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Fantasy Festival

January 11, 2011

list.jpegAnthony Tommasini's article in The New York Times on January 7 concerning which composers would appear on his "Top 10 Composers of all Time" list if he were ever to compile such a thing got me thinking about the reasons why rankings can be fun, if not ultimately particularly useful.

I complained about Gramophone Magazine's list of Top 20 Choirs a couple of weeks ago on this blog.However, a recent visit to the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival auditions at the weekend made me see that ranking can have its place.

For the first time in its 33 year history, the festival instituted an interactive element to the proceedings, allowing audience members to fill out the same paperwork as the corps of expert judges hired to choose some 40 of the 125 auditioning companies and soloists to appear in this summer's festival.

I was skeptical when I received a pink sheet detailing "How to Play Fantasy Festival" when I arrived at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley on Sunday to catch a few of the competing dance ensembles practicing movement styles from geographic areas as diverse as Tibet, Peru and the Middle East. But once the dancing started started, I found that I really enjoyed doing more than just staring at the stage and wondering, in a sort of amorphous general way, if I liked what I saw. (Normally, of course, I would have my 'critic's' hat on and be thinking in depth about the performances. But this time around, with no deadline to meet for once, I was in more of a casual, 'just sit back and watch as any regular audience member would' frame of mind.)

The Fantasy Festival game prompted me to think about and score (from 1-5) each act in terms of performance elements, production components, choreography and relationship to cultural origins. Viewing the performances with this criteria in mind greatly engaged my faculties. I'm curious whether my selections ended up matching the panelists.

It's probably just as well that the audience's scores aren't being taken into consideration by the judges in the actual decision-making process -- with the biggest dance ensembles bringing many people with them to watch the auditions, the selections would doubtless skew towards the groups with the largest fan bases. But the festival organizers are on to a good thing here by introducing a small and lively interactive element into the audition process. I hope they bring it back in the future.

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