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Use of the eyes


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#1 innopac

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 01:35 PM

In her biography of Ashton Julie Kavanagh quotes him as saying: "Dancers today don't understand what eyes are for, he would complain. "With your eyes properly used, you can distract everybody from your technique. You draw the public to you through your eyes'"....

Could someone elaborate? I am not quite sure what he wanted the dancers to do. How would you teach someone this?

#2 duffster

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 03:09 PM

The great Margot Fonteyn, I believe, is a perfect example of what Sir Fred was looking for in a dancer,who uses their eyes to draw you in. Her Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella especially come to mind. I don't know if this can be taught. With Margot it seemed very natural,not as though she had been coached to focus her eyes a certain way. This is difficult to explain- I had the good fortune to see her close up, as she guested with us in Washington DC, quite often.

#3 Hans

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 09:24 PM

It can be taught--after all, actors must learn to use their eyes. However, dancers don't often pay much attention to the eyes these days, thinking that if they have their arms and head right, that's all they need to do. When Mary Day coached me for a role in her Nutcracker, she was very specific about what the eyes should be doing. It's amazing how much one can communicate without using words, but the whole body, especially the face, must be involved. I often think people don't give the art of ballet enough credit in this area.

#4 hunterman0953

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 09:54 PM

My contribution probably doesn't belong in a discussion about the use of the eyes artistically in performance, but I just wondered why Svetlana Zakharova looks directly to camera in 'The Kirov Celebrates Nijinsky'. I dare say it's of little consequence with regard to the artistic merits of her performance, but I just wondered why she, or any other dancer, would do that.

#5 innopac

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 10:04 PM

Hans, could you give an example?

#6 Drew

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 10:23 PM

Violette Verdy in Emeralds used her eyes to wonderful effect; in the opening of her solo they followed the movements of her arms...hands...fingers, but did so with such expressiveness and immediacy that they didn't so much direct you to the arms etc. but seemed to dance along with them.

#7 Hans

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 11:13 PM

Innopac, one thing I recall in particular was that during the mime in Act II, I had to point to the edge of the stage as if tracing the path of something running across it, then run and jump in imitation of a large, frightening rat. Miss Day wanted me to really "see" the rat running across the stage, using not just my hand to show where it was going, but my eyes as well--in fact, I received the impression that the eyes were really the more important part of it, and the hand gesture was secondary.

That's a rather simplistic example, but it leaps to mind readily and is easy to describe. Little details like that were so important to her, and they really made the ballet come alive. I also remember that we worked on the party scene quite a bit; in fact it felt as if we rehearsed that more than anything else! Even though it involves no technical dancing, all those little interactions between people are what create the atmosphere of the ballet and set the rest of the events in motion, and I still consider her staging of that scene to be the best. It was so lively and warm--like a real Christmas party.

#8 Ostrich

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Posted 24 January 2010 - 12:05 AM

A fairly obviouse place where use of the eyes becomes important is when Siegfried runs after the swans, following their flight with his hand and eyes. Some dancers are content to let the hand do the work, but others really see the swans, so much that you want to glance behind you to see them yourself!

And in Giselle, of course, the mad scene is where a dancer who uses the eyes stands out. I'll never forget seeing a picture of Ulanova, I'm sure you all know it, where she's crouching fairly near the front of the sateg, busy plucking the imaginary flower. Her hair isn't disarranged, her body isn't spastic and wild, but I knew, from seeing the lost, bewildered eyes that the girl had lost it. Later, when I saw her in Giselle on film for the first time, my impression from the photo was confirmed.

#9 innopac

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Posted 24 January 2010 - 12:10 AM

Thank you so much, Hans. One of the pleasures of BT for me is getting to hear about the ballet experiences of others.

I recently heard that a contemporary dance teacher was telling his students not to freeze their gaze -- perhaps the focus of the eyes helps generate energy.

And after writing the above I found this on your blog!

"The energy in the spine and focus of the eyes keeps the dancer "alive" even when not visibly in motion."



#10 Helene

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Posted 24 January 2010 - 12:10 AM

I haven't read this in a long time, and someone more familiar with the story may have more (and/or more correct details), but in Suzanne Farrell's memoir "Holding on to the Air", she describes being taken, maybe by Balanchine, to a burlesque or cabaret performance. She watched one performer who looked down -- her description might have been that she looked "bored" -- until she raised her eyes. Farrell said that she stored that one to use sometime for herself. I think it was in "Union Jack" that she did: in the first section, she used to lead her regiment eyes down, until she got downstage and lifted them, to great effect.

#11 Drew

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Posted 24 January 2010 - 03:53 PM

A fairly obviouse place where use of the eyes becomes important is when Siegfried runs after the swans, following their flight with his hand and eyes. Some dancers are content to let the hand do the work, but others really see the swans, so much that you want to glance behind you to see them yourself!


Anthony Dowell made this moment one of the highlights of his Siegfried -- precisely through the wonder and longing in his gaze as he looked across the sky. One totally 'felt' he was seeing--and fully experiencing the sight of--the swans.

In a review of Dowell in Sleeping Beauty, Arlene Croce wrote something to the effect that in the Vision scene he was one of the few dancers who created the illusion that he really was having a vision of Aurora appearing and disappearing rather than just playing hide and seek with the corps de ballet. I imagine his eyes must have been fully integrated into his gestures there as well.

#12 Marga

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 08:10 PM

In Sleeping Beauty, during the dream sequence when the Lilac Fairy "shows" Aurora to the Prince and he "dances" with her, her eyes help make the illusion work. Because Aurora is not really there, she cannot look at the Prince or take her gaze anywhere, for that matter. Her eyes should be somewhat glazed, of fixed, as her movements in the pas de deux should be surreal. Because he is physically there, Prince Desiré can show desire and/or love in his face and eyes. Aurora cannot respond in kind.

#13 Paul Parish

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 10:33 PM

Drew, you took the words right out of my mouth. Anthony Dowell used his eyes jsut a s you say. He showed you what he was THINKING.

In the little Youtube clip of him teaching (with Antoinette Sibley) the mime scene from Sean Lake, Act 2, he explicitly instructs the new Siegfried to "think" -- she's just told you, this whole lake is ... her mother's TEARS(?)" you approach it, then look back at her...And you really believe in him - -this is a stretch, even for a character in a fairy tale.... and somehow (at least for me) that sealed it, he had my faith, I believed in him, as he believed in her.....

#14 Nanarina

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 09:59 AM

The expression in a persons eyes comes from within, some people have it but others do not. Even in everyday life this happens, just look at two people who are in love, they seem to have a "certain" look in their eyes when they gaze at each other. It is connected with thoughts and expression. To train someone to "use their eyes" is not as simple as it may seem It is a lot deeper than just making the actions, it must be fixed in their thoughts as well, which takes concentration and is another element of performing. :wub:

#15 Drew

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 05:01 PM

The choreographer Antony Tudor tells a story about creating the lead role of Shadowplay on Anthony Dowell. (One caveat: I read this some years ago...)

He instructed Dowell to turn upstage and look up towards a tree (not literally there of course in the studio!)--he then asked Dowell what kind of tree it was. Dowell, understandably, had no idea and was evidently waiting for Tudor to tell him. But Tudor stopped the rehearsal because, as he remarked, if Dowell didn't know what kind of tree it was, there was no point in continuing ... The next day on the way into the studio Tudor saw a gorgeous mango in a market and bought it. When the same moment in rehearsal came and he told Dowell to turn around and look up at the tree, then had Dowell put his hands behind his back and handed him the mango. Dowell then looked at the fruit quite amazed and delighted and asked Tudor what it was--Tudor told him (a mango) and then when they did the 'tree' moment and Tudor asked him about the tree, Dowell volunteered "it's a mango tree"-- Tudor felt that in this way, at last the tree was "real" to Dowell...

Tudor's process seems a pretty elaborate way (method-like) way of getting Dowell to really "live" that moment authentically; but I infer he wanted Dowell's imaginative investment in the gesture of looking at a tree and felt that if he simply told him "you are looking up at a beautiful mango tree: the fruits are luscious and glowing" he would just have gotten a generic ballet-look-of-wonder moment. I can't testify if all this was really necessary; I can say I loved Dowell in Shadowplay. (I have often wished ABT would revive the ballet for Stiefel -- and they certainly have plenty of other fine men to alternate in the lead role. Hallberg might also do it now.)

Anyway, the story certainly confirms Nanarina's point about the use of the eyes being something that also comes "from within."


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