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Dancing with props: which ballets make the best (or worst) useof props in dancing sequences?


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#1 bart

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 06:46 AM

A musical theater experience yesterday that involved a tuxedo'd gentlemen manipulating a long red feathered boa as he sang set me thinking to the matter of props that are part of actual dancing sequences in ballets.

Clara's (or Marie's) exploding shoe in Nutcracker plays a memorable role in advancing the plot, but it doesn't seem to be a part of or accessory to the girl's dancing -- at least in the productions I've seen. Same holds true (I THINK) of Solor's water pipe, the Wilis' fly-off veils at the start of Giselle, Act II. and the Sylphide's removable wings.

I guess I'm thinking more about props that are handled and manipulated by dancers while they are dancing. Props as dance partners, if you will. (But -- of course -- please feel free to mention any kind of prop you want. :wink: )

What are the most important and/or memorable ballet props, in this sense? Which work best or worst?

Personal favorite prop: the tambourine in numerous Tarantellas, gypsy dances, etc. (Don Quijote, Napoli, etc.). I THINK this qualifies as a prop (as well as a percussion instrument), largely because it extends the line of the arms and participates in all sorts of wonderful movement. I especially love tambourines that actually make noise as the dancers strike them. Those that have had the noisy parts removed seem to me to be letdowns.

Lamest prop, IMO: my vote goes to the cross bows that the Prince carries and waves around ineffectually in Swan Lake Act II. You need the crossbow to make sense of his first meeting with the swans. But many of these bows don't even have a string. Show me a good cross-bower and you're on your way to a convincing Siegfried.

#2 SanderO

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 06:56 AM

The rose, of course, comes immediately to mind in the Sleeping Beauty.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 07:05 AM

And of course, the "toilet paper" in the Shades scene of Bayadere....

But Ashton seems to be the propmeister of record. The ribbon in Fille, as well as other hand props in that show, and all the self-propelled vehicles in "Enigma Variations". Didn't he do at least one ballet including a working automobile?

#4 richard53dog

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 07:36 AM

How about the pocketbook and eyeglasses used by the ballerina in that parody number Le Grande Pas de Deux?(or whatever it is called)

#5 Hans

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 07:57 AM

Le Corsaire and La Bayadère immediately come to mind as being absolutely stuffed with props. In the case of Bayadère, we have scarves attached to ankles, fans, parrots, garlands, parrots ON garlands, Nikiya's water jug, the Manou water jug, &c. Le Corsaire's 'Jardin Animé' features so many garlands and flowers you need a weed whacker, little parterre hedges with topiaries dragged onstage for the dancers to jump over, a watering can, and an enormous Easter basket at the end.

And I love it all. :wink:

#6 richard53dog

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:17 AM

The rose, of course, comes immediately to mind in the Sleeping Beauty.



And also in Sleeping Beauty, the spindle.

#7 Helene

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 09:02 AM

The "Garland Dance" garlands in "The Sleeping Beauty".

The hoops in the "Candy Cane" section of Balanchine's "The Nutcracker".

The costume and ribbons in "Chinese Tiger" section of Kent Stowell's "The Nutcracker".

Fans, fans, fans in "Don Quixote".

The sewing form in Olivier Wevers' "X stasis".

Tambourines in "Neopolitan" dances in "Swan Lake", "Tarantella", etc. as well as in gypsy dances like "Esmeralda", etc.

The Noguchi lyre in "Orpheus" and another small one in another Balanchine ballet, where I think it was a soloist who danced with a little lyre overhead.

The baton in the "Corcoran Cadets" Regiment in "Stars and Stripes".

The semaphore flags in the finale of "Union Jack". Pearly Queen's flask in the same ballet might be marginal.

The Love Plant in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" makes a brief appearance during Puck's jetes in Balanchine's version.

Is it "Pavanne" in which the dancer whooshes around a big scarf?

#8 Jane Simpson

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 09:08 AM

An easy choice for 'most gruesome' - Bintley's Edward ll dancing with the severed head of his lover (in a bag, fortunately)

#9 bart

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 09:41 AM

Fans, fans, fans in "Don Quixote".

Indeed. :)

The sewing form in Olivier Wevers' "X stasis".

Aren't there sewing forms (which I'm guessing means headless dummies) rolling around in one of Kylian's ballets?

Helene, all those Balanchine props you have recalled could be the basis of an article in DanceView or Ballet Review! Not ALL Balanchine works are stripped down leotard ballets.

Is it "Pavanne" in which the dancer whooshes around a big scarf?

Yep. I remember this from the Ravel Festival. That scarf got a work out and deserved co-principal billing. One of Balanchine's few forgettable works for a ballerina, but an UNforgettable role for a garment.

An easy choice for 'most gruesome' - Bintley's Edward ll dancing with the severed head of his lover (in a bag, fortunately)

:FIREdevil: Jane, I suspect you are right; that WOULD be hard to beat. Borrowed from Salome? The bag sounds like a good idea, since John the Baptist's head always looks phony in productions of the opera.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet website has a photo (top right) that looks like the king holding the bag itself.
http://www.brb.org.uk/3868.html

#10 duffster

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 10:18 AM

What about the broom in Act 1 in Cinderella, I'm thinking about Ashton's version, the key in Coppelia,( one of Swanhilda's friends finds it) , it opens the door to Dr. Coppelius's workshop. I don't know if this is a prop, but in the prologue scene in Sleeping Beauty,you have a doll to represent the infant Aurora, during the christening scene. One company that I worked for ( which will remain nameless ) used an enormous empty gin bottle (for Aurora) during rehearsals.

#11 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 10:30 AM

The bows from Sylvia's friends-(Ashton's)- and also in some renditions of Diane&Acteon PDD.

#12 canbelto

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 10:50 AM

The tambourine of Esmeralda.
Personally I love the scarf that connects Solor and Nikya in La Bayadere.

#13 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 10:53 AM

Oh, and what about that maypole in Act I of Mckenzie's Swan Lake...? :FIREdevil:

#14 bart

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 11:04 AM

One company that I worked for ( which will remain nameless ) used an enormous empty gin bottle (for Aurora) during rehearsals.

:FIREdevil: Who emptied it, I wonder? Was there a fresh bottle -- newly opened and emptied -- for each performance? No WONDER Carabosse was upset not to be invited to the christening.

#15 Helene

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 11:31 AM

One company that I worked for ( which will remain nameless ) used an enormous empty gin bottle (for Aurora) during rehearsals.

:FIREdevil:

Did the supers and fairies try to "kiss" it during performances?

Fans, fans, fans in "Don Quixote".

Indeed. :)

The sewing form in Olivier Wevers' "X stasis".

Aren't there sewing forms (which I'm guessing means headless dummies) rolling around in one of Kylian's ballets?

Yes!!!! -- in "Petite Mort" Kylian gives the men swords -- another whole genre of prop, although here the men and couples dance with them instead of fight -- and the women what look like the infrastructure of dresses with paniers on wheels. (You'd think I would have remembered this, having seen it this season at PNB...)

Thank you for the link to the "Edward II" photo: I never would have known he was carrying a severed head in that case. Or maybe it was a gin bottle?

Don't the Marzipan Shepherdesses carry pan pipe flutes, or do they just mime them?


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