Monday, March 24, 2008

Cracking the Egg

I attended a cello recital last night at the National Grand Theater and for the first time had a chance to check out the Egg, as it's fondly nicknamed.

As one colleague pointed out, the dome-shaped building really looks beautiful in the evening, with the glowing lights and reflection in the water.

It's really convenient to get there, as the exit C from subway stop at Tiananmen West takes you right to the entrance. You have to descend into the Egg to get in and last night there were hordes of people, some just passing by and taking pictures, and others like me going to the venue with camera in hand.

Once inside there's a giant hallway, but patrons have to go through a metal detector and have their bags checked in an X-ray machine. No liquids or food is allowed and many people had to abandon unopened bottles of water and a bag of chips. I had to dump my thermos half full of water into the garbage.

On both sides of the long hallway are exhibitions about the history of the National Grand Theater, how Zhou Enlai had thought of having this kind of performing arts venue since the early 1950s, and pictures of the construction and design of the place by French architect Paul Andreu.

The main section of the theatre is for big productions and currently Puccini's opera Turandot is on stage. In this production, a Chinese composer was asked to create a Chinese ending to the Oriental story.

Off to the left is the Concert Hall where I saw cellist Wang Jian perform. The staff are all dressed in a grey uniform complete with a scarf around their necks making them look like flight attendants, a step up from the drab usher uniforms. On the whole the staff are attentive and helpful.

The Concert Hall is a good space for choral concerts or solo to quartet recitals. There is a pipe organ, as the pipes are proudly displayed at the back of the stage. Meanwhile wood is used all around the stage to create a warm sound. The ceiling is a bit strange with quasi-organic relief curves in grey plaster tiles.

However, the seating isn't much to rave about. I'm not a tall person and there was barely any leg room for comfortable viewing. It was an ideal situation for people to contract deep vein thrombosis if they didn't change the position of their legs periodically. I wondered if those sitting through the opera next door had the same kind of seating as us.

Again the audience's behaviour was far from stellar. Even though an announcement was made before the concert for patrons not to take pictures, talk, or walk out during the performance, many didn't think the rules applied to them.

Many took out their cellphones or cameras to take pictures. The ushers had a new weapon -- a red laser pen they shone on the phone or camera that distracted the offender, but only temporary. They ignored it and then tried to take a shot again, and the attendant had to run up or down the aisles to physically stop them.

One woman near the stage sat in the aisle when the concert began. An usher asked her why she wasn't sitting in her seat and she complained someone else was in her spot. The usher then asked the alleged offender for her ticket and in the end it turned out it was correct. The woman sheepishly went back to her seat only two rows back.

What was also outrageous was people walking out of the venue even as the performer was playing. They just walked out without any respect for the artist who has spent years honing his craft. They didn't have the patience to wait until the movement or piece was over.

More announcements need to be made before the performance, perhaps even getting a senior manager to stand in front of the crowd, thank them for coming and then politely ask them to turn off their phones, not talk and not walk out during the show.

Also the attendants, while there were already quite vigilant, need to be even more militant and really reinforce the rules so that people understand their behaviour needs correcting.

I've been to about four concerts now and my patience has been tested each time. It hasn't gotten to the point where I have lost interest in going because of the audience, but it really is a turn off.

1 comment:

Airchild said...

Audience education is what the people need! While the audience is a little more civilised here in HK, I was in a ballet performance recently at the Cultural Centre, and a woman started to scream at the top of her voice in what sounded like a quarrel with her partner, right when the climax was about to begin. It was most distracting to the rest of the audience and the performers! At another performance, a concert at the same venue, the audience applauded in between the movements, even though it was explicitly written in the program that clapping should be reserved till the end of the entire work. Well, compared with what you have described, I guess it's just peanuts ;)