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silvy

Question about arms in Corsaire

30 posts in this topic

Hi.

I am studying Medora's variation from the Corsaire pdd (or pas de trois), the slow version. I am watching variious versions on video. One of them is Margot Fonteyn (with Nureyev) I have noticed that both in her and his variation they sometimes place their hands on their shoulders. Is anyone able to tell me the meaning of this? I need to know the meaning of my movements when I dance, that is why I ask.

thanks!!!

silvy

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Hi silvy :D I'm going to move this post into the Ballets forum, where it will get the proper attention. The Pro shop is more about costumes and sets and design.

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It's a demi-caractère stylization. The location of the story of the ballet is supposed to be somewhere in the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, and that's a "Graeco-Turkish" touch - the way bass drums, cymbals and bells used to be in 18th-century music.

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Thank you Mel - very informative as always

:(

silvy

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Mel, could you please elaborate a little? Did Petipa have particular Gk friezes or Turkish customs in mind? I ask because I'm about 60% certain that Fokine asks the spectre de la rose to place both hands en epaulette and kneel (or am I dreaming?), and Florine definitely brushes alternate hands en epaulette during the echappes of her variation. In purely classical terms, these provides a note of piquant imbalance in relation to the symmetrical V of her legs. The same could be said of the "j'ecoute" posture of the Prelude dancer in Les Sylphides, though somebody (I hope not Fokine!) rather cornily said that she is hearing the music of the spheres.

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PS I was definitely wrong about Spectre. I have riffled through my books, and the arms seem always to be draped over the head, either in a collapsed couronne (bras en saule?) or with the hand almost, but not quite, touching the opposing shoulder. I was clearly crossing lines with the golden slave.

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PPS Back in the fatal shop, but feeling very virtuous after writing four pages of Hood--though eked out, I must confess, by generous quoting! To take a break I fast forwarded to the Abdulrahman scene in Raymonda because I suddenly seemed to remember that his slaves walked with fingers tipped to shoulders. Not quite, although they are very hunched, and carrying gifts quite close to the chest. I have a book on Ottoman art, but it's no use searching there for images of human conduct because the Islamic ban on representation means nothing but abstract patterns or foliate designs. Petipa must have been relying on written reports, as I presume he (or some Gorskian producer after him) relied on written reports for the touch-forehead-and-chest salutations in Bayadere. I have also remembered two further shoulder-brushings in the classical rep that don't have an oriental demi-caractere content--Diana's in the Diana and Acteon divertissement, and also Aurora's in her Act 1 variation.

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It really does depend on how the hands are put to the shoulders. You are correct about "Spectre" however; there are moments when the hands, en passant, are at the shoulders. And after all, Diana is Greek, that's sort of oriental, at least to a French sensibility, which Vaganova may have been addressing, although of course, she put together the D&A in Leningrad. She called it a "Classical Etude" so heaven only knows what that means! Think of the nymphs in "Faune" - they use the hand to shoulder motif a lot, largely because that's easier to depict in the bas-reliefs Nijinsky had in mind - more line, less interference with the verticality of the body, more visual variety.

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I will go through my sculpture bks and see what I can turn up in friezes, though nothing comes to mind off hand. I've only seen a part of the Nijinsky Faune in Herbert Ross's film, but the nymphs hardly figured, as I recall. Still, there are bound to be stills in the Kochno bk that a recent correspondence with RG has resolved me to consult again if I can. I think Vaganova might have applied this port de bras to Diana because the elbow to shoulder line looks like half a bow of the Cupid kind (you would know the right terminology--is it possibly a crossbow?), while the other hand, lifted up in half a couronne is like the bow that suitors have to bend in the Odyssey--the crescent, not the 1920s lipstick shape. Be interesting to see if Ashton gave Sylvia something similar. That's a ballet I'd dearly love to see. As a little boy I thought the Ironside sets were quite magical (because they appealed to my literalistic ideas about stage realism), and I used to pore over the Baron photos of Sylvia for hours on end!

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I think that the type of bow that the suitors have to bend in the Odyssey is probably a species of longbow that the west forgot about after the invasions of the Huns et al. from the east who used a shortbow that was usable for cavalry as well as infantry. It was up to the English to rediscover the virtues of the longbow and bring about its revival. The crossbow is a much more powerful weapon that looks like a shortbow attached to a rifle stock. Some have such a strong draw that it's necessary to crank back the string until it catches on a lever attached to the tricker mechanism. Cupid/Eros seems usually to carry a recurved shortbow.

Anent Princess Florine, I don't know if there's an orientalism there, but in the tale, she and the Bluebird take off for holiday in China. Now, I have no idea whether French bluebirds migrate to China, but the medieval French didn't really know where they went. China seems as good a place as any.

And remember, in the original "Chopiniana" prelude variation, "Chopin" was actually onstage playing, and the Sylphide was listening to his music. I don't know about the shape of the music, but every printing of it I've seen has been rectangular. To the best of my knowledge, the world had to wait for Satie for a rather more spherical form of composition! :wink:

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Many, many thanks, Doug, for the mini-tutorial on bows. I have an idea that I might have seen putti (those strange Cupid wannabes) with cross-bows (perhaps a joke about their unmanageability), but I would need to check my facts. While we're on the subject of armaments, could you please tell us what kind of weapon Cellini's Perseus has in his hand? RG calls it half machete, half scimitar--and add to that a very attractive cut-out profile at the tip, which presumably gives it a piercing as well as a slashing capacity.

I am SO grateful for the Sylphides info, and will no longer cringe at the thought of spherical music when I see the Prelude dancer pause and look soulful. That's an entirely appropriate response to Freddy C. The Satie pear, incidentally, was made into a little touring ballet here in 76. European readers will be familiar with the participants because Harold King, the choreographer, went on to found the London Ballet, and the ballerina, Marina Nicolaou (the soubrette-crossover type much favoured by me--with a fine jete and metatarsal arches to die for) went on to dance in Belgium with great success (I'm told). Marc H probably saw her there. The ballet was a totally forgettable trifle called Under a Pear Tree, and it featured a butterfly net. I can't recall now if Marina was catching butterflies (rather less brutally than Franz in Ivanov's Coppelia!) or being caught as one.

Where Florine is concerned, I think one needs to distinguish between turquoiserie (if there's such a word, or if not, la vogue turque) and chinoiserie. I think the St Petersburg signifier for China is the index finger held vertically and pointing palm outward (whereas Violente's indices point palm inward)--and I base this on stills from the traditional Benois-designed Festival Casse that was staged, I think, by Beriosova's father. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyhow, they show a huge teapot and danseuses en attitude devant on either side, fingers pointing heavenward.

However, I do think there IS a little vestigial "meaning" in the otherwise abstract Florine dance. Paul has written eloquently in another thread about Sibley's avian Florine, but I'm not sure that that was Petipa's intention, and Messel must be blamed for clouding the picture. In my ideal SB (hey! I can dream, can't I?), she would wear a white classical tutu with a little blue braid--not a feather in sight--a little couronne and, please note, a PAPIER MACHE bluebird on her wrist. Her var is a gavotte manque (befitting a princess), and you can prove this by playing four semiquavers on the first two beats of every bar from bar 3 ff. Voila! an echt gavotte. The avian dimension emerges from the skirls that are really there, and which match the skid of the fouettes to perfection; and also from the chirping acciaccature. That's where the bluebird on the wrist comes in, because her eyeline will meet it at almost every juncture of the dance, right up to that mysterious codetta, where she bourrees de cote with gestures half acknowledging, half-warding off the bird that is flying after her on her wrist. There is no other way I can explain this insufficiently abstract moment in the design. It bears comparison with the warding-off gestures that accompany the bourees of Miettes, who, one could say without undue fancifulness, is trying to clear the stage of the abundance she has called into being.

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I think I know the Cellini Perseus you mean, and if I'm not mistaken, that's a sword called a "kopis" which just translates as "chopper". It could be used as a meat cleaver or a brush hook or both, and apparently was! Swords were rather déclassé among the Greeks, who favored the spear and shield over everything else in warfare. When combat came down to swordfighting, then the lines had broken down and the battle was a mere melée and it was before gun-artillery, so just a "vulgar brawl". The modern descendants of the kopis are called falchions, when they're called anything at all. At other times in history, they've been called "fascine knives" or "bill hooks".

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Many thanks, as ever, for this comprehensive and precise answer. Falchion ties up nicely with the original myth, which I thought Cellini had altogether ignored, since the etymology is based on the Latin word for sickle. That would also account for cross-over to billhook, which in Shakespeare has a long shaft and can be used to prune trees. I looked up David's Leonidas at Thermopylae to see what weapon he is carrying, but his blade is entirely straight. Interestingly enough, though, I noticed that the figure behind him is carrying what might be a recurved longbow. I don't know how long a longbow has to be, but the scale of this one suggests it's about five feet. Can that recurvature occur in the long as well as the shortbow, or is David's weaponry not wholly accurate? Or perhaps I am getting confused because African bows tend not to be recurved--or at least those I have seen in museums aren't (I think!).

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I checked the David, and it looks to me as though the artist had employed a little license with the weaponry, employing studio models of what may have been thought to have been correct, but have later been shown to be of later origin or of other nationalities. The bow could indeed have been from a Greek model, and would have been rather powerful with the recurve providing a pull of perhaps as much as 40-45 kg. The sword looks like a long version of a greek machaira or xiphos, although the latter was almost certainly curved like a saber. The machaira was longer, and somewhat straight in the blade, resembling the later Roman gladius with its leaf-shaped blade, but which becomes thicker and heavier toward the point. Variation in these weapons could have included examples of uniform thickness through the length of the blade, but the key is the length. Xenophon advises cavalrymen to use the machaira as its greater length makes it better for use by mounted troops. Swords didn't figure heavily in Greek military training, so they had to employ specialized military academicians called hoplomachoi, who could theoretically teach anything from how to be a private to how to be a field marshal. They were the sword-masters of the Golden Age. The fighting style seems to have been to whale the holy beherakles out of your enemy, until his shield uncovered a space in his armor or other defense (remembering that Greek soldiers often fought naked except for a helmet), then go for that with the point.

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Thanks for this detailed and useful account, Mel. I have vainly riffled through my books in search of a putto with a crossbow, and might have been crossing lines between the Rex Whistler illustrations in my collection of Andersen fairy tales--the same Rex Whistler who did the sets and costumes for The Rake's Progress (an EXCELLENT little ballet, and very well designed), and who redid costumes and set for Le Spectre de la rose at SWB. His illustration for "The Naughty Boy" gives Cupid a recurved shortbow and that for "Little Ida's Flowers" shows her two brothers with crossbows. I think they blurred together in my memory, but I'll keep looking. I did chance on a very fine recurved longbow in Pollaiuolo's Rape or Dejanira while searching for the putti. Strange how new knowledge sharpens one's observation to things that didn't seem especially noteworthy before!

I haven't been able to turn up any Greek images main a l'epaule, and indeed it's very hard to decide what the characteristic Gk posture should be (in summary balletic terms, that is). Clearly profilic, but that would apply to Egyptian imagery as well. In my search for images of Nijinsky's Faune, I noticed that he is fond of posing, even for classical roles, in an unballetic Maenad posture with the hand turned out above the forehead, as though he were shading his eyes from the sun. This free movement (opposed to the regulated curves of the danse d'ecole) is almost certainly courtesy of Fokine and therefore of Isadora, and I would guess that a free Bacchante surge was the definitive Greek posture post Petipa. Stills of The Awakening of Flora, if any exist, might throw some light on what Petipa's own ideas were. I suspect, though, that there was very little Hellenism, if any, in that ballet.

This morning I found a picture of the Faune nymphs in the Buckle biography of Nijinsky, which I didn't consult when I was looking for Spectre pictures because it's housed in my office ready for my annual Wilbur seminars. In this particular photo, the hands don't touch the shoulders, but are recurved and clenched above them--a favourite Nijinsky motif that he applied repeatedly to the ports de bras in Jeux. I think Nijinska also uses it Les Noces, but I can't lay my hands on any photos offhand, and I've never seen the ballet.

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I did a little further research, too. I found that most machairai had blades offset from straight from the sword's grip. Sort of like a Nepalese kukhri. The blades could be curved or straight, but offset seems to be the common thread. What is pictured in the David Leonidas is actually a Roman spatha from about the first or second century CE. But hey, what's few hundred years and a thousand kilometers among friends? :wink:

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And he needs a straight blade to reduplicate the line of the crucial mountain pass above Leonidas (the spear on the left has the same function). Anything off the straight (while no doubt suiting both Leonidas and David himself VERY well!) would have looked a little squiff. I hope that's intelligible. It might be a South Africanism! Thanks again for all this info.

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About Princess Florina, if I recall correctly, the only time her hand is anywhere near her shoulder is during her "listening" ports de bras--because the bluebird is supposed to be teaching her to sing. RS, I'm afraid I don't quite see the logic in placing a bird on her wrist when she just danced a pas de deux with the bluebird :wink: and is about to perform a coda with him.

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Sorry, Hans, I have only just come across your post, having failed to activate the notification button. Ballet is never very logical nor very conscious of scale. Snowflakes danced in Casse, but they also carried wands with snowballs on them. They are snow personified, and yet snow literal falls from the flies, and snow literal is bobbing in their hands. Non sequitur logically, and non sequitur spatially--snow on three different scales. Ditto the roosters and hens in Fille in relation to the hawk that Mere Simon has so brutally nailed to the barn. It's enough to make the snowflakes and Osbert Lancaster's seem positively Picassan in their telescopic play with space! The answer to this and all other such dilemmas is to acknowledge that ballet requires a suspension of disbelief in all but its abstract manifestations, which, are in MacLeishian terms, pure being, not meaning. If Florine were listening to the bluebird, she would surely cup her ear as the Prelude Sylphide does. For me that main a l'epaule is not a mimic gesture. However the smiling up and warding off does seem to have a mimic content, and I think a bird at the wrist would make sense of it. Though it would probably be advisable,as you suggest, to remove it for the rest of the pas de deux.

Mel--and this is the reason I have come back to this thread--I think I have found the source of my confusion regarding Eros and the crossbow. It's Caravaggio's Amore vincitore, which I happened to consult this morning. Amor doesn't have any weapon--only his arrows--but in the background is a viola d'amore with its bow laid across it. Clearly a visual pun, and a sort of paraphrase of swords being beaten into ploughshares.

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Oh yes, I know that painting. A friend of mine is fascinated with Caravaggio, and painted a full-size copy of it. And yes, I remember the viola d'amore. I agree with you.

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If Florine were listening to the bluebird, she would surely cup her ear as the Prelude Sylphide does.

But Princess Florina does that--several times as I recall, and she doesn't ever do main a l'epaule. Maybe we're referring to different versions? I'm thinking of the Sergeyev, in which the "warding off" motion also doesn't occur.

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We could be talking about different versions though she does what I describe in my Bolshoi tape, and she did the same in the Cape Town version that David Poole based on the RB, and she did in the one RB performance I saw, except their she tended to brush her hands over her shoulder instead of planting them.

I have just stumbled across a picture of Preobrajenskaya in Petipa's Bluebeard that might be the unconscious source of my Florine fantasy. She has a white dove (stuffed, I'm afraid) slung between her index and middle fingers, and two white wings on her head, making her both a bird and a bird observer at the same time (Cf. earlier post.) What is striking is that fact that her free hand is a l'epaule, which makes me think that the echappe moment in the var might have a representational meaning after all. The arched line of the hand as it touches the shoulder is like a bird's wing, especially if it droops slightly as Preo's does. It has also occurred to me that Ashton attempted a similar winged profile, much less successfully, through the hands-on-hip line in Les Deux Pigeons.

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The hand on the shoulder may be a character move, but it IS actually used in technique class in Cecchetti. Cunningham also has exercises that use it. It helps seat the shoulder-blade and rotate the humerus, I think. (It was never explained.)I've had to do grand battements in that position and pirouettes.

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I think the St Petersburg signifier for China is the index finger held vertically and pointing palm outward (whereas Violente's indices point palm inward)--and I base this on stills from the traditional Benois-designed Festival Casse that was staged, I think, by Beriosova's father. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyhow, they show a huge teapot and danseuses en attitude devant on either side, fingers pointing heavenward.

Excuse me for going off the topic. But why does the index fingers pointing upward mean China? Where does it come from? Being a Chinese, I've been wondering about it for quite some time.

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Chinoiserie was a stylized sort of European imitation of actual Chinese art. In the 17th century, there are engravings of dancers doing a "Danse Chinois" with highly stylized makeup and index fingers pointed upward. I don't know this for a fact, but it is my opinion that it had something to do with the makeup from Chinese opera, and the fingers relate to the long fingernails of the mandarins, who cultivated them to demonstrate that they did no physical labor.

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