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


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#31 Richka

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Posted 13 May 2010 - 04:55 PM

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.

#32 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 04:58 AM

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.

#33 bart

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 05:55 AM

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.

#34 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 06:41 AM

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.

#35 sandik

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 08:37 AM

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.

#36 papeetepatrick

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 08:59 AM

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.

#37 bart

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 10:02 AM

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!

#38 PeggyR

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 10:31 AM

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:

#39 JMcN

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 10:39 AM

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.

#40 Helene

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 11:35 AM

How could I forget the umbrella :angry2:

#41 Drew

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 01:13 AM

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.

#42 DanceActress

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 05:45 AM

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

#43 Drew

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 07:59 PM

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...

#44 sandik

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 09:56 PM

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

#45 Paul Parish

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 10:22 PM

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.




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