SanderO

Ballet without the rest?

19 posts in this topic

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?

Share this post


Link to post
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"?

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post
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'.

Share this post


Link to post
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.)

Share this post


Link to post

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

Share this post


Link to post
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?

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

This may be similar to what artists like Picasso struggled with as the de constructed the elements of a face, for example.

What seems to happen is that we lose our ability to read "cues" and hints about the visual world when we strip away "all the rest". These cues and hints are little stories in themselves, aren't they.

For example, when you see an elaborate period set in Manon for example, each element adds to your feeling of the period, the setting, and so forth. If you strip away a lot of the details and only include a few basic architectural elements, like the type of trim on a door, the audience can place the scene, in time, but this is so much more vague and ill defined. The more visual details, the more context we have for the "story".

Once all the cues are removed the story telling is reduced to movement, acting, gesture, and the associations we can draw from the music. When we hear a waltz we think of Vienna for example. When we see Firebird with everything stripped away we might try to bring to the movement our expectations from previous experiences.

Modernism in dance appears to me that is analogous to modernism in art as it moved from representational (story) art to abstraction (form).

Ballet, especially story ballet seems to involve a meta level of movement as meaning and is an abstraction to begin with. Isn't it?

Share this post


Link to post
[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.

Carbro, you're a genious!! I have a computer at work that has no speakers, and many times i look at her Black Swan 60's clip while humming the music, because you can almost SEE it on her movements, so precise they are...(and i've realized that i can't do with a great majority of ballerinas...)

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Great quote Paul!

I think the "rest" is like that over the top, sugary rose on top of an overly frosted cake. This is why I love Balanchine's work. It is striped down to simplicity rather than extravagance to sell tickets. His choreography leaves things to your imagination but most notably "shows" you the music through movement. While this is still possible through more extravagant ballets with lavish Oscar de la Renta costumes, and pyrotechnics, what really is the bottom line? The movement, and the music. Simple and clean.

I feel as though some may argue that "No! It's the story too!" I can't even count the number of times I have talked to members of the audience after a full length performance, and asked, "Did you like the ballet?" and many said, "We didn't understand what was going on, but we enjoyed the dancing."

I remember dancing in Ben Stevenson's Dracula right around Halloween a few seasons ago, and thinking, 'Wow. Is this ever a money-maker." I was dressed in a shredded nightgown, with a mullet of a blonde wig on, and opaque white painted skin. I was told to 'grovel', (wave my arms around wildly like a Zombie) to call my 'sisters' back from the dead, and all for the sake of "ballet. I've learned that, in my own personal opinion, I tend to prefer neo-classical and more modern ballet works in comparison to any kind of full length. For me as a dancer, it is more challenging to be simple, and stripped of all nuances and bothersome distractions rather than covered up by a bulky costume, or overshadowed by some massive explosion when Dracula flies (with the aid of a wire) up into a chandelier. It is easier to stand on the side in the corps de ballet of Don Q, clapping my hands while Kitri does her diagonal of pirouettes, being in full peasant character, than to, say, do one of the variations in Raymonda Variations, or even be in the corps of a leotard ballet. I like a challenge, and I come off stage from those ballets feeling like I accomplished something, rather than having stood around filling the position of a supernumerary in a ballet, doing a few 3 minute 'peasant dances.' Perhaps it is an acquired taste? Maybe I'm backwards. Or maybe I will find more respect and love for full lengths when I am actually doing the principal dancing roles.

Who knows!

Share this post


Link to post
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.

I reread this thread to get the gist of the recent additions, and had a tangential comment about this. As a dance writer I see a lot of dance over the course of a year, and am paying pretty strict attention to what's happening on stage, so that when I go to a music event, where I don't have to watch, I often close my eyes altogether, or deliberately look left and right and up and down -- anywhere but forward at the performers!

And, more to the point of the thread, I get to see a lot of rehearsals of one kind or another, often without sets and costumes, or just the bare minimum of stuff. For some works, there is almost no difference between that pared-down world and the version on stage with the usual accompaniments, but for others, this is a skewed view. I think it's important to remember that ballet originally comes from the world of Renaissance pageantry, where the movement was seen in the same context as exotic scenic effects, extended tableaus and even dressage. Somewhere in the previous comments, someone brought up the concept of gesamtkunstwerk, and I think it applies in some contexts.

Share this post


Link to post