Jump to content


the mime scene: THINK!Sibley and Dowell both tell dancers to THINK


  • Please log in to reply
12 replies to this topic

#1 Paul Parish

Paul Parish

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,925 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 11:55 AM

This is bouncing off Sacto's "reference version of Swan Lake" question, but it's one of those timeless questions for which each generation as its own answers (but there is never one that answers all objections forever): how much gesture do you want in a classical ballet, and where do you want it?
the discussion can get dry and superficial -- but if you look at this example, it's clear that there are MANY levels of movement-interest involved.

Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley rehearse Rupert Pennefather and Lauren Cuthbertson in the mime scene from Act II of Swan Lake. Royal Ballet 2006.



They're teaching not just the gestures themselves ("you... here... why?"), but also the adverbs, the movement quality that goes with them -- and each of them tell hte dancers to "think," and demonstrate how to do that. It requires a (very brief) pause, a softening of hte whole body, and a lowering of hte center of gravity. Notice that neither Pennefather nor Cuthbertson comes anywhere NEAR demonstrating hte process of thinking as Dowell or Sibley do, and also that nobody expects them to.

Dowell is superb at looking like he's lost in wonder, as if he has to clarify his thoughts even to formulate a question -- look how he deomnstrates 'here" -- there's a separate timing for hte eyes and the hand -- he looks FOR the place before he can even see it and then points at it with a very soft hand, all of his fingers. Both of the coaches want the young dancers to think about that lake of "my mother's tears" -- the whole story is in that lake.

You have to BUY the lake.

#2 PeggyR

PeggyR

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 640 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 12:35 PM

Paul:

Thank you for that stunning video. I feel like having a good cry over what ballet has lost with the passing of Sibley and Dowell's generation of dancers. They can teach, but is anyone learning?

#3 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 01:20 PM

My response as I watched was remarkably like PeggyR's -- and for the same reason. (And now I know how beautiful the mime for tears can be!) !! Paul.

I also noted that the two young dancers don't enter into the mime as deeply as Dowell and Sibley -- and therefore do not perform it as movingly. My assumption was that this is because it's a new approach for them and they'll be working on this and deeping their understanding. Why, one wonders, haven't they been exposed to this earlier?

#4 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,009 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 01:25 PM

I think the dancers have to buy the lake before they can sell it to us.

Ballet Arizona included the "mother's mime" in it's production of "Giselle", and it made Act I, emotionally and dramatically. It took maybe a minute to establish the premonition of the supernatural world of Act II.

It also goes beyond mime and includes the dancers reactions to it. Is Siegfried responding to "pretty woman" or to the tragedy of Odette's story? Do the villagers look at Giselle's mother blankly when she's done, or does one give it a "silly old wive's tale" look, while the other shivers involuntarily, like I saw in Phoenix?

#5 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 01:48 PM

I was under the impression that the Royal Ballet School still offered classes in acting and mime, but perhaps not. Or it could have been that the dancers were just marking or that they had just learned the mime. Dowell and Sibley have had a lot of years to practice that scene, so naturally they will do it better than someone who is still learning the gestures. I imagine (and hope) that a lot of work went into that scene beyond the tiny clip that's on YouTube.

Unfortunately, it is not considered necessary these days to teach dancers how to act, and so they can't.

#6 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,413 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 03:06 PM

I think the dancers have to buy the lake before they can sell it to us.

Ballet Arizona included the "mother's mime" in it's production of "Giselle", and it made Act I, emotionally and dramatically. It took maybe a minute to establish the premonition of the supernatural world of Act II.

It also goes beyond mime and includes the dancers reactions to it. Is Siegfried responding to "pretty woman" or to the tragedy of Odette's story? Do the villagers look at Giselle's mother blankly when she's done, or does one give it a "silly old wive's tale" look, while the other shivers involuntarily, like I saw in Phoenix?


When you mention balletic mime, Swan Lake and Giselle I am rushed back to the 1960’s and the Royal Ballet’s performances
of these ballets, when full respect was given to mime by all members of the company.

Of course it is in the telling. If like me, you grew up with the mime passages given by Gerd Larsen as Berthe, coupled with the powerful intensity of Margot Fonteyn a very real Giselle, you waited for the moment when she told the tragic story of what would happen to the girls who fall in love and dance with joy and of course you believed every moment of it. Why, because Albrecht’s character has already been hinted at. Why does Berthe's story telling so strong imply impending tragedy, because balletic mime is meant very clearly for you to transcend the theatrical experience as you are carried along by the powerful reality of the allegory and symbolism which dramatic story ballets of the 19th century convey. It is the corps de ballets response that reinforces the tragedy foreseen and that is our link to the central drama as we become onlookers alongside them. Without the corps response we might wonder what is this old lady going on about.

In Swan Lake, Fonteyn conveyed the intensity of her predicament through her miming and it was always a moment of supreme significance because in its explanation comes the energising dramatic factor for all that follows. From the very first time I saw her dance I understood what she was saying and this was at the only second performance of a ballet I had ever seen.

Fonteyn was the last direct link to the Maryinsky tradition of performing Swan Lake and through Tamara Karsavina a direct link to an unbroken tradition of performing Giselle. Though Sibley was never as good in Swan Lake and Giselle as Fonteyn, she danced many times in supporting roles alongside her in these ballets and has become part of the tradition. In the film, she teaches the mime very well. "It is always up to a performer to find the inspiration to meet the demands of this role. Hans states, "I imagine (and hope) that a lot of work went into that scene beyond the tiny clip that's on YouTube. " and so do I.

In response to Hans question and statement, The Royal Ballet School does still teach mime, but as always it is who teaches it how often do the pupils see it in practice on stage whilst they are students.

As regards acting the role of Odette/Odile the dancers I have most admired were Zubkovskaya, Osipenko, Yevteyeva, Fonteyn, Beriosova, Samsova and Evdokimova all of whom for me danced and acted the role perfectly and all in a completely different way.

#7 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 16 December 2008 - 03:49 PM

Cuthbertson and Pennefather both made principal at the Royal this year after rocketing up the ranks - a lot of hopes are pinned to both of them because they're THE English principals (so is Watson, I believe)

Pennefather got his major break in '04 when he filled in as Aminta in Sylvia (and I thought him the best of the lot). He was very good as Desire in Beauty and also James in La Sylphide. Cuthbertson was a particularly good Lilac.

They're both quite young and being pushed forward quickly. I think you'd find them significantly better actors than either were when this was filmed.

#8 GoCoyote!

GoCoyote!

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 62 posts

Posted 17 December 2008 - 09:00 AM

A quick comment after scanning this thread (I'm in a cafe).... this comment might be a bit scatty!

"how much gesture do you want in a classical ballet, and where do you want it?"

Another question this made me think of was, "how much meaning do you want in a (classical) ballet, and where do you want it?" I think maybe this question comes before the other one (and perhaps party answers it).

In my view of ballet, step and gesture, or dancing and acting shouldn't be considered as separate - regardless of whether or not a piece is wholly abstract or a very obvious narrative ... rather, there is expressing the meaning and there is meaning the expression and they exist at 'either ends' of a line that blends into a mixture of the two somewhere in the middle. I hope that makes some sense!

If a dancer learns how to express meaning, which would certainly include the acting side of things, then they will naturally become better at meaning expression, which is, I guess, what can amplify the meaning of even the most mundane steps, or imbue them with more meaning than they 'should' have. In my experience/ opinion it is in part these very qualities that tend to make certain dancers special, and so satisfying to watch.

Of course there needs to exist ballets that have meaning in the first place (meaning expressed by the dancers themselves and not by program notes and sets etc). It is not just a bout having the coaches with these skills and experience - if no new works are created which demand acting and meaning of this degree and subtlety then these skills and experiences will be harder to transfer from one generation of dancers to the next. The end result will be in my opinion poor acting in narrative ballets AS WELL AS poorly expressed, unsatisfying to watch dance in abstract ballets also.

To me this follows on from the recent discussions on new work at the RB. I have watched (open to the public) rehearsals exactly like the one in the youtube video. The RB has some very fine coaches (and up and coming dancers as mentioned) ..... it is a sheer delight to watch coaching of this type live.

#9 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,413 posts

Posted 18 December 2008 - 12:34 PM

[quote name='GoCoyote!' post='238097' date='Dec 17 2008, 01:00 PM']A quick comment after scanning this thread (I'm in a cafe).... this comment might be a bit scatty!
"how much gesture do you want in a classical ballet, and where do you want it?"
Another question this made me think of was, "how much meaning do you want in a (classical) ballet, and where do you want it?" I think maybe this question comes before the other one (and perhaps party answers it).
In my view of ballet, step and gesture, or dancing and acting shouldn't be considered as separate - regardless of whether or not a piece is wholly abstract or a very obvious narrative ... rather, there is expressing the meaning and there is meaning the expression and they exist at 'either ends' of a line that blends into a mixture of the two somewhere in the middle. I hope that makes some sense!
If a dancer learns how to express meaning, which would certainly include the acting side of things, then they will naturally become better at meaning expression, which is, I guess, what can amplify the meaning of even the most mundane steps, or imbue them with more meaning than they 'should' have. In my experience/ opinion it is in part these very qualities that tend to make certain dancers special, and so satisfying to watch.
Of course there needs to exist ballets that have meaning in the first place (meaning expressed by the dancers themselves and not by program notes and sets etc). It is not just a bout having the coaches with these skills and experience - if no new works are created which demand acting and meaning of this degree and subtlety then these skills and experiences will be harder to transfer from one generation of dancers to the next. The end result will be in my opinion poor acting in narrative ballets AS WELL AS poorly expressed, unsatisfying to watch dance in abstract ballets also.
To me this follows on from the recent discussions on new work at the RB. I have watched (open to the public) rehearsals exactly like the one in the youtube video. The RB has some very fine coaches (and up and coming dancers as mentioned) ..... it is a sheer delight to watch coaching of this type live.[/quote]


Academic Classical Ballet (ACB) s only about story telling and balletic mime is integral to the process. However, Sir Frederick Ashton stated, “In my balletic ideology it is the dancing which must be the foremost factor, for ballet is an expression of emotions and ideas through dancing.”(Ashton, 1951, p. 91) Petipa and Ivanov for instance agreed with him in practice, but all three .employed balletic mime as a means to establish, reinforce and emphasise the choreographic illustration of story telling.

Mimetic acting is not the same as dramatic acting although the same goal can be achieved. Mimetic acting has a generalised formula of expression or language which coupled with movement can be a more powerful method of communication with music supporting the story telling.

The great dancing mime artist also has a more sensitive understanding and a greater response to music than others.

In the Russian Imperial Ballet reviews, newspapers always referred to the power of certain performers ability to go beyond others in conveying dramatic content or comedy, which established their performances as legendary. It was in their truthfulness of personification of characters at a level where the audience could identify with the situations within the story telling as their own experience or their knowledge of others experience.

Even with ballets involving otherworldly personifications, experiences portrayed through mime, in the hands of a great expert, resonate emphatically with the human condition and the audience responds.

The basics of mime can be taught, but great mime/ballet artists still remain a rare commodity. When moments of drama are being portrayed in ACB, it should never reach modern drama intensity or the unseemly, as the canon of the art can never support these expressions because it’s founded in a historical morality of story telling that meets the genre’s traditions.

We can only measure the inheritance of powerful mimetic skills in the later 20th century full length ballets through the historic performances firstly by the Royal Danish ballet ands the Soviet inheritors of the Imperial Ballet passed on in turn to Ballet Russe dancers and the Sadlers Wells Ballet (also influenced by Italian balletic mime artists ) until the explosion of ACB works in America, Europe and elsewhere.

“"how much gesture do you want in a classical ballet, and where do you want it?” Another question this made me think of was, "how much meaning do you want in a (classical) ballet, and where do you want it?" I think maybe this question comes before the other one (and perhaps party answers it). [Quote] “Expressing Meaning” [Quote] I think relates entirely to choreographic movement and mimetic acting is meaning expressed because, it is in a separate manner of the performance, but entirely contiguous to the choreographic movement meaning.

The waters have been muddied when Academic Classical Ballet companies perform works with a strong literary content which requires dramatic exposition by performers that goes beyond the canon, as one might find in MacMillan’s ballets, much more so for instance than you would find in either Ashton or Cranko.

This in my opinion has led in turn to a cruder expectation of performers where a more subtle artistic expression is overlooked for the preference of obvious and inappropriate dramatic action that can unbalance the unity of dance and mime in the Academic Classical Ballet tradition.

Great artists can perform all the mime aspects of 19th century ballets with the same method and power as those that danced the works a hundred years ago or more ago.

Regrettably few dancers of leading role perform the traditional mimetic aspects at a level of competence commensurate with their technical achievement of performing steps and sadly audiences are today more entertained by the excitement generated by technique than the subtleties of mimetic expression.

I once organised a master class in “Giselle” to be taught by Svetlana Beriosova. Two principal dancers of a major ballet company took part. The female of the two, argued with Beriosova as to how different parts of the ballet should be played. I do not want to illustrate Beriosova’s experience and knowledge on the subject, other than to say she sat on Fokine’s knee as child when her father was with the Ballet Russe, watching and subsequently performing Giselle many time herself.

If masterworks are retain their integrity as representatives of a high art form, it in the watching masters/mistresses of performance of the classical ballets and the coaching by them, that the tradition of roles in performances, are kept alive with the meaning of the choreographers intention. However dancers must be able to learn and understand the power to communicate through mime but which must become a gift and not just learned and performed as if by rote.

As to, “ how much gesture do you want”, I personally in Academic Classical Ballet masterpieces, want no more or no less than that which is historically correct.

I am glad that GoCoyote expressed his views on this subject, although I must say Miss Cuthbertson appeared to look extremely nervous on the video.


PS
I do not forget Fokine. Balanchine or Massine’s contribution to the mime in ballet and although they did not create works in the Academic Classical Ballet tradition, their ballets were performed by companies that did, which enhanced mimetic opportunities and therefore traditions.

#10 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 18 December 2008 - 03:54 PM

I love a discussion which is "about semantics" in the true and honorable sense of the term -- the study of how meaning is communicated, whether in language, movement, mime, etc. Thanks gocoyote and leonid for expressing your positions so well.

I'm far from knowledgeable or experienced in these matters. Leonid's point about the power of mime in story-telling is important. So is his reference to Ashton's opinion that the dancing itself must be the "foremost factor" in any ballet. I don't find these to be incompatible, in theory at least.

Mime is merely one way -- traditional and tied only to certain kinds of ballet -- of expressing both "meaning the expression" and "expressing the meaning." As performed by Sibley and Dowell, it is far from the kind of "sign language" -- or the mugging -- that most people think of when they think of mime. To me, it IS dancing.

Ballet companies who want to dance the Petipa/Ivanov Swan Lake at the highest level need to spend time and effort on honoring the mime. It needs to be clear and deeply felt. Not all parts will be comprehended equally, though the dancers should give every part his or her best.

How possible is it, really, to convey all parts of a mime sequence equally and literally? Audiences and dancers long ago had a frame of reference and the experience that helped them understand. Today, however, as Helene mentions, dancers need to "buy" the lake of tears before they in turn can "sell" it to the audience.

How far does this "buying" and "selling" have to go? You do need to make the audience compehend (and therefore feel) the depth of grief expreessed by the tears themselves, and why the mother cried. As for the lake, that is likely to be harder to communicate. (When one thinks of it, however, most audience members of a certain age will have some memory of the pop song "Cry me a River.").

Odette's sweeping gesture outwards toward the lake can have emotional weight and narrative significance even if the literal meaning is obscure. The gesture conveys to me a vast, mysterious "Out There." Something happened there, something awful. This is clearly connected to her mother's tears, but do you have to understand this literally? Odette's life IS a lake of tears. It's the dancer who has to "know the meaning" -- and, more important, believe in its importance. That belief, combined with technical skill, will move the audience much more than a literal translation. That's worth working for.

#11 Andrei

Andrei

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 175 posts

Posted 19 December 2008 - 08:03 AM

"" As performed by Sibley and Dowell, it is far from the kind of "sign language" -- or the mugging -- that most people think of when they think of mime. To me, it IS dancing. ''

I'm agree with Bart on 100%. It SHOULD be dancing. The problem now with young dancers is that they study mime (if they study it at all) as a separate subject and in their minds dancing and acting never crossed each other. Now I'm going to jump and now I'm going to "talk", which means they don't know how to EXIST on the stage constantly. Of course, it has to be taught and developed during acting classes.

#12 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,413 posts

Posted 20 December 2008 - 02:58 AM

"" As performed by Sibley and Dowell, it is far from the kind of "sign language" -- or the mugging -- that most people think of when they think of mime. To me, it IS dancing. ''

I'm agree with Bart on 100%. It SHOULD be dancing. The problem now with young dancers is that they study mime (if they study it at all) as a separate subject and in their minds dancing and acting never crossed each other. Now I'm going to jump and now I'm going to "talk", which means they don't know how to EXIST on the stage constantly. Of course, it has to be taught and developped during acting classes.



I agree in with both Bart and Andrei in this matter and I feel their posts require a response.

To teach the basics of mime in a class situationwith no reference to performance may be ok for younger students.

To not teach mime to older students within the context of the actual repertoire, is a failure of method in the preparation for the stage and is as wrong as not to teach repertoire variations regularly to 15 to 18 year old students.

It is also essential for students to be given opportunities to appear on stage, watch company classes and rehearsals so as to gain an experience as to what being a professional dancer really means.

As Andrei says, to "talk" even if you are in the corps de ballet is essential. Regrettably over many years I have seen a good number of dancers with a professional technical proficiency that have been coached to the level of coryphée or even soloist in a company who do not belong on the professional stage because they simply cannot "EXIST" on the stage beyond performing steps.

I would say that in the past it seemed that there were many more dancers who absolutely belonged on stage and made performances REAL, but who did not have to technical skill or the placing of the young dancers of today.

Regrettably many modern dancers eschew mime for dramatic expression and combine flashy technique as if they are portraying passion. In this there is no subtlety and no art.

The measure of greatness in an artist of the dance, is the integration of the mimetic and classical technique of the class raised to a level where they become the role and the technique becomes invisible, because then their performance becomes an entirely truthful representation of a character that resonates with the audience and who become carried away by the performance.

Helene says, “I think the dancers have to buy the lake before they can sell it to us.” With respect Helene, if they haven’t bought the “lake” what are they doing performing in a 19th century ballet with all its conventions and who on earth employed them in the first place. Some responsibility needs to be taken here.

Bart says, “How possible is it, really, to convey all parts of a mime sequence equally and literally? Audiences and dancers long ago had a frame of reference and the experience that helped them
understand.

I agree in part with this statement as a general view, as not every parent wants or cares if their child establishes the, “frame of reference and the experience that helps them understand” mime in ballet or in anything else and that’s entirely okay for me.

Margaret Thatcher one-time Prime Minister of UK once said, “There is no such thing as society.” She was right. Every country nation has groups that choose their own culture and activities. Not everyone likes the; cinema, TV shows, American football or baseball and nor does everyone like the opera, ballet or classical music.

People tend to gravitate to what they are educated to enjoy or what they find there own way to enjoy and this is true of ballet audiences.

It is possibly true that children from an educated or middle class background would be more likely to have “the frame of reference” that Bart refers to. However I am inclined to believe that the understanding of mime as is used when two people meet that do not have a common language, is a basic tool that most of us possess.

Watch a film long enough with the sound turned off and you watch a mime show and the longer you watch, it the pattern of relationships and events will in general reveal themselves through gesture and facial expression.

In social animals non-verbal communication is established in memory from an early age and some psychologists have posited a universal repertory of gestuality.

There is a generally an understandable logic to gesture familiar or otherwise. Although detailed balletic gesture may not be completely followed by the uninitiated. In Swan Lake however, the drama is reinforced by Tchaikovsky’s music which lends suggestion to the non verbal story telling, establishing a continuity which seems not to matter to the almost momentary mimetic niceties of the events enacted by the lakeside. The gist of the events has in some way has been established for the audience.

“As for the lake, that is likely to be harder to communicate.”
To understand that Odette is talking about her mother is definitely difficult. However the mime for the tears and Odette’s indication that they created the lake, (helpfully portrayed on a backdrop) is I think less difficult.

Today, however, as Helene mentions, dancers need to "buy" the lake of tears before they in turn can "sell" it to the audience. How far does this "buying" and "selling" have to go? How far do you need to go to make the audience comprehend? I feel the mime does not have to be understood in toto as it is only a part of the story telling and the nature and relationship of the characters of Odette, Odile, the Prince and Von Rothbart reveal themselves to my mind in quite clear a manner. However the mime does needs to be enacted with a truthfulness of understanding by performers because it is their as an historical element and given the perfectly matched music as a support to their storytelling, should not be difficult for an artist cast in the role.

I personally have never overheard any one at the several hundred performances of Swan Lake I have witnessed; ask the question, “What was all that miming about?”

#13 richard53dog

richard53dog

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,401 posts

Posted 20 December 2008 - 08:34 PM

I went to NYCB's Nutcracker tonight and after the Prince's Act 2 mime I thought of this thread.

Here was, if my understanding is ok, Balanchine's recreation of the mime scene he knew from his early days at the Mariinsky Theater in the last years of the Imperial Era. So it's classic mime.

As always, the audience followed closely and cheered when the Prince mimed slaying the Mouse King and then again when he held up his arms, signalling victory for "the good guys". Even the kids get it. Everyone "buys" the Mouse King.

I suppose the example here is a little different than the one being discussed in Swan Lake. There Odette is relating a story neither Siegfried or the audience knows (theoretically!) . In the Nutcracker, the Prince is relating the events we all just saw so I suppose it is less of a stretch. But still I'm always amazed at how successful that mime scene is.


Going off thread a bit and back to the NYCB Nut, I was a bit disappointed. When we planned the event, NYCB website showed Bouder as SPF. Once all the tickets were sold it became Yvonne Borree. Ugh. But I still enjoyed the evening and certainly the elegant Cavalier of Ben Millepied and lovely Dewdrop of Sara Mearns as well as all the terrific kids.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):