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Issues in MimeCoppélia, Swans and others


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#1 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 27 March 2009 - 08:33 AM

I'm not surprised she conquered the mime--the Mariinsky dancers have excellent training in mime at the Vaganova Academy, and they all mime beautifully when a production calls for it. The Mariinsky Ballet has, in its various incarnations, been performing mime for over a hundred years, after all.

A question: does the Royal Ballet really perform the Petipa/Ivanov choreography? They might use more of it than other companies, but I was under the impression that their production had been altered by Ashton, among others. They also don't seem to have enough dancers to perform it, as it requires a very large corps de ballet.


I'm afraid this is slightly too rose-coloured, Hans. The Russians dropped almost all the mime in the great classics in the Soviet era and we cannot properly speak of a tradition of mime anymore, as for instance the Danish School/Ballet has. We could see how awkward they all looked when they were asked to mime in Vikharev's productions of Petipa's "Sleeping Beauty" and "La Bayadère".

The Royal Ballet production of Swan Lake is one of their 5 ballets based on the notes from Nikolay Sergeyev, so the text is supposedly quite pure; but it's also clear that he had to adapt his Imperial Russian Ballet productions to suit the new English location - scale, numbers, means.

#2 Hans

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Posted 27 March 2009 - 10:55 AM

That is surprising, Marc. They've mimed beautifully every time I've seen them--every gesture clear and precise. Of course, the extended speeches would be more difficult to pull off.

#3 rg

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Posted 27 March 2009 - 11:11 AM

i take Marc's points to be the way things have long been w/ post-imperial/soviet ballet traditions.
the kind of silent-movie acting, however refined or clear, etc. that has been demonstrated by Maryinsky- and Moscow/Bolshoi lineage over the past decades needs to be distinguished from the kind of pantomime that the 'old' ballets ask (and that the notations often - if i understand these things correctly - spell out in words if not in specific gestures) and that any number of post-imperial balletmasters have discarded.
Gorsky would seem and Fokine would seem to have spearheaded the 'away with the old pantomime' movements in early 20th c. russia. (Balanchine was another one too i suppose, though he did retain various, isolated passages for the 'old world' ballets he staged at NYCB - the little prince in NUTCRACKER and various moments in HARLEQUINADE and in COPPELIA, for instance.)
on this account, can anyone who saw the recent Bolshoi/Vikharev COPPELIA tell how those specifice mime moments were rendered?

#4 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 27 March 2009 - 11:48 AM

i take Marc's points to be the way things have long been w/ post-imperial/soviet ballet traditions.
the kind of silent-movie acting, however refined or clear, etc. that has been demonstrated by Maryinsky- and Moscow/Bolshoi lineage over the past decades needs to be distinguished from the kind of pantomime that the 'old' ballets ask (and that the notations often - if i understand these things correctly - spell out in words if not in specific gestures) and that any number of post-imperial balletmasters have discarded.
Gorsky would seem and Fokine would seem to have spearheaded the 'away with the old pantomime' movements in early 20th c. russia. (Balanchine was another one too i suppose, though he did retain various, isolated passages for the 'old world' ballets he staged at NYCB - the little prince in NUTCRACKER and various moments in HARLEQUINADE and in COPPELIA, for instance.)
on this account, can anyone who saw the recent Bolshoi/Vikharev COPPELIA tell how those specifice mime moments were rendered?


Exactly, as Robert points out, it's two different things we are considering.
N. Sergeyev indeed recorded the mime in words, but according to the specialists (Doug will be able to tell us more) printed piano reductions of the score of for example Beauty and Coppelia contain detailed remarks which allow to recreate the mime quite elaborately. There was nothing silent-movie style about the mime in the Bolshoi /Coppélia.

#5 Paul Parish

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Posted 27 March 2009 - 04:53 PM

Marc, How did the Vikharev Coppellia mime compare to Patricia McBridee's in The Danilova/Balanchine version? I've seen that and am HUGELY impressed with McBride's mime -- well, indeed, There's a celebrated essay by Arlene Croce in which she praised McBride's mime for all the reaons I would -- namely, that it's as intelligbile and natural as a sunrise.

I've always assumed that Danilova as a great Swanilda andtaught the mime very much as she was taught it --but that was St Leon's version. is the Vikhaoev reconstruction of St Leon or of Petipa's version? (Wasn't there one? THOSE would be interesting to compare.)

#6 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 28 March 2009 - 12:06 AM

Marc, How did the Vikharev Coppellia mime compare to Patricia McBridee's in The Danilova/Balanchine version? I've seen that and am HUGELY impressed with McBride's mime -- well, indeed, There's a celebrated essay by Arlene Croce in which she praised McBride's mime for all the reaons I would -- namely, that it's as intelligbile and natural as a sunrise.

I've always assumed that Danilova as a great Swanilda andtaught the mime very much as she was taught it --but that was St Leon's version. is the Vikhaoev reconstruction of St Leon or of Petipa's version? (Wasn't there one? THOSE would be interesting to compare.)


Paul, I can't help you there, since I haven't seen the Danilova/Balanchine version of Coppélia. Ideally we need video-recordings of both to compare the mime in detail. A very superficial comparison of the mime in Vikharev's staging and in Pierre Lacotte's for the Paris Opéra Ballet School made it seem that at least some of the mime in the French version has been updated, made to look more "contemporary", maybe by Aveline or Lacotte himself.

Following the premiere in Paris in 1870 Marius Petipa created his version of the ballet for St. Petersburg in 1884. He re-choreographed the dances, yet how far he went in this is impossible to tell. Ten years later Petipa revived the work for the Mariinsky Theatre with the help of Enrico Cecchetti (when Swanilda was danced by Pierina Legnani). It's this last version which Vikharev reconstructed, but it's guesswork to distinguish the different hands. You might say this is Coppélia combining the French, Russian and Italian schools. Vikharev gives an example in his programme notes. The Thème slave varié he considers Saint Léon reworked by Petipa, while Swanilda's solo is already more Italian school.

#7 leonid17

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Posted 28 March 2009 - 04:38 AM

Marc, How did the Vikharev Coppellia mime compare to Patricia McBridee's in The Danilova/Balanchine version? I've seen that and am HUGELY impressed with McBride's mime -- well, indeed, There's a celebrated essay by Arlene Croce in which she praised McBride's mime for all the reaons I would -- namely, that it's as intelligbile and natural as a sunrise.

I've always assumed that Danilova as a great Swanilda andtaught the mime very much as she was taught it --but that was St Leon's version. is the Vikhaoev reconstruction of St Leon or of Petipa's version? (Wasn't there one? THOSE would be interesting to compare.)


Paul, I can't help you there, since I haven't seen the Danilova/Balanchine version of Coppélia. Ideally we need video-recordings of both to compare the mime in detail. A very superficial comparison of the mime in Vikharev's staging and in Pierre Lacotte's for the Paris Opéra Ballet School made it seem that at least some of the mime in the French version has been updated, made to look more "contemporary", maybe by Aveline or Lacotte himself.

Following the premiere in Paris in 1870 Marius Petipa created his version of the ballet for St. Petersburg in 1884. He re-choreographed the dances, yet how far he went in this is impossible to tell. Ten years later Petipa revived the work for the Mariinsky Theatre with the help of Enrico Cecchetti (when Swanilda was danced by Pierina Legnani). It's this last version which Vikharev reconstructed, but it's guesswork to distinguish the different hands. You might say this is Coppélia combining the French, Russian and Italian schools. Vikharev gives an example in his programme notes. The Thème slave varié he considers Saint Léon reworked by Petipa, while Swanilda's solo is already more Italian school.



Whilst the practice of mime at the Marinsky/Kirov is fascinating,I think we have gone way off post talking about Coppelia in depth when the subject is Osmolkina in Swan Lake with the Royal Ballet. I think the aspect of mime in the Soviet era needs a post of its own. However, in the absence of recently published textual material from Russian archives I think it will be difficult to confirm mimetic practices except perhaps from autobiographies and reviews . We know that the Diaghilev Ballet Russe maintained mime in old ballets. Had it already been diluted by the time Balanchine and Danilova had graduated? What about the style of ballet acting influenced by Sergei Radlov? In 1961 Carabosse in the shape of Anatole Gridin was still brilliantly miming his head off as Carabosse or Hilarion. Mime was still being taught in the sixth year at the Vaganova academy. At what stage does stylised acting become separate from mime which in itself is stylised acting. In the mid 1950's Yacobson was criticised in Soviet Russia for using too much mime. Mime has remained in Giselle in Soviet Russia sometimes in a more diluted form than others. Precision needs to be applied in addressing this subject as the general vision we have of mime in Soviet ballet performances is much restricted not so much as to how and when it happened, but by whether it was reported, or not.

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 March 2009 - 02:59 PM

In the discussion about Osmolkina's RB Swan performances, a tangent formed about the general practice of mime, which makes a good, coherent discussion by itself. Please continue the discussion on the RB's Swan Lake on its thread, and feel free to add to this line of discourse here.


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