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Infantilizing adultsAre there no grownups in ballet?


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 04:16 AM

Springboarding from the Nutcracker threads, the practice of using adults to portray children has been discussed lightly before we went back "on track" with discussing the whole ballet.

Examples of "infantilized adults" were given as "Lise, Swanilda, Aurora and Giselle". Now, I don't know about anybody else, but these are all young women of marriageable age, and I hope that I haven't become so aged that an 18-year-old seems an infant to me. There's a difference here, I think, between the above-named parts and, say, Clara. Clara is a schoolgirl, maybe even a young teen. Judith Fugate seemed to play NYCB's Marie from the time she was about eight until she was thirteen, and is responsible for quite a number of different sizes of nightgowns being available to her successors. But the "juveniles" in ballets of the Romantic and Classical/Imperial periods are of a different sort from little children.

Part of the Romantic ethos was an ennobling of the "simple country folk", the Rousseau-like Natural People. Supposedly of less artifice and sophistication than their urban counterparts, the rurals were supposed to be of a more easily expressed humanity, and thus, from a practical standpoint, easier to portray for the stage. For examples, consider James, Effie, and Gurn. Aurora, being a royal, poses a bit of a contradiction here, but she has been kept sheltered for twenty years from Carabosse' curse, and so remains still a bit of a naf.

Later, in ballets of the twenties, we saw in "Parade", the Little American Girl, who was not only a little girl, but had a secretarial job, could fly an airplane, shoot bad guys from horseback, drink Coca-Cola from a vending machine, and be Charlie Chaplin. But she was a creature of the Roaring Twenties and a product of the cubist/surrealist/moderne mentality, and perhaps not really a child at all, but a circus act! (Incidentally, sketches for her costume never existed. Picasso and Massine went to a department store and bought the costume off the rack in the Children's Department. It's another one of those things in the ballet that is invisible, that costume sketch.)

Later "infants", as Flindt's Student in "The Lesson" and MacMillan's child-rape victim in "The Invitation" are other kinds of depictions, of their times, and not the Classico-Romantic models.

What think?

#2 Hans

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 08:17 AM

I have been considering a similar issue for some time. Bel canto singers, for example, can gradually retire from Amina, Elvira, and Lucia and start singing Lucrezia and Elisabetta, who are mature, powerful women. Where does a ballerina in her 30's or 40's go? She has to keep dancing the same 'young' roles.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 08:23 AM

Well, she could graduate to Raymonda, as she is entirely fictional, even though Jean de Brienne and Andrew II of Hungary are real historical personages. That way, she could be almost any age, as long as she can still dance!

#4 rg

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 08:25 AM

perhaps off-topic here but i rem. a comment of Arlene Croce's to me at a performance of LA SYLPHIDE when the scene with bird's nest comes into play. this, as you know, from Bournonville's production, comes just as James is about to present the sylph with the 'magic' scarf - but first she finds a bird's nest and points to the eggs, etc. - about which A.C. noted: how like a child she is; she's so easily distracted.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 08:36 AM

I think it speaks quite TO the topic. After all, another feature of the Romantics was to recognize children as individuals, but again closer to the Natural Human than jaded adults. During the Enlightenment, children were often viewed as miniature adults; about 1780, they start to have their own kinds of clothes (sailor suits, Italian clown suits), where before, they had just worn miniature versions of their parents' clothing.

#6 SanderO

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 09:26 AM

Children grew up fast back then, as many were forced to be adults at ages we consider adolescence. Heck some were kings and emperors. Many poor children learned from the school of hard knocks when they became parentless and had to survive.

And when the hormones kick in children's thoughts turn to sex and relationships like adults do - and romance and falling in love and so forth.

Actually in the USA we infantalize adults with "programs" like internships for college grads!

I think of the age think like a sine wave through time. at the beginning - youth the swings are way up and down on the Y axis and tend to come closer together. As you age it seems to not go as high and the last longer, until of course you flat line and die. The "feeling of youth" to to experience the amplitude and the rapidity of change. Actors do this professionally from minute to minute.

Does this make sense?

#7 papeetepatrick

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 10:04 AM

Actually in the USA we infantalize adults with "programs" like internships for college grads!

I think of the age think like a sine wave through time. at the beginning - youth the swings are way up and down on the Y axis and tend to come closer together. As you age it seems to not go as high and the last longer, until of course you flat line and die. The "feeling of youth" to to experience the amplitude and the rapidity of change. Actors do this professionally from minute to minute.

Does this make sense?


Somewhat, but there's a lot of variation. "As you age", according to your sensibility, constitution, and predilection, it can go even higher and last even longer, but with much more time in between--that's what ripening is all about. It's the rapidity that is always, or almost always absent. I'd agree, though, that most people do choose to imitate Obama's 'not too high when we're up and not too low when we're down' (may not be exact), and my policy is to just do it this way most of the time, but not nearly always. Otherwise, what's the point of bothering? Moderation is not the hallmark of all fine things.

Not quite sure why you think internships for college grads are infantilizing, but may be tongue-in-cheek about the term.

For the rest, I don't think about dancers except for Nutcracker in terms of age of dancer--sometimes dancers can look great quite aged, and sometimes even with great 'baby ballerina' technique, their callowness is too much of what you get. I never really love Clara or Marie looking too big, but I guess I don't even see that as 'infantilizing adults', although I can see the point. It's just that they look like big children, or better they look like adults combed like children and dressed in baby clothes, and Gelsey was no exception.

#8 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 10:39 AM

Examples of "infantilized adults" were given as "Lise, Swanilda, Aurora and Giselle". Now, I don't know about anybody else, but these are all young women of marriageable age, and I hope that I haven't become so aged that an 18-year-old seems an infant to me.


At 18, both of my grandmothers were married women with children on the way and weren't at all unusual in this regard for their time and place. They were deemed to be grownups; getting married, starting your own home, and raising a family were what you did when you were grown up.

One of the things I like about ballet is the fact that men and women in their late teens and early twenties are put before us as the grown ups that they are. I'm having a hard time thinking of a narrative ballet where growing up, making adult choices, and assuming adult responsibilities -- or failing to do so -- isn't more or less the point. And all of the women in Balanchine's ballets are grown ups, of course, with the exception of the young woman in La Valse and maybe the Sleepwalker. Nobody is more grown up than the lead couple in Diamonds.

An aside: "Young" seems to be undergoing something akin to grade inflation. "Fifty is the new thirty" now appears to be more than an aging boomer's witticism: I heard someone describe Caroline Kennedy as "a young woman" on the radio the other day and nearly sprayed coffee all over my keyboard. She's my age, for crying out loud. She and I may be many wonderful things, but "a young woman" is not among them.

#9 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 10:55 AM

I heard someone describe Caroline Kennedy as "a young woman" on the radio the other day and nearly sprayed coffee all over my keyboard.

:rofl:

#10 Nanarina

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 11:52 AM

I have been considering a similar issue for some time. Bel canto singers, for example, can gradually retire from Amina, Elvira, and Lucia and start singing Lucrezia and Elisabetta, who are mature, powerful women. Where does a ballerina in her 30's or 40's go? She has to keep dancing the same 'young' roles.



:rofl: As in life, some people show their age more than others, they also retain their stamina. And of course their acting skills and makeup help them to play certain roles. But I find it rather off putting when you get an older dancer acting as a younger person, especially if they look old for their age. You know the rather unkind saying they look like "Mutton dressed up as Lamb".


Considering historical facts as already mentioned, at some times, 18 or 19 year old young women were considered marriageble. but what about the tender age of 16, as Aurura was in Nureyevs POB production. But then in Tudor times here in England, brides could be anything from 10 years old when they were promised in marriage.


Here the age of consent is 16 years old, whilst young people were unable to marry without their parents consent under 21 years old, until the age was changed to 18, in recent years.


Returning to the question of Clara, I think she is a child, say of 10-12 years, as portrayed in some versions of The Nutcracker, it always seems strange to me, to see her as any older, and played by an adult. Very often the dancer would be chosen from the school, together with her brother and their friends.

It would be very interesting to hear from you what ages you see the well known characters are. Odette younger than Odile? Giselle, Aurura, Coppelia, Nikiya, Gamzatti, Raymonda, Manon to suggest a few roles. Plus any others you may think of. :flowers:

#11 dirac

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 02:02 PM

An aside: "Young" seems to be undergoing something akin to grade inflation. "Fifty is the new thirty" now appears to be more than an aging boomer's witticism: I heard someone describe Caroline Kennedy as "a young woman" on the radio the other day and nearly sprayed coffee all over my keyboard. She's my age, for crying out loud. She and I may be many wonderful things, but "a young woman" is not among them.


Yes, even by today's standards, fifty is no longer young, but it's quite true that it's considered younger than it used to be (a Good Thing in my view).

I don't have any problem with young adults playing children on stage if they have the technical skill and artistry to pull it off. You can't get away with this sort of thing in front of a camera any more, although Mary Pickford built a great career on it and Ginger Rogers used regularly to impersonate children in comic and serious settings.

Examples of "infantilized adults" were given as "Lise, Swanilda, Aurora and Giselle". Now, I don't know about anybody else, but these are all young women of marriageable age, and I hope that I haven't become so aged that an 18-year-old seems an infant to me.


I would interpret those examples as being not ones of literal infantilization, but as examples of mature dancers being called upon to play the roles of much younger people. (It is too bad that there are relatively few roles made for mature women to dance as mature women, "A Month in the Country" being the example that springs most readily to mind, or the role fashioned for Karen Kain in "The Actress" by James Kudelka.)

You know the rather unkind saying they look like "Mutton dressed up as Lamb".


That's what Fonteyn initially said about dancing with Nureyev, and that pairing turned out quite well. :)

#12 papeetepatrick

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 02:27 PM

You know the rather unkind saying they look like "Mutton dressed up as Lamb".


That's what Fonteyn initially said about dancing with Nureyev, and that pairing turned out quite well. :)


Fonteyn never looked like 'mutton dressed up as Lamb', but definitely the pair looked like a cosmopolitan older woman/young man type of couple found only in sophisticated urban environments (when it looks that good, there are obviously some 'Harold and Maude' types elsewhere). Also, the pairiing is beautiful because it doesn't emphasize the sensual (which doesn't have to be all that consciously striven for, it emphasizes itself--that happened a lot with Farrell and Martins, for example, and I doubt they discussed it much, probably never, but I'm sure they were fully aware of it), but rather their deep affection for each other which onstage would be extended into a kind of beautiful old-fashioned romanticism. Sometimes the age difference between them is charming in a slightly ironic way, and in 'Le Corsaire' I just love her because she seems ever so slightly naughty and amused at doing a bit of slight slumming and vulgarity (or something like that). Maybe he was better with a 'lady type', because in that old film of 'Corsaire' with Sizova, she definitely upstages Nureyev, and without even trying, just because she is so luscious and gifted a born ballerina-animal. It's the only time I've seen a dancer outshine Nureyev, although it probably happened in his last years.

#13 Quiggin

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 02:36 PM

Ginger Rogers used regularly to impersonate children in comic and serious settings.


Such as in the great "The Major and the Minor," where Rogers dresses as a twelve year old in order to buy a half price train ticket, and there is no end to the mischief that ensues. Nakokov and Billy Willy had a sharp outsider's eye for American craziness and just what they could get away with.

Regarding Nutcrackers, Fisher in "Nutcracker Nation" talks about how we were infantilizing our versions while the Soviets were making theirs more adult, "in line with the psychogical depth of the score" (Souritz)--referring in part to the Grand Pas de Deux which Tchaikovsky wrote shortly after his sister had died.

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 03:15 PM

I don't have any problem with young adults playing children on stage if they have the technical skill and artistry to pull it off.

Thank you. But even better than that...what about skilled teens playing teens...? (That's my favorite approach to the Nut. issue)

#15 papeetepatrick

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 03:25 PM

[Regarding Nutcrackers, Fisher in "Nutcracker Nation" talks about how we were infantilizing our versions while the Soviets were making theirs more adult, "in line with the psychogical depth of the score" (Souritz)--referring in part to the Grand Pas de Deux which Tchaikovsky wrote shortly after his sister had died.


Is that what the Soviets did? How is it possible that they would know what such a thing would be? Is it part of Sovietism to be want to be 'in line with psychological depth' of anything? Since the individual is debased, or at least subsumed, in Sovietism, this sounds like something from Tass agency. Which doesn't mean I don't know there is obviously great Soviet ballet, but there's also the well-known Soviet psychiatry, so maybe they had some Lacanian therapists who knew what to do with scores written under the White Russians, given that so many of these had to be used to run the bureaucracies after they went out of fashion and lost the best offices where they'd held sway,now supervised by half-educated (at best) Marxists. With all due respect to Tchaikovsky's grief, the Grand Pas seems to convey the emotional paralysis part, which happens to some of us in the early stages of grief, but for the Bolshevik ethos, that probably passes as 'psychological depth', given that it's not something they ever spent a lot of time on. And if they did, how would they know how to determine what 'psychological depth' pre-Bolshevik meant? They'd reinterpret it, most likely. Reminds me of Lenin's absurd comments on the Appassionata Sonata. As for the score of the 'Nutcracker', it has little or no psychological depth, and isn't supposed to IMO; that's the delight of it. Oh well, maybe Dance of the Reed-Flutes and Trepak do convey something 'deep'..


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