bart

Dancing with props: which ballets make the best (or worst) use

47 posts in this topic

:clapping: The Nutcracker or Clara's Story, Grahame Murphy for The Australian Ballet has a number of props, Kettle, Books,small christmas tree, decorations, medals, film projector and sheet used as a screen, picture, tutu and probably a lor I have not mentioned.

But in general items such as wings on a costume are not truly props, they are part of the costume. They are not held by the props master but part of the responsibility of the wardrobe staff. Things like jewellery and headresses gloves shoes(not pointe ones)also are under their control.But for example the yellow and pink neck scarves and ribbons in Fille are looked after by the wardrobe staff and handed to the Props dept after attention. (i.e washing and ironing)

Share this post


Link to post

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with the scythes in Fille. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to have the dancers grab them by the blades?

Share this post


Link to post

For the sheer multitude of props in one sequence, I have to mention "Ivan the Terrible": scythes, scimitars, swords, staffs, banners, etc.

Share this post


Link to post

For me the most ill-used props are those pesky golden apples in Firebird, never ceases to amaze me how few dancers can actually catch the wretched things.

Heads in bags are no longer unique to Edward II though, at the end of Flames of Paris Jerome is handed the head of his guillotined love in a bag at the very end: a very grisly finale.

Share this post


Link to post
For the sheer multitude of props in one sequence, I have to mention "Ivan the Terrible": scythes, scimitars, swords,
Heads in bags are no longer unique to Edward II though, at the end of Flames of Paris Jerome is handed the head of his guillotined love at the very end: a very grisly finale.

You both bring to mind my mother's frequent warnings against playing with sharp objects. My only close-up involvement with pointy props was with the bayonets on the soldiers' rifles in Nutcracker. They were actually rather sharp and caused a certain amount of abrasion to gloved hands and to costumes. But no decapitations as far as I could tell. :excl:

Share this post


Link to post

When I was dancing with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet I can't remember once coming onstage without a prop of some kind. Tambourines of course, or baskets, swords, drinking glasses, wreaths, you name it.

But the biggest prop I had to handle was the spinning wheel as Widow Simone in "Fille mal gardee". It never seemed to work properly and there was also a tambourine to play as Lisa dances.

Share this post


Link to post

Don't forget the donkey in "Pagliacci". The Met always seemed to use the dancers as wranglers for that show. He kind of makes the grade as a prop, albeit self-propelled.

Share this post


Link to post

While we are at it, what about live animals in ballets? Are they props? Or are they similar to human extras? Is the difference, as in Mel's example, whether or not actual dancers are doing the handling?

I recall Ballet Florida's Nutcracker, in which a pony (with a unicorn's horn affixed to its head) paraded across the stage as an introduction to the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The unicorn was always well behaved. But it was led around by a handler.

Share this post


Link to post

There are several classifications of properties. The most frequently found is the hand prop, although some may require two or more hands. Another kind is a set prop, as a certain kind of chair. There are makeup props like prostheses, and there are costume props, like swords and the like. Jurisdiction for all these is hashed out by the stage manager and/or the production supervisor long before anything gets to the stage. Animals may require a sui generis management issue.

Share this post


Link to post

Local small company had a donkey in their recent Don Q -- I don't know that it added much to the production, but the program insert about the owner had more biographical information than the listings for the dancers.

Share this post


Link to post
Don't forget the donkey in "Pagliacci". The Met always seemed to use the dancers as wranglers for that show. He kind of makes the grade as a prop, albeit self-propelled.

Plus that big horse they parade across the stage (or used to) in 'The Barber of Seville'. I remember that more than anything else about the show, I thought it was such a hoot! It's important to be able to count on at least one place to overdo. And the Met can be trusted in this respect. I mean, who else can really be counted on to deliver an 'Aida' that is gigantic enough? Fortunately, James Levine's genius has made us so we can have it both ways at the Met, with ravishing sound as well as outsize production. Of all the Establishment institutions I can think of in the U.S., the Met gives most bang for the buck.

Share this post


Link to post
There are several classifications of properties. The most frequently found is the hand prop, although some may require two or more hands. Another kind is a set prop, as a certain kind of chair. There are makeup props like prostheses, and there are costume props, like swords and the like. Jurisdiction for all these is hashed out by the stage manager and/or the production supervisor long before anything gets to the stage. Animals may require a sui generis management issue.
Thanks, Mel. The issue of who has jurisdiction is something that never occurred to. I'd love to know the history of how that developed. All those categories ... all those competing responsibilities. It's fascinating!

Share this post


Link to post
Don't forget the donkey in "Pagliacci". The Met always seemed to use the dancers as wranglers for that show. He kind of makes the grade as a prop, albeit self-propelled.

Plus that big horse they parade across the stage (or used to) in 'The Barber of Seville'. I remember that more than anything else about the show, I thought it was such a hoot! It's important to be able to count on at least one place to overdo. And the Met can be trusted in this respect. I mean, who else can really be counted on to deliver an 'Aida' that is gigantic enough? Fortunately, James Levine's genius has made us so we can have it both ways at the Met, with ravishing sound as well as outsize production. Of all the Establishment institutions I can think of in the U.S., the Met gives most bang for the buck.

If an animal has, shall we say, an 'accident' on stage, is that called a 'proop'? :angry2:

Share this post


Link to post

Apart from the ribbons in Fille there is also the maypole and, of course, Alain's umbrella as well as the engagement ring in the final scene oh - don't forget the pony!

How about the pigeons in Two Pigeons, and the ropes that are used the bind the Young Man as well as his artist's brushes and easels.

The rude mechanicals in David Nixon's A Midsummer Night's Dream are the "stage management team" and have appropriate props. He makes great use of parasols in Madame Butterfly and letters in Dangerous Liaisons. There is also a super sequence in Act 1 of Swan Lake featuring bicycles.

David Binley has dogs in Giselle and a horse for Bathilde to arrive on (but only in Birmingham). He's got a bicycle in Madding Crowd and shoes and shoe boxes in Hobson's Choice.

Share this post


Link to post

How could I forget the umbrella :angry2:

Share this post


Link to post

I agree with Mel (and others) about Ashton--think, too, of Sylvia, the Amazons' bows really are part of the dancing 'line.' In A Month in the Country an entire sequence revolves around finding a set of lost keys (though they only enter the dance at the final moment when they are found and the ballerina lifts them up triumphantly) -- also a basket of berries (I think?) plays a semi-dancey role in the pas de deux between the tutor and the maid. Ribbons -- here part of a costume -- are crucial at the ballet's close.

Other examples...hmm...I don't know if these have been mentioned, though some of the ballets definitely have:

The letter writing materials for Tatiana in Cranko's Onegin and the ripping up of Onegin's letter (unforgetable in Haydee's performance) are crucial to that ballets, along with Tatiana's book and the dueling pistols, though they perhaps belong more to the ballet's mime expression than dance expression (plus rather nifty use of a fake mirror to set up the pas de deux that ends Act I.). I have long since forgotten the details of Taming of the Shrew, but certainly, it too uses props to tell its story.

In Firebird-I'm thinking of Fokine's--the ball becomes part of the dance of the Princess and her friends; the feather is more sheerly iconic. I guess fingernails don't count as props.

In Gaiete Parisienne (please imagine the accents) the Peruvian's exit and entrance include his suitcase in a way that seems very much part of the movement. At least I remember it that way...Massine must offer other examples.

Descriptions of Nijinska's Les Biches often describe the couch as the scene of a lesbian reveal--but I have never seen it that way in the theater. On the other hand the opening sequence for the corps has them sort of stepping onto the furniture and launching themselves off of it in a way that is crucial to the choreography.

In Don Quixote, Basil's guitar is more local color than real dance material but not completely trivial; the daggers laid down for the street dancer give the shape and tension to her dance, though are not exactly part of it. (The Toreador's cape--again costume more than prop--is very much part of his dancing...)

The Queen of the Wilis want extends her line and the image of command in Giselle., so for me that is part of the choreography...I guess you could say something similar of how swords are used in most Romeo and Juliet's -- not just for mime but to create dancing lines across the stage.

Share this post


Link to post

"Mayerling" has the most morbid props used in a ballet: a gun, a skull, and a hypodermic needle :FIREdevil:

Share this post


Link to post

I don't know that anyone has mentioned the ballet bar itself--which figures prominently in a number of ballets including Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes and Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun. In the former especially it is very much part of the choreography..."Classroom" ballets use it too of course...

Share this post


Link to post
I don't know that anyone has mentioned the ballet bar itself--which figures prominently in a number of ballets including Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes and Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun. In the former especially it is very much part of the choreography..."Classroom" ballets use it too of course...

You're right -- The Lesson and Konservatoriet

Share this post


Link to post

Don't forget the severed hand that the ballerina ends up holding at the end of one section -- which she dumps in the piano....

and the dance with the umbrellas is GENIUS....

How about Jerome Robbins' The Concert? Lots of props there: chairs, hats, scarves, eye glasses, newspaper, knife (for stabbing an annoying wife), umbrellas, even the piano could be considered a prop once The Ballerina attaches herself to it.

Share this post


Link to post

Doesn't "Etudes" start with a barre section?

Share this post


Link to post

Someone must have mentioned James's chair in la Sylphide, and the ring and his tam -- actually, the moment when he holds up the ring, before giving it to Effie, which allows the Sylphide to take it from him and put it on her own hand, is perhaps the single greatest use of a prop I can think of in a ballet, since the gateway the two make as she reaches up for the ring is a fleeting image, but it marks the moment in which his heart enters the imaginary world and leaves this one behind. It's only reinforced when she throws his tam on the floor and he picks it up and follows her out the door into the other world....

The ribbons in Fille-- the BEST is the cummerbund that turns into a true-love knot -- which -- can it be coincidence? -- echoes the Mexican wedding dance "la Bamba" (as danced by the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico) where exactly the same motif occurs -- she takes hold of his cummerbund, he spins out of it, it's revealed to be 10 feet long, and then they lay it on the floor and kick it together with their feet and artfully craft it into a true-love know which tat the end of the dance they lift up and display to the audience in a flurry of zapateado footwork and the audience goes crazy.....

Share this post


Link to post