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Calling dancers by their first names


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#1 Ann

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Posted 10 April 2002 - 04:35 PM

I absolutely agree with Bobbi above. Referring to a dancer by her or his first name - to me at least - implies only affectionate familiarity with that dancer's performances and her/his perceived personality. Keen opera fans usually refer to 'Kiri' or 'Placido', presumably for the same perfectly acceptable reasons.

Personally, although I have never met her in person, I can't imagine calling Sylvie Guillem 'Miss Guillem', nor Darcey Bussell 'Miss Bussell'. How stiff and strange it would seem for me to refer to either of these great dancers by anything other than their first names and I cannot imagine that either of them would take the least offence at my doing so.

#2 Dale

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Posted 13 April 2002 - 01:06 AM

When I write officially about sports or ballet, I use full names first and then last names. But in speech or on an informal board such as this, I might go back and forth, probably out of carelessness. I might say "Farrell" the first few times when refering to Suzanne Farrell and then throw in a "Suzanne." I would never say, "Suzy" as I heard Jacjques D'Amboise call her in interviews. And I would never say to somebody, "Jenny Ringer," "Chuck Askegard," or "Ben Millepied." But some people might because A) they know them or B) it's faster to write on a board "Ben" rather than "Benjamin." And it might be easier to type Maria K. than Miss Kowroski. Usually, when I'm speaking about these dancers it is in a casual way with a close friend. However, I think most people in this thread put convincing arguments that it should not be done and I most likely will now only refer to dancers by their last names.

A bit off the ballet part of this topic, but in Russia, it considered rude even to refer to a close friend, to whom you would call by a nickname, by that nickname in front of somebody who does not have the same relationship. And people will get upset and find you rude.

And I agree with Dirac who brought up female athletes. As a sportswriter, I have noticed that journalist (and fans) will say "Steffi, Monica and Anna...etc..." But use "Sampras" not Pete, Agassi not Andre, Hewitt, not Lleyton. Sometimes I'll hear both sexes called by their first names, mostly on TV. And in our newsroom, most of us are called by our last names -- the men always, the women (which is basically me) sometimes.

#3 Estelle

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 12:33 AM

Well, usually I'm more likely to use last names (especially to avoid confusions- would "Elisabeth" stand for Platel or Maurin?). Using only first names for people I don't know personally would be a bit disturbing for me. Also, I must say that it's a bit confusing to read on this board some posts reviewing performances or rehearsals using first names only, when one is not very familiar with a company it takes some time to remember who is who...

#4 Estelle

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Posted 16 April 2002 - 07:26 AM

Ari, sometimes it's the same in the POB printed programs: perhaps it depends on how many people dance or how many room is left on the page, but sometimes it is, say, "Emilie Cozette, Fanny Fiat" and sometimes "Melles Cozette, Fiat" (also the order is a bit complicated: usually, in the corps de ballet the dancers with the highest rank are listed first, so there are the sujets, coryphees and then quadrilles). Also, for official announcements, it's always "Mademoiselle" and never "Madame", even for married dancers.

(Oops, Alymer, I had missed your post! So it seems that the habits have changed quite a lot!
Actually it'd be interesting to still have lists by order of seniority, because there is so little available information about the non-étoiles dancers that it takes one quite a lot of time to figure out that X has been a sujet for ten years and Y has been promoted just last year...)

The tradition seems to be a bit similar at the Comédie Française: the actresses always are "Mademoiselle"... except when the "doyen" (the actor who has been a "sociétaire" for the longest time) happens to be female, as it is now (Catherine Samie), then it is "Madame". (And, as far as I know, the actors always are listed according to how long they've been to the company, not depending on their roles. I remember attending a "Hamlet" when one of the clowns was listed first, and the actor who played "Hamlet" almost was the last one on the list! :) )

I'm not sure of the habits in French companies, but seem to remember excerpts of videos with Patrice Bart where he called the corps de ballet "les filles" (girls).

#5 Giannina

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 03:31 PM

I use the last name, but when you get down to it even that is a bit rude. So much nicer to say Ms. Makarova than Makarova; after all we're talking about artists. If someone calls me "Mooney" I bristle. (For newcomers, that IS my last name!)

Giannina

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 04:33 PM

Another part of this "what to name the performer" business comes, I believe, from the times when singers, dancers, and actors were servants, and not entitled to the honorific "Miss" or Mrs.", although leading ladies in English theater tended to be styled "Mrs." on the cast list and the juveniles "Miss". If you'll remember the late, lamented Upstairs, Downstairs, the family never referred to any servant except by last name alone - "Hudson", not "Mr. Hudson" as Gordon Jackson was to his downstairs peers, and underservants who were not to be seen, like Ruby, the scullery maid, were like children. They had first names, but they were supposed to be not only not seen, but not heard.

In the same ways, opera singers and ballet dancers have inherited the titles of the servant performers, and while some few have attained "name alone" status, along with the great rabbis, I think the rest of those only called by their last names are receiving the tradition of the servant, rather than great honor. Still, first names does indeed seem overfamiliar, unless one is talking of someone one has actually met, and is on that sort of basis.

I used to go out with a nice woman who was often referred to only by last name, and I was on a first name basis with her: I called her "Divina" and she called me "stupid".;)

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 03:55 PM

I think that a lot of it may have to do with the people we meet when we first discover ballet. If I fall in with Group A, who calls dancers by their last name, and you become friendly with Group B, who uses first names, we'll both probably just naturally do what the others are doing.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 10:08 AM

Originally posted by Estelle
Well, usually I'm more likely to use last names (especially to avoid confusions- would "Elisabeth" stand for Platel or Maurin?). Using only first names for people I don't know personally would be a bit disturbing for me. Also, I must say that it's a bit confusing to read on this board some posts reviewing performances or rehearsals using first names only, when one is not very familiar with a company it takes some time to remember who is who...


Yes. :) Me, too, Estelle.

Partly because it isn't sport or rock and roll, and mostly because like several others I think it's rude to call people I don't know by their first names. Or to refer to dancers I do know by first name by their first name when speaking to people who don't know them by their first name.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 13 April 2002 - 09:10 AM

I especially like your last point, Paul. NEVER say you hated a performance when you're in the theater. Why? Because his or her mother is seated behind you. Always. :)

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 2002 - 12:20 PM

The use of "boys" and "girls" backstage varies also. I watched an ABT rehearsal in the 1980s where the boys were "boys" and the women were "ladies."

In Copenhagen in the 1990s, men were men (herrer) and women were women (damer). That's the way the rehearsals and classes were scheduled on the bulletin board and that's how dancers were addressed in class or rehearsal by the older dancers/coaches. (Kirsten Ralov barking out "herrer" was something to pay attention to.)

I once watched a rehearsal there where a visiting stager referred to the men as boys and they (very politiely) protested. "Well, I have to call you something!" she said. "Men" they suggested. "I know," said the lady from Venezuela. "I'll call you muchachos." And she did. (The men gave up at that point.)

I've been told that Russians think they're men and women rather than boys and girls, too, but I don't know that of my own knowledge -- I'd be curious about the French backstage customs.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 2002 - 12:51 PM

Oh, Glebb, that is priceless. Thank you for posting that! (One never knew that the Queen got involved in the more mundane matters of ballet etiquette. Busy Queen.)

I forgot to comment on the youth movement aspect that Morris Neighbor mentioned. I think that's certainly true for the 1960s and currently ballet companies are very young -- 30 is now considered old (it was 35 in the late 1970s, and people were complaining that the cut off should be 40, some, 45). But this hasn't always been true either. The Ballets Russes had lots of older dancers -- i.e., 30-year-olds. The grand old companies (the two Russian companies, Paris and Copenhagen) had average ages in the 30s, and it's interesting to see photos from the 1940s and 1950s, because you'll see the teenagers try to look as mature as possible while today, of course, you often see 30 year olds trying to look 16.

The Baby Ballerinas were exceptions -- that's why they got that name. I think there have always been exceptional young talents (think of the Romantic ballerinas who were stars at 15 and 16), but the average age of the corps is lower now.

Back to Glebb's comment, I remember seeing Fonteyn on a talk show once and the interviewer asked whether he should call her Dame Margot or Mrs. Arias or what and she said, "Oh, no. Miss Fonteyn is quite all right." I guess the Queen was busy that day.

#12 atm711

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 10:52 AM

Farrell Fan---it's everything you said it was---"Presumptuous, self-aggrandisement, childishness". I ran into something similar while teaching on the high school level. Most teachers called the boys by their last names---"Smith!", "Jones", and the girls were "Jane" or "Mary". I made it a habit to say "Mary Jones" or "Tom Smith".

#13 cargill

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 09:15 AM

Perhaps it was the way I was raised (I still feel taken aback when people I don't know refer to me by my first name), but I feel it is overly familiar to call dancers who I don't know by their first names. It seems like claiming an unwarranted familiarity.

#14 dirac

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 09:52 AM

It isn't just ballet. You see it in sport, too, and although it happens with both sexes the practice seems to be slightly more common when referring to women than men. Sometimes it's an efficient way of distinguishing between siblings, so you refer to Venus and Serena rather than to Williams. I find myself doing it, although I try to avoid it because it's an assertion of false intimacy peculiar to fandom and where women are concerned there can be a wee bit of condescension involved, which, I suspect, is why Ella Fitzgerald tended to bristle at the too-familiar "Ella" -- that's Miss Fitzgerald to you, buddy. With certain pop figures, it's almost customary -- I've read articles on The Beatles, in perfectly serious publications, that referred to them throughout by their first names. I think it's fundamentally harmless, unless fan enthusiasm goes over the edge into actual obsession --there's a connection, albeit a very distant one, between referring to Lennon as John, thinking you know John, and finally going over the edge and being convinced you are John and need to get rid of the false one, the one with his picture in the papers.



Of course, it can also be a form of honorific, the way Elvis is, well, Elvis. For opera fans, at least some, there's only one Maria, and only one Renata (forget about it, Mme. Scotto).

#15 dirac

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Posted 15 April 2002 - 09:07 AM

I don't think Dale or I meant to imply that it's a hard-and-fast rule that women are always referred to by their first names an d men never; but I do think, although there's never been a statistical analysis as far as I know, that the practice is slightly more common with women athletes and the practice can on occasion carry a whiff of condescension. (I also noticed references to "Vijay" and "Retief" yesterday while viewing the Masters this weekend, and I recall it from other broadcasts as well , and Tiger is of course Tiger, although not always. It is, as you note, usually an indicator of affection and respect as applied to men. I'm not always certain that's the case where women are concerned.)


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