Mel Johnson

Infantilizing adults

43 posts in this topic

Back to Clara .... If the Dancer is shorter than average and very slight, without over acting the role, it could work 9n stage, but not on film., when close up's could spoil the illustion.

Yes, indeed, back to Clara. :clapping: It's quite true, Nanarina, you can get away with things in the theatre that the camera won't allow, although as I mentioned on the other thread I was willing to suspend disbelief for Gelsey Kirkland. Robert Gottlieb observed in the Tony Palmer film about Fonteyn that the age difference between Fonteyn and Nureyev was really not especially noticeable in the theatre, where Fonteyn was as youthful and lissom as she cared to be, whereas some (not all) of the film record of the two of them is quite unforgiving.

Share this post


Link to post
According to Elizabeth Souritz dance scholar Russian choreographers have spent considerable energy trying to overcome the perceived faults of The Nutcracker's child-centered libretto and to bring the ballet into line with "the psychological depth of the score," whereas in the United States, The Nutcracker answers a different purpose--mainly as "a favorite Christmas entertainment for children".

I re-post the original post from Quiggin just to keep it in view. I think you can argue that there are places in the score that are not at all childlike – the melancholy strain that Tchaikovsky introduces midway into the Waltz of the Flowers comes to mind. (Reasonable people can disagree about the grand pas – I think it’s as grand as anything Tchaikovsky ever wrote for a pas de deux. But everyone’s mileage will vary.:clapping:)

Share this post


Link to post
Two of the best Clara's I've ever seen are young adults (in their 20's, I'd guess) in Ballet Florida's Nutrcracker: Stephanie Rapp and Yuan Xi. I've watched them from backstage and from the back of a large house. From both locations, it works. They managed to convey the essential spirit of girlhood while dancing adult choreography.

Amen...and thank you. You have just voiced my main believe on the Clara/dancer issue.

Share this post


Link to post

I didn't mean to imply that Tschaikovsky was psychologically transparent nor, that with all great artists, that his temperament was anything like his art. In fact it's Chekhov who apologizes to Tschaikovsky for dedicating a book of stories to him "which are dreary and tedious as autumn." Nutcracker has some more depth or complexity to it than may first appear--especially in Mravinsky's recording with the Leningrad Philharmonic where, as always, Mravinsky holds down the big parts and lets all the various voices and colors go their own eccentric ways. (I only started liking Tschaikovsky with Mravinsky--in college it was not permitted, you were afraid of becoming like the Eleanor Bron character in Bedazzled with her Brahms recordings.)

Share this post


Link to post

No disagreement, Quiggin. I just wonder if Souritz and her colleagues were building a correct picture of Tchaikovsky's music, or whether it were more of the faintly amusing Soviet attempts to claim that Russians invented EVERYTHING. Some Russian flew a powered airplane before the Wright Brothers, or even Langley. Some Russian developed the exact same General Theory of Relativity, only ten years before Einstein. The Russians invented baseball (this one seemed aimed at a Cuban audience). Lobachevsky invented Non-Euclidean Geometry ahead of that Hungarian (there may actually be something to this.) Ivanov actually choreographed ALL the ballets for Petipa, and the damned furriner just sat back and took the credit.

Anyway, my main point is that in Post-Imperial productions where Clara/Masha is made into an adult, as much violence is done to the original concept of Nutcracker as is done by imposing over-naiveté to other leads in other ballets.

(In college, the composer I dumped on was Puccini. I still don't like his music as much as I like Tchaikovsky's.)

Share this post


Link to post
I didn't mean to imply that Tschaikovsky was psychologically transparent nor, that with all great artists, that his temperament was anything like his art.

For what it's worth, Quiggin, I didn't put that construction on your post at all.

Share this post


Link to post

I didn't construe your post so, either, Quiggin. Perhaps my feelings about Tchaikovsky as a person may be related to my feelings about Robert E. Lee, as expressed by Stephen Vincent Benet:

For he will smile

And give you, with unflinching courtesy,

Prayers, trappings, letters, uniforms and orders,

Photographs, kindness, valor and advice,

And do it with such grace and gentleness

That you will know you have the whole of him

Pinned down, mapped out, easy to understand—

And so you have.

All things except the heart

The heart he kept himself, that answers all.

For here was someone who lived all his life

In the most fierce and open light of the sun,

Wrote letters freely, did not guard his speech,

Listened and talked with every sort of man,

And kept his heart a secret to the end

From all the picklocks of biographers.

Perhaps it takes ineffable poetry to describe an ineffable human.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks for the poem, Mel. (Although Lee guarded his speech carefully, speaking with spare candor only to a very few, and wrote the most discreet correspondence of any public figure I can think of offhand -- and he wasn't really famous until quite late in his life and career.) Off topic, of course.

Share this post


Link to post

And he never believed that he was a great man, in that respect, like Tchaikovsky.

Share this post


Link to post

Ok...I finally found a clip of Alonso's rendition of the party scene. Be the judge of the "infantilizing" issue here.

Clara is Primera Bailarina Annette Delgado.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks so much, Cristian. The video supports your position very well indeed.

I was delighted to see that this version is almost identical to Ballet Florida's. At BF, the Clara's grand battements are not so ddramatically high, and the preparations for pirouettes are not so visible. I guess you could say that the choreography has been toned down rather than up, which makes for a more convincing (to me) young girl.

Ballet Florida employs a mix of adult company members and advanced students as both parents and kids, which I prefer to all adults or to all kids-as-kid and all adults-as-adults.

Share this post


Link to post

For me, that clip illustrates exactly why it is not advisable to have adults pretending to be children: they look like adults whose minds have failed to mature. Mary Day's version had, I think, the best of both worlds--girls and boys of varying ages, very well rehearsed, with Clara danced on pointe by a girl young enough to look like a child but with clean, strong technique so that she could execute steps such as double pirouettes, have attractive extensions, &c. While the other girls were not on pointe, they still had plenty of ballet steps to do, for example during the march, and as they were all well trained at WSB, the effect was lovely.

I mostly like the way the dancers in the above clip mime, though. :off topic:

Share this post


Link to post

I agree with Hans: I don't find it convincing or attractive when adults pretend to be children. Or toys for that matter. ("The Steadfast Tin Soldier" comes to mind.)

I prefer children of a range of ages in the party scene of "The Nutcracker", and while a toe shoe is a more likely weapon than a ballet slipper, untying one, breaking the stitch tacks, and unwrapping the ribbons to take it off to throw does not look like a spontaneous response to danger, in my opinion. (More like "Hold that thought while I get this thing off my foot.") Not to mention having to be careful with one's aim.

Share this post


Link to post

You know, I don't remember how Day had Clara get a shoe to distract the mouse king--maybe one of her dolls surreptitiously handed her one--but she didn't remove her pointe shoe. I'll have to ask around.

Share this post


Link to post
You know, I don't remember how Day had Clara get a shoe to distract the mouse king--maybe one of her dolls surreptitiously handed her one--but she didn't remove her pointe shoe. I'll have to ask around.

CCBM had Clara pretending to take off her shoe, but didn't do it for real. During the confusion during the battle she subtly retrieved to the left wing and bent over simulating the act, when in reality she took a third shoe that had been placed on the floor for her-(hidden to the audience). She threw in to the mouse and then kept on dancing...

Share this post


Link to post

About the issue of Clara's age: Wiley's Tchaikovsky's Ballets says the following about the St. Petersburg premiere.

In contrast to the casting practices of many modern revivals, students [belinskaya, Stkukolkin, and Legat] were assigned the roles of Clara, Fritz, and the Nutcracker. p. 207

Does anyone know what "students" means here? Advanced students of in their late teens?

I was interested to read (p. 200) that Petipa originally wanted some of the children at the party to receive national costumes as gifts and then to perform a divertissement of six national dances. One of the Russian scholars quoted by Wiley mentions:

Children's dances were loved in the highest circles ... for which reason Petipa, in practically all his new works, included a children's divertissement.

I gather that this was never performed. The national dances went to older dancers of higher technical accomplishment.

Share this post


Link to post

The children's divertissement in that form didn't even make it to the cutting room floor. The reason that the male variation in the grand pas de deux is so wheezy is that the music was originally intended for an Italian entree in the proposed entertainment, but Petipa changed his mind. The music is, when I think about it, more appropriate for a children's dance, and lacks the gravitas usually associated with male dancing.

Belinskaya was twelve years old at the time of the show's opening.

Sergei Legat was, if I remember correctly, seventeen. He was a sort of Jonas Brothers all wrapped up in one. A sort of Tiger Beat pinup favorite for the 1890s Petersburg bubblegum set.

Share this post


Link to post