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Ballet without the rest?


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#1 SanderO

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:06 AM

The thread about re setting the classics got me to thinking about what actually IS ballet?

Suppose (and I am certain this occurs) a company performs a particular ballet without the sets perhaps using other mock ups instead, no costumes, just leotards, no live music, but recorded music etc. So what you have is a "skeleton" of the ballet, but "perfectly" danced.

This performance would certainly lack some of the magic that the full production would have, but is it ballet? How much of ballet is about the "rest"? And from a purely dance purest perspective... why should "props" and costumes matter to movement?

Mind you, I am not advocating the "stripped down" approach, but it has me thinking how the rest can make or break a ballet (regardless of the dancing / choreography).

What about the rest?

#2 Ray

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:21 AM

The thread about re setting the classics got me to thinking about what actually IS ballet?

Suppose (and I am certain this occurs) a company performs a particular ballet without the sets perhaps using other mock ups instead, no costumes, just leotards, no live music, but recorded music etc. So what you have is a "skeleton" of the ballet, but "perfectly" danced.

This performance would certainly lack some of the magic that the full production would have, but is it ballet? How much of ballet is about the "rest"? And from a purely dance purest perspective... why should "props" and costumes matter to movement?

Mind you, I am not advocating the "stripped down" approach, but it has me thinking how the rest can make or break a ballet (regardless of the dancing / choreography).

What about the rest?


This is exactly the question that Scholl's Beauty revival, with its full complement of "the rest," makes us ask. How much of ballet is about spectacle? About the pleasure of watching bodies move together in time? (I think Balanchine's Union Jack tattoo asks similar questions, if in a different way; and Kingdom of the Shades.) And in your "lab," SanderO, why have music at all? Is music the bridge b/t the dancing and "the rest"?

#3 SanderO

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:38 AM

It seems that both opera and dance cannot cut their tie to music. Singing IS music, and I think dance is a type of visual music so a dance is an instrument in a sense "playing" music with their body.

By the rest I meant sets, costumes, lighting etc.

One of the things I adore about ballet is that it is very special place in present time. I can't have it on in the background as I can music, or opera. Dance requires my EYES and there for almost all of my attention and so I MUST be there for ballet. This doesn't even apply to theatre because I can listen to a play, (audio books etc.). You can watch dance on film or video and you can freeze it in a still image, but this are all FLAT and hardly anything like the volume that dance creates when you are present a a live performance.

Sorry for going OT.

#4 richard53dog

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:42 AM

This is exactly the question that Scholl's Beauty revival, with its full complement of "the rest," makes us ask. How much of ballet is about spectacle? About the pleasure of watching bodies move together in time? (I think Balanchine's Union Jack tattoo asks similar questions, if in a different way; and Kingdom of the Shades.) And in your "lab," SanderO, why have music at all? Is music the bridge b/t the dancing and "the rest"?



I think that music and the dancing are partners. Whether they are "equals" or not is another issue but it is hard for me to imagine ballet WITHOUT the music. Of course it is possible to dance without the accompaniment but do we really want to.

I can think of other dance forms without the music but not what I consider ballet.

Whether "the rest" is really needed or not depends on the piece. There are lots of 20th/21st century pieces that take place on a bare stage with dancers in "practice" clothes. And there nothing is missing.

But if it is an older, more theatrical piece, then "the rest" is going to be missed. Sleeping Beauty without sets or costumes is going to look like a kind of reheasal.

#5 Ray

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:46 AM

It seems that both opera and dance cannot cut their tie to music. Singing IS music, and I think dance is a type of visual music so a dance is an instrument in a sense "playing" music with their body.

By the rest I meant sets, costumes, lighting etc.

One of the things I adore about ballet is that it is very special place in present time. I can't have it on in the background as I can music, or opera. Dance requires my EYES and there for almost all of my attention and so I MUST be there for ballet. This doesn't even apply to theatre because I can listen to a play, (audio books etc.). You can watch dance on film or video and you can freeze it in a still image, but this are all FLAT and hardly anything like the volume that dance creates when you are present a a live performance.

Sorry for going OT.


This seems precisely ON topic to me--that is, refining what one means by "the rest" in terms of defining how you see it all. I'm going to play devil's advocate, though, to press on the notion of music's inseperability from dance. If dance is "visual music," then what happens when we turn off the sound? That is, is watching dance a process of watching someone "enacting" music as it plays? Can a body be musical w/o music? (Many modern choreographers are interrogating this assumed essential tie b/t dance and music.) Again, I want to stress that I'm raising this for argument's sake.

#6 SanderO

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 10:38 AM

Ray,

Interesting thought experiment. We have a lot of weird "interlaps" in the world of art. A photographer does not create anything but records what is already there!, But his vision (and with some manipulation at times) can be and is art. But many times it's just a documentary record.

A dancer is a musical instrument that can play music visually. But a dancer also can move to music we can't hear but they can! Or they can just move in a pleasing manner the way a tree might move to the wind or the water flowing in a stream.

Ballet is a rather rigid discipline, it seems which means it exists inside of a set of rules. And a particular ballet is even more confining to the artist, leaving less room for their own interpretation. No? Kind of like a musician performing a piece of written music as opposed to improvisation.

Coming back to the relationship between music and dance. Dance is both a visual musical instrument AND an visual interpretation of music. For one can do different dances to the same music. And this may be the basis for "choreography". I am venturing into unchartered waters because I have not studied or read a thing about this.

What I have been trying to figure out is how much of what a dancer does is "their own" and how much is their "coach" or the AD? With all the high tech animations... what would a ballet performance look like in super realistic animation? I sense it would be flat. So living humans add something and I can't pin it down.

#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 12:19 PM

Well, I think "the rest" is fantasy -- if hte fantasy of hte Sleeping Beauty could be filled out completely without hte costumes, and it's possible, I guess, with a REALLY imaginative company, then thatwould be the shw of hte century.

"Ballet is about creatures" as Allegra Kent said -- and she should know. She came onstage in "The Concert" channeling Felia Doubrovska, entering the space EXACTLY as Mme Doubrovska entered the studio -- in her nothing pale blue costume with the scarf tied around her (as both Danilova and Doubrovska dressed to teach). How much more do you want? But the fantasy has to REALLY inform the movement -- and remember, the way the lighting can be changed now, with computerized instantaneous changes, means that costumes don't have to do so much work, the lighting can change the mood incredibly.

#8 sandik

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 12:45 PM

Well, to add an example from the middle, when Balanchine and Danilova staged Les Sylphides without the set and the Romantic era costumes (though with live music) I've been told it was still recognizable as the Fokine work, but a slimmed-down, abstracted version of same.

And, since it's on in my neighborhood right now, the Jean-Christophe Maillot version of Romeo and Juliet has jettisoned all kinds of choreographic and staging elements from other, more theatrical versions, which has an interesting affect on the new work. It's still R&J, but a very different one.

#9 carbro

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 05:02 PM

Can a body be musical w/o music? (Many modern choreographers are interrogating this assumed essential tie b/t dance and music.) Again, I want to stress that I'm raising this for argument's sake.

I've been thinking of Robbins' "Moves" as I read this thread. It's a perfectly enjoyable 27 minutes (according to this), but I don't think it could sustain interest for much longer.

I have, on occasion, while watching this ballet-in-silence (but usually to the accompaniment of coughs, crackling candy wrappers and whispers), heard a phrase or two of music. Not imagined a tune for the dancing, but something from my memory bank that fit. Moves may not have notes, but it has counts and phrases.

[Cristian's gonna love this]: I have one friend who says she knew, before she ever saw her, that Alonso was her favorite ballerina. Why? Because watching a silent film of Alonso's Black Swan, she knew exactly what the music was doing at any point. This, obviously, is someone who believes as I do that musical values are intrinsic to dancing, whether the music is audible or not.

As for ballets performed without costumes and sets, it depends on the quality of the choreography. Concerto Barocco? Three Temperaments? No problem. Also, the length of the ballet. I attended a NYCB program a few years ago that was all-Balanchine/Stravinsky leotard ballets. All great pieces. On paper a great idea! But by the end of the program I was longing for a fluffly little tutu, preferably pink. :wink:

And any ballet that suggests pageantry absolutely needs costumes and probably scenic sets.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 February 2008 - 05:22 AM

Ballet is one of those things which are best considered as "Gesamtkunstwerke". It is a successful blending of decor, costume, music and choreography. It might be possible to make a "laboratory" production of Sleeping Beauty, but even with skeleton sets and costumes (and I think tutus would be necessary for the line they provide), it would make a mighty expensive lab! You can see the nerves and muscles of the choreography in ways that usually only dancers can see from rehearsal, but it's likely to miss the "magic" imperative to a "ballet-féerie", which is Beauty's genre.

#11 Andrew73

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Posted 10 February 2008 - 06:52 AM

The thread about re setting the classics got me to thinking about what actually IS ballet?


It is interesting that most of the responses so far assume that removing 'the rest' will diminish the experience; I have seen performances (by leading companies), where 'the rest' has seriously let the dancers down; inappropriate, over-elaborate sets are by no means something to miss. Similarly, while the music is (usually) central, a fine recorded performance may be much better than a brash, poorly rehearsed live performance.

And you could produce similar negatives for lighting, supporting characters, and, of course, the quality of the audience :wink:

I have seen Shakespeare with minimal sets or distractions of any kind from the spoken word, and it was something I'll remember forever (a good memory, I should add!).

Personally, I see no reason why Giselle, Swan Lake or ..... [insert choice here] couldn't be performed with the simplest of costumes, the most minimal set (or no set at all), provided that the performers could rise to the challenge. Many modern ballets rely on lighting alone, but have the advantage of having been created with that intention.

Indeed, it would be fascinating to see which of the classics could thrive in 'the raw'.

#12 bart

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Posted 10 February 2008 - 12:18 PM

One of the things I adore about ballet is that it is very special place in present time. I can't have it on in the background as I can music, or opera. Dance requires my EYES and there for almost all of my attention and so I MUST be there for ballet.

Thank you for that point, which I'd never really examined before.

I frequently close my eyes at the opera. But in ballet I seem to be trying to coax my eyes to see more -- more quickly, more closely, more deeply -- and somehow to transmit what they see to the muscles of my own body.

This may explain why ballet performances can be very exhausting to attend. And why, when driving home, I am frequently as high as a kite, re-running images of the movements in my head and trying to resist the temptation to take my hands off the steering wheel to execute port de bras.

Iv'e learned that, for me, dance without music -- either on the stage or on the video-player with the sound turned off -- can as impressive in its own way as dance to music, though not for extended periods of time. Least important to me are the visual effects of scenery and costume, though good lighting is essential. (That may come from having grown up with ballets like Agon long before I saw Sleeping Beauty.)

#13 Rhoda M

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 01:48 AM

I think that it depends on the specific ballet and what the choreographer had in mind. Did the choreographer of Sleeping Beauty understand dance as something that included the props and the music and all that, or was only the movement enough for him to communicate his message? It's most likely the case, because of the time that he wrote his piece in, that he would have included the props and the costumes etc. You can change his piece by making artistic choices to arrange it for this time, but I doubt if you should leave anything out that he probably thought of as essential, for then that's what you're doing: taking an essential part away, thus touching the integrity and authenticy of it. I do believe (new) dance, ballet, can go very well without music, if you use the movement, and, for example, the character or emotions of the dancers, in such a way that it fills the whole space of what dance can be. Maybe in that way it even benefits the dance by changing the roles of music (or the absence of it) and movement - and the absence of music plays just as important a role as the presence of it does, I think. After all, silence has always been part of music, or it would only be noise. If you make dance without music, you cannot ignore the silence as if it's there only for the sake of creating room for the movement - that would be irresponsible, I think.

Rhoda

#14 carbro

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Posted 17 February 2008 - 12:47 PM

I think that it depends on the specific ballet and what the choreographer had in mind. Did the choreographer of Sleeping Beauty understand dance as something that included the props and the music and all that, or was only the movement enough for him to communicate his message?

I was just wondering how much you could strip away from Firebird.

For story-telling, you need the feather; you need the apples which are intrinsic to the princess' dance, and Katschei and his monsters must be grotesque. With that in place, a leotard-clad firebird would pretty much fade from the forefront, wouldn't she?

#15 Hans

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Posted 17 February 2008 - 06:41 PM

Maybe she'd need a red leotard?

There is a point at which removing certain elements ends up being more trouble than it's worth; one must still be able to differentiate the characters; that is why I stress that altering this sort of thing must be done with much consideration.


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