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What things did you watch in ballet?The very first performances


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#1 psavola

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 09:22 AM

A parallel thread of learning to see things in ballet performances inspired another question: What did you watch and/or notice in your own very first ballet performances, before you learned to know and see "more"?

When I first started watching ballet, I was totally ignorant of everything. I had no idea of what I was seeing, but I was totally facinated by the line of the dancers. I would watch their shape and movement in space, and ooh and aah at it. :flowers: I also loved the music.

I had no idea that big jumps and pirouettes were supposed to be exciting and difficult, or that seeing a specific dancer to interpret a role was somehow significant. I remember being vaguely interested in the emotions portrayed and the development of the plot, and liking classical mime (the program notes back then used to contain small primers for a few gestures, and the puzzle of fitting all the different pieces together and finding out what they were saying on the stage was irresistible).

The funny thing is, I stayed that way for several years, completely satisfied in just seeing beautiful things once a month from a cheap student-price seat. No intellectual curiousity at all. ( Then I became a ballet student, and everything changed. :) )

Päivi

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 01:16 PM

This is a terrific question, and I hope we'll get LOTS of answers.

The first ballet program I saw was a Nureyev and Friends program -- Ashton's Marguerite and Armand, Le Corsaire pas de deux, Bejart's Songs of a Wayfarer, and Limon's The Moor's Pavane. Fortunately or unfortunately, I always try to figure things out -- ballet was completely new to me, and I remember trying to figure out WHY they were doing what they were doing -- what was the structure? Marguerite and Armand, for example, has a solo for Armand that didn't advance the narrative, but did portray his character. So I remember thinking, "Oh, that's how they tell a story in ballet." And then they did Corsaire, and I was totally confused, because it seemed to tell a story -- or at least suggest one -- but it was steps applause steps more applause more steps lots of applause. Songs of a Wayfarer, I got, because it wasn't a story, just ....just....well, two men dancing and being beautiful. Lots of subtexts, but it seemed to me they were up to the viewer. Then Moor's Pavane (I know now this wasn't the performance one would have gotten from the Limon company) seemed like parading around and waving handkerchiefs, a very reduced storytelling.

I never could just love iit -- I wish I could, sometimes. I do remember that some of the movements were beautiful, some exciting (barrel turns), and, especially in Marguerite and Armand, I knew I was in the presence of great dramatic personalities, even if one might not call it great acting.

I always loved mime -- it was a couple of years before I learned that this was old-fashioned and that most people hated it. I was always interested in the use of the hands and the eyes, and some of my most vivid memories of dancing over the past 30 years are of hands and of glances.

The day after that performance I was at a magazine store, looking for magazines about dance, and the day after that in a book store and the local library looking for books about dance -- there were very few -- and then on a train to New York to see a weekend's worth of performances.

#3 Andre Yew

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 01:57 PM

I was always peripherally aware and maybe a little curious about ballet. One Friday night a few years ago, not having anything else to do, I noticed that our local school (Gustafson Dance, associated with State Street Ballet) was having their end-of-summer school performance, and decided to go. I don't remember much about that performance except for the way the choreography filled the stage. There was so much to see and so much going on, and I couldn't see it all! The spatial complexity of the dance was what really engaged me.

Another epiphany came the first time I saw Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake not long after seeing the school performance above. That was the first time I realized dance could tell a story in a dramatic, emotional way, and how dance could reveal all the little psychological and dramatic corners of music. It went downhill (for my ballet addiction) quickly after that. :)

--Andre

#4 Helene

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 02:32 PM

The first time I watched ballet I was a small child and have no idea what it was. I suspect that since my parents and grandparents were devotees of the Ed Sullivan show, it was broadcast on this show. I only know that my parents told me they couldn't pry me away from the television, and I was inconsolable when it ended. Oh the days before VCR's!

The first ballet I remember seeing on TV was Pillar of Fire with Sallie Wilson. The first ballet I saw live was Swan Lake with Makarova and Nagy, and Marianna Tcherkassy in the Act I pas de trois when I was 13.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 03:26 PM

Thanks but we want more ! psavola wrote:

What did you watch and/or notice in your own very first ballet performances, before you learned to know and see "more"?


Not just why you went and what performance it was, but what and how were you watching? Steps, lights, costumes, smiles, jumps, stories, patterns? All of the above -- none of the above? Dig deep!!!

#6 floss

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 04:12 PM

I learnt ballet as a child but my parents could not stretch funds for tickets to ballet performances. It wasn't until I was an adult and working that I could afford to go. The first ballet I saw was Cinderella, and what I noticed (I realised later) was that if a dancer had beautiful arms I concentrated on that, almost mesmerised by the movement. If a dancer had great legs and feet that was what I noticed; so different dancers, different parts of the body- the movement or steps.

#7 pj

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 06:58 PM

I first saw ballet performed when I was in college. In fall of 1975, I took a semester at a college in NJ and went into the city for concerts, plays, etc. quite often. The first ballets I saw were Firebird and Dying Swan, and probably some other pieces (but my memory fails me). I also saw Nutcracker. These were all performed by NYC Ballet. What I remember most was the color, the sets (the Chagal Firebird painting was so HUGE!), and the costumes. I was just like a small child when I saw the Nutcracker Christmas Tree grow several stories above my eyes. Unfortunately, I don't remember a thing about the technical aspect of the dancing itself, other than I thought it all beautiful. I threw out my programs from those ballets :) when I got married. Little did I know that one day my daughter would be thoroughly entrenched in the art. What I really don't like is that I have no clue as to who I might have seen dance -- anybody have any ideas?

#8 djb

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 07:08 PM

The first ballet I clearly remember seeing was the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker, when I was about 5-6. What struck me most was the look of the female dancers' legs and feet -- the shape, and also the look of pink tights in bright stage lighting (something I still enjoy).

I saw the Bolshoi in its second tour in the US when I was about 11, and although I wasn't taking ballet yet, I was aware of technique, although I think it was the obvious pyrotechnics that impressed me, such as Plisetskaya's jumps or Vasiliev's turns. But I also was very impressed by fluid arms. By the time the Kirov came to the US, I had started studying ballet and was aware of the less obvious elements of good technique.

I think it would be wonderful, at times, to be able to see a performance as a first-time viewer would.

#9 Marianna

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 07:35 PM

:) That may sound a bit funny to some - but what I loved doing (and I still do that!) when I came to my VERY FIRST BALLET (i was 27 then) was: 1) Sit as close to the stage as I could (tickets were not more than $10, so that was easy) - "sitting almost on the stage" some people might call it, and

2) watch and listen to every move and every whisper, every wink, every breath of those super-natural etherial female creations and such manly and may i invent a new word "gentlemanly" male dancers (ex-Soviet Union suffers from a bad terrible lack of real gentlemen, you see :D ) doing some thing supernatural on that stage, that is dancing, and even when (especially when) they were not actually dancing.

If they whisper - it must be something totally different from what us, ordinary people, would whisper about, when they sigh - it is because what they're doing is so difficult - they do not breath as us, ordinary earthly folks. When they wink - that is for a great reason - they are lending each other that invisible arm of support, like they're saying to their co-dancers: "You're cool, you're the best".

I hope nobody would laugh at this - i am being as honest and sincere as possible, laying all my gutts out here :blushing:

When i was a beginner i used to prefer to sit in the center, then i realized that if i move to the very side of the rows, located really close to the stage (rows 2 to 5), then i will be able what those mysterious beautiful creations do when they are not on stage - HA! They stretch, they chat, the jump and stretch again. May sound perfectly ordinary to those who do that professionally - but to me it was like a taking a glance at their "otherworldly" life. Of course, even back stage - they are not really like us, earthly people! That is what i thought to myself. That is what I have discovered - to my total satisfaction, when I was lucky to have met some of them in person, and even spend FEW MUNITES (total delight!!!!!!) backstage during one of the Swan Lakes. To me - a perfectly ordinary earthly person that were perfectly special sacred and unforgettable few minutes. You can laught but I felt i could have happily died after that - to me it was like "To see Paris and to die"

There is that big incredible illusion that those dancers create for us - that dancing is really easy and effortless. That is of course, everyone who has no real idea of what ballet is about, usually thinks (i confess, was sinful of that too). But when I actually started taking lessons from that favorite and much-adored ballerina of mine - i realize what that etherial lightness is all about. Sweat, pain, super-human efforts (so I WAS RiGHT about the super-human moments there!) AND remembering to always hide it underthat illusion - that it costs them nothing, it is sheer joy and pleasure. Forget the aching muscles, bleeding blisters on dancers' feet, aching backs of guys lifting up couple of hundreds of kilos during one performance, totalled up.

Then i've discovered - pretty fast, i've discovered - another thing about ballet that is still an eternal mystery to me but it keeps me hopelessly addicted to ballet - please just read my quote below my bubbling down there :thumbsup: :wink:

My admiration towards those people is as big as the ocean or universe - and it will remained unchanged Till the End of Time!! :lol: :wink:

PS DJB, you have seen Plisetskaya AND VASILYEV dance LIVE !!! You are a lucky soul! I only have tapes of them dancing - i came a bit too late to this Earth :D That must have been one of the experiences of your life - making it worthy of living, no?

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 November 2003 - 07:41 PM

I don't know about any other ballet that was on the program, but I do recall that my first ballet performance (by NYCB) included "Opus 34". I was about 6 or 7, and that thing scared the living bejeezus out of me! Looking back on it now, I think Balanchine was drawing from the horror movies/comics craze of the day, and the surgery scene left me with a longstanding fear of hospitals that I didn't fully conquer until I got into the service.

#11 djb

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 12:31 AM

[Y]ou have seen Plisetskaya AND VASILYEV dance LIVE !!! You are a lucky soul! I only have tapes of them dancing - i came a bit too late to this Earth  That must have been one of the experiences of your life - making it worthy of living, no?


Yes, those were among the great experiences of my life. Unfortunately, I missed seeing Ulanova dance live, on the Bolshoi's first US tour. It's a good thing these dancers were filmed, eh? And now I must ask -- what's the origin of the name Ulanova? I think it should mean "immortal," but I know that "Bessmertnova" gets that honor.

#12 djb

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 12:33 AM

Oops! Sorry, I forgot which thread I was in. I'll look for the answer under "Pronunciation of Ballet Names."

#13 Jaana Heino

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 01:43 AM

I am still learning to watch ballet, so I am not sure the past tense in the question applies to me. :)

Anyway, I know what I have always looked at in ballet, but I find it really difficult to describe - before starting to take classes myself it would have been completely impossible. What catches my eye and what I wait for in a performance is some kind of a combination of what I now think is called the dancer's "line" with his/her movement. Or the combination of the individuals' lines with the movement of the group, which is even better (I prefer watching group or crowd scenes over watching solos, go figure). Line is good on it's own, movement is good on it's on, but when these coincide to produce something more than their sum, that's when I go "ooooooh" and feel I have gotten what I paid for.

Since I started taking classes myself, I have also started to look at the steps performed and checking if I know their names, and if I see something that doesn't feel quite right to me I try to spot if there is a technical impurity behind that feeling (surprisingly often there is a technical reason even where the moves look superficially ok).

#14 atm711

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 05:26 AM

For me it was the music and the patterns, and I think it still is. As a child I listened to what was then called 'serious' music, and then I saw it integrated with movement. My first view of ballet on the stage was 'Les Sylphides'--it is no wonder that I have been 'hooked' ever since.

#15 Garyecht

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:03 AM

I’m not sure I can really identify when I “started” to watch ballet. Depends on how that is defined. I know my first sight of ballet was when I was young, perhaps 10-12 years old, seeing ballet on television. I don’t recall the programming, but I clearly remember being attracted to the jumps and turns, particularly those by males, like me. I have to admit to this day, I tend to watch male dancers more than females, perhaps because I’m male.

I also recall later in life, again being exposed to ballet on television, reacting to those old romantic ballets. I hated them. I saw them as pointless relics from 100 years ago—museum pieces as they say. Today, though I wouldn’t say that I hated them, neither would I pay money to see them.

My first live performance I do remember being attracted to the theatricality of the production as a whole and the connection between the movement and the music. The work was all contemporary, costuming grand for the major piece, and though I was just a beginning ballet student at the time, I thought the dancers were terrific (it was a regional company production).


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