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Casting (and typecasting)


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#31 cargill

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Posted 21 February 2000 - 07:05 PM

I know you didn't ask me, but I will add my 2 cents anyway! Fonteyn was so beautifully controlled, and has such a pure line, nothing was overstretched. She was so definitely a woman, with no extra flutterings, but she was also so swan-like. I don't know if I have written about it here, but there was one magical moment when she folded her arms, and I really did see wings. She also had such a sence of tragedy and nobility. Markarova seemed to be so wan and mannered, fluttering and batting her eyes, and so self-indulgently slow with the music. Though that is not emploi, that is Russian!

#32 Alexandra

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Posted 21 February 2000 - 07:39 PM

Giannina, I think it's the subtlety. She manages to be regal and humble at the same time. I don't see her as a literal swan (which she's not supposed to be, during the white act; just at the end). The dancing is so clean and so simple and so pure -- "classical," by my definitions. I never saw her do it in performance. The two Swan Lakes I have of Fonteyn are from the "An Evening with the Royal Ballet" film from the 50s and the Nureyev version with the Vienna Ballet. I will also say that I watched these videos dozens of times before I "got" it. I always had the sense that, beautiful as Makarova was, Odette/Odile wasn't natural to her. It was as if she was dancing in falsetto.

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.

#33 Michael

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Posted 21 February 2000 - 10:32 PM

Re emploi, I want to make an observation about the terms being used here and how 20th century ballet develoments appear to have affected them.

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.

#34 Alexandra

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 12:19 AM

The genres are much older than German romanticism, Michael. They go back to European mythology. The three body types are described as clearly in a Norse myth (they're called Jarl, Carl and Thral) as they would be later by Beauchamps and Noverre. The genres work in 20th century ballet, too. If you're interested, the best contemporary writer I've found on them is Joan Lawson. She has a fairly recent book called something like (sorry) "How to Make a Ballet" and actually sets out the "rules" for demicaractere ballets (the kind popular in the 30s and 40s) as if she wanted to have it written down somewhere, in case anyone ever wanted to revive them.

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.

Alexandra

#35 Ed Waffle

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 01:28 AM

I have been reading this thread with a lot of interest. The operatic term that is closest of “emploi” may be “fach”. Possibly like the ballet term “emploi", “fach” has been imported into a set of universal terms used in any language in which opera fans converse, and therefore has been stripped of many of the nuances in its original language, in this case German.

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.

#36 Alexandra

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 01:43 AM

Ed, I think you're exactly right. I also think that the body types -- height, frame, musculature -- are as restrictive as voice, but dancers go out and strain their bodies every night. Many older dancers (dancers who grew up when employ was more strictly adhered to) think that this is the leading cause of injuries. If you are aware of employ, you'll find it popping up (often unnamed) in dancer interviews. How they felt totally comfortable in McBride roles, for example, but could not do Farrell ones. Well, duh, as the kids would say. It also applies to acting. Whether it's temperament or facial musculature, I don't know, but I've seen dancers with wonderfully mobile faces in comedy look ridiculous in tragedy -- it's not just that they "can't act." It's that the face literally cannot assume tragic poses.

Dancers can legitimately move around in fach/employ, as you say. Often a light dancer becomes heavier with age, for example.

#37 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 02:21 AM

One more thing about Makarova in Swan Lake.
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

#38 Alexandra

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 10:43 AM

Interesting remarks, Marc. (I don't think I'm ready to think that Nureyev was not representative of the Russian school, though.) I'm curious. Do you consider Ulanova a typical Soviet swan, or a great Soviet swan? Again, only comparing to video, but Makarova's phrasing in the White Swan is almost a copy.

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.

#39 Giannina

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 11:19 AM

Me too, Marc. Why was she considered technically weak? I can go with the mannered. I'm not sure what over-stretched means.

Giannina

#40 Alexandra

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 12:01 PM

I can chime in on the overstretched part. It means the body looks as though it's been stretched on a rack, every limb is extended as far as it is humanly possibly to extend it. Volkova (pupil of Vaganova and coach of Fonteyn in the classical roles) taught that the body must never be overstretched, that the dancer must always leave room, as it were, for more movement. The movement must never be finished, there must be the possibility that there's somewhere else for the dancer to go.

#41 Natalia

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 01:58 PM

Cargill - When did Martine Van Hamel ever dance the title role in GISELLE? Do you really believe that she rarely danced Myrtha? You may be interested to learn that Martine Van Hamel is considered to be one of the greatest Myrthas of all time, having performed the role many times with ABT. I believe that it is Van Hamel who is featured as Myrtha in the video that stars Makarova as Giselle. Perhaps you were thinking of someone else & typed "Van Hamel" by mistake? (smile)

#42 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 04:13 PM

Alexandra, I was aware that Natalia Makarova made a lot of impact here in the West, but I didn’t know that they even went as far as to consider her ”the epitome of technique” and “the ideal classical ballerina.” I always thought she was essentially a romantic ballerina, but there we go.
(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.

#43 Alexandra

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 04:39 PM

Marc, some day, try to get ahold of Croce's collections of essays. They're full of descriptions of Makarova's and Baryshnikov's technical supremacy. (I quote Croce often here; I admire her, and she's very very quotable. But on these two dancers, I never agreed with her, for what that's worth.) Croce certainly wasn't the only one, but she's very influential, as I'm sure you know.

#44 Andrei

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Posted 22 February 2000 - 10:46 PM

In Russia we have 2 different schools with different styles - Moscow and St.Petersburg. They were different 200 years ago and thanks God they are still different. Ulanova is product of St.Petersburg school but she danced most part of her life in Moscow by Stalin's order. Because of this and because of her talent she stay aside from typical Soviet balerina. But model for Russian Swans was not even she, but Marina Semenova, another Vaganova's pupil who danced in Moscow also. I didn't see her dance, only her walk downstairs in Swan's costume and it was unbelievable gorgeous.

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.

Andrei.

#45 Ilya

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Posted 23 February 2000 - 04:01 PM

Marc, I thought that many people from the "old school" danced everything: Sergeyev danced not only Princes, but also Slave in "Le Corsaire", Basilio, Bluebird, Ali-Batyr; Sizova was both Giselle and Myrtha; Dudinskaya danced both Kitri and Odette, Giselle and Raymonda, Aurora and Laurencia; Semenova was Queen of Dryads (sp.?), Street Dancer, and Kitri in "Don Quixote", Odette and Odillia in "Swan Lake", Giselle, etc. Most of this was happening under the watchful eye of Vaganova. And, in my opinion, this is good: the public was treated to a variety of roles danced by these wonderful artists. The spectators had a choice: if you do not like Dudinskaya in "Giselle", don't go.

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 Posted Image), 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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