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Casting (and typecasting)

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#46 Alexandra


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Posted 23 February 2000 - 04:36 PM

Ilya, I agree that it's very confusing. The clearest definitions I've seen are in Noverre's Letters -- yes, very old, but that's the basis of it, one of the first times it was written down. There were genre crossings from the beginning. I learned for the first time a few years ago that Gaetan Vestris (the original Dieu de la Danse) was originally a grotesque dancer in his native Italy. But he was tall, good-looking and a good actor, and when Duport was about to retire and they needed a danseur noble in Paris.... (And people complained about it, too, but Vestris's PR machine won that battle.)

Stars do dance roles "out of type." But again, it is very misleading to just check a list of roles and think one understands what really happened. As was pointed out here, Martine Van Hamel danced Giselle -- once. And Myrtha many more times. So to say that she danced both roles is not really true. Danilova (another Myrtha) also danced Giselle a few times, and her fans were undoubtedly delighted. But she was still a Myrtha (and a very great ballerina -- at least by American standards Posted Image ) There is also a very big difference between having danced the role, as in, "Whew. Now I can put this one on my role list" and being great in the role. There are dozens of dancers who danced roles for which they were unsuited, especially away from their home companies, but were taken out of the roles after a few performances simply because it was clear that they were unsuited.

As for physical requirements, I can only list this for men. Danseur nobles are 5'10 and above. Duport was 6'1, G. Vestris 5'11. A very rare genre. But also, more importantly, they are elegant and "classically proportioned," which means the waist bisects the body. The semicharacter classical (Prince rather than King) is 5'7 to 5'9. Also slender and elegant, although not necessarily quite so elegant, and the legs are long; the body is not classically proportioned. Demicaractere is 5'4 to 5'6. Their build is more stocky (but not inelegant) Grotesques were extremes: either very very short or very very tall. We're also talking about the natural body, not a stocky or naturally fleshy body starved to look more elegant. There are also steps associated more with one genre than the other, again descending from the original steps/dances assigned to each genre. BTW, I loved what Andre wrote above about the need for all the genres to make a truly great ballet. I certainly agree with that.

A general note: I would imagine it would be almost impossible to really understand this from reading a few posts here. Anyone who is genuinely interested might want to read old dancing master's manuals, or any of Ivor Guests books about the Paris Opera (which institution classified dancers formally by category until well into the 19th century at least), as well as dancers memoires, reviews, etc. (Checking and cross-checking a dancer's complaints about how he was typecast against his or her colleague's comments often sheds useful light on this question, for instance.) But until one has the historical background to really discuss this, I don't think the "so what?" attitude is very helpful.

I'd be very interested in reading how Andrei, as our only Russian-trained dancer poster, I think, would divide the genres physically.


[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited February 23, 2000).]

#47 atm711


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Posted 23 February 2000 - 07:09 PM

Well, for whatever it's worth--I did see Fonteyn's Odette/Odile when she was in her prime (40's and 50's) and I could never warm up to it. Her movements never seemed to flow off into infinity---when she struck an arabesque, for instance, the movement seemed to stop at her fingertips--for me, there was never enough poetry in her performances and Makarova is overflowing with it!

But for all you Fonteyn admirers I will admit that her Aurora was the best...To this day whenever I see Sleeping Beauty Fonteyn's performance is always there in shadow.

#48 Ilya


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Posted 23 February 2000 - 07:38 PM

Alexandra, thanks a lot! Now, could you classify some famous male roles according to danseur noble, demi-charactere, character? I'm mostly interested in Desire, Bluebird, Sigfried, Albrecht, Nutcracker, James, Franz, Basilio, Ali, Conrad, Solor, Spartacus (Grigorovich), de Brienne, as well as male parts in "Le Spectre de la rose", "Grand pas classique", "Flower Festival", and peasant pdd from "Giselle". (The only ones I'm pretty sure about are Desire, Sigfried, and de Brienne.)

It would also be great if I could get some specific examples of miscasting, carefully explained: for instance, taking an example from an earlier thread (with which I don't necessarily agree), casting Ruzimatov (who is demi-charactere) as Desire (a danseur noble role) was bad, because ... Or, perhaps, despite the miscasting, he turned out to be equal to the challenge by doing ...

The example discussed above of Makarova in Swan Lake is not really what I'm looking for, because the argument there was the lack of technical suitability, as well as some peculiarities of her interpretation. What I'd like to know is who is suited (or considered to be suited) for different roles physically.
(Marc mentioned that Makarova wan't suited to that role physically, either. Perhaps he could expand on that?)

#49 Bridget


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Posted 23 February 2000 - 08:07 PM

This may be going off the subject a little, but I think it's definately related. Just as dancer's become associated with a particular role, such as Martine van Hamel's Myrta, they become associated with partners that can result in a form of selective casting also. Ferri and Bocca at ABT are one example.

#50 Alexandra


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Posted 23 February 2000 - 10:36 PM

Whew. Your list: "Desire, Bluebird, Sigfried, Albrecht, Nutcracker, James, Franz, Basilio, Ali, Conrad, Solor, Spartacus (Grigorovich), de Brienne, as well as male parts in "Le Spectre de la rose", "Grand pas classique", "Flower Festival", and peasant pdd from "Giselle". (The only ones I'm pretty sure about are Desire, Sigfried, and de Brienne.)"

Desire - danseur noble
Bluebird - semicharacter classical (henceforth called "classique")
Some differences: I watched some coaching sessions in Denmark a few years ago. A very young dancer was learning Desire's third act solo. Just the solo, mind you. But the coach stopped him when he was walking and said, 'No, you're walking on your toes, like the Blue Bird. You're a Prince. Get your heels down. Feel the floor." Desire needs line and weight, and how to hold the stage just by walking and standing. The acting is in his very being, and through mime. The Bluebird is a dance-acted role, the character is in the dancing. He also needs line, but it's a fleet line, not a still line. NOTE: I think one of the big confusions is this middle genre, the "classique." Some classique roles, like Albrecht, are thought to be danseur noble roles (because "danseur noble" is sometimes thought to be French for "hot star dancer," but this is a bad translation Posted Image Some classique roles are thought to be demicaractere roles. I've heard Bluebird considered demicaractere. I've noticed that Kirov and Kirov-derived productions have a much more elegant, "classical" way of dancing the BlueBird pas de deux.

Now back to your list. Short answers:
Sigfried - danseur noble
Albrecht - classique (I've been told that in Paris, this was considered a demicaractere role. Also, in Denmark, this was one of Borge Ralov's great roles, and his other two were Petrouchka and Harlequin (!) He bombed as James.)
Nutcracker - danseur noble
James - classique
Franz - demicaractere
Basilio - demicaractere
Ali - I think we're too far from the original to tell. Now, it's almost a grotesque (exotic) role. I've noticed demicaractere dancers calling themselves "virtuoso" dancers. I'll bow to Andrei on this one (and of course, any additions or corrections you'd like to add...),
Conrad - danseur noble
Solor - danseur noble
Spartacus (Grigorovich) - 20th century employ. Hmm. Created for a great demi (Vasiliev) but I think would be considered, in Soviet terms, a heroic as opposed to a lyric role
de Brienne - danseur noble
"Le Spectre de la rose" - classique (Of course, I don't know what it looked like when Nijinsky did it. He was a demicaractere dancer, who also did Albrecht and Siegfried (but only in Paris)
"Grand pas classique" - don't know. Haven't seen it since I became employ-eyed
"Flower Festival" - demicaractere
peasant pdd from "Giselle". demicaractere

On Ruzimatov as Desire. I would argue that he is not a danseur noble primarily because he doesn't have the weight and he doesn't have the line. (Not to mention the height or the proper proportions.) Any interesting dancer can be interesting in any role. Horrid example. I met someone who had only seen "Rubies" in Copenhagen, and who didn't like the NYCB version. Why? "When you've seen a tall man dance that role, it just doesn't make sense with a short man." In Copenhagen, their "short man" had been injured and the second cast man was well over 6 feet tall, but very light -- light in spirit as well in dancing -- and he could be witty, so they put him in. The role was made for Edward Villella.

ATM, re Fonteyn and Makarova, I thought Fonteyn was too calm at first. I later realized that she was supposed to be calm ("supposed to be" by the rules of her style). This isn't to argue; tastes are different and many people adored Makarova and found Fonteyn dull. I found, when I started really looking at the "dullness" that it was quite interesting.

Bridget, yes, partners can definitely define a role for a generation.

#51 cargill


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Posted 24 February 2000 - 11:11 AM

About Ilya's question as to the NY reaction to Ruzimatov in Apollo; I don't think emploi as such was involved, it was more an issue of his flamboyance being inappropriate, I would guess. (He didn't appear in NY very much, and the picture of him with glitter dust in his hair in Theme and Variations is still quite strong.) I also think the casting of Apollo is something people argue about; as I understand, Jacque d'Amboise was considered a wonderful Apollo, and he was more of a character than a classical dancer, from what I gather.

In a recent interview Peter Martins said that Balanchine had always told him that Apollo was demi-charactere. Unfortunately the interviewer didn't seem to know enough to follow up on that, and ask for more clarification.

And about Blue Bird, it was done for Cechetti originally, and the pictures of him in that costume with those huge thighs make it look like it was a long way from the style it is danced now. I think it would be interesting to see it danced less classically, to make it more of a contrast with the Prince's variation, but I guess there isn't much chance of that.

#52 Natalia


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Posted 24 February 2000 - 05:34 PM

Thanks, Alexandra, for verifying my hunch about Martine Van Hamel being a well-known Myrtha, but not a Giselle (my comment above on Cargill's post mentioning that Van Hamel was not given a chance to dance Myrtha). My memory was not deceiving me, after all!

For the most past, Van Hamel's roles at ABT were most eppropriate for her style & "look." The only "out-of-her-emploi" (??) role seemed to be Aurora in the current MacMillan staging; then again, she was so technically impeccable, that we can forgive the casting directors this lapse of "emploi-savviness"!

#53 Manhattnik


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Posted 24 February 2000 - 06:08 PM

The first time I saw ABT was in the fall of 75, when they were doing Nureyev's Raymonda at the Uris, which is now the Gerswin, and right down the block from where I live. The "first cast" was Gregory, Nureyev and Bruhn as Abdelrakhman, or however they spelled it. Those were the days. The other Raymondas I saw were Kirkland and Van Hamel, and the one I liked best, by far, was Van Hamel. Although she was perhaps a bit on the tall and well-developed side for this role, she did do the "young-dewy-adolescent-growing-into-radiant-adulthood" thing very, very well.

I seem to recall her dancing Aurora during in ABT's Messel production (she was a tremendous Lilac), and doing just fine with the above-mentioned qualities. It could just be my memory playing tricks on me, however.

I personally find Aurora a very difficult role to peg, or to which to assign a certain body type, or even temperament. I've seen petite Auroras and tall Auroras do just fine. I have in my mind a pretty clear image of the ideal "type" for Odette, say, or Giselle, but I don't have that for Aurora. I mean, I've liked the radiant, refined Auroras (like Fonteyn, whom I adore in this role), but despite all the stuff she got slammed for, I also liked Zakarova's "high-school-track-star" Aurora.

Was I going somewhere with this?

#54 Alexandra


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Posted 24 February 2000 - 06:32 PM

Jeannie, your memory is fine Posted Image I think, though, that Mary was making the point that Van Hamel danced Myrtha early in her career, but by the mid-1970s, when she was beginning to be recognized as a ballerina, she got Giselle -- very briefly -- and then didn't go back to Myrtha, hence not having the opportunity to develop the role.

Re Aurora, as I've said before, I think female emploi is too complex for me Posted Image I did think, though, that Van Hamel was not only a wonderful Aurora, but a "correct" Aurora, as she is classically proportioned (the waist bisecting the body) -- and certainly had classical line, a fine balance, etc. I liked her Lilac Fairy too, but that's a difficult role, because it was originally a mimed role (a really truly danseuse noble) and then in the early 20th century became a new type, the neoclassical role, with that solo (neos are tall with long legs. I have no idea how I know this.)

#55 Manhattnik


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Posted 25 February 2000 - 08:57 AM

My recollection is that Van Hamel went right back to Myrtha after that single Giselle. I had better start digging through my trunks of programs from the seventies and eighties. This is, of course, dangerous.

I will just add for the record that I think she would have made a fine Giselle had she been given an opportunity to grow into the role. I recall her performance having some blurry and unfocused moments, quite unusual for her, and I'm sure she would have quickly sharpened and clarified her Giselle, had she been given the chance. The biggest problem, I think, was in the audience's perception of her -- she had become so closely associated with Myrtha that her second act just seemed wrong, and jarringly so. I have no doubts she could've educated us to see things differently, given time.

[This message has been edited by Manhattnik (edited February 25, 2000).]

#56 Alexandra


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Posted 25 February 2000 - 10:10 AM

As early as Baryshnikov's debut as Albrecht with ABT (1974?) Van Hamel was referred to in a review as "the company's state occasion Myrtha," indicating not only that she was not dancing the role regularly, but the attitude that real ballerinas don't do Myrtha. I saw ABT's Giselle in the 70s and 80s at least 50 times and saw her dance Myrtha only twice. As for her suitability to Giselle, I think there are a lot of dancers who could be good or interesting (or, perhaps in this case, better) in roles if they had proper coaching, but that's not the same thing as being inherently suited to a role. (She was a lovely Sylphide, btw.)

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited February 25, 2000).]

#57 Andrei


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Posted 25 February 2000 - 08:58 PM

Alexandra, let's I help you with female emploi.

Aurora is ingenue, which mean naive, clear girl. For me the best ballerina suited for this role was Kolpakova, with her porcelain statue and purest technique(it's not about virtuoso, but clearness of execution).
Kitri is subrette, which mean active, attractive girl, who can deffence herself, if necessary.

Back to male, Ali is demicharacter classique, taking in mind that we have and demicharacter character like Mercutio in "Romeo".

I'm agree with Alexandra's pnysical definition but it can be vary. A lot of things depend on individuality of the dancer.
Soloviev was just a little bit higher than Baryshnikov, but he was dancer noble and hero(usually they substitute each other) and Baryshnikov was demicharacter classique or lover.

One more thing. Everything I said, it's just mine opinion. Don't blame all Russians for my possible mistakes Posted Image.

#58 Alexandra


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Posted 25 February 2000 - 10:44 PM

Thanks, Andrei. Now, how about what I've heard referred to as the "black line" in Russian ballet: Kitri, Myrtha, Black Swan, Raymonda. Is that just a coincidence, with a line of ballerinas who were suited to, and danced, that employ? Or is that another genre?

One other thing that's worth mentioning, I think, is that I doubt any balletmaster in recent memory has sat down and said, "Hmmm. He's demicaractere, but she's semicharacter classical." They know it by instinct -- the ones that know it, that is.


#59 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 February 2000 - 11:00 PM

I'm curious, where do you think adagio and allegro comes into this?

I tend to divide my own choreography along those lines, and often dancers that way as well (as folks will see from previous essays I've done.) I consider Aurora an allegro role, but Odette an adagio one. I agree completely with Andrei about clarity of execution being the benchmark of an Aurora. To me, she should be the Golden Mean. You give it to the dancer with the freshest, purest execution of steps. But what's interesting to me is though I would not usually cast a story ballet by technique, but by her character and quality (I wouldn't give Odette to the girl with the highest arabesque, for instance) I *would* cast Aurora by technique because Aurora's pure technique *is* her character.

#60 Jane Simpson

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Posted 26 February 2000 - 10:14 AM

For me, the point about Aurora - and the reason it's such a challenging role for a dancer - is that the differences between the three acts are just as marked as the difference between Acts 1 and 2 of Giselle. It's fine for Aurora to be an ingenue in Act 1, but if she's still being an ingenue when she gets to the the Act 3 pd2, for me she's missed the whole point of the ballet. That pas de deux is the heart of Sleeping Beauty, to me, and if the ballerina can't fill out the music with an expansive adagio grandeur, I feel the evening has been wasted. And as, in my experience, mature adagio dancers are better at impersonating ingenue allegro dancers than the other way round, I'd cast the one who can do Act 3 and teach her to do Act 1. Though of course the ideal remains that rare creature who can do both!

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