News: In it for the long haul - how long should a dance show be?

Monday 28 April 2014 by Lise Smith

Pina Bausch fans aren't afraid of a three-hour running time. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Der Fensterputzer Image: Oliver Look

It’s a question those of us with impatient children and unwilling partners often have to answer, and on occasion want to ask for ourselves – how long does this thing go on for? Fans of the great Pina Bausch are well used to sitting in the theatre for upwards of three hours; but audiences for other choreographers are not always so willing to endure long running times. So how long is too long, asks Sarah Crompton in The Telegraph – and does it all depend on whether you’ve had a sandwich before the show?

When Royal Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon revived his ballet Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 2012, one of the changes he made was to divide the long first act into two shorter chunks with an extra interval in between. By doing so, remarks Crompton, Wheeldon satisfied a particular quirk of the ballet-going public – “their fondness for dance in elegant bite-sized chunks of about 40 minutes and then having an interval to talk about it.”

Often, however, new dance works tend to be compressed into two acts arranged around a single interval – and an increasing number feature no interval at all. “This is partly because the nature of theatre going seems to have changed;” says Crompton, “people either want to get home or get out to dinner. The idea that being in the theatre itself is a social act is less fashionable than at any previous time in history.”

There are certainly times when an earlier-than-expected exit from the theatre feels more like a blessing than a swindle, and others where a long running time feels more like choreographic overindulgence than artistic genius. But the speed with which the 2012 World Cities series of works by Pina Bausch sold out demonstrates that at least some audiences are only too happy to spend an evening in the theatre with choreographers they truly love. Are we growing impatient of long evenings in general, or does our patience depend on the artist in question – and maybe on whether we had that sandwich?

Read the rest of Sarah Crompton’s article here (The Telegraph, 26 April)

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