(Headline, NY Times, May 21, 2012
Rudolf Nureyev, Judy Garland, and Martha Graham all inspired standing ovations. Nureyev’s response, however, was restrained, a nod, a slight smile. Judy Garland (The Palace, NYC) reached out to the audience: “I love you all. Please love me back!” Martha Graham had a grand bow. After Erick Hawkins had taken his, she left the stage empty for an extra breath, heightening the tension, then swept in, faced the audience and subsided into a heap of folded arms, legs, head, and body. She explained. “As a dancer you are so vastly above your audience, a humble bow restores a bit of their dignity.”
But I’m not sure that applies these days when audiences spring out of their seats as though shot from guns. The standing ovation was once reserved for extraordinary performances. But a dozen or so years ago I noticed it had metastasized. The instant the final curtain touches down, people leap to their feet, invariably led by those in the first rows forcing everyone behind them to rise. For a time I might yell a few grumpy “Sit downs!” to no effect, so began sitting in the balcony, if there was one.
Critic, John Lahr, says leaper-uppers are trying to convince themselves that they got their money’s worth. I think it’s baser, a way to show off, demonstrate that they are cognoscenti, also a chance to steal some of the performer’s thunder, get into the act by leaping up and forcing those behind to look at their backs instead of the stage. Leaper-uppers simply need attention. That the attention they get is from irritation, annoyance, disgust, doesn’t matter. Like bratty four-year olds, any kind of attention is better than being ignored.