innopac

Horses, ponies and goats

22 posts in this topic

A friend told me that in 1911, at a performance in Milan, Chaliapin was thrown by a horse but was able to finish the opera with a badly sprained foot.

We were wondering if any of you have stories about animals being used on stage? Here is a story I enjoyed about an animal being made up to look more realistic and the problems it caused.

We could think of the following examples of large animals used in ballet -- are there other instances?

Don Quixote - horse and or donkey

Esmeralda - goat

Giselle (Bintley) - horse

La Fille mal Gardee - pony

Pharaoh's Daughter - pony

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Greyhounds in Giselle (Rome and San Francisco).

I've seen la Fille mal gardee pony causing the most common problem you can think to have with a horse on stage...

And Boslhoi goat sometimes is a little bit reluctant entering on stage: Maria Alexandrova entered with a big smile ...but also trying desperately to drag the "dead stone" attached to the leash. In another entrance Esmeralda has the white goat in her arms: that is much easier...

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At the opening of ABT's David Blair production of Swan Lake, Siegfried entered in Act I accompanied by two Great Danes, which belonged to Regisseur Dimitri Romanoff.

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I don't like using animals for human entertainment and despite their being trained and so on, the precedent is unsettling. It's hard to imagine the experience is anything but uncomfortable for these animals. So why cause suffering if you don't have to?

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No stories about Bayadère's elephant?

If that ever happens that would be something! Somehow, I don't think the authorities would allow it. Even with a trainer, elephants are too unpredictable and cost in-effective. Is there any company that would dare take a chance on the liabilites, let alone be able to afford the insurances and care of a live bengal tiger or elephant?

Have live swans ever been used in "Lake?" In "Giselle" I've always thought that a small corps of trained (and leashed) pure bred bassett hounds would be perfect. Even so, that would be too distracting to the dancers, musicians and audience. They'd never stop barking, they'd get nervous and "polish" the stage, and they're too expensive.

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I have a lot of sympathy with SandorO's objections to the whole business. Having said that, I feel that the wranglers I've observed in opera productions seem to be very sensitive to their animals. The animals do not seem to be stressed. In fact, one could argue -- from an anthropmorphic point of view, of course -- that some or many are actually enjoying the experience.

No stories about Bayadère's elephant?

We should pass on that idea to Carla Fracci (Rome Opera Ballet), for the next times she gets to use of the Baths of Caracalla. If they can hire camels, hoses, and the occasional tiger for Aida, why not a live elephant for Bayadere?

And ... what about the vast category of amateur animal ballet dancers? Here's just one of 134,000 photos of "dogs in tutus" available on the internet.

http://www.google.co...=1t:429,r:2,s:0

Although I've seen ponies used in The Nutcracker (Prince leading Clara, seated side-saddle, at the start of their voyage), I wasn't so lucky on the internet. No "ponies in tutus," though I DID find a pony ON a tutu.:

http://www.google.co...=1t:429,r:2,s:0

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I have a lot of sympathy with SandorO's objections to the whole business. Having said that, I feel that the wranglers I've observed in opera productions seem to be very sensitive to their animals. The animals do not seem to be stressed. In fact, one could argue -- from an anthropmorphic point of view, of course -- that some or many are actually enjoying the experience.

As an animal lover myself , I can sympathize with the points made by both SanderO and Bart.

But let me add something that may add a tiny bit of positive input.

Several years ago I was listening to a radio broadcast of Carmen from the MEt. The guest was the person responsible for supplying the animals needed for this very elaborate production. There were a number of horses and I don't remember what other types of animals used. The trainer described the "audition process" for the horses.

The company allotted many more horses than were needed. The trainer would take the animals in stages through the staging moves . elimating the animals that showed distress, or even just a bit of hesitation, gradually working up the a simulated performance with full lights, large cast on stage, and players in the orchestra. Also some people sitting in the auditorium. Any animal that seemed at all hesitant at each stage was elimated. The trainer explained that there were two reasons for this, one was of course to make the animal dislay impressive to the audience and the other was to avoid stress to animals sensitive to those particular circumstances. Animals, like people, react to stress differently and have different triggers. A confident, comfortable performance by a horse tells us, as well as we can read such signals, that the horse doesn't really mind what they are doing. It's a job it can deal with. Perhaps it's a bit sad that the horse needs a job but most animals of this type "work" one way or another.

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One section of Balanchine's Union Jack - the costermongers -- includes a donkey.

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I forget what opera it was (or maybe it was a Broadway show), but it was pretty bad, and had a horse, who did what horses often do. One writer commended the horse as being both "an actor and a critic".

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The Mikhailovsky's Spartacus has a tiger. (Perhaps not on tour, don't know about that)

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The use of animals is a bad idea. Animals have been used and abused by humans enough. Yea I know these are trained and well treated and cared for. But the idea is to NOT promote the use of animals if we can.

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The use of animals is a bad idea. Animals have been used and abused by humans enough. Yea I know these are trained and well treated and cared for. But the idea is to NOT promote the use of animals if we can.

Well, in a way, it's sort of an easy way to create a spectacle, isn't it?

The Carmen I mentioned was one of the late Zefferelli extravaganzas at the point when he no longer bothered much to direct the singers in being potent dramatic figures, resorting to generic spectacle displays. I lost track of how many animals appeared in that production but at that point his "technique" was to load the stage with as much "stuff" as possible and let nature take it's course.

To your point, it's far more challenging for someone staging an arts production to concentrate on motivating the (human) performers rather than resorting to the sort of cheesey step of making some poor animal walk across a big, crowded stage with all the lights and noise.

But there really in no end to this. I'm not in NYC all that often any more and don't know if it's still as prevalent as it used to be but my heart always went out to the poor carriage horses walking up 10th avenue in the midst of all the traffic, noise, cabs, and polution. Yeah, they look picturesque in Central Park trotting along , pulling a carriage but unfortunately they also have to maneuver along the regular city streets too . And that's not pleasant for anyone, animal or human.

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Back in them Good Ole Days, Otto Kahn produced an Aïda at the New York Hippodrome with elephants onstage. They seemed to get along well with the rest of the cast, but one showed an annoying tendency to Sing Along with Ramfis. Remember, Kahn was the producer who introduced Swan Lake to America (starring Yekaterina Geltzer). I don't know if he used any animals in that.

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Mel, when you mentioned Swan Lake it made me wonder if anyone was fool enough to use live swans in a production?

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Not that I've ever heard about. They can be cantankerous, and could shred a tutu in less time than it takes to tell.

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I rather liked the sweet little goat in the Kirov's Awakening of Flora, a perfectly behaved creature. Back in the 1960's the Royal Opera had a catastrophe when the camels engaged as extras in Moses und Aaron went through the stage.

I've seen the Mikhailovsky Spartacus on tour but they didn't bring their tiger. Personally I have mixed feelings about the use of animals on stage, but have enjoyed the acrobatics performed by dolphins and seals at various aqua parks; perhaps they think they are onto a cushy number as by performing a few tricks they get all the fish they want for little effort.

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Animals in opera and ballet make me nervous, like when someone loses a piece of costume or drops a flower. All I can focus on is whether the animal, no matter how many enemas it has had, will just go onstage, or no matter how trained will get nervous from an unexpected event or movement, just as something on the stage floor makes me expect someone to trip over it.

I'm sure there are animals who are temperamentally suited to the stage and love to be in the spotlight (literally and figuratively), but, for me, it's never worth it.

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I've seen plenty of misbehaving pigeons in Two Pigeons. On the last night of BRB's season at the Lowry last year, when the pigeon flew in at the end it landed on Chi Cao's head and wouldn't move. He managed to disentangle it in the end and he and Ambra Vallo cuddled it till the curtain came down. It actually looked very romantic but I bet it was pigeon pie for supper!

BRB also have a horse in the hunting scene in Giselle but only in Bimingham. The huntsmen have 2 dogs (I think Salukis).

I was watching an NBT class at Leeds Grand a couple of years ago when an unscheduled pigeon made an appearance and spent a considerable amount of time fluttering around the auditorium! I never did find out where it escaped to!

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Once during a performance of Nutcracker(Snow Scene) a bat decided to make a appearance flying out way above the audience and back to the rafters of the theatre. This was at the Academy of Music here in Philadelphia. Those of us doing snow were terrified of it landing on our heads, being stuck to our hairnets, while trying to dance. The bat disappeared after about five minutes of flying back and forth. It was a Nutcracker season I'll never forget!

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I've seen 2 horses and a donkey in a NY City Opera production of Carmen way back when. And I still love the Russian wolfhounds (borzois) ABT uses in Giselle (I don't think they are used in Swan Lake anymore.) My babysitter when I was small had a borzoi, and I always loved the way it looked and moved.

My favorite onstage animal experience was at a Siegfried & Roy performance in Las Vegas. Of course they had the white tigers etc., but I will always remember the elephant. It stood on its hind legs, trunk in the air, and well ... I was VERY VERY glad I was not sitting in the first few rows, and felt sorry that management hadn't warned those patrons so situated to wear a raincoat.

(Which is why I do not think I need to see either a live tiger or elephant in "La Bayadere" --- and BTW isn't Solor returning from a tiger hunt in Act1, so wouldn't his prey be dead?!)

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