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Dramatic intelligence and casting


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#1 Ballet fan

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 10:38 AM

Ballet, like any other art, is designed to provoke strong emotions in the viewer. And this is achieved mainly by the dramatic intelligence of the performers. Like acting, ballet needs to express something vital about our condition and the world we live in. Now, ballet differs a lot from acting in the sense that the language used is completely different. There are no words, only movement. But movement can be a potent communicator of a story or feeling.

Critics and audience alike expect to be moved by a performance. But I think it's valid to ask: what constitutes dramatic intelligence in an art such as ballet? How is it achieved and how do we tell when it's there?

The technical aspects of ballet, for me, are the skeleton that later will become the body of the drama. Without sound technique, it is impossible to achieve an arresting dramatic effect. However technique alone can't and will never constitute artistic intelligence.

Some ballets are heavier on story than others, and some ballets don't even have a story but nonetheless they try to communicate something. A ballet dancer with dramatic ability can communicate a lot about his or her character with simple things such a a gesture, or inflection of a step or a particular way of phrasing the combination of steps.

I can't stand blank-faced dancers, who dance brilliantly but whose faces remain exactly the same, an inexpressive blank. Or dancers who are bent on a single expression, whether it be a happy-go-lucky smile or a frown. For example, in the video of Le Corsaire with ABT, I thought Julie Kent barely gave Medora any definition of character. She limited herself to smile prettily and bat her eyelids a lot. But then, I saw a clip of her in Swan Lake and I thought she was wonderful and I thought she really held her own in the Romeo and Juliet clips in Center Stage with Ethan.

A lot of times certain ballets require certain qualities or else the performance falls flat. For example, La Sylphide and Giselle require an ability to seemingly float and fly, Aurora requires radiance, Swanilda requires spunk, Kitri requires joy and energy, Raymonda requires aristocratic grace, etc.

For example, when I was eight years old I saw Yulia Makhalina perform The Legend of Love and I was entranced at how imposing her stage presence was and she had a certain regal quality that made her even more imposing, in a good way. She filled the heroine with mystery and pathos, but I was much too young to understand this. To my child mind, she was simply a very beautiful woman who was very graceful and agile.

In videos, I never cease to marvel at the performances of any of the "greats" such as Fonteyn, Ulanova, Markova, Plisetskaya, because they saturated every role with pure emotion.

I'll give one last example and then I'll let everyone chime in with their opinions. The two Bayadères on DVD with the Royal Ballet. Asylmuratova gave a sensuous and very moving interpretation of Nikiya. But Tamara Rojo was very boring. I'll be even more specific. In the scene where she fights with Gamzatti where Altynai stretches her arm towards Solor's portrait as if wanting to reach him, but Tamara just stayed there in front of the portrait until Gamzatti (a very wonderful Marianela Nuñez) threatens her even more. Both are blink and you miss it moments but they're there. However I thought Tamara did a much better job as Juliet and Manon. She seems to be at her best in McMillan repertoire, because in the classics she just seems to go through the motions. She doesn't exude the radiant glow that is essential to Aurora or the lyricism and pathos required of Odette, just to mention two. Though as Juliet she is very responsive and communicative, and in Manon she is utterly sensual and irresistible. So I'm baffled that she falls so flat in classical repertoire (for me at least) when a lot of critics praise her dramatic intelligence, especially Clement Crisp.

This is just to show that even something as dramatic intelligence can't be uniformly defined. So I want to hear everyone else's take on this.

#2 Amy Reusch

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 08:51 PM

The technical aspects of ballet, for me, are the skeleton that later will become the body of the drama. Without sound technique, it is impossible to achieve an arresting dramatic effect. However technique alone can't and will never constitute artistic intelligence.


I agree with you about dramatic ballet but can we please not equate dramatic intelligence with artistic intelligence? In story ballets, it is true, but not all ballets are about the drama... One could murder some very beautiful artistic choreographies by imposing drama on their interpretation. Not every piece of music is a tone poem, nor every ballet a drama...and yet there are artistic intelligence elements involved in the dancing that do not involve acting skill.

That said, there are some very fine dancers who are not suited to dramatic ballets.

#3 dirac

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Posted 10 October 2011 - 03:52 PM

This is just to show that even something as dramatic intelligence can't be uniformly defined. So I want to hear everyone else's take on this.


It's a big topic, Ballet fan. Sorry this thread fell through the cracks. It seems that in general there is more emphasis on dancing than acting even in companies that concentrate on story ballets and the actress-dancer who was known as much for her dramatic gift as her technique (which could be wanting on occasion) is a type not frequently encountered these days.

Ballet, like any other art, is designed to provoke strong emotions in the viewer. And this is achieved mainly by the dramatic intelligence of the performers.


Well...not necessarily. There's dramatic intelligence and dance intelligence, and as Amy notes the former can get in the way in the wrong choreography.


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