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Silliness: So what do people DO in those ballet villages?


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 11:46 AM

From Alexandra's comments in the recent performances forum on Washington Ballet:

[quote]the dancers were Ballet Spaniards, with nothing to do all day but swish their skirts, stamp their feet, and flare their nostrils

As everyone here knows, Ballet Alert is passionately interested in economics, especially the economics of local ballet villages? So how do these happy denizens survive anyway? What do they do all day? Everyone in Giselle's village seems to pick. . .something or other that they harvest (some productions will show us a grape or two.) In Coppelia, it's wheat. With plenty of time out to do mazurkas and czardases, which is what most peasants that I know do when harvesting wheat. Lord knows what they do in Don Quixote. Something involving windmills and a few of them sell flowers. The ballet village that I can think of with a diverse economy is in Napoli, where macaroni and lemonade sellers abound.

So, being very current events oriented, let's discuss the local economies. How do those nobles and peasants in our favorite ballets eat anyway?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 12:16 PM

The old (David Blair) production of "Giselle" for ABT had a truly harrowing passage where the men, lined up on either side of the stage, clasping buckets of grapes to their bosoms, jumped across, then back again. I have a dim memory that they threw the grape baskets at each other and slapped hands in a high-five when they met mid-stage, but I think that probably really didn't happen smile.gif

In the Bolshoi production that I saw about a decade ago, it still had a pre-glasnost aroma. Hilarion was overdressed and looked as though he earned his keep by squealing on poachers. There, the Duke of Courland spent his days going from village to village, enjoying the free wine tastings and ravaging maidens.

In the Danes' production of Coppelila, there's an old woman who vigorously sweeps the stage with a broom. Swanilda is too young to work -- but Franz? He should have a job. We all know what Coppelius does biggrin.gif (I have a theory that Coppelius is James grown old, who wandered through Europe and ended up in Hungary where nobody knew him, and has tried to realize his passion for fantasy ladies in a more concrete form.) There's real money in this village, though. The Mayor pays off Coppelius with a bushel of gold at the end.

In Don Q there is a tavern scene, complete with Tavern Wenches. And a flotilla of Toreadors -- I guess that's a job.

James hunts and owns a farm.

Gennaro (Napoli) is a fisherman, with a real catch which he's selling. There are other characters with definable occupations -- backstage lore has it that Giovanna, the Flirt who goes after Gennaro, is the cook for a rich man's house. And then there's the priest, always on the lookout for the odd donation. The dancers in the ballabile, though, look as though they have nothing to do except dance ballabiles and tease Peppo. (There are tourists and townspeople along the side of the stage, eating and drinking at outdoor cafes.)

Sleeping Beauty -- the peasants are just brought in to dance and entertain. We can imagine that they spend sun up to sun down toiling in the fields, but it's better not to. Ditto for Swan Lake -- are they invited to Siegfried's birthday party, or do they sneak in? It doesn't seem as though they're there to clean up.

Nice topic, Leigh. More socioeconomic observations?

[ November 02, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]



#3 LMCtech

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 03:09 PM

Maybe all those Don Q girls are rolling tobacco intheir spare time like in Carmen.

#4 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 04:00 PM

well basilio is a barber, isn't he?

#5 Giannina

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 05:32 PM

Giselle sews. Her mother cooks rabbit.

Giannina

#6 dancersteven

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 07:02 PM

Don't you see, this is why in most of the ballet villages there are so many more young ladies than gentlemen. All of the boys leave at a young age to go off and work in a coal mine or whatever, and send money back to keep their mothers, wives and girlfreinds in the lap of indolent luxury. ;-)All except for those lazy layabouts like Franz, of course.

Then, of course, the people left at the village have to dance all of the time, to keep their figures for when the menfolk come back for a visit. Riiight. . .

S.

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 07:50 PM

Ah, a good thought, but it isn't just the coal mines and whatever that the men go to work in! Bear in mind that a great number of these ballet villages seem to be in or adjoining the Holy Roman Empire somewhere, so there's always a war on someplace. There are so few men in town because they've mostly been drafted!

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 09:14 PM

Yes, Mel! And we mustn't forget that Jean de Brienne is off on the Cr*s*d*s smile.gif

(Another, related query: why is the population of ballet peasant villages 98% in the 17-24 year age bracket? Or, where are the children and adults of both genders?)

#9 Sonora

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Posted 02 November 2001 - 10:20 PM

I don't have an answer as to why village demographics are so narrow - but would counter with another query: why are all the Witches old? Does it take that long to learn the techniques for poisoning scarves and casting spells?

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 03 November 2001 - 12:30 AM

Good point, Sonora! Perhaps because the witch characters were often (though not always) danced by men: job security for middle-aged dancers smile.gif

One of the greatest of the Danish Madges, though, Sorella Englund, danced her first Madge at 29, and was a young witch. There's a Danish theory (to which I do not subscribe) that Madge and the Sylph are sisters, and Englund's youth was used by some to make that point.

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 November 2001 - 08:17 AM

Another practical point of witchery - the popular image is reinforced by the identification with earth-worship religions with great antiquity. Madge is definitely a creature of the Real World of Time and Space. The Sylph is a creature who inhabits the air but defies commonplace considerations with which the rest of us have to fumble.

Also, it's difficult to ask a possibly attractive senior woman dancer to "ugly herself up" to play a character part of great age. Most men are halfway there already and make pretty homely women before they even start! wink.gif

#12 BalletNut

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Posted 03 November 2001 - 03:53 PM

Perhaps Coppelius is classical ballet's version of a mad scientist. wink.gif

One way to explain the presence of peasants in royal courts [Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, et al] is to think about the palace at Versailles, which among other things provided a place for the noblemen and women to do peasant things like milking cows for entertainment rather than employment. Slumming, if you will.

[ November 03, 2001: Message edited by: BalletNut ]



#13 Alexandra

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Posted 03 November 2001 - 04:02 PM

BalletNut -- I think you're absolutely right. Coppelius IS ballet's version of a mad scientist. The ballet was at the very end of the Romantic era (or a few decades past the end, depending on how you count.) Croce wrote a very interesting piece about this, seeing the ballet as a battle between -- I'm paraphrasing -- the male world of things and the female world of...hmm .....humanity? I forget.

#14 liebs

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Posted 03 November 2001 - 07:15 PM

Also, why is Giselle's mother always at least 60! If Giselle is in her teens and woman married and bore children young, wouldn't it be possible for her mother to be 35-40?

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 03 November 2001 - 08:43 PM

More likely 28 to 32!! (There is a down side to keeping aging stars on to do mime roles, or having The House Character Dancer always at the ready. smile.gif )


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