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Infantilizing adultsAre there no grownups in ballet?


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#16 Quiggin

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 06:05 PM

Is that what the Soviets did?


Here's the fuller cite from Jennifer Fisher's Nutcracker Nation-

According to Elizabeth Souritz dance scholar Russian choreographers have spent considerable energy trying to overcome the perceived faults of The Nutrcracker'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".


Fisher corrects this by saying that once it grew up on its own in Northern Amercia, like a displaced emigre--it became something the Russians no longer recognized.

I notice in my new Penguin copy of the Hoffmann and Dumas Nutcracker, the editor compares the ballet to the original stories and says that-

gone [in the ballet] are the more serious issues of [Hoffmann's] artwork, such as the conflict between the philistine method of raising children that curbs the imagination and Hoffmann's innovative use of a double anti-fairy tale that enables young Marie to discover the miracles of life an realize her dreams. The ballet is more about the coziness of home and the taming of the imagination..


This may be a part of the same can of worms, or a whole new batch.

#17 bart

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 07:45 PM

Regarding young women playing Clara. This doesn't work for me on video, even when it's an adult as as sweet and youthful looking as Alina Cojocaru on the 2000 Royal Ballet dvd.

On the other hand, live peformance on stage is more forgiving. 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 manage to convey the essential spirit of girlhood while dancing adult choreography. This is especially amazing considering the great fuss Clara is expected to make over the gift of the Nutcracker doll.

:) Casting Rogers in "The Major and the Minor" strikes me as being both wierd and slightly cringe-making. She's never credible, and I'm not sure why.

#18 Quiggin

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 08:56 PM

Casting Rogers in "The Major and the Minor" strikes me as being both wierd and slightly cringe-making. She's never credible, and I'm not sure why.


It's one of those movies, like Preston Sturges'. that moves on a succession of wisecracks and its conceits. Rogers kept up and was slightly ahead of the beat, so I thought it worked. But I saw it in an early Tom Luddy film series in the Bay Area, with all the films from Paramount Studios at one time, so it worked in concert. Wilder quoted on TCM from his bio says, agreeing pretty much with you Bart,

It wasn't too difficult for Ginger to imitate a girl of twelve, especially in those days. Now it seems a little foolish. To think a thirty-year-old could play a twelve-year-old girl and be believable! Well, she couldn't, but it didn't matter. The audiences were very generous in those days. They had come to have a good time and they went along with you."


Wilder also says he originally wrote Ray Milland's role for Cary Grant.

#19 JMcN

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 12:29 AM

Nanarina said "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".


One of the best and most convincing portrayals of Juliet I ever saw was Marion Tait towards the end of her career as a principal dancer with BRB. I was sitting on the front row of the Birmingham Hippodrome and within minutes of her first appearance I was convinced she was a young teenager. It was a profoundly moving performance that I will never forget.

Several years later, in her current role as BRB ballet mistress, she was coaching Rachel Peppin in the balcony scene at a Friends' rehearsal. She started to demonstrate the moves at the start, where Juliet is mainly entwining her arms. All of a sudden we were not watching Marion Tait in a track suit - we were watching Juliet - sheer magic.

A long time ago a friend told me that she thought you needed a certain maturity to act young and, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that this is true.

#20 dirac

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 10:19 AM

Casting Rogers in "The Major and the Minor" strikes me as being both wierd and slightly cringe-making. She's never credible, and I'm not sure why.


It's one of those movies, like Preston Sturges'. that moves on a succession of wisecracks and its conceits. Rogers kept up and was slightly ahead of the beat, so I thought it worked. But I saw it in an early Tom Luddy film series in the Bay Area, with all the films from Paramount Studios at one time, so it worked in concert. Wilder quoted on TCM from his bio says, agreeing pretty much with you Bart,

It wasn't too difficult for Ginger to imitate a girl of twelve, especially in those days. Now it seems a little foolish. To think a thirty-year-old could play a twelve-year-old girl and be believable! Well, she couldn't, but it didn't matter. The audiences were very generous in those days. They had come to have a good time and they went along with you."


Wilder also says he originally wrote Ray Milland's role for Cary Grant.


Rogers kept up and was slightly ahead of the beat, so I thought it worked.


I did, too. Rogers sustains the conceit successfully and she’s funny as a child even though she’s clearly not one. It’s not as if anyone was expected to believe that she was really twelve. Mary Pickford tended to look older than the other kids, too. Audiences didn’t mind.

#21 Nanarina

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 04:31 PM

Nanarina said "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".


One of the best and most convincing portrayals of Juliet I ever saw was Marion Tait towards the end of her career as a principal dancer with BRB. I was sitting on the front row of the Birmingham Hippodrome and within minutes of her first appearance I was convinced she was a young teenager. It was a profoundly moving performance that I will never forget.

Several years later, in her current role as BRB ballet mistress, she was coaching Rachel Peppin in the balcony scene at a Friends' rehearsal. She started to demonstrate the moves at the start, where Juliet is mainly entwining her arms. All of a sudden we were not watching Marion Tait in a track suit - we were watching Juliet - sheer magic.

A long time ago a friend told me that she thought you needed a certain maturity to act young and, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that this is true.



:clapping: Hi JmcN - It is called living the role, I too think Marion Tait created her portrayals with great skill, you were fully convinced she was Juliet. Margot Fonteyn at 50, once amazed Dame Ninette de Val. of how young she looked and performed, appearing to revert to the young girl that joined the Sadlers Wells Ballet. However, I still prefer to see a younger dancer, in these roles, as long as they have had the life experiences to give the ability to feel the emotion they have to create. Perhaps if this is not the case, then an older dancer will have had the knowledge that is required.

#22 Nanarina

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 05:08 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. :clapping:

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. :)



:excl:This old "English" saying has been around for decades, Meaning in other words you cannot make an old Ewe look like a spring Lamb
How right you are, Margot bloomed when Ruddi came into her life, there was no distubing the fact. They did nothing, everyone could see how happy they were. But it does not seem to be mentioned they were both trained in the Russian method, so their techniques also were compatable. I am sure some of you saw them dance, and can remember the electricity in the theatre.

#23 Nanarina

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 05:28 PM

:clapping: 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.

#24 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 06:03 PM

I noted Quiggin's quote of Souritz, and couldn't stop myself (I tried! I honestly tried!) from thinking of Eric Idle commentating on a Monty Python episode, "Tchaikovsky: tortured genius, or was he just an old pouf who wrote tunes?" I am over into the genius camp myself, but cannot for myself justify how tortured he was while he was composing. Psychohistory is such a dodgy proposition, and neither psychologists nor historians will say they like it (although they are both prone to doing it!).

I wonder if this search for deep-psyche evidence in Tchaikovsky's works isn't a reaction to the post World War II pop disparagement of the composer as "merely loud". One of the Hoffnung concerts took this to the sublime silliness of having the Dolmetsch Consort play a medley of Tchaikovsky themes on viols and recorders. Cork popguns provided the artillery effect from the "God Save the Tsar" finale.

This attempt to psychoanalyze a dead patient is, in my opinion, on the very fringes of forensic medicine, and must be regarded with skepticism. Deep and complex, the composer was, no doubt of it, but it struck me that a number of musicologists attempted to "revitalize" his reputation, (which to me was never devitalized) by ascribing great mystic virtues to music which is just THERE! in order to prove that it is more than "just loud". It doesn't need saving. Apply Ockham's razor here. The simplest explanation is probably the correct one.

#25 papeetepatrick

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 06:56 PM

Mel--obviously I agree with all of this, and in any case, there are all sorts of sufferings that composers as well as all creative artists go through. Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven's deafness, even Haydn (his marriage was no bed of roses), Debussy's most paradisical music (the 12 Piano Etudes, the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp) written when he was at his most physically ill (and this can never mean mental happiness), Rachmaninoff's depression during the 2nd Piano Concerto (if my memory serves me here). Ultimately, all those personal-suffering contributions have to be subsumed to what is heard as the musical material and experience, and no amount of reconstituting it for 'modern sensibilities', as Adorno did with great alacrity, can exert nearly the influence on ears and musical minds that many of its often pompous claims assert. A few intellectuals will agree that 'Beethoven is dead', but this is concurrent with continued audience demand to hear the 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall; they don't care what Adorno said.

Oh, now I see what I was confused about. You meant Tchaikovsky himself was thought post-WWII to be 'merely loud', when I wrote this up I thought you meant by 'the composer', as 'composers [all of them] were thought to be merely loud.' I hadn't known this about Tchaikovsky, that that had been his reputation. As well, knowing he wrote the Grand Pas after his sister's death changes my opinion not a whit from what it was, but rather puts into historical context--but personal historical context, not musical historical context. The changes in artistic historical context seem to be years-long phenomena, as I've been noting in McDonegh's book on Graham, and fairly gradual, although I can't say this is always the case. One can surely hear and see something in works that had a great personal impact on the creator's life, but whether it changes the general 'period' that was going to be inevitable for their work is probably unlikely. Since we've been beating the dead horse of the Grand Pas, though, it could be that I find it so unsatisfying precisely because Tchaikovsky is such a great melodist, which you hear in the operas quite as well as in the great ballet scores. It's vaguely satisfying within the whole Act II by its contrast to the charm of all the other dances, but it doesn't come anywhere near what one hears in SB Act III whether in pas de deux or divertissement--I always love the Jewel Fairy and any of the Bluebird music, as well Canary and the other Fairies in the Act I. The one way I can hear the Nutcracker Grand Pas and it make sense is as a kind of 'Miniature Grand', which may attempt to keep it within the scale of what 'grand' would mean for children, rather than adults (which is related to the theme of this thread, although musically 'childlike' or 'more adultlike'), and perhaps 'Miniature Overture' gives a clue to this need to keep the entire ballet within a relatively small dimension of perception and vision. Maybe none of it is meant to be 'grand' in the usual sense of the word even when the word 'grand' is not applied. Do you think that makes any sense? The 'real grand', at least in Tchaikovsky ballets, would be in the more adult Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. In that way, the simplicity of the G Major Scale placed (at the beginning) on the supertonic A Minor 7th, going then merely to the Dominant 7th, and ending the first phrase on the G Major tonic to E Minor, may then be a childlike version of the 'dramatic'. Or something like that?

#26 dirac

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 08:03 PM

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.

#27 dirac

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 09:01 PM

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:)

#28 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 10:24 PM

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.

#29 Quiggin

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 10:47 PM

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.)

#30 Mel Johnson

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 04:07 AM

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.)


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