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My Blanche Dubois Giselle...A thought...


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#16 Simon G

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 03:21 AM

You can't help but be reminded of Karsavina's edict: "leave the stage before the stage leaves you." The problem facing mature female performers in both acting and ballet is precisely that the big meaty roles just aren't there once a woman reaches a certain age. Ballet is almost exclusively about youth, with very few exceptions the lead roles are based on women in or barely out of puberty, whereas the parts for women in acting after mid 30s are almost exclusively mothers, grandmothers, aunts, menopausal women or patronising variants on mature female archetypes - it's no secret that there's a great deal of resentment within the acting community against Meryl Streep who has first crack on yes or no at any interesting mature female part.

It's not surprising that mature actresses have appropriated Blanche Dubois and play her considerably older than she's meant to be, it's one of the few roles which can lend itself to maturity and be played convincingly as approaching menopause. Though as stated she's only a few years older than Stella who still obviously is very much capable of conceiving.

And of course there's the unfairness that an actress's powers only increase over the years, an experience she can bring to wider roles and the smaller roles, should she be one of the lucky ones whose career doesn't end at 40. Whereas a ballerina, whose emotional and interpretive range does increase just can't do the steps anymore, certainly not in the same way and while I'm not a martinette in demanding stellar technique, she does need at least the bare modicum of technique that the role demands. But we all know that's the greatest irony/tragedy of ballet that just as the dancer as artist comes into full bloom their physical powers begin to wane. But at the same time there's no substitute for extreme youth finding its way in the great roles just by instict. I've seen Cojocaru dance Giselle several times, but for me the very best time was her very first one in a matinee on April 11th 2001. She was 19, still just a first soloist and it was a try out for her - after that performance she became principal and it's one of those historic performances. I've never seen her dance with such abandon since, certainly not in Giselle.

Due of course to the constraints and heavy artifice of ballet we accept women in their late 30s and 40s dancing girls and Juliet but that doesn't translate to a 40 year old acting Juliet - either way it does ignore the whole point of R&J that it's about the tumescent thrusting madness of adolescent lust/love with the overriding amazement and teenage discovery of "Wow, what's that going on in my underpants?"

Christian, when I was a kid I did indeed see Nureyev on one of his very last tours and it was grim, absolutely grim, even as a kid I recognised that this was a literally pathetic spectacle. I didn't bring any artistically edifying impression away, just a lesson in the importance of ageing gracefully.

#17 Quiggin

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 09:04 AM

It would probably been best had these performances not been preserved on film which is such an analytical medium - and perhaps they shouldn't be judged on that basis.

But why is "menopausal" or "post-menopausal" a criterion or point of no return for acting or performing? That sort of term - out of "Mad Men" perhaps - was perhaps the thing Tennesse Williams was questioning. Are there post-menopausal men - or post-menopausal children? Does anyone age gracefully? Do they have to? (Proust says somewhere old age is like a suit awkwardly worn inside out.) Why such hard use of the reality principle - especially in an area of human activity where it's supposed to be set aside for a while?

#18 Simon G

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 10:43 AM

It would probably been best had these performances not been preserved on film which is such an analytical medium - and perhaps they shouldn't be judged on that basis.

But why is "menopausal" or "post-menopausal" a criterion or point of no return for acting or performing? That sort of term - out of "Mad Men" perhaps - was perhaps the thing Tennesse Williams was questioning. Are there post-menopausal men - or post-menopausal children? Does anyone age gracefully? Do they have to? (Proust says somewhere old age is like a suit awkwardly worn inside out.) Why such hard use of the reality principle - especially in an area of human activity where it's supposed to be set aside for a while?




There are countless highly successful actresses who asked themselves that once they hit 40-45 and suddenly found their careers dwindle to nothing. There's nothing more real than the cold hard business of art as commerce.

#19 bart

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 10:46 AM

On the other hand, I firmly believe that the performers ultimate goal is to provide pleasure to those on the other side. As simple as that, I can only say that, whatever the reason was, I have NEVER experienced in my WHOLE LIFE such a satisfied, live, electric environment like the one she was able to provide with her almost non existent technical skills by the end of her active career. For me that's the only thing that matters.

I understand this completely. The audience experience -- especially for those who have a close emotional connection to a company and/or an individual artist -- can be very complicated. I think of my own emotional involvement with New York City Ballet (especially the Balanchine repertory) from the late 50s to the mid-80s. Many were the times that I found myself surprised at experiencing real joy while watching certain dancers who had long passed their prime.

Alonso's place in Cuban culture is probably deeper and more intense than that of any other ballet figure in any other country. She has long been a monstre sacre in the best sense of the term. On video, those of us on the outside can watch and judge things like the inadequate entrechats. (Conversely, some of us may ignore the technical problems and focus on how inspiring it is for a 73-year old to be able to jump, turn and point her toes at all.)

Cuban audiences there in the theaters were experiencing something much more complex and, in my opinion, much more rare.

#20 papeetepatrick

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 11:20 AM

it's no secret that there's a great deal of resentment within the acting community against Meryl Streep who has first crack on yes or no at any interesting mature female part.


I don't think that's accurate really, although I'm sure many envy her. I recall a Vanity Fair article about Shirley MacLaine, in 'Postcards from the Edge', and there was Shirley's daughter comparing Shirley as if embarassed to the great Meryl Streep. When it's not so hard to see that Shirley might be perceived as the better actress, even if she says idiotic things like 'I talked to Goldie about it [Meryl], and she thinks it's channelling'. So much for a coupla white chicks sittin' aroun' talkin'. You have to find her 'mature female parts' interesting to begin with, which is totally subjective. And they're not, as far as I'm concerned. Then there's Vanessa, who out-acts her and is even better on the stage than she is on film; as well, she can do 'younger wives' if the plays are ancient enough (Euripides). Then there are some slightly younger ones. Streep gets the big cartoon parts--Prada, Julia Child, Thatcher. The word 'overrated' has always followed her around, and she even said she 'wondered if she might agree that she was overrated', which is a little like hiding in plain sight. But, admittedly, she gets starring roles, even if I think they've all been grotesque for the last 10 years. She's a brand, and now that people are mentioning Blanche Dubois, I definitely think that ought to come next. Who needs Natalie Portman to get a second Oscar?

It's not surprising that mature actresses have appropriated Blanche Dubois and play her considerably older than she's meant to be, it's one of the few roles which can lend itself to maturity and be played convincingly as approaching menopause. Though as stated she's only a few years older than Stella who still obviously is very much capable of conceiving.


Very interesting.

But we all know that's the greatest irony/tragedy of ballet that just as the dancer as artist comes into full bloom their physical powers begin to wane. But at the same time there's no substitute for extreme youth finding its way in the great roles just by instict. I've seen Cojocaru dance Giselle several times, but for me the very best time was her very first one in a matinee on April 11th 2001. She was 19, still just a first soloist and it was a try out for her - after that performance she became principal and it's one of those historic performances. I've never seen her dance with such abandon since, certainly not in Giselle.


Marvelous, all of it, and that irony/tragedy is especially moving since you've articulated it in a way so that it is like an immutable cloud over the entire art, and yet forms a structure within which the art functions, and must do. Maybe it's so integral to the art that it's even positive.

Due of course to the constraints and heavy artifice of ballet we accept women in their late 30s and 40s dancing girls and Juliet but that doesn't translate to a 40 year old acting Juliet - either way it does ignore the whole point of R&J that it's about the tumescent thrusting madness of adolescent lust/love with the overriding amazement and teenage discovery of


That's helpful. I tend to think the 'love' aspect has to be emphasized a little more than is 100% convincing for that age, given that there's not much 'quotidian economy' involved, and Romeo's gentleness accounts for the fact that he didn't ask for permission to kiss on the first date.

Christian, when I was a kid I did indeed see Nureyev on one of his very last tours and it was grim, absolutely grim, even as a kid I recognised that this was a literally pathetic spectacle. I didn't bring any artistically edifying impression away, just a lesson in the importance of ageing gracefully.


I didn't see these on purpose, but heard about them. He would naturally do that though, he was that kind of driven stage animal. Alonso obviously too and I saw her Giselle in 1979. I barely knew who she was, so was not subject to any knowledge of her diva status. A ballet teacher I worked for told me she loved the way Alonso knew exactly how to take center stage, but it wasn't till I saw the clips leonid put up that I saw all of what the fuss about Alonso was all about--one was La Fille Mal Gardee and leonid has said 'madame always looks so centred and pulled up'. Quite so. It was glorious. But I can easily understand those who find the 'theatrical aura' satisfying as bart pointed out, even when the steps aren't there. I concede that I was never able to.

#21 dirac

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 11:57 AM

It used to be common for mature actresses to play Juliet on stage. In fact, there was an old saying that an actor wasn't prepared to play Juliet until she was about

We seem to be casting the net for "menopausal" a bit widely in this thread. Women of 40 are not pre-menopausal in the sense it's generally used. They're women of 40. What I think is meant is that stars, especially film stars, have a briefer shelf life than their male counterparts and this phenomenon is related to their perceived sexual appeal. All of which is true (although the cutoff age used to be even earlier - 35). I certainly agree with you, Quiggin, that this shouldn't be so, but it is, certainly in film, which is why you often see female movie stars of 40 plus migrate to the stage. But times change. But even on the stage today you probably wouldn't see a 40 year old or even thirtyish Juliet.

I guess it's hard for me to take inspiration from a septuagenarian who doesn't know it's time to get off the stage, or at least time to make sure there aren't any cameras around while she is. Cristian had a wonderful experience and I envy him. But we know from other examples that people aren't having that wonderful experience watching dancers who can't handle the dancing demands any more.

Streep gets the big cartoon parts--Prada, Julia Child, Thatcher.


Off topic - these are not cartoon parts. They are two light comedy parts and one dramatic role that other actresses would would love to have. I think the point is that Streep is the default choice for the (few) choice roles for an older woman. Part of that is because she's so good and is still box office, but it also has to do with the fact that there just aren't that many roles to go around.

#22 lmspear

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 02:28 PM

Reading through the first part of this thread I started to think of Giselle as a slightly less saintly version of Beth from Little Women.


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