musicians were Chinese, not Russian, but the Guangzhou Symphony is mostly Chinese and they sound wonderful. I still had high hopes. Hear we go! The overture was starting! What wonderful…music… wait! What’s that? Are these amateurs? Almost every moment of this “music” was out of tune, the clarinet player had the tone of a mediocre high schooler, the brass wasn’t sure what day it was and unbelievably, there were many WRONG NOTES. All in in all, these “musicians” were a disgrace to this high caliber ballet and the visiting Russian conductor must have been drunk on vodka to have gotten through it. And no, we weren’t being highly critical because we are classical musicians, they were not even adequate or acceptable. They were horrendous!
But that wasn’t all. When it all started we suddenly were reminded that although we were seeing Russian ballet, we were still in China. And that meant Chinese performance behavior. The audience could not have been more rude and unfortunately Sun Yet Sen Memorial Hall ushers do not make people shut up and behave. At that moment I felt so thankful for the ushers at Xinghai Concert Hall when we see the Guangzhou Symphony who make people put away their phones, food, cameras and be quiet. And at that moment, I wished we hadn’t spent $60USD on these tickets.
People were talking through the entire performance. There was a mass moving of seats at the beginning and many people allowed to enter late and of course, they entered disruptively. We were near two or three different families with children who were hitting each other, using flashlights and standing up pretending to be the conductor. Their parents didn’t do a thing about it either. Others were not only eating food where food should have been forbidden, but they were eating it out of very loud plastic bags. The woman next to us also spit loudly into her tissue (better than the man who spit on the floor on one of flights I guess).
And of course, the smart phones. Everyone had to take pictures with their phones, putting their big glowing screens up in our view and distracting us from the dancers on state. One woman was so bold as to put her screen between our heads to get a picture. We swatted it away and she said in English, “but I wasn’t taking a picture of YOU.” Who cares! Get the phone out of our faces! People also were taking pictures with that fake shutter sound still turned on. No concept that the sound might annoy others. And of course, people couldn’t stop checking their texts and email and We Chat and facebook and QQ and whatever else. Because heaven forbid you enjoy the ballet for 1 hour until intermission! Even the ushers were on their phones. Then there was the moment everyone got bored when the prima ballerina did a fantastic solo but then immediately all excited when they recognized the one piece from Swan Lake they knew because it is the standard ringback tone on Chinese phones. Oh my god! Let’s all take videos now! I can’t believe it’s the song from our phones! Ugh.
Our seats also weren’t fantastic. We were up in the balcony to the side so we couldn’t see every thing on stage. Also, we were close to the lights and we weren’t fully in the dark. During intermission we moved to some empty center balcony. It was dark, far away from children and had a much better view. Unfortunately, people around us were still rude, but if I plugged my ears it dampened the talking, phone sounds and the terrible orchestra. Only with fingers deep in my ears could I enjoy a little of the beautiful St. Petersburg ballet at Sun Yet Sen Memorial Hall.