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Facial expressions..


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#1 Lukayev

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Posted 04 July 2001 - 02:10 AM

Should Odile..
  • Smirk knowingly at the fate of Siegfried?
  • Have a truly evil, nonsmiling, low-cast eye look?
  • Wear a mischievous grin because her ploy at imitating Odette is working?
I know it all depends on how the character's interpreted, but someone stated that Odile was supposed to imitate Odette.. however, I see no wrenched anguish faces upon viewing the close-ups of Odiles on video.

And should Odette..
  • Have 'suffering, withering princess' written on her face throughout the ballet?
  • Have something of a smile, maybe some wonder at what on earth Siegfried is here for (Act II)?
  • ...?
One of my friends went on a vacation (she got out really early.. odd schedule), and saw a Swan Lake two-ish years ago. She then asked me, "Why does the white swan lady look like she's constipated and about to cry like the whole time?" When can the heart-wrenching pathos image be overdone to the point of.. facial tissue overworking?
And how can Odile be maliciously evil, but kiddishly mischievous at the same time? (Upon being asked whether or not Odile was 'good', she said, "The black swan lady? Yeah, um.. I think she likes the guy. She's like always smiling.. That flirt!"). :)

--Luka

[ 07-04-2001: Message edited by: Luka ]

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 04 July 2001 - 02:34 PM

What a lovely, imaginative post, Luka! Thank you.

I'd go for the simple, classical approach (surprise!) How about a look of sweet repose for Odette, and enticing sophistication with the slightest undertone of evil for Odile?

#3 felursus

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 12:20 AM

Interesting question, Luka. I think Odette hasn't had much experience of men. She's stayed away from humans for years by the time the second act starts. So, at first she's genuinely afraid of Siegfried. Then she's afraid to trust him. After all, if she's had any encounters with humans, it's probably because they want to turn her and her swan friends into dinner! She knows what will happen if he breaks his promise, but she can't help falling in love with him.

Odile on the other hand is trying to pretend she's Odette. But Odile can't possibly understand Odette so probably thinks Odette espied Siegfried and used her wiles to entice him into swearing eternal love ("what a minx!"). Therefore what Odile thinks Odette is like is limited to flapping arms and imitating a 'soulful' expression. I think the key is that lack of understanding. :)

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 06:56 AM

On the other hand, there is the interpretation that runs: Swans are big, powerful birds, and if Siegfried isn't careful, she's going to do him an injury. Whether it's Odette or Odile, that power can be in evidence and still make for a whole character.

#5 bart

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 08:01 AM

While browsing old Swan Lake threads in preparation for Monday's televised ABT version, I came across this interesting thread, which seems to have died a sudden and untimely death back in 2001. Despite the title, "Facial Expressions," the thread seemed to be moving into a larger discussion of characterization of the Odette and Odette roles.

I was especially intrigued by Mel's references to the fact that swans are "big, powerful", which could have implications for the way Odette is portrayed.

Now that we're all awaiting to chance to watch, tape, fast-word, rewind, and pause Gillian Murphy's Odette-Odile, I was wondering what other Ballet Talk people think about the way the swans have been or should be characterized.

There are lots of possible questions:

How would you like to see the character of Odette and/or Odile portrayed on Monday? What advice would you give to Gillian Murphy about what do do or what to avoid? Which performancers in your experience have given the best portrayals of the character of Odette and/or Odile?

#6 carbro

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 02:44 PM

Thanks, bart, for playing Desire to this Aurora of a thread! (Wrong ballet, I know, but I couldn't help myself)

Mel's characterization of swans as big and powerful I first heard when Martine vanHamel was asked in an interview, how she, as a tall dancer, made herself fit the roles of O/O. This during the era when the sparrow-sized Makarova was held by many ABT watchers to be The One True Swan Queen.

Makarova, whose Odile was beguiling but not outright evil (until she was revealed as an identity thief), depended on Siegfried not being a total dolt. He had to believe that this was the creature to whom he'd sworn eternal love only a short while before. I'll go with that.

I think Odette, in the throes of romantic awakening, should find opportunities to smile, because there is bliss in the experience. And Odile should not glower or sneer or vamp -- except perhaps for one fleeting "lapse".

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 04:44 PM

As long as Odette avoids the "Oy, such a gas I got," look, she'll be OK!

#8 MissChristine

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 12:18 AM

My personal favortie at the moment would have to be Evelyn Hart's performance in Natalia Makarova's 1972 production with London Festival Ballet.
I think she's got a very frail look to her as Odette but not really that 'gassy' look.
She has a very suspicious/wary look when she first crosses paths with Siegfried and then a very somber look throughout her performance.
Hey, the girl's only chance of getting out of this spell is having a guy devote his undying love to her and she's got big bad R. to worry about...I wouldn't exactly be thinking my chances were on the up and up either. :jawdrop:
When she is Odile she has a very sly evil grin to her.
Yes, she is supposed to be pretending to be Odette but if Odette was able to make the party then wouldn't she be smiling a bit too?
I think it's just the look in her eye that I love, it's so mischevious but not too over the top. Plus her dancing, IMO, is pretty amazing. Nothing too forceful or powerful like she's about to beat the tar out of Siegfried's heart, just luring him in and enjoying every moment of it.

#9 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 05:25 AM

Years ago, when the Kirov film of Swan Lake with Elena Yevteyeva had a limited theatrical release, I took my then 6 year old brother with me to see it. His comment at one point at a closeup of Odette's face was "does she have a stomach ache?".

#10 chauffeur

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 05:40 AM

As Odette, Murphy did at times look as if she was trying to pass a kidney stone, which is part of why I preferred her Odile.

#11 Marga

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 10:45 AM

Gillian Murphy has the kind of face that can't stretch its features as much as some characterizations would require. Given her plasticity elsewhere in her gorgeous body, her face suffers from lack of it. Her Kitri has a hard time coming off as a fiery Spaniard. Her facial aspect gives the look of a pinched-face Victorian librarian instead. The same problem befalls her Odile. Her lips go into a sneer, indeed, which works here (as it definitely does not in Don Q!), but at their widest are not able to project vividly enough to the audience. As the sides of her mouth pull down, her nose scrunches up and the resulting expression is more comical than sinister.

The closeups on TV helped us see her face whereas sitting in a seat at the theatre we miss a lot of what she is valiantly trying to do.

#12 Cygnet

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 12:31 PM

IMHO I think Gillian could make better use of her eyes as O/O. There are some great ballerinas (and some from the recent past) who made excellent use of their eyes as O/O - see the Makarova/Dowell tape, Plisetskaya's tape, and of the ones I've witnessed, Tchyentchikova/Zaklinsky, Asylmuratova, Jaffe, Van Hamel, Harvey, Dunham, Ananiashvili and Bussell. Most recently I've seen Irina D., Zakharova and Pavlenko, the latter being quite mysterious and iconoclastic. So, I must see Gillian live in this production with opera glasses to fairly judge how she projects her emotions vs a televised performance. Her "drama" has to project to the last seat in the last row of the highest balcony. For me her Act 3 was technically sound as she adequately managed to marry her acting to the dancing. Give her time: 2-3 more years of O/O will reap the expected dividends.

#13 Herman Stevens

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 01:09 AM

IMHO I think Gillian could make better use of her eyes as O/O.  There are some great ballerinas (and some from the recent past) who made excellent use of their eyes as O/O - see the Makarova/Dowell tape, Plisetskaya's tape, and of the ones I've witnessed, Tchyentchikova/Zaklinsky, Asylmuratova, Jaffe, Van Hamel, Harvey, Dunham, Ananiashvili and Bussell.  Most recently I've seen Irina D., Zakharova and Pavlenko, the latter being quite mysterious and iconoclastic.  So, I must see Gillian live in this production with opera glasses to fairly judge how she projects her emotions vs a televised performance.  Her "drama" has to project to the last seat in the last row of the highest balcony.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Swan Lake etc was not created for TV or video tape, so that the audience could watch, rewind and zoom in on the corners of the dancer's mouth, methinks. And about projecting to the last row of the highest balcony, I don't know either. Some modern theaters are just too big. The Mariinsky theatre seats about 1650 people, I believe.

So how should Odette look? I think Swan Lake is one of those tragedies where the heroine knows from the beginning she's doomed. (Think Antigone.) Rothbart is in complete control. (Similarly in Beauty Carabosse doesn't stand a chance against Lilac.) So I think she should project a mix of fear, hope but all along the sure knowledge Siegfried is making a big mistake. He can't save her. She's actually trying to save him by indicating to him it's impossible. The girls in these romantic dramas are usually wiser than the men, who are caught up in their silly action-hero fantasies, but are too blind to tell the girls apart.

That doesn't mean she should look like she's ate some bad swan food all the time. But IMO just being a nice modest Victorian girl doesn't do it for me either.

#14 Marga

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 11:29 AM

Swan Lake etc was not created for TV or video tape, so that the audience could watch, rewind and zoom in on the corners of the dancer's mouth, methinks.

When I referred to Murphy's mouth in my post, it was not from the TV perspective alone. I saw this while in the audience (side balcony) during her Don Q grand pas with Ethan Stiefel in Toronto last year. I had an excellent vantage point at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, as the single row of chairs in the side balcony enables one to pull right up to the bannister and lean over. From where I sat it felt like I was almost above the dancers, looking down.

Her funny expression was one of the things that bothered me about her performance as Kitri. With Sunday's Swan Lake I can see that it's not her fault. She is doing the best she can facially with what she's got.

I rewound and rewatched half of Swan Lake last night. I found Gillian's expressions as Odette to be sincere, although not heart-wrenching. The depth of emotion required to portray Odette must start from inside and come naturally to the surface as the ballerina grows into the role. I think we will see true facial expression in Gillian Murphy's Odette after a few years of embodying the character, as more of Odette's identity enters her soul.

#15 carbro

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 02:17 PM

I found Gillian's expressions as Odette to be sincere, although not heart-wrenching. The depth of emotion required to portray Odette must start from inside and come naturally to the surface as the ballerina grows into the role. I think we will see true facial expression in Gillian Murphy's Odette after a few years of embodying the character, as more of Odette's identity enters her soul.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I hope your prediction proves right, Marga.

One of Gillian's admirable characteristics (to my mind, anyway) is her apparent belief that the body should be able to say it all. Even in her earliest solos, she stood out with an extra degree of epaulement, or the precise angle of the head. It is the mark of an extremely intelligent -- perhaps over-intellectualizing -- performer. I can see how a two-dimensional medium could fail to capture this three-dimensional quality.

She has never been one to rely on the face to telegraph the nuances of emotion, and when you perform in 3,800-seat opera houses, this makes sense. I don't want to have to train my opera glasses on the ballerina the whole time she dances, missing the stage picture just to see what her smile looks like.

In a company which seems to prize sock-it-to-'em theatrics, Gillian's low-key approach has been refreshingly honest. But lately I'm seeing her fall into ABT's predominant aesthetic :) -- if that's the word. :)


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