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Great character dancersWHo are your favorites, and what do you know about their lives?


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#1 Paul Parish

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Posted 17 October 2012 - 02:19 PM

A scholarly friend asks what she might read about the lives of great character dancers --

I'm stumped. Do NOT know where to send her. "Anything on Derek Rencher or Nils Bjorn Larssen. Or Gerd Larssen. Stanley Holden. Wayne Sleep. Sorella Englund."

Or those two great dancers at the Maryinsky who always play the king and the queen [Elena Bazhenova].

Rencher was the greatest Rotbart I've ever seen -- powerful and beautiful, mesmerizing. Balanchine himself was great as Drosselmmeyer and Don Quixote. WHo are your favorite character dancers and what do you know about them and how do you know it?

Do you know of anything written by or about them?

#2 Mashinka

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 05:10 AM

I suppose they become favourites in the same way as any other type of dancer - by watching them on stage.

The definition of character dancers interests me, as some become character dancers due to acting skills, e.g. Derek Rencher and some become character dancers after careers as company stars, e.g. Danes. It seems only in Russia are dancers ear marked for character work from the start.

#3 cargill

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 05:47 AM

Alexander Grant was certainly one of the greatest character dancers I have ever seen. There is quite a bit written about him, and some interviews. Jane Simpson did a very nice one a few years ago, in DanceView, as I remember. Cechetti wrote an autobiography and he talks in it a fair amount about mime. Mary

#4 Stage Right

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 02:57 PM

I want to put in a word for my character dance teacher when I was a ballet student at Indiana University: Jurgen Pagels. He was an excellent character dance teacher (as well as ballet); wonderful to watch. He is the author of "Character Dance", and more recently, "Class Variations in Classical Ballet: 100 different classes for the advanced student, professional dancer and teacher". He performed at several Opera Houses in Germany, Ballet Legat in England, Ballet Etoile in Paris, and the Yugoslav National Ballet. He was also an expert on many of the different methods and syllabi of classical ballet, and worked closely with Margot Fonteyn. I felt privileged to have been taught by him! He passed away about two years ago, I believe.

I'm editing this a couple of hours later. As I reread the first posts, I realized that they are talking about great character dancers as in those dancers who excel at parts that require excellent acting skills as well as movement/dance, whereas in this post I'm thinking of a dancer/teacher who excelled at the dances in classical ballets that come out of the traditions of national dances of various--usually European--countries, commonly called "character dances". I apologize if this post is off-topic!

#5 Stage Right

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 03:02 PM

And also, I loved watching Shaun O'Brien of NYCB. here's a link to his Obit in the NY Times from last February:

http://www.nytimes.c...let-dancer.html

I saw him as Dr. Coppelius in Coppelia, and as Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker: great in both.

#6 Mairways

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Posted 06 May 2014 - 07:43 PM

I think Lisa Macuja is a great dancer. She is the first ever prima ballerina that came from the Philippines. She studied in Vaganova Choreographic Institute under the tutelage of Kirov Ballerina, Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova. She danced The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Giselle, and Swan Lake.

#7 Tiara

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Posted 19 September 2014 - 01:08 AM

"Character" is such an interesting category and one in which Mariinsky is quite simply unsurpassed.  I have to say that out of the current character artistes, Elena Bazhenova is outstanding.  I have seen her many, many times and  she is always superb.  Think of all the variety of roles she does!  Everything from Madge and Carabosse to Queen Mother!  And then the dancing roles - Gypsy, Mercedes, Hungarian - you name it and she is wonderful in it, and she is also a beautiful woman.   She is a great example to the up and coming character dancers, and she will be an indispensable coach.   She is a VERY great Mariinsky "character" artiste and I am full of admiration for her.  However, I would also like to mention Yulia Stepanova, some of whose amazing Vaganova character examination classes are shown on YouTube.  She is a very great actress and, amongst other character type roles, has danced a magnificent Hungarian and Spanish in Swan Lake, 2nd wife in Fountain at Bakhchisarai, Egyptian woman - many character roles.  Her arms and expressive quality alone qualify her for best character dancer ever in my opinion, even though she is not in the character category.  She could actually dance any role in the repertoire, but now she is finally getting the classical roles she should have got years ago and I hope this season she will get many more!   I will not be happy until she has got them ALL!   :-)       



#8 Mashinka

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Posted 19 September 2014 - 02:48 PM

The Kirov's character dancers are now pretty weak on the whole, perhaps they have some decent ones at home but they're certainly not sending them out on tour.

 

Still feel the Danes corner the market when it comes to character performers.



#9 meunier fan

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Posted 19 September 2014 - 03:59 PM

From the depths of my cherished memories comes the name of Erik Bruhn.  For me his Dr. Coppelius and Madge with the National Ballet of Canada (of which he was then Artistic Director) remain unsurpassed .... and a lot of waters have passed under my bridge since I can promise you.

 

I also remember the devastating trill of Merrill Ashley's Carabosse in Peter Martins' inaugural Sleeping Beauty ... She came close to emasculating even Monica Mason ... or Celia Franca ... and that takes some doing.  

 

One other much more recent memory was Vitaly Biktimirov's inspired Catalabutte a la Peter Sellars for the Bolshoi.  His subtle genius in that role remains a masterly work of comedic art in my mind's eye.   



#10 volcanohunter

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Posted 19 September 2014 - 07:43 PM

One other much more recent memory was Vitaly Biktimirov's inspired Catalabutte a la Peter Sellars for the Bolshoi.  His subtle genius in that role remains a masterly work of comedic art in my mind's eye.   

 

Oh yes! I enjoyed that performance so much it almost made me feel like a glutton--as though I'd come across the most wonderful confections and promptly ate them all myself.



#11 Tiara

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Posted 20 September 2014 - 02:33 AM

The Kirov's character dancers are now pretty weak on the whole, perhaps they have some decent ones at home but they're certainly not sending them out on tour.

 

Still feel the Danes corner the market when it comes to character performers.

The Mariinsky's character dancers are superb, and the list of Principal Character Artists on the roster is just the tip of the iceberg, the elite of the greatly talented body of character dancers that exists just in the corps alone.  Watch Oleg Demchenko's fiery Indian dance, or the exquisite, sinuous arms of Yulia Kobzar as the Egyptian in Spartacus; Boris Zhurilov in the Hungarian in Swan Lake; Anastasia Zaklinskaya as an Odalisque in Sheherazade; all the corps dancers who perform in any of the national dances in Swan Lake, for example, or the crowd scenes in Romeo and Juliet.  These are just a few examples from the CORPS, but the company is full of them.  And the dancers in the Principal Character Artist category are breathtaking performers, their dancing alight with verve and passion.    Mariinsky has the best character dancers in the world.



#12 Mashinka

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Posted 20 September 2014 - 04:41 PM

meunier fan, I was also lucky enough to see Bruhn in those two roles and know exactly what you mean.  Did you ever see Henning Kronstam in character roles?  I saw him as the puritan in Whims of Cupid - so stiff you could almost hear him creak.

 

I suppose the Danes are so much better because of their exposure to the stage from an early age.  They go from kiddie extras in Napoli to dancing first the Sylph and, when age permits, Madge.

 

Danish character dancers always remind me of that James Bond title song:  'Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest'.



#13 Drew

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Posted 20 September 2014 - 05:56 PM

I also remember Bruhn's marvelous Madge, and Kronstam was entirely wonderful as the charming, would-be cheating husband in The Guards at Amager. (I saw this when I was very young, and I remember that my mother, who was watching through binoculars, could not get over his facial expression at the exact moment he realized his wife had tricked him.)

 

I think in pantomime "character" roles the Danes are remarkable, though I have also found Gennadi Yanin, onetime of the Bolshoi, to be as great as any character dancer I have ever seen.  The Danes more naturalistic, down-to-earth acting style also seems to me closer to the best of what one sees at the Royal Ballet -- or, at least, that I have seen in the past. And some of the differences between companies really do seem to me a matter of national styles.

 

In the stylized, non-pointe national/popular dances I have found the best Russian companies--whose dancers, like the Danes, are also exposed to the stage from an early age--to be the most consistently beautiful and exciting. Of course, there are differences between them. From my more recent experiences, I am thinking of the Mariinsky in Swan Lake (vital and elegant) and the Bolshoi in Don Quixote (striding proudly forward in Act III's wedding celebration as if quite prepared to stride into the audience) as well as Coppelia--but I thought the Mikhailovsky dancers also showed off some quality character dancing--both of the pantomime and 'national' variety--when the company was in London around 2010. (I haven't seen them more recently.)



#14 Tiara

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Posted 21 September 2014 - 03:18 AM

meunier fan, I was also lucky enough to see Bruhn in those two roles and know exactly what you mean.  Did you ever see Henning Kronstam in character roles?  I saw him as the puritan in Whims of Cupid - so stiff you could almost hear him creak.

 

I suppose the Danes are so much better because of their exposure to the stage from an early age.  They go from kiddie extras in Napoli to dancing first the Sylph and, when age permits, Madge.

 

Danish character dancers always remind me of that James Bond title song:  'Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest'.

There are Vaganova children in so many Mariinsky productions so they are exposed to stagecraft from their 1st year in exactly the same way.  I think if we are to differentiate between more mime/acting type roles and character dancing type roles, then the greatest ballet actor is Ilya Kuznetsov.  I have never seen a ballet actor like him - he is completely magnetic and commanding and becomes every character he portrays with such realism.  There are so many roles he is just the best ever in for me, and especially, In the Fountain of Bakhchisarai, his Ghirei is powerful and tragic, and never fails to bring me to tears.  The MT principal Igor Kolb also is now taking on more character type roles and is magnificent in them - Carabosse for example.  For me, Mariinsky has the best mime/acting/character dancers in the world.   



#15 mimsyb

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Posted 21 September 2014 - 09:30 AM

meunier fan, I was also lucky enough to see Bruhn in those two roles and know exactly what you mean.  Did you ever see Henning Kronstam in character roles?  I saw him as the puritan in Whims of Cupid - so stiff you could almost hear him creak.

 

I suppose the Danes are so much better because of their exposure to the stage from an early age.  They go from kiddie extras in Napoli to dancing first the Sylph and, when age permits, Madge.

 

Danish character dancers always remind me of that James Bond title song:  'Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest'.

The Danes, of course.  But we shouldn't forget Ashton.  He was also one of the best.  And Roman Zhurbin at ABT is well on his way to becoming a wonderful character actor/dancer.




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