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Taking a bow


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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 01 March 2000 - 07:13 PM

Andrei wrote (on another thread):

“By the way, I think about bows as very complicated art form. How long I have to bow, how low I have to bent, specifically to whom I have to make gestures, what's my relation with partners and so on and so on ...”

I agree completely and speaking from the other side of the fourth wall,
feel that watching bows is an important part of the entire experience of going to the ballet. Especially the bows of ballerinas, which are some of the most graceful series of movements that the human body can accomplish. There seems to be a few “standard” bows—or to be both more general and more specific, standard actions while accepting applause after a ballet.

There is the art of presenting a flower to her cavalier by the ballerina who was given the bouquet. The ballerina’s bow itself seems to be variations of the typical (and lovely) sinking slowly to the stage with one leg extended. And on those occasions where there is a conductor in the pit who takes a bow, it is (I think) the prima ballerina who goes to the wings to lead him to the center of the stage. After which, at least houses in the North America, there are some group calls which the conductor seems to be in charge of.

Is bowing taught or is it something that young dancers or students simply pick up from watching and imitating older performers? Are there specific schools or methods (Cecchetti, French, Russian) of bowing? It seems almost like laughing is with opera singers—a trained singer can laugh in tempo, on key and in character and has no special training to do so—singers I have spoken with almost always say the same thing, that “You just do it.” Is it similar with bowing and ballet dancers?

Ed Waffle
Michigan, USA

#2 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 01 March 2000 - 09:41 PM

Ed, the traditional ballet class ends with a "reverence", which is where the students are taught how to bow. Some people use a standard one, like the same every class, and some of us like to vary it bit, using different bows and different amount of music for this. Some teachers lead the students through it, facing in the same direction as the students, and some of us like to face the students and do it on the opposite leg, so that they are following us, but at the same time we are bowing to them as they bow to us. I always end the bow towards the pianist, which the students also follow, to acknowledge our appreciation for their work!

#3 Estelle

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 08:10 AM

It reminds me of a rehearsal of the students Conservatoire de Paris that Leigh and I attended in jaunary. At the end, they also rehearsed the bow (and the ballet masters were quite severe!), that was quite interesting to see!

A nice example of "the art of bows" is the "defile" (acute accents on both "e"s) of the Paris Opera Ballet. It is done for the first performance of each season, and for some special occasions. All the dancers of the company and all the students of the POB school are involved, always in the same order
(first the girls of the POB school, then the premieres danseuses surrounded with the female quadrilles and sujets, then the female principal dancers surrounded with the female sujets, with the oldest principal dancer coming last, and then it's the same for men: the boys of the school, etc., ending with the oldest male etoile), on some music from Berlioz's "Les Troyens". It's the only moment when the iron curtain which is at the back of the stage is open, so one can see the Foyer de la Danse (behind the stage) and its mirrors, it makes a great perspective. All the dancers come from there, walking slowly, and make bows when they arrive close to the audience. I remember seeing some reharsals of it on TV, the ballet master was rehearsing with some new principals (they had to walk and make bows on the rhythm of the music). After the bows, the dancers of the corps de ballet make lines on the side of the stage and the principals exit on the side, but at the end the light goes down for a few seconds, and they all come back very quickly on stage (with a strict order there too: the oldest principals are at the center of the stage, the youngest on the side...). Of course, the audience applauses with much enthusiasm during the "defile"!

#4 Manhattnik

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 09:09 AM

Let's not forget the art of taking curtain calls in character. I remember when Alicia Alonso returned to ABT to dance Giselle in the mid-Seventies after being absent for a zillion years. I read Edwin Denby's review of her 1943 debut, where he commented on her taking her bows in the character of Giselle, and sure enough, she did it again at the curtain calls of the performance I saw, a mere 35 or so years after Denby wrote of her.

I think in-character curtain calls can be charming, if not done to excess.

#5 cargill

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 09:14 AM

The best bows, I think, are the ones the Trockaderos take, especially the ballerina eye-batting, "Is all this enthusiasm just for little old me", ones. They are hysterical.

#6 Natalia

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 09:50 AM

And how about Jacques d'Amboise's fabulous talk about the Art of Bowing, in the 1989 Kennedy Center Honors' tribute to Alexandra Danilova? D'Amboise related how Mme. Danilova went backstage after a performance of SWAN LAKE & told him "You dance like Prince - but bow like Peasant." She then showed him the proper way to bow & acknowledge the audience...which D'Amboise demonstrated to the Kennedy Center audience in his inimitable manner! It's one of my favorite all-time KCHonors video-bits.

#7 Manhattnik

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 12:17 PM

I loved the daggers the Trocks would gaze at each other when it looked like one "ballerina" was hogging the applause.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 12:21 PM

The Trocks were in fine form in DC last week, btw. I'd urge anyone who likes ballet humor to catch them. I'm sure they'll be gadding about.

They've got a new curtain call, the curtainless curtain call. (New from the last time they were here, anyway). It was part of "Giselle." The dancers step back, as they always do, except there's no curtain; only a play pretend one. So you see Albrecht lunge for Giselle's flowers. A squabble ensues. Albrecht realizes the audience can see him, calls this to the attention of the others, and they're back in curtain call mode.

I have a Danish curtain call story, from a young dancer. He said he couldn't remember who taught him, but it had to be Brenaa. It's better when mimed, but I'll try.

First, you raise your eyes to the gallery, and raise one hand to salute them, as if to say, "Thank you for appreciating my art" and then you cross your hands over your chest, smile modestly, and box to the people in the first four rows, as if to say, "and thank you for paying." Hans Brenaa supposedly once instructed a dancer to "dance for the people in the first four rows, because they have paid the most for the ticket.)

#9 Manhattnik

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 12:36 PM

There are what, eight rows in that theater altogether?

Curtain calls also lend themselves to mishaps, like when the ballerina can't get that stupid rose out of the bouquet to give to her partner and tugs and tugs in an unladylike manner. Or there was that grande-ballerina-style sinking-to-one-knee curtsey that Twyla Tharp gave at the end of Beethoven's Seventh. It certainly didn't work with the rather mannish-looking suit she was wearing.

Being an old man I'd thought I'd seen just about everything, but I was rather surprised a few seasons ago at NYCB to see Miranda Weese somehow manage to hurt herself during a curtain call. It was after Symphony in Three Movements. The curtain came up, and as she stepped to the front of the stage to take her bows with the other leading ladies, she somehow slipped or stumbled over her foot. She was grimacing in pain and noticably limping until the curtain came down, and was conspicuously absent from the bows in front of the curtain, even though she was dancing a lead and should've been there. I was kind of flabbergasted, having never seen a curtain-call injury before, but I was quite thankful when Weese returned onstage after the following intermission. So I guess it looked worse than it actually was.

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 01:31 PM

Sounds like Weese got a cramp in her foot.

From a choreographer's point of view, we generally set bows, but there are certain standard ones that you're taught, but so casually that it really is something you pick up as you go along ("OK, ladies, right leg in b-plus, right left right left b-plus, and back") NYCB is famous for not rehearsing their bows, everyone seems to walk forward starting with a different foot. Balanchine also had a preferred curtain call, he preferred the women to do a deep curtsey with their back foot on the floor rather than with a pointed foot (which I prefer.)

You pick up certain niceties as you watch others. If I was with a partner I behaved as if the applause was all for her, ("Gentlemen, escort her out, stay on her left side, take a step back and present her") but that's a continuation of the attitude you try to have in the dance itself.

Finally, when you're not dancing the principal role, or dealing with less than a world-class company, you try to be realistic about bows. My usual instruction to the dancers is to make it quick and don't out-bow your applause.

#11 cargill

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 01:43 PM

One of the nicest curtain calls I have seen was at the 1979 Bournonville Festival, on the final night. The audience (which seemed to be about 50% foreign) had bought lots of flowers to throw at the dancers, and apparently Danish dancers at that time didn't get flowers and didn't really know what to do. So instead of the men gracefully picking them up and humbly giving them to the women, the women were running up and picking them up themselves, with the most surprized looks. It is one of my favorite memories.

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 02:27 PM

I remembered another curtain call story, from Bruce Marks. I think it's in Barbara Newman's "Striking a Balance" (a terrific book of interviews; I highly recommend it). Marks went back and forth between ballet and modern dance, and he was appearing with a modern dance company (I'm pretty sure it was the Limon company) and took a curtain call ballet style -- proud -- all right, arrogant -- with a raised arm. And one of the dancers was backstage yelling at him, "Where do you think you f***ing are? At the f***ing Met?"

Manhattnik, there are 11 rows (and four tiers) in that Theatre. Please.

#13 dancersteven

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Posted 02 March 2000 - 03:14 PM

Speaking of bowing in character, the best character bows that I ever saw was by the principal in a ballet adaptation of The King and I. He bowed and bowed to his standing ovation, in character, very stiff, formal, and sharp, and just before the applause started to fade, he relaxed and took a bow as himself. The audience went wild all over again. . .

On a different aspect of this thread, audience members, try to keep the dancers from out bowing their applause. Others in the audience will join you if you clap furiously as it starts to die and the dancers are still out there. Dancers and stage managers, bows are important, yes, but please learn when to get off of the stage, or when to drop the curtain.

#14 Guest_Just a Mom_*

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Posted 07 March 2000 - 09:18 PM

I find reading all this very interesting. I was visiting my daughter this past weekend and following a performance, we went to dinner with another couple in their company. The woman is a former ballerina with Universal Ballet where she and her husband both danced before coming over here. (She is Italian, he is from Taiwan.) She said that our (meaning the U.S) bows are too short, and she feels the curtain is dropped too quickly. I asked her about the European tradition of frequent bows rather than at the end of the act or performance. She laughed and then told us about the time Universal Ballet visited New York and because of all the "bow time" they had to pay the tech crew an incredible amount of overtime-- many thousands of dollars! After that, the director cut out the "extra" bows.

#15 Ari

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Posted 08 March 2000 - 01:05 AM

One of my favorite type of bows--when it's appropriate--is the choreographed bow, to music. The only balletic example I can think of at the moment is Ashton's Fille Mal Gardée, in which the ensemble transitions gracefully from a Maypole dance to a circle of dancers surrounding each soloist who, one by one, is hoisted to the shoulders of two other dancers in the center.

I was reminded of this tonight, when I saw Contact, Susan Stroman's wonderful "dance play." After the obligatory full-cast bows, the dancers went into a choreographed series of bows in which the soloists from each of the three parts of the show took their leave of the audience in a fashion appropriate to their playlet. They weren't in character, exactly; they were their characters and themselves at the same time, and the audience loved it.



[This message has been edited by Ari (edited March 08, 2000).]


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