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Ballet cliches: what are the ballet ideas and imagesthat make you wince?


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#46 Hans

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 08:12 AM

Well, in the case of Carabosse's curse or something similar, such as Giselle's mad scene or Aurora with the needle, a lot of miming is not really necessary from the corps--just the appropriate facial expressions and a few simple gestures and body language. They're there more to help create the mood and emotion than specific mime 'words'.

During divertissements, you don't really want a lot of distraction during the dancing, but the courtiers should at least look interested, and mime gestures should be kept relatively small. The Mariinsky has its courtiers do things such as bow whenever the prince or other nobility dances by them in a variation, for example, but they can also have restrained conversations with each other.

The most important time to mime conversations is during the party scene in the Nutcracker. There isn't a lot of classical dancing going on, and everyone has to look animated as people would be at a party, not sitting there watching a performance. Then you can have more elaborate 'conversations' in the background, but either mouthing words or just plain whispering to one's partner does not come across well to the audience. Unfortunately I can't be terribly specific as I have no formal mime training, so I can't do it very well myself, but I know what it's supposed to look like. Once during a Sleeping Beauty rehearsal, Peter Martins gave an off-the-cuff demonstration of how to mime a conversation to a courtier, and it was surprising to see how much can be conveyed via mime. But you have to be trained.

#47 carbro

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 08:41 AM

PS, I am on board with the cliches so far mentioned, and will add that courtiers faking conversations with each other between variations tries my already short patience for 19th century story ballets. It would be fun to know what they're *really* saying, although if my cousin, a former dancer with Chicago City Ballet and Hamburg is to be trusted, I might not really want to know.

I've noticed on more than one occasion, when a decoration falls off a costume or a prop is dropped, you can see the "telephone" line as corps dancers suggest that this one or that one remove it from the stage at the earliest opportunity and pass it on to the appointed dancer.

#48 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 03:47 PM

"How about tonight Chinese we go?"

"God no, last night we did."

"How about first drinks, then we decide?"

"Ooo yes! I could a martini use!"

Etc., etc.

#49 bart

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 05:19 PM

Mel, I've gotten a start on choreographing the mime for your elegant conversation. Unfortunately, the software allows only 5 emoticons (love that word!).

The limitations on emoticomiming makes it okay for most classical part scenes, if we follow Hans's rule of thumb. But we definitely need more emoticons for the Nutcracker party guests. "Let's have a drink" is probably universal. But how do you express something as specific as a "martini"? Or "Chinese food"? Mimicking chopsticks might confuse people who have seen the knitting ladies in Sleeping Beauty.

"How about tonight Chinese we go?"
:o

"God no, last night we did."
:pinch: :crying:

"How about first drinks, then we decide?"
:rofl:

"Ooo yes! I could a martini use!"
:P



#50 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 03:09 AM

"Chopsticks" is easy. You only use one hand, unless you're really bad at using them, or using them as skewers to eat corn on the cob, so they won't be easily conflated with "knitting". Of course, the mime of using chopsticks even well could be mistaken for "knocking the ash off a cigar", so that would require some work. "Martini" could be trickier, as the shape of the classic glass in the hand will not read well to the house, and it could only be worse if you prefer the drink on the rocks. Perhaps there is something essential to the martini which contributes to mime. I recall the late Queen Mum, who loved her martini in the afternoon, and at the first sip would give a delighted little shiver at the gin shock! Royal Ballet dancers would be so good at this!

#51 4mrdncr

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Posted 21 October 2008 - 06:44 PM

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: :crying:

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. :)


For all the reasons Croce says, I dislike Mahler too. However... the one ballet I love that is set to Mahler is Arpino's "Round of Angels" to the Adagietto. I saw it live almost 25 years ago, and never forgot it. I think it was the setting (that beautiful velvety starfield), lighting that limned the silvery unitards and made them almost glow, and some of the choreographic images. I don't remember it having a point at all; it was simply beautiful images and dancing to a beautiful piece of music. (Am I being cliche now?) Too bad the music has been overused since then (or was it the movies that did that?). But as for M's "heavy" darker music or vocal music--sorry, I'd prefer not.

re bart's topic: I'll think of some the hateful cliches later, but after reading BT'ers views, I can only nod my head and ruefully smile.


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