Jump to content


Use of the eyes


  • Please log in to reply
28 replies to this topic

#16 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 05:01 AM

This is a fascinating topic, and one that is rarely addressed in ballet literature. For some reason, what I have tended to think of as "deadness of upper face" is one of the things that bothers me most in dancers, especially when accompanied by a big smile.

Alistair Macaulay's review of American Ballet theater's performance of "Birthday Offering" gives a wonderful example. (NY Times, 1/28/10). He is referring to Gillian Murphy on the Margot Fonteyn role:

The prima role is one of many in which Ms. Murphy shows the glory of her potential but bars us from cherishing it, by dancing with her eyelids lowered; the use of the eyes is never more essential than in Fonteyn roles. If only Ms. Murphy could greet her audience, the sparkling expansiveness of her dancing would be consistently thrilling.

Focusing on Macaulay's general point about the power of EYES (and not necessarily about whether everyone agrees with his assessment of Murphy in particular) I have a couple of questions:

Can use of eyes be taught?

Or is this something that is deeply embedded in personality -- or physiognomy -- and therefore resistant to change?

#17 Nanarina

Nanarina

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 565 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 08:10 AM

:) Hi Bart, "can the use of the eyes be taught? Yes in the course of instruction , for emaple, look left, or right up or down, look at something, in the physical sense. Look hurt or happy, be angry.To express mood. But true feelings come from within, or come from the persons soul. They are the reflection in the eyes of what is being felt. It is a natural phenomin and I do not think that can be taught. Some people show this in their facial expression, imagine eating something tasting aweful,the persons distaste comes out in the face they altermatically pull.Again this can vary from person to person. It is not taught but just happens.

#18 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 10:55 AM

It can be taught, but it requires much more in-depth instruction than "look this way," which is about all you'll hear from a ballet master/mistress. I wish I knew enough about it to talk about some of the techniques used--an acting teacher would have a lot more information.

By the way, this might be a good time to address something that comes up when dancers talk about acting. They frequently speak as if acting is putting on some sort of fake emotion, being somehow disingenuous to the audience, or merely "expressing a mood" as Nanarina puts it. In one of PNB's videos on Youtube about Romeo & Juliet, Carla Korbes mentions that when she dances Juliet, it "doesn't feel like acting," and that is what GOOD acting is. One of my favourite quotes is "Acting is not lying. It is telling the greatest truth." I think more dancers and artistic directors need to understand that. It is not a coincidence that Gelsey Kirkland gave gorgeous, moving performances and worked with an acting coach--more dancers ought to do the same.

#19 Nanarina

Nanarina

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 565 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:33 PM

:thumbsup: How can you teach a look in someones eyes? Unless of course it takes the coach or choreographer to traet the person in the manner they wish to achieve in performance, so there thoughts return to that experience. Even to simply draw out the emotion it seems very unkind or unacceptable to treat someone like this for artistic reward. What I mean is to hurt them, to make them look hurt. Though it probably does happen.

#20 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 12:40 PM

No, that is not how it is done. I have a number of friends who are actors; I will ask them for specifics.

#21 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:17 PM

I have asked a few actor friends what they think, and here are their replies:

Stage presence is a tricky thing--sometimes it's hard to stay focused and "connected," but it's wrong to say that some just do not have it. Sometimes charisma, acting, and using your eyes comes very naturally to people, but when it doesn't, there are techniques and exercises that can teach someone how to interact and tell a story more effectively onstage...otherwise why would we have actor training courses at all?


They have to empathize what the character would feel like in a given situation...


There's a difference between indicating and acting. If you were a real person, describing a scenario or interacting with another human being, you would be mentally/emotionally engaged with both the memory you are describing and the person you are describing it too. Part of how we communicate with others is through our eyes. Even lecturers are told to make eye contact with the audience to engage them. Not that dancers should look at the audience, but having thought/emotion at play, especially when interacting with other dancers (their fellow actors) is so key. Sometimes I talk about hating watching actors act "at" rather than "with" one another, and this is part of it too. You have to engage both with the story and others onstage, as well as with what you are doing physically.

If actors and dancers don't believe the story they are telling, how can they expect their audiences to believe it too? Dancers are storytellers, even when they're not performing in a story ballet. Dance can tell stories of many kinds, but a story falls flat if it's not told in a heartfelt and generous way.


That last paragraph brings to mind Balanchine's famous line: "How much story you want?"

I will go ahead and say that I think the attitude that some people just "have it" and some people don't when it comes to using the eyes or acting may be part of why dancers are so inexpressive today. After all, if a ballet master thinks acting ability is something one either has or doesn't have, why bother to try to teach it or draw it out? But really good acting (not just indicating or mugging, which is what most dancers do) is just as much a technique as ballet, with many exercises to develop and focus one's ability. One wouldn't just bring in someone from the street and say "Dance!" and then, when that person failed to do multiple pirouettes, &c, say, "Well, s/he just doesn't 'have it'." But that is what is routinely done to dancers. They've never acted before, just worked on doing their steps correctly and perhaps learned some variations in which they were told "put your head here; make sure your arm is there; really push down into the pliť" and then they get into a company, and suddenly they are expected to know how to create a character, an atmosphere, show what is happening and what they're thinking/feeling nonverbally, "see" things that aren't there, &c. And then if they don't magically "just do it" after perhaps a few rehearsals that barely scratch the surface of what goes into good acting, they're labeled as "doesn't have it" and so they never learn.

Even a dancer to whom acting does come naturally probably won't have the opportunity to use his/her abilities fully because of the simple, flat way in which ballet characters are frequently staged. Peter Martins didn't like performing Siegfried because he didn't get to dance until Act III. When an artistic director thinks that way, what chance does a dancer have?

#22 innopac

innopac

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 783 posts

Posted 29 January 2010 - 01:57 AM

Are there any recommendations for a useful book for dancers on this topic?

#23 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,255 posts

Posted 29 January 2010 - 08:19 AM

Even to simply draw out the emotion it seems very unkind or unacceptable to treat someone like this for artistic reward. What I mean is to hurt them, to make them look hurt. Though it probably does happen.

Maybe a decade ago I saw a fluff piece on soap opera actors, and the interviewer asked a bunch of them something to the effect of "What do you think about to get the reaction to the news that your late husband is now alive, or your baby has been switched?"

And they said that they think, "Did I leave the oven on?"

The end of the segment was a bunch of reaction shots with a dramatic voice-over asking, "Did I leave the oven on?"

#24 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,314 posts

Posted 29 January 2010 - 09:34 AM

Even a dancer to whom acting does come naturally probably won't have the opportunity to use his/her abilities fully because of the simple, flat way in which ballet characters are frequently staged. Peter Martins didn't like performing Siegfried because he didn't get to dance until Act III. When an artistic director thinks that way, what chance does a dancer have?

I wonder if he's changed his attitude now that he's choreographed three story ballets and kept them in the repertory. In any case, Maria Kowroski says in the latest danceview that she has been taking acting lessons

for the past year or so [. . .] I love dramatic roles and I thought it would stretch me as a dancer to study it formally, and also who knows where it might lead in my career.



#25 Nanarina

Nanarina

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 565 posts

Posted 29 January 2010 - 10:12 AM

Even a dancer to whom acting does come naturally probably won't have the opportunity to use his/her abilities fully because of the simple, flat way in which ballet characters are frequently staged. Peter Martins didn't like performing Siegfried because he didn't get to dance until Act III. When an artistic director thinks that way, what chance does a dancer have?

I wonder if he's changed his attitude now that he's choreographed three story ballets and kept them in the repertory. In any case, Maria Kowroski says in the latest danceview that she has been taking acting lessons

for the past year or so [. . .] I love dramatic roles and I thought it would stretch me as a dancer to study it formally, and also who knows where it might lead in my career.




Where did it lead kfw, or is it too early to say?

#26 Shirabyoshi

Shirabyoshi

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 28 posts

Posted 25 July 2012 - 01:46 AM

In the Japanese tradition dance and acting are deeply intertwined, and the vocabulary of dance movements to which specific qualities and meanings are assigned is far greater than that of balletic mime. (I think. I'm not an expert on either.)

The smallest things have significance. There are, for instance, eight fundamental vertical eye levels, and seven fundamental horizontal focus points; these are variously employed to show all the different things one could be looking for or at. Low-ranking characters have faster and showier eye movements, high-ranking characters move their eyes and their heads together, slowly, elegantly. There is also a separate vocabulary of three-part head movements, which are codified according to age, sex, and rank. The eyes are usually closed with the first part of the movement, and opened suddenly at the end as part of a grand pose.

To be honest I have a hard time telling all these things apart, but I'm used to watching for and pondering them -- and so I find unemployed eyes one of the ultimate turn-offs in a dancer, in any style.

My apologies if this is too off-topic. I just wish more schools, more companies, would give their dancers a bit of Japanese-style eye and head training, or, better yet, invent a Western-style, ballet-specific eye and head technique as a basis for dancers to branch out from in expressing their emotions. It's no good feeling something on stage if you can't put it across.

... And I'm thrilled to have been able to assemble from this thread a list of fine-eyed dancers to look up! Obviously I need some Anthony Dowell. :)

#27 puppytreats

puppytreats

    Gold Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 751 posts

Posted 25 July 2012 - 08:22 AM

This is my problem with the fourth ring.

#28 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 25 July 2012 - 12:57 PM

Shirabyoshi, I love the term "unemployed eyes" and very much appreciate your summary of how central they are to classical Japanese art and theater. I might add cinema, especially the historical films of Kurasawa and others.

Puppytreats, you raise the issue of huge auditoriums and far-off seating. In recent years I find myself choosing to sit close to the stage if I can, and even if there is only a partial view of the entire stage area. I can't prove it, but it seems to me that the failure to engage the eyes is often a symptom of a deeper slackness of connection with either the music or the choreography, and sometimes even with fellow dancers.

#29 pherank

pherank

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,249 posts

Posted 10 October 2012 - 07:42 PM

Shirabyoshi, I love the term "unemployed eyes" and very much appreciate your summary of how central they are to classical Japanese art and theater. I might add cinema, especially the historical films of Kurasawa and others.

Puppytreats, you raise the issue of huge auditoriums and far-off seating. In recent years I find myself choosing to sit close to the stage if I can, and even if there is only a partial view of the entire stage area. I can't prove it, but it seems to me that the failure to engage the eyes is often a symptom of a deeper slackness of connection with either the music or the choreography, and sometimes even with fellow dancers.


Yes, Japanese actors are masters of the language of eyes.

This thread caught my "eye", primarily because I haven't been able to forget how well Ekaterina Kondaurova used her eyes in dancing Odette-Odile with the Mariinsky this past week in Costa Mesa, CA.
As Odette, her eyes were barely noticeable with lids drawn part way down - creating an 'interior' character whose mind is difficult to fathom, but we are touched by her gestures of grief and remonstrance. But when Kondaurova danced Odile, besides the technical fireworks, her eyes were wide open and she gazed full face at the audience, and the Rothbart character, and it is a powerful effect. Mesmerizing really. So Swan Lake provides a nice example of the importance of using the eyes and face to enhance/change character.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):