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Alexandra

Do you like mime in ballet?

  

  1. 1. Do you like mime in ballet?

    • Yes!
      8
    • Yes, if it's done well.
      14
    • It depends.
      4
    • No!
      0

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33 posts in this topic

This is a companion to Nadezhda's question about mime posted earlier today.

The question is "Do you like mime in ballet?"

If your answer is "It depends" PLEASE tell us what it depends on :)

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Absolutely, YES, I do. It helps explain the situation and the emotions the dancers' characters are portraying. And if its done well, it can be so beautiful. Of course it can't just be the hands, it has to be accompanied with the right facial expressions and head inclination. To me it adds to the magic.

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I have to say "Amen!" to Doris's remarks. Just came off a great season with ABT at the Met in NYC!:)

As a matter of fact, this is something I often miss in NYCB's performances - and wonder if the "neoclassical" just doesn't go in for it? Don't know if that's even the correct word to use...but I do, sometimes, feel that many of the ballets I see at the NY State Theater are missing the human emotion..although, I am sure, many would say that their dancing is the expression.

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Ah and to a NYCB goer the miming seems like a space filler when they should be dancing! But, after going to see ABT this past week I have to say when it is done well it can be beautiful to see. I still felt at moments "where is the dancing????" what is all this miming? But when it furthers the story and you see the emotions it can help build to a crescendo that we saw in Giselle that was awe inspiring...even for someone who has seen a million NYCB performances and only 2 ABT performances.

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I agree absolutely with Mel Johnson - mime IS dancing, and it is certainly ballet!

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AS one whose all time favorite piece of ballet is the mime in Swan Lake, I of course voted for as much mime as can be put in! I do think it helps the dancers develop a character and a stage presence to think aobut how to hold an audience's attention. The Swan Lakes I have seen without the mime seem much less moving and poignant--the mime forces Odette to use her eyes and to express something, whereas when a few extra steps are substituted, there is much less to express.

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Mary, your mention of Swan Lake reminded me of one of my least favorite mime choppings. There are dancers who keep little bits of the mime and throw out everything else, which, to me, makes everything make even less sense. Makarova always did the "Shoot, no." She'd take a lovely arabesque, looking like a bow, and do the "no" gesture. So that act would go something like this. "Shoot me not." "I shoot you not."

"Shoot me not." "I shoot you not."

"Shoot my swans not." "I'd never think of shooting your swans." [thought very hard by the Prince]

"Have I mentioned that I'd prefer if you didn't shoot?"

and on and on and on and on until, sometimes, one wished the Prince to raise his bow.....and mime, "Enough already."

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Interestingly, I don't think this question would even occur to people like me (and probably Helena) brought up on the RB repertoire. It's a bit like asking 'do you like pas de deux in ballet?' or something!

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That's a good point, Jane. It's an Issue here, and I can't tell you how many people I know who loathe mime. (I'm surprised at the poll so far. If you hate it, don't be afraid to say so!!!)

Having gone to performances at the Kennedy Center for so many years, I think I have a sense of the audience in DC, too. It's never particularly liked "La Sylphide" (except once when the RDB did it in '92 and it was so good they forgot it was mime). Folk Tale didn't go down well here in '92. I sensed that the audience was sulky at the recent production of the Bolshoi's Bayadere, until the Shades scene.

We're not used to mime. It's also often scorned in advance pieces -- even in some of a company's own material. "Despite its rich mime passages..." "The story is told without resorting to old-fashioned mime!!!" that kind of thing. So much seems to telegraph that mime is dumb.

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I think it's not simply that people think that mime isn't dance, I think stagers are afraid some of the extended traditional mime will confuse the audience rather than enlighten them. Not all mime is intuitive; it requires an extra layer of knowledge from the audience. It's easy enough to mime "Don't shoot them!" or "I love you" but even the mime for "beauty" (circle the face with your fingers held together, then kiss your fingers) could leave some people in the audience lost. There's enough suspicion of ballet in America as being "elitist" that the thought of placing that extra "secret code" of the Delsarte derived mime into productions probably spooked some stagers.

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I think you're right that some stagers think the mime is confusing -- why they don't think that ballets that need 17 pages of program notes to explain what is not going on stage, but was told very well in the novel is beyond me. But I do think there's a general dislike of mime. Once a presenter asked me how much dancing was in a particular ballet -- a ballet "rich in mime," as they say. I hedged. "Well, it depends on what you mean by dancing." "I mean jumping up and down," he said. (Of course, I agree that good mime, well-set and clearly performed mime, IS dancing, as several have noted. Bournonville, about 60 years before Fokine's Petrouchka, wrote "pantomime is the dance of the turned in feet.")

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Alas, this goes back to my pet theory of American culture. We're spooked by anything that requires interpretation. Jumps and turns are jumps and turns. There's no way to get it wrong, you can even count them. You might misread the mime. Sadly, I think a great deal of the audience looks at any sort of ballet, abstract or narrative, as a pop quiz. We want Swan Lake, because we've heard the name before and we know there are Swans, and we know there's a Lake, but we just want the dancing bits, please, because the other part is confusing (but that's too embarrasing, so we're going to tell you it's boring instead.)

Sigh.

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I agree with that. There's also the very human reaction that if we're told we won't understand something, or that mime is boring, we'll expect that. (I remember being a bit embarrassed by liking "King's Volunteers on Amager" so much after I read the stuff in the program book about how "despite its being rich in mine" and reviews that "although the first act -- nearly an hour! -- is completely pantomime..." I was so uninformed, I didn't know.

I was also sitting in the third row, where I could practically hear the dancers breathe. I think the comments several people have made about mime and gesture not carrying well in big houses is a good one, too. Tudor at the Mercury and Tudor at the Met must be very different experiences! And the Bolshoi MUST do big gestures, as well as big jumps, because they have such a big stage. The dancers can't all huddle in the middle and exchange glances.

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About the mime not "carrying well" on a bigger stage - it comes in quite handy, to bring along a pair of extra wide field of view binoculars!:( Interestingly enough, one of the reviews in today's NYT stated that Ms. Ananiashvili and Mr. Correno didn't have much of a rapport - through my trusty binoculars they certainly did! ;)

I will say that over acting in mime is terrible - and sometimes the more "humorous" roles can be tricky to carry off well...perhaps that's the mime that people love to hate?

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I think that some people think they hate mime because they aren't familiar with it and don't know how to watch it -- or even that they're supposed to watch it.

I've found this in several classes I've taught. When I show a video of a mime scene everyone seems to be waiting for the dancing to start, and get restless after awhile. When I show them what's going on -- it seems obvious to me, but these are ballets I've seen many times, and I'm attuned to them -- they become interested.

One of the saddest comments I've ever gotten was after I showed a video of La Sylphide to a group of people that weren't arts people at all, and few had ever seen dance. But they were interested. And afterwards, one man came up to me and said, very angrily, "Why don't they teach this in school? I was taught how to read a poem, hear a piece of music, and appreciate a painting, but never a word about dance. I never thought there was anything to it before."

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As someone who is a mother of a dancer and a lover of ballet albeit the NYCB which is not known for the breadth of their mime in ballets...I think part of the problem is that many people do not know how to interpret the mime on stage. It just looks like gibberish to untrained eyes unless you know the story and can sort of guess what is being said. It's like listening to opera in a foreign language or watching sign language without understanding signing. We had a discussion at dinner tonight about this and we thought wait a minute, the Metropolitan Opera house is set up for super titles in every seat...what about translation like they do in opera? That would at least start to teach what is being said to those of us in the audience who enjoy the ballet without having the understanding of the finer points of mime. Not everyone in the audience is trained in dance and can understand what is being said. Now to my dancer this seems silly but to those of us who aren't trained dancers there needs to be a way to teach us what the gestures being mimed mean. Then we would go ahhhhhh instead of where is the dancing????

:(

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Interesting suggestion, supertitles - many operagoers like to hear the words and appreciate the diction of the singers, even if they don't understand or speak the language of the libretto.

One of the more interesting late examples of well-integrated mime in ballet is Act I Nutcracker! The miming leads into dances, and out again almost without pause, in many places. This is the way it should be. The weave of story-telling and plain dancing makes the whole thing a great long pas d'action!

For an overview of this good old hazelnut, see:

http://www.balletalert.com/ballets/19th%20...y/Nuts/Nuts.htm

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As Mel Johnson just said, "If they do it right, the mime IS dancing!"

Bournonville uses dancing mime. It is not a matter of the action grinding to a halt, and then people waving their hands about, but rather FURTHERING the action, on the music, through mime.

Many people have been turned away from mime, because they have been depressed by the Marcel Marceau concept of "silent mime", the agonised, still silence of IMITATION.

In the classical ballet, mime is not IMITATION OF REALITY. Mime in the hands of a master, like Jules Perrot, or Bournonville, is action. It is intended to express things that one cannot, or might not wish, to put into steps.

Kirsten Ralov, who had been a great Bournonville dancer in her day, once said : "audiences today cannot stand the mime because they cannot CONCENTRATE. They are in a rush to "get on with the dancing". One must let the mime break over one like a great wave. It then rolls seamlessly into the dancing".

One should also bear in mind, that even in "Giselle", many mime passages have been cut out, notably by the self-styled Great Innovator, Serge Lifar.

Hilarion, for example, was to mime kissing the ground under each of Giselle's steps. I know this because Michel de Lutry, who was taught this by Karsavina when he danced the role, told it me.

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Thanks for that insight, Katharine. I think I must have been born from another time, as I've never found it - mime- confusing, but, rather, helpful.:( However, I do think you're right about the Marcel Marceau type of mime which I am sure I will offend some by saying that I've often found quite annoying...Now, Hilarion kissing Giselle's every step would be another thing all together!

Maybe it's a left brain, right brain kind of thing.;)

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One of the (few) delights of ABT's closing week of Swan Lakes was seeing Nina Ananiashvili do the second-act mime. When it's done right, it's as much dancing as anything else onstage. When she mimed a crown over her head, then the swan-arms, to tell Bocca she was a princess who'd been turned into a swan, you could see the understanding in his eyes, and his immediate lunge into a courtly bow. It was a real conversation.

I think we've discussed this before, but I seem to recall that in the mid-Seventies, when I started watching things, nobody did the mime. Then I saw Nureyev dance it with Cynthia Gregory at ABT, and, lo and behold, the mime was back in, at Nureyev's insistence, I'm sure. After that, the mime became more and more common, until now just about everyone does it. Whew.

It's funny how things like this come and go, almost like a fashion. Does anyone remember what Albrecht used to do in the second act before everyone copied Baryshnikov's brise voles?

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In Understanding Ballet by Clement Crisp and Mary Clarke it is noted:

"His (Bournonville) narrative ballets incorporate traditional mime, a language of gesture that has always been part of the dancers' art, but he also made use of natural, everyday gestures. Because of this a tradition has grown up in Copenhagen that older dancers as well as dancers and opera singers--members of the companies which share the Royal Theatre's stages--take mime roles in many of the old Bournonville ballets. Because they may be senior artists and do not look lke dancers there is a great feeling of truth and probability about their performances, and in a work like Napoli --a joyful story of Neoplitan fisher folk--the mime roles of a ballad singer and a macaroni seller are wonderfrully true to life and enormous fun."

This book is twenty-five years old may have already been looking back at a performing tradition that was honored more in the breech than the observance. It does not seem like the mime we see today, as least in North America.

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Given the reactions to the Kirov's Bayadere, I thought we ought to bump this discussion back up. We all seem to like mime, but it seems to make us crazy if it's not attached to ballet steps. Do we really like mime? Do we only like it when it's held firmly in check by and in service to ballet vocabulary? Or do we just tolerate it?

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Thanks for the bump, Leigh. I was thinking the same thing. First, I was surprised by how many people who liked mime, according to this poll and these comments. But then, along comes La Bayadere and the opinions seem quite different.

Is this just a disconnect between theory and reality? A different polling population?

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