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Mime -- love it or heave it?

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#31 sz


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Posted 24 June 2005 - 06:54 AM

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!

#32 bart


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Posted 26 July 2012 - 07:04 AM

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 :

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.:

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

#33 Stage Right

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 07:33 AM

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.

#34 bart


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Posted 26 July 2012 - 08:16 AM

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.

#35 Kerry1968



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Posted 26 July 2012 - 10:41 PM

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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