Casting (and typecasting)
Posted 21 February 2000 - 07:05 PM
Posted 21 February 2000 - 07:39 PM
I'd like to thank everyone for their patience and forbearance for this thread. I have a horrible feeling we're insulting everyone. I can imagine our dancer readers seething. Dancers (anybody) hate to be put in boxes. If you asked Kevin McKenzie or Anthony Dowell at one of those "chatting with the director" nights (or almost any other artistic director today): What do you consider the place of employ in today's ballet scene? He/she would either gasp or gag or laugh. They may not have heard the term either (I first learned it reading Gennady Smakov's biography of Baryshnikov. Like much of the good stuff in ballet, it's a secret kept by the great academies). They certainly don't practice it. They would probably say it's out of fashion, irrelevant to today's repertory, etc. But one can also make the argument that ballet is an art of rules. Modern dance is not; that is one of its glories. But ballet is about rules, and not only do dancers look best when placed in the right "box," but so do the ballets. A "Swan Lake" where the Siegfried is shorter and bouncier than the four little swans is missing something.
Posted 21 February 2000 - 10:32 PM
Originally, it appears to me from reading what has been written above that emploi was used to refer to casting a very limited variety of classical types -- i.e., the prince, the lover, the fool, etc. -- as well as a limited number of well known roles, such as the Lilac Fairy, the Bluebird, Odette/Odile. (The original group of roles appears to me to be derived from early 19th century German romanticism - Goethe, Schiller, E.T.A. Hoffman, but that is another thread).
However, 20th century developments in ballet then inevitably confuse this.
First, there is the profusion of ballets and roles. With character roles such Apollo, the Prodigal Son, or the Firebird introduced into the mix, there many more characters. Instead of just a few solid types, there are numberless roles and of course more disagreement as to just what the proper type of dancer is for many of them.
Then consider what happens when abstraction enters the picture. For once ballets tend towards the abstract, there cease to be identifiable characters as such, and of course it becomes still more difficult to speak of "emploi" in the original sense. To speak about the same idea (proper casting for each role) you will then inevitably have to talk either about casting in terms of very specific roles (thus, the two leading women in Concerto Barocco - Diana Adams or Tannquil LeClerq - will look and dance like this or that) or you will have to attempt a new verbal synthesis by dividing abstract classical roles into types of dancers generally and trying to reconstruct a theory of emploi around these aesthetic ideas.
But given these difficulties, it is not surprising if artistic directors today have abandoned the use of this concept for a more flexible role-specific verbal analysis.
Posted 22 February 2000 - 12:19 AM
The genres are not really limited to just a few roles and ballets. They pervade the ballets, and the ballets of Ashton and Balanchine as well as Bournonville and Petipa. They've gotten corrupted in this century, but they're still there.
There's a big debate, for example, over Apollo, which is usually described as a demicaractere role (not character) I think. But then there's Peter Martins -- the role changed. But Balanchine made that change, and made an exception for a specific dancer. I think the Adams/LeClerq pairing is very much the same noble/classique contrast that Petipa used in classical pas de trois (Swan Lake pas de trois, for instance) or the two soloists in Jardin Animee. It's to provide contrast and texture, like a duet between a lyric soprano and a mezzo-soprano.
Posted 22 February 2000 - 01:28 AM
Very broadly, fach is the range of roles to that a singer might be expected to perform based on, among other things, the color, agility, power, range and timbre of his or her voice. There are a dizzying variety of soprano voice categories, for example, and singers with long and successful careers may slowly move from one to the other.
Where it differs significantly from emploi, at least as I understand it from this thread, is that it is as least as much a self-definition as one imposed on a singer. She (and her close advisors) will know best where the voice lies and what roles are most appropriate. Very few singers are successful in combining fachs. Those who attempt a lot of roles that are too heavy, too high, or that require darkening and lightening the voice quickly generally have short (although sometimes spectacular) careers.
It is this real threat of permanently damaging one’s voice where the crux of the difference lies—it becomes as much a personal decision regarding a career as it does an artistic one.
Posted 22 February 2000 - 01:43 AM
Dancers can legitimately move around in fach/employ, as you say. Often a light dancer becomes heavier with age, for example.
Posted 22 February 2000 - 02:21 AM
The trouble with these defecting Soviet dancers like Nureyev and Makarova was that they were soon considered as true representatives, as models of the whole Soviet school, which they were not. And it’s even still working now: Mary considers Makarova’s selfish interpretation of Swan Lake as typically Russian. One can surely argue about her qualities as Odette/Odile and for some she looks mannered and over-stretched because she was technically too weak for it. In any case, and whatever her artistic merits, Makarova was not a typically Soviet swan. Those were still dancing on the banks of the Neva or in the shade of the Kremlin
Posted 22 February 2000 - 10:43 AM
I was also interested in your saying that Makarova was too technically weak to do the role, as she was considered the epitome of technique (not only Russian), the ideal classical ballerina, by many here.
Posted 22 February 2000 - 11:19 AM
Posted 22 February 2000 - 12:01 PM
Posted 22 February 2000 - 01:58 PM
Posted 22 February 2000 - 04:13 PM
(That’s also why some of us have mixed feelings about her “Swan Lake” I suppose.)
Part of the problem here in the West is, that for many years we have been treated too much to a one-sided diet of Soviet ballet. The few dancers we knew here, easily became the standard – up to a point that’s understandable. But what I fail to see is why Makarova’s reading of “Swan Lake” has gained such a status and became the typically Soviet interpretation of that ballet. That sounds a bit too limited and over-generalized.
“Swan Lake” has never been Makarova’s best role and her Black Swan was always a weak moment (Gennady Smakov, who really cannot be suspected of any feelings of antipathy toward Makarova, devotes a few paragraphs to this particular problem of hers.)
Back in Russia there were many other ballerinas (Plisetskaya, Bessmertnova, Osipenko, Evteeva to name but a few) who made the role their own or who gave different readings and provided other insights, that were at least as, if not more fascinating than hers, and surely more complete by technical finish (quite a few of them can be seen on film). By comparison Makarova's Swan can be criticized for lacking grandeur and the proper physicality for the role, while too much dancing is undoubtedly obscured by tics and mannerisms (which I don’t think has ever been a characteristic of Vaganova schooling, emphasizing on the contrary clarity and purity of line.)
That this particular reading of “Swan Lake” gained such a reputation in the West is indeed more than just a little puzzling.
Re Ulanova, difficult question Alexandra – I’ve never seen a complete “Swan Lake”. But without wanting to cut on her (although her reputation is undoubtedly inflated by myth-making), I always considered Ulanova artistically too much of an outsider to be labelled typical.
Posted 22 February 2000 - 04:39 PM
Posted 22 February 2000 - 10:46 PM
Makarova and Nureev after moving to West had changed dramatically. They gained freedom, not political, but movement's freedom and freedom of expression but they lost very important thing the same time - the taste. I'm not saying they became worst, no, they developed themselves in beautiful dancers but they weren't Russian dancers anymore.
Emploi is bringing the right relation between characters inside of one ballet. Alexandra is absolutely right - even the form of nose is very important. I'm not closing the door for any experiments in casting, but if you changed one person, you have to change all others as well, to find a right proportion in differences between them. It's really difficult if you have performances in the row with formed cast year by year.
Posted 23 February 2000 - 04:01 PM
Neither did this seem to lead to any injuries (as was implied in this thread): all these people had very long, illustrious careers. I think ascribing Soloviev's suicide to typecasting problems would be trivializing the matter.
I am also very much confused by the terminology. It would be very helpful if the professional posters could clarify the meaning of "danseur noble", "demi-caractere", etc. Is "danseur noble" equivalent to "a Prince who does not do any virtuoso dancing", like P. Gerdt in "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake"? (But then why did he also dance Abderakhman?) In previous threads, I've seen Ruzimatov, Bruhn, Soloviev all described as "demi-charactere". Some posters, however, said that Soloviev was a "danseur noble". I've also seen "Apollo" described as a demi-charactere role, but when Ruzimatov was scheduled to perform it last summer, there were many sarcastic remarks. On the other hand, there was a general approval when Zelensky (who is probably considered "danseur noble"--?) performed it. In short, I'm completely, totally confused--which probably means that so are many other readers of this board.
What would be nice are clear definitions, like: danseur noble is someone whose muscle structure, facial features, and proportions are such-and-such (we already know about the nose ), height is around X feet Y inches, etc.; Odette is a ballerina who is ...; she is inappropriate for Kitri because ..., etc. A specific example or two would also be very helpful.
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