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Naked or not?Nudity in ballet and other dance forms


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#1 dirac

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 04:28 PM

This fairly long article by Sharon Verghis for the Sydney Morning Herald is an overview of the current debate over nudity and ballet, and I thought it would be interesting to canvass our posters for opinions on the matter. Here's the link:


Out of step over shock of the nude

This topic has come up before, but I thought it might be time to bring it up again for some fresh perspectives, assuming we have any. :) What do you think? Is nudity always acceptable? Never? Occasionally? Verghis cites some recent examples by contemporary choreographers; have you seen any, and how did you react?

#2 bart

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 04:58 PM

I'm looking forward to the discussion about this!

My immediate reaction to the idea of nudity in most dance is: distracting.

My reaction to the idea of nudity in ballet: VERY distracting.

By definition, something that is "distracting" does not enhance whatever you're setting out to do.

An exception might be if the dance or scene is in some sense "about" the state of being unclothed: as possibly in Salome's dance. Quite distracting,however, would be a mad scene in which Giselle ripped off her own dress just because the choreographer told her to.

It seems to me that nudity is much less distracting or jarring on film, where a sense of intimacy can be created that includes the viewer, than in a live performance in a theater where the sense of physical separation between viewer and performer is inescapable.

I guess I agree in theory with the this position cited in the article:

Steven Heathcote, principal dancer at the Australian Ballet, says: "For me, nudity in performance of any kind is all about context. It's very obvious when nudity is gratuitously included ... when appropriately used, however, it can create a sense of vulnerability and intimacy for audience and performers alike."


However, "all about context" is one of those truisms which, on examination, tends to be without meaning. As for "appropriately used"? -- that's the question.

#3 shulie

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 05:00 PM

In Germany and in Europe generally nude dancing has become almost the norm in contemporary dance (and sometimes too in classical ballets)- you will have a hard time finding a contemporary ballet without any nudity.
If it fits in the concept of the storyline of the ballet I may find it acceptable (like in the ballet scene of Wagner`s opera Tannhäuser where a bacchanale in the realm of the Queen of Love and sex is shown) - but this is very very rare- in most cases it is just unnecessary and I do not find it esthetically pleasing.
In some european ballet companies it already has gotten that far that a dancer has to sign a policy in his contract that he has to dance in the nude if the choreograper or the costume department demand that! Ughhhhh..... :) :mellow:

Edited by shulie, 13 September 2005 - 05:01 PM.


#4 kfw

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 07:14 PM

I'm with Bart. In my experience, even white leotards are distracting sometimes. I'm reminded of Diana Adams saying she was mortified to appear in a white leotard in Electronics. Present a nude body and how many of us are first and foremost interested in how that body moves? That body? Presented with the nude body of a strange dancer, how many of us can immediately see a dancer? I'd think that the weaker choreography, the more distracting the nudity would be. The more beautiful the bodies, the stronger the dance would need to be, assuming dance is the subject, and this isn't known as an age of great choreography. Perhaps nudity distracts from that lack as well, but not on dance terms.

The Verghis article is disappointing -- or is it, no pun intended, revealing? -- in that none of the people she quotes defending nudity in dance attempt to offer any real explanation of why it's desirable. Stephen Heathcote talks about appropriate context vs. gratuitousness -- that "appropriate" is an admission that he's on the defensive -- but gives no examples or definitions. If the choreographer can't show vulnerablility, why will nudity automatically read that way? If the choreographer can show vulnerablity, why is nudity necessary?

The author asks why ballet shouldn't break out of its classical aesthetic and move with the times, but she never says why moving with the times is a virtue. Since when is "progress" always improvement?

#5 Giannina

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 08:48 PM

I admit I'm a prude. But beyond that I try to think of how much nudity I see in life. Outside of within my household......none. Even in news clips of some of the most devastating incidents where emotions run rampant (recently: 9/11, Katrina) there is no nudity. For that, and other reasons, I find it unnecessary in ballet. You can be emotional, vulnerable, whatever, fully clothed.

There was a ballet company here several years ago in which nudity figured in two of the presentations. If you can be tastefully nude, this was tasteful nudity. After the first ballet audience members left, though most stayed.

Eks "Giselle" shows Albrecht nude in the final scene. The ballet was taped for TV, and Albrecht's nudity was very cleverly covered by trees and bushes.

Giannina

#6 sandik

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 09:04 PM

I'm fine with nudity depending on the context -- if it's presented in a cohesive way I don't have any objection.

Though I'm reminded of a comment by (I think it was) Deborah Jowitt, in a review of Nederlands Dance Theater several years ago, that you really cannot choreograph for a penis.

#7 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 09:16 PM

I have no moral objection to nudity at all, but it's like any other pungent ingredient in the mix - you had best know how to use it and how much to use. My suggestion would be extremely rarely.

I saw one program at Nederlands Dans Theater where there was so much nudity that was so predictable and gratuitous that it was boring. Who wants to be bored with seeing a beautiful body?

And in ballet, it's just harder to dance nude. You really don't want to be flopping about (pick your appendages, whether male or female) in an allegro.

#8 koshka

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 05:53 AM

You really don't want to be flopping about (pick your appendages, whether male or female) in an allegro.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


This is exactly why my reaction is usually "it sounds _awfully_ uncomfortable".

Washington Ballet did Rite of Spring here, and the men danced at one point in nude dance belts only. The thing is, there was so much buildup that it just seemed ridiculous. But at least I didn't watch thinking "ouch ouch ouch".

#9 perky

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 06:07 AM

If you think of certain ballet steps being done by nude dancers on stage than you can begin to see why it's a bad idea. A very high developpe' to the side done by a female? A grand jete' done by a man? It's ridiculous, inappropriate and well..... just yucky.

Having never seen it, I do need to ask HOW in the Ek's version of Giselle did Albrecht manage to wind up nude in the finale? Was he simply too hot and sweaty after all that dancing to his death to wear his clothes one moment longer? :)

#10 Estelle

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 06:38 AM

Having never seen it, I do need to ask HOW  in the Ek's version of Giselle did Albrecht manage to wind up nude in the finale? Was he simply too hot and sweaty after all that  dancing to his death to wear his clothes one moment longer? :)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Ek's version is very different from the classical version (but as far as I know it doesn't pretend to be ballet), and the second part takes place in a psychiatric hospital (the Wilis are inmates).

See for example the following reviews:

http://www.dancemaga...383d2a3968253d3
http://www.guardian....,203011,00.html

At the end, Albrecht is surrounded with the Wilis and falls on the ground, and when the Wilis exit the stage he appears naked (more or less in fetal position at first, if I remember correctly). Then Hilarion comes on stage, and gives him a blanket as a gesture of compassion.

I think that so far it is the only dance piece I saw in which nudity made sense: to me it looked like a kind of rebirth for Albrecht, who is no longer the superficial playboy with a white suit that he was in the first act, and who looks far more vulnerable and fragile at the end of the ballet after the encounter with the Wilis. And it is not shown in a gratuitous, provocative way (the stage is relatively dark in that part of the ballet and that scene is quite short).

There also is a brief moment of nudity in Ek's "Solo for two" (a piece for a male and a female dancer): both dancers take off all their clothes, then stare at each others for a few seconds with some sort of shivering, and then dress with each other's clothing and continue dancing. It is a strange work, with a sad and sometimes moving atmosphere. I don't think that the nudity was very important in itself in the piece, and the dancers could probably have kept their underwear, but didn't find it especially shocking either.

#11 Helene

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 07:43 AM

Eks "Giselle" shows Albrecht nude in the final scene. The ballet was taped for TV, and Albrecht's nudity was very cleverly covered by trees and bushes.

Right back to Eden.

You really don't want to be flopping about (pick your appendages, whether male or female) in an allegro.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Or in an adagio.

But at least I didn't watch thinking "ouch ouch ouch".

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Which is just about all I was thinking during the Pilobolus piece in which they slide across the stage naked on water-slicked tarps.

If you think of certain ballet steps being done by nude dancers on stage than you  can begin to see why it's a bad idea.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Or closed fifth. (ouch ouch ouch) It seems that nudity on stage is more painful for the men.

At the end, Albrecht is surrounded with the Wilis and falls on the ground, and when the Wilis exit the stage he appears naked (more or less in fetal position at first, if I remember correctly). Then Hilarion comes on stage, and gives him a blanket as a gesture of compassion.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That sounds more like a dramatic use of nudity where Albrecht wasn't dancing.

#12 Mashinka

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 08:14 AM

Ek also uses nudity in his Swan Lake which features a naked female Rothbart.

#13 dirac

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 10:14 AM

Thanks to everyone who’s responded so far – keep them coming!

I have no problem with nudity per se, but I agree with those who have said that such a potentially combustible element should be used rarely and with caution, not to mention consideration for the dancers. It can be a major distraction for the audience, and unless you have aesthetic reasons for wanting them so distracted, extreme caution is called for.

(Even very minor nudity can take you out of the ballet in this way. There’s a bit in Mark Morris’ “Sylvia” where one dancer bares his butt to the audience briefly, and all of a sudden there’s nothing else onstage.)

bart’s example of Salome’s dance is a good one, as is shulie’s citing of the Tannhäuser bacchanale. I also think that the bedroom scene in Romeo and Juliet is a place where some nudity might be appropriate – after all, Romeo and Juliet have just spent an impassioned night in the hay and it’s most unlikely that she’d have her nightie on. On the other hand you then have to find a way to dress the happy lovers for dancing. It could be managed, but probably with difficulty, and it’s just simpler to have them clothed.

Giannina writes:

Eks "Giselle" shows Albrecht nude in the final scene. The ballet was taped for TV, and Albrecht's nudity was very cleverly covered by trees and bushes.


I must disagree respectfully with Giannina on this one. My own feeling is that this kind of cover-up is more distracting, and certainly more coy, than actual nudity. Dress the fellow up, or not, but avoid the fig leaf device. :)

#14 canbelto

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 10:36 AM

I agree that some nudity in Romeo and Juliet might be appropriate. Maybe have Juliet's nightie come off her shoulder ever so slightly during an embrace. Another ballet where nudity might be appropriate is Kenneth MacMillan's "Mayerling." It's as R-rated as anything I've seen in ballet, and the "love scenes" are very violent. I could picture Rudolf tearing off Mary Vetsera's lingerie.
But then again, I think there's the "if it's not broke, why fix it?" situation with ballets like these. I've seen Romeo and Juliets that are plenty hot without any nudity (thinking of the moment in the Czinner film when Romeo and Juliet's hands first touch).

#15 Estelle

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Posted 14 September 2005 - 12:55 PM

At the end, Albrecht is surrounded with the Wilis and falls on the ground, and when the Wilis exit the stage he appears naked (more or less in fetal position at first, if I remember correctly). Then Hilarion comes on stage, and gives him a blanket as a gesture of compassion.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That sounds more like a dramatic use of nudity where Albrecht wasn't dancing.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Well, I realize my description was not complete: Albrecht is in fetal position (if I remember correctly) when the Wilis exit the stage, but then he does move a little bit before Hilarion enters the stage. However, the whole scene is quite short (at least it's what I remember- I haven't seen it in a while). By the way, I don't remember any trees or bushes hiding Albrecht, just that the lights were rather dark (and I never saw it for orchestra seats...)

dirac wrote:

(Even very minor nudity can take you out of the ballet in this way. There’s a bit in Mark Morris’ “Sylvia” where one dancer bares his butt to the audience briefly, and all of a sudden there’s nothing else onstage.)


It reminds me of a very boring piece by Andonis Foniadakis called "Lava Nama" for the Lyon Opera Ballet: I'm afraid one of the only thing I remember from it, besides some totally uninteresting videos of volcanos, was a naked female dancer with a sort of transparent cage-shaped costume who crossed the stage several times doing incoherent movements and looking more or less insane, I really felt some pity for the poor dancer who had to dance such a silly role !

Mashinka, now that you mention it, I remember some nudity in Ek's "Swan Lake". But I thought that it was the prince's mother who was naked (well, anyway the plot of that "Swan Lake" is not easy to understand sometimes...)


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