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Ballet cliches: what are the ballet ideas and images

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Maybe you had to live through the 60s and 70s to appreciate the point, but I had a lot of empathy with Arlene Croce when I read the following (dated 1977) from her collection Going to the Dance:

Is it because so many boring ballets have been set to his music that I have come to dislike Mahler? The Mahler ballet: someone sings lugubriously from the side of the stage while dancers toil up Angst Hill and down Weltschmerz Dale for hours on end. Sexuallity, if not repressed, is ambiguous; a Death Figure is bound to turn up somewhere. Mahler is the favorite composer of the deep-think choreographers -- the one they all rely on to dye their musings the rich dark brown of significance.

Few choreographers today seem to want to make significant points about the Meaning of Life. But there are still plenty of ballet cliches around (uses of music, uses of choreography, ways of presenting dancers or "characters", attempts to manipulate the audience). :pinch::dunno::P

It would be great to hear about the cliches that you yourself have observed and found grating. Who knows, we might help a few would-be choreographers to avoid them in the future. :)

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General conventions in theater as a whole that are getting stale:

  • The Meaning of Life
  • The Meaning of Death
  • It Sucks to be Me
  • It Sucks to be You
  • It's All the Fault of the Government
  • It's All the Fault of Society
  • See How Clever I am at Stringing Component Parts (words, steps, notes) Together?
  • Meaning doesn't matter
  • Feelings don't matter
  • Everything is a Crock

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Maybe you had to live through the 60s and 70s to appreciate the point, but I had a lot of empathy with Arlene Croce when I read the following (dated 1977) from her collection Going to the Dance:
Is it because so many boring ballets have been set to his music that I have come to dislike Mahler? The Mahler ballet: someone sings lugubriously from the side of the stage while dancers toil up Angst Hill and down Weltschmerz Dale for hours on end. Sexuallity, if not repressed, is ambiguous; a Death Figure is bound to turn up somewhere. Mahler is the favorite composer of the deep-think choreographers -- the one they all rely on to dye their musings the rich dark brown of significance.

I love the euphemistic phrase "rich dark brown"!

OK, cliched ballet images/ideas:

The Degas ballerina with the black choker (which for me evokes the 1980s more than the nineteenth century).

Dances to recorded popular songs (did this start with Twyla?).

Carmina Burana or Rite of Spring as the expression of primal/tribal urgency

Male "fighting" or "playful manly sparring"

I'm sure I'll think of more!

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I love the euphemistic phrase "rich dark brown"!

Critics use this kind of purely subjective talk at the point they feel they can put it over. I always remember back to Barbra Streisand's attempt to begin her conquering of the opera 'n' Shakespeare world she always wanted to do instead of continuing with the treacly songs, i.e., she made 'Classical Barbra'. The Village Voice said something about 'shades of corporate blue', but I think this was even before IBM was termed Big Blue. It interests me because I thought I knew what 'corporate blue' meant even though it is just made up. I thought 'corporate blue' looked like certain skyscrapers in Midtown especially if they had a Marlboro Man ad up it.

It must indeed be upsetting to dislike Mahler because of the boring ballets spun out of his music. I know that's not why I hate Minkus--some of the ballets to Minkus's music make it almost bearable...but not quite.

There are times when I really don't want to hear 'incomparable', 'took incredible risks', or phrases like 'danced with piteous beauty'.

I like Capezio ad cliches, however, they're so superficial and chic. And PLAYBILLS! They're so tacky they're a total joy! You can find out about all the expensive restaurants that are unconcerned with the cuisine.

Still think Rite of Spring conveys tribal urgency well enough, but that Carmina Burana just conveys primitivism, plus anything danced to Philip Glass is automatic manipulation.

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Almost all cliches were new and even revelatory when first introduced. It's the imitation and repetition in ballet after ballet that annoys.

Contemporary ballet: The main cliche is the belief in Perpetrual Motion at all costs. Non-stop, pointless meandering on speed. For example, frequent rushing on and off stage to keep the corps busy in the absence of interesting and sustained choreography. Also, hyperactive and repetitive choreography for the arms: often drawn from semaphore, hip hop, and power cheerleading.

Those little plate-shaped tutus, often worn low at the hip and a bit off the horizontal.

Massing the dancers and having them march downstage towards the audience in a menacing fashion. Is this supposed to frighten the bourgeoisie?

Putting one group of dancers in toe-shoes and the others in slippers (or Keds) ... and then treating it as though you were making a profound sociological or cultural statement. Tharp and others did this long ago ... and have moved on.

The idea that the well-trained young classical dancer needs to be liberated (i.e., loosened up) by taking down her hair and dancing funky.

Trying to imitate the sort of movement Pilobolus does, but tryiing to integrate it into conventional choreography. Also, using dancers who don't do it well.

Classical: Bored courtiers sitting or standing motionless (catatonia?) while the principals and soloists do their variations. To be fair, some of the men do occasionally walk a bit to a new location.

More than 10 penchee arabesques in a single variation.

The belief that Spanish or Neapolitan character dancers are most authentic when moving frantically and grinning manaically.

The Russian practice of interrupting ballets for frequent curtain calls ... which go on and on as long as even a handful of people in the audience continue clapping. The expression of faux surprise and modesty -- "Who? ME? You love ME? But I do not DESERVE such adoration"-- makes it even worse.

More on hair: Women undoing their hair at times of great emotional stress. It was new with Giselle or even Seranade, but ... today? Also: whipping the pony tail around as though it were another limb.

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The Russian practice of interrupting ballets for frequent curtain calls ... which go on and on as long as even a handful of people in the audience continue clapping. The expression of faux surprise and modesty -- "Who? ME? You love ME? But I do not DESERVE such adoration"-- makes it even worse.

But I LOVE this one, the sillier the better...

More on hair: Women undoing their hair at times of great emotional stress. It was new with Giselle or even Seranade, but ... today?

That reminds of how much I disliked Suzanne Farrell's hair when 'In Memory Of...' premiered. Reminded me somehow of Amy Irving in 'Yentl.'

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That reminds of how much I disliked Suzanne Farrell's hair when 'In Memory Of...' premiered. Reminded me somehow of Amy Irving in 'Yentl.'

patrick! This is the first silly thing you've ever said!

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That reminds of how much I disliked Suzanne Farrell's hair when 'In Memory Of...' premiered. Reminded me somehow of Amy Irving in 'Yentl.'

patrick! This is the first silly thing you've ever said!

Oh, I was hoping you'd catch me at this! It's just that I always found her so elegant and beautiful with her hair pulled back severely. But don't think it wasn't one of the most memorable performances I ever saw her do--because it was easily one of the greatest. I thought she never looked taller (except maybe in 'Mozartiana') on pointe, and I always remember her arms as the character is weakening. It was marvelous. You have to forgive my pettiness, you see I find her a very beautiful woman as well as dancer, and I thought she was a BLONDE until the hair came down! I hope you can forgive me, and I had never admitted this before... :dunno:

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Ballets to baroque music - especially those with a step for every note.

Ballets to Vivaldi's Four Seasons - when I run the world they will be banned.

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Ballets to baroque music - especially those with a step for every note.
And not just baroque!

One more: Spanish dances where the corps hammers on noiseless tambourines.

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The Russian practice of interrupting ballets for frequent curtain calls ... which go on and on as long as even a handful of people in the audience continue clapping. The expression of faux surprise and modesty -- "Who? ME? You love ME? But I do not DESERVE such adoration"-- makes it even worse.

Well, the dancers can't exactly saunter back onstage with a bored expression when all our lives we've been told how lucky we are and how grateful we ought to be for every penny and tiny crumb or encouraging glance that happens to be tossed in our general direction. :smilie_mondieu:

I do have to mention though that I am rather tired of the plot convention of the Beautiful White Lady (Sylvia, Medora, Nikiya, Raymonda) menaced by a male dressed in a cliché middle eastern manner (usually complete with an entourage of people who dance with flexed feet and splayed fingers).

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Full-cyc projections. I mean, when there's a movie on with 40-foot tall people, who watches the dancers?

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Terrific work, BTers! You've just given today's choreographers LOTS of good ideas :smilie_mondieu: Just imagine all of these -- or even 10 of these -- in the same work!

My take on the Mahler ballets (through no fault of Mahler) was that they could have been called Death is Sad.

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Well, I think we have all seen a bunch of pas de deux's where the man throws the woman around, hoists her over his head, drags her on the floor and twists her around in pretzel shapes to show that love is war, or the eternal battle of the sexes or that men are pigs even when they are wearing tights and have nice butts... or something... :smilie_mondieu:

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Ah, the Pretzel Girl pas de deux, staple of our age :)

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Well, the dancers can't exactly saunter back onstage with a bored expression when all our lives we've been told how lucky we are and how grateful we ought to be for every penny and tiny crumb or encouraging glance that happens to be tossed in our general direction. :)

Hans (and earlier), I guess I should be been more careful in writing this complaint. It's not really the bows, it's the effect they have on breaking up -- and killing the pacing of -- the pas de deux. I prefer NYCB's discipline in these matters.

Full-cyc projections. I mean, when there's a movie on with 40-foot tall people, who watches the dancers?
I haven't seen 40-foot people yet. But recently, I did seen misty, pseudo-romantic images of flowers and limpid ponds. And raindrdops: "Drip. Drip. Drip" -- no sound, but the movement was totally out of synch with anything in the music. Unfortunately, such design ideas also come with awful choreography, so one's pain is doubled. That's when I close my eyes and think of Higher Things.

Can anyone imagine video projections, however, that would actually enhance the choreography? I can't think of any offhand, but I know I've seen a few that seemed to work. Or am I thinking of still photographs?.

Well, I think we have all seen a bunch of pas de deux's where the man throws the woman around, hoists her over his head, drags her on the floor and twists her around in pretzel shapes to show that love is war, or the eternal battle of the sexes or that men are pigs even when they are wearing tights and have nice butts... or something... :wink:
FauxPas, I can imagine the U.S. Tour -- a couple of young studs with attitude -- "Pigs in Tights." Interviews would with the boys would all focus on just how manly, athletic, and un-sissy dancing can be. For example: "You get to man-handle all those hot chicks. They love it. The audience loves it. WE love it."
You've just given today's choreographers LOTS of good ideas :) Just imagine all of these -- or even 10 of these -- in the same work!
Just don't tell Bejart!

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Full-cyc projections. I mean, when there's a movie on with 40-foot tall people, who watches the dancers?
I haven't seen 40-foot people yet. But recently, I did seen misty, pseudo-romantic images of flowers and limpid ponds. And raindrdops: "Drip. Drip. Drip" -- no sound, but the movement was totally out of synch with anything in the music. Unfortunately, such design ideas also come with awful choreography, so one's pain is doubled. That's when I close my eyes and think of Higher Things.

Can anyone imagine video projections, however, that would actually enhance the choreography? I can't think of any offhand, but I know I've seen a few that seemed to work. Or am I thinking of still photographs?.

I never saw it, but how did the Robbins (?) piece w/the backdrop film of Fred and Ginger work in this regard?

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Just don't tell Bejart!

If only we still could.... :)

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I never saw it, but how did the Robbins (?) piece w/the backdrop film of Fred and Ginger work in this regard?
Not. The cast appears against the film clip only in the finale. As good as they are, do you want to watch 5'-6' tall NYCB dancers (in a genre in which they're not really comfortable or fluent) do the same steps as a 40-foot tall, illuminated Fred and Rita? The real-life dancers pretty much disappear in the finale, at least as seen from the upper rings of the theater.

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I never saw it, but how did the Robbins (?) piece w/the backdrop film of Fred and Ginger work in this regard?
Not. The cast appears against the film clip only in the finale. As good as they are, do you want to watch 5'-6' tall NYCB dancers (in a genre in which they're not really comfortable or fluent) do the same steps as a 40-foot tall, illuminated Fred and Rita? The real-life dancers pretty much disappear in the finale, at least as seen from the upper rings of the theater.

The scene is a sort of homage to the film clip. Toward the end the NYCB dancers stop trying to compete with the image of Fred and Rita and pause in tribute to the action on the screen.

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There are good cliches and bad cliches. Having recently revisited the ABT "Swan Lake," I submit the May Pole dance (which I like).

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The scene is a sort of homage to the film clip. Toward the end the NYCB dancers stop trying to compete with the image of Fred and Rita and pause in tribute to the action on the screen.
Now that's an idea I really like. It's subtle on number of levels.

I've never seen this ballet. Farrellfan, how is the transition accomplished? Do they seem to be aware that they can't really compete and that they are, in a sense, surrendering?

A question: I've always assumed that "cliche" implied a negative. I personally love the term "good cliche," which FarrellFan has used. But, are there other terms as well for stock or familiar images which somehow transcend the predictability of facility of the "bad" cliche?

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How about that short men cannot be princes and do not partner taller women?

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