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Alexandra

Mime -- love it or heave it?

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I have grown to like mime but it's a language that one must make an effort to learn and I'm not sure that the casual ballet goer wants to.

One should comsider also that dancing transcends boundaries in a way mime does not. Not all the world understands a gesture in the same way.

For example, in my part of the world when people swear (as in "I swear to tell the truth and nothing but ...") they have all the fingers extended and palm facing front. When people swear in balletland (as in "I swear I love you") they usually have only the 2nd and 3rd fingers pointing, the others closed. I can't tell you how many times I have watched Swan Lake and Giselle wondering why they're doing this strange gesture. Do they mean "Look up there" or has it something to do with hunting (as in "I was shooting in the forest etc...")? It took me a while to figure it.

Even very simple gestures should not be taken for granted: where I live, moving your head upwards means no. I have heard of other cultures where this gesture means yes. I'm sure there are many other examples of non-universal gestures.

I wont even go into mime that is difficult to understand because it refers to things or habits of the past (Giselle's spinning for example).

That said watching mime done clearly can not only be illuminating but also very enjoyable (like the mime in POB's Paquita, very clear - even for people with no imagination as myself - and funny)

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The Joan Lawson book is MIME, THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF EXPRESSIVE GESTURE. (Dance Horizons, 1973). It is listed on Amazon currently.

While I understand the role that extensive mime used to play -- as in a balance of recitative and aria -- I confess to not wanting too much of it. I also lack the experience of truly great mime (though I loved the mime theater, based on a real place, in Enfants du Paradis) to make good evaluations of what I see today.

Question: how do you draw the line between (a) enough gesture to tell the necessary story and (b) simplification to meet today's aesthetic and dramatic standards?

I thought the ABT Swan Lake had sufficient mime -- well enough done -- to meet the test of both (a) and (b). Any other opinions?

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Mime is wonderful when done well, at the same time nobody I know goes to NYCB for the mime, do they?!!

Yes, the family of the Nutcracker Prince! :P

Actually, it seems that the company is more attentive to the few mime passages in their rep than they have been in previous generations. Funny how these things work.

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Question:  how do you draw the line between (a) enough gesture to tell the necessary story and (b) simplification to meet today's aesthetic and dramatic standards?

I thought the ABT Swan Lake had sufficient mime -- well enough done -- to meet the test of both (a) and (b).  Any other opinions?

Bart, yes I thought so too. For me the non negotiable scene is Odette's scene with Siegfried in Act 2 when they meet. If that scene is left out, then the version has a HUGE black mark against it.

I liked Murphy's delivery of this; it was elegant. To see a very moving version, see the Swedish Ballet DVD's Natalie Nordquist.

Actually I am even more critical about Sleeping Beauty without the mime. If the version dosen't have it, I won't even watch it,

Let me add a disclaimer. we all tend to favor what we "grew up with". With me, I was introduced to these pieces via the Western versions.

Richard

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In NYCB we used to sing it quite differently while backstage:

I'm a Swan Queen

You're a f__got

Stay away from me

or I will grab it!!!

Stay away....

It's a good thing we don't hear the backstage singing, or out the window would go the perfume and magic of Liebeslieder, Symphony in C, et. al. We would just think, "drunken sailors in tutus."

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In NYCB we used to sing it quite differently while backstage:

I'm a Swan Queen

You're a f__got

Stay away from me

or I will grab it!!!

Stay away....

It's a good thing we don't hear the backstage singing, or out the window would go the perfume and magic of Liebeslieder, Symphony in C, et. al. We would just think, "drunken sailors in tutus."

Rest assured, that's the only drunken sailor in tutu song I recall while backstage. Most of the time, it's pretty quiet there... Well, except during Harlequinade when the kids are dancing on stage beginning Act 2. More often than not, the birds, in prep for their approaching entrances, are backstage dancing along with the kids' choreography, being silly, getting perky. No songs! Just the irresistable fun of the choreography!

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I've been enjoying re-reading this old thread (in conjunction with our current thread on the impact of "small things" in ballet).

This led me to think about the language of fans, which is said to have been a big thing in upper-class social life in the 19th century. Some choreographers have used fans as props. (I'm thinking of Sonnambula.). On the whole, if I remember correctly, they haven't made much use of them in classical mime.

Here's one version of what you can "mime" with fans. There are many others available online, some of them extraordinarily complicated :

"LANGUAGE OF THE FAN"

With handle to lips: Kiss me

Carrying in the right hand in front of face: Follow me

Carrying in the left hand: Desirous of acquaintance

Placing it on left ear: You have changed

Twirling in left hand: I wish to get rid of you

Drawing across forehead: We are watched

Carrying in right hand: You are too willing

Drawing across cheek: I love you

Drawing through hand: I hate you

Twirling in right hand: I love another

Closing it: I wish to speak to you

Drawing across eyes: I am sorry

Letting it rest on right cheek: Yes

Letting it rest on left cheek: No

Open and shut: You are cruel

Dropping: We are friends

Fanning slowly: I am married

Fanning fast: I am engaged

Open wide: Wait for me

"KIss me" is obvious. "We are watched" is delightfully melodramatic. "Desirous of acquaintance" and "I hate you," on the other hand, are too ambiguous (or leading to double ententre).

"We are friends" might, unfortunately, merely suggest that one is a clutz, while "I am engaged," might just suggest: "I'm hot and sweaty."

One could draw the lesson from this that mime in ballet is too obscure and that we need to keep it to a minimum. On the other hand, one could go with dirac's earlier post about the extraordinary power of mime when well performed. Writing about Jean-Louis Barrault in Les Enfants du Paradis.:

f all mime could be performed at that level of physical eloquence people would be lining up and demanding more, not less.

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My opinion of mime has undergone a gradual revolution during my life. When I was performing as a ballet dancer, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about mime when I was in the audience--I was much more interested in what the dancers could DO, how good I thought their technique was, and whether their expression and artistry carried me away. Paradoxically, I enjoyed actually performing mime! Now, as a former dancer, I have a much greater appreciation of watching mime performed. It is an art of its own, and to see someone who really understands what they are "saying" and doing with the mime is a real pleasure. Having said that, some years ago I saw the Royal Danish Ballet perform the complete Napoli. There was so much mime, especially, as I recall, in the first act, that I did begin to become a bit bored and long to see some dancing....which did come along later, thank goodness.

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Clearly, we need well-performed mime that understands what the language can and cannot convey. We also need an audience willing to suspend disbelief and do a little work, watching closely and thinking.

This thread began with discussion of Swan Lake mime. Here's a video, part of the Royal Ballet's valuable "Insight" series, which shows the mime of Siegfried's first conversation with Odette. The second half includes a voice-over explanation of what the mime is actually "saying." The dancers are Romany Pajdak and Erico Montes.

Odette is positively chatty. After her initial reluctance, she has something she really wants to say. . I was very impressed by the forceful way she prevents Siegfried from interrupting her. Twice she raises her hands and says: "But. ..... Wait !" (As in, "let me continue.")

Thanks, innopac, for introducing me to the Insight videos.

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This discussion puts me in mind of something Fokine wrote:

Consider Le Lac des Cygnes. Siegfried's tutor comes on the stage and says: "Benno is coming here." The latter enters and remarks: "Siegfried is coming here." Then Siegfried enters, greets the peasants and his friends, drinks some wine and begins to talk. What does he say? "My mother is coming here." In this way several pages of music are disposed of. In many ballets the newcomer say: "I have come here." Surely his presence is sufficiently obvious.

Should mime be retained even when it communicates no important information? Or is the beauty of the gestures, when performed well, sufficient justification for keeping it around?

Souce: Beaumont, Cyril. Michel Fokine and His Ballets. London: Dance Books, 1935.

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