On seating and reviewing spectacular flamenco
Before last night, the closest to the stage I’ve reviewed dance from was row D in Sadler’s Wells. More often than not I’ve been allocated a seat in row E. This represents a good area to review from, seats are not so close to the stage as to be unrepresentative and not so far away that you miss important details.
It seems that the press office has a block of seats for media. Seats aren’t central, but at places that provide good viewing on the side. This is important for most reviewers. With less than two hours to form their opinions, write, review and file their work, they need to get out of the auditorium as fast as they can. Jaded journalists (with or without deadline pressure) tend to rush out of auditoria too and if they left from the middle of a row it would be very disruptive. I’ve seen people who should know better miss great stories that arose after they left or as a result of an encore. Some behave in such a way that I wonder if I’m the only person interested in how different companies respond to their audiences or who believes that an excessive number of curtain calls (whether demanded by ovations or not) is worthy of note.
I’ve always waited until the final encore or curtain call, so when deadlines are particularly aggressive I don’t go home, but find somewhere nearby that’s warm where I can work (ideally with unlimited tea). Any delay on the way home would make me miss the deadline. That’s an offence best minimised since unreliable journalists simply don’t get hired.
The furthest from the stage I was placed was about five rows back in the second circle. It’s a long while ago, and all I remember was my bemusement that anyone would give a reviewer a seat so far back and that Lenny Henry was in the audience too. Reviewing it was nearly impossible, with my best glasses I couldn’t see the dancer’s faces, couldn’t make sense of the footwork and so lost all the subtleties that make the difference between a so-so performance and one that’s great. It’s not a great move, and the feelings related to having been treated like that were impossible to separate from the feelings evoked by the dance.
Although the review clearly suffered, I invented a silly speculative anecdote about how one might tell if a venue liked one’s last review by where they placed you in the auditorium at the next and dined out on it for months. While this may have been true in years gone by, it isn’t nowadays, when some venues’ PR and marketing mechanisms have become slicker and have combined (presumably to save money) with distressing consequences.
Since then, I’ve been given tickets in more or less the same area or (rarely) been told there weren’t enough press tickets for me to attend. I still don’t know whether it is better to not review it at all or review from whatever seat in the back of the second circle might still be available.
Is seat allocation a reflection of the perceived desirability of the media I write for or simply resulting from first-come-first-served? I’ve no idea, but last night felt happy that I could tell the Flamenco Festival press officer I’d not need a ticket after all. Thanks to my friend the author Cherry Radford (whose husband decided not to attend) I had a central front row seat. I’m still thinking through how it changed my experience and will eventually write about it here and file a review with Flamenco News.
The experience really is different. I was able to read the expressions of everyone on stage, the sound was very different and when a visceral feeling was evoked its route to me felt very different too. It was harder to make sense of the zapateado with my eyes so close to the floor, and jerky transitions jarred far more from Row DD than they ever would have from Row E.
One day I’ll get tickets to see the same flamenco performance (or other dance with an improvisational ethos) from a number of different parts of the auditorium. Discovering the extent to which the seating influences my reviews is important to me and of course I’ll share it with you.