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The Character Dancer: What Makes Him/her Tick?and who are the most memorable?


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#1 bart

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Posted 23 March 2006 - 08:12 PM

In another thread -- discussing Massine's choreography -- beck hen made the following point:

QUOTE:
"I think it's a shame that people who might excel at this type of movement are not very encouraged—since everyone is supposed to be an all-rounder, there is not a special niche for the character dancer, and off the top of my head I can't think of anyone at ABT who is that now, though I have enjoyed Victor Barbee, Keith Roberts, Ethan Brown, Kathleen Moore and Sandra Brown in those types of parts in the past."

This seems like a good dicussion topioc on its own. What qualities make a good character dancer? Which dancers do you think have been, are, or have the potential to be the best character dancers?

#2 Mashinka

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 02:00 AM

The best I ever saw was Gediminas Taranda.

#3 Paul Parish

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 09:20 AM

Taranda's amazing.

But top of my list is Derek Rencher.

Actually, shared honors with Alexander Grant.

#4 Helene

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 09:22 AM

The best I ever saw was Gediminas Taranda.

Same for me.

I think that the most important thing a character dancer can do is either to bring the audience into that character, regardless of the age, ethnic, racial, gender, or other stereotype of the character -- older cuckolded husband, touched son of the landowner, etc. -- and to make the audience react to that character beyond the stereotype, even for the duration of a cameo, or to make the audience too frightened to want to know. Sometimes I think the latter is harder, because it's too easy to go over-the-top and become laughable.

#5 nysusan

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 10:21 AM

I never saw Taranda live but he sure is amazing on those Raymonda tapes. I think the Russian companies have an edge here, because they do seem to still have separate niches for character dancers. Best I've ever seen live was the Bolshoi's Yulianna Malkhasiants as the gypsy in Don Quixote. She took the audience along on a totally over the top emotional roller coaster of a solo and made it believable and compelling throughout.

#6 bart

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 01:21 PM

When I hear the term "character dancer," I tend to think first of roles like Carabosse, Madge, Rothbart, Drosselmeyer, Juliet's nurse, Cinderella's stepsisters, etc., which are often (though not always) performed by older dancers in an advanced stage of their careers.

Do dancers who excel in these roles -- many have been mentioned on Ballet Talk in recent years -- START OUT as character dancers? Or is this something that develops with age, wisdom, stage experience, and sometimes injury?

The careers of Kronstam, Englund, Helpman, even Ashton, seem to offer no single pattern. What about Nicolas Le Riche? Even Nureyev?

#7 Helene

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 03:56 PM

Do dancers who excel in these roles -- many have been mentioned on Ballet Talk in recent years -- START OUT as character dancers? Or is this something that develops with age, wisdom, stage experience, and sometimes injury?

That's an interesting question. I think in some cases anatomy is destiny, i.e., the dancer is just not physically cast into heroic roles. In some ballet companies, there aren't many character roles in the rep. But in the companies where there is/was longevity and a rich tradition of mime and storytelling, like in the Royal Danish Ballet, dancing character roles or being a character dancer is respected and honorable. It's harder to find the role models for character roles when the rep has no story ballets or even to identify talent.

Last year, PNB produced The Merry Widow. In it there is the role of the Bossy American at the cafe, which is a relatively small character part. Having only seen former Principal Character Dancer Viktoria Pulkinnen (sp?) in roles like Juliet's nurse, where she is padded, I had no idea what she looked like in person, and I assumed that it was she who was playing the Bossy American. It turned out to be a young corps dancers, Kari Brunson, who was fantastic in the role. In a post-performance Q&A after the Valentine program, Peter Boal mentioned that her striking impression in the role made him think that she had a dramatic talent that was underutilized, one of the reasons he thought of casting her in Susan Marshall's Kiss. Without that opportunity to do a character role, this might have gone unnoticed.

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 04:38 PM

And beyond acting, which is also important of course, there's the difficulty of getting dancers today to dance national dances with any sort of style or panache. It's really hard work getting elegance, relish, GUSTO without going into excesses. "No, no, just because the score says pesante doesn't mean do it like actual peasants. You are trained dancers!"

#9 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 07:34 AM

I'm not very familiar with the classical repertory, but to go back to a previous thread, I remember the (late) young, delightful Edward Stierle as Alain in FILLE. He had it all -- technique, acting ability, musicality, charm, lack of self-consciousness and understanding. And more. A wonderful memory. A sad loss.

Edited by ViolinConcerto, 25 March 2006 - 07:36 AM.


#10 carbro

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 09:54 AM

Do dancers who excel in these roles -- many have been mentioned on Ballet Talk in recent years -- START OUT as character dancers? Or is this something that develops with age, wisdom, stage experience, and sometimes injury?

Often the latter, but Hagar was one of the first roles Kathleen Moore did -- and she did it brilliantly from the first.

Perhaps we (and artistic directors?) tend to think of Character Dancers as those relegated to that category because they lack the qualifications for Classical Dancers. But when I see a truly great performance of a character role, what strikes me first is the dancer's intelligence.

I would add Elaine Kudo to the list of dancers who excelled in character roles. I still miss her in Czardas in Swan Lake Act III.

#11 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 01:21 PM

elena sherstneva (if i've spelled that even remotely correctly) was incredible.

#12 Paul Parish

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 04:25 PM

Carbro, I have to agree with you. Your comment made me think of "neoclassical" dancers who're not thought as character dancers who've been fabulous in character roles--Patricia McBride in Coppellia, where she amped UP the character aspects of the role. She certainly brought out the character elements in Tarantella, also -- but then Suzanne Farrell made BIG hay out of the Hungarian stuff in her section of Brahms Schoenberg, and was quite a gypsy in Tzigane -- all of it with intelligence.

#13 carbro

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 08:04 PM

You can add Suzanne Farrell bringing a strong Polish accent to Diamonds, too, which was terrific fun!

#14 drb

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 08:20 PM

You can add Suzanne Farrell bringing a strong Polish accent to Diamonds...

Having loved Suzanne above all others in Diamonds (but you could replace Diamonds by the name of anything else she ever did and the statement would remain true...), I wonder if you could explain exactly what the Polish accent was.

#15 carbro

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 10:50 PM

I wonder if you could explain exactly what the Polish accent was.

It came through mostly in the last movement, emphasis on downward movements of the legs, on folding the arms akimbo. There are suggestions of ethnic dancing in the choreography; the ballerina can take either a classical or character approach, and I haven't seen anyone stress them the way Farrell sometimes did.

Then there were the other times, when she took the classical approach.


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