Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

when was sword-play introduced into ballet?


3 members have voted

  1. 1. when was sword-play introduced into ballet?

    • Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet
    • the marketplace orange-fight in Michael Smuin's Romeo and Juliet
    • Balanchine's Nutcracker
    • Billy the Kid

Recommended Posts

I put a poll on here just for fun, and listed some of my favorites in no particular order.

What are yours?

Obviously, some of ballet descends directly from European martial arts -- esp. from fencing -- consider the importance of the lunge-pose.

But in what era was serous swordplay introduced into ballet?


I guess there was SOME kind of fighting all the way back in Lully's ballets for Louis XIV-- if the Soleil conquered the forces of night and chaos, there must have been SOME show of force --

I find myself thinking that fancy rapier-work comes AFTER the swashbuckling movies -- like with the Soviet Romeo and Juliet. But I don't know why I think that....

Anybody know?

Were there swashbuckling ballets in the era of the stage-plays (what would they be? The count of Monte Cristo, maybe, the Three Musketeers... Did Esmeralda have a lot of street brawling in it?)

But maybe it goes back to Le Corsaire and Don Quixote?

Link to comment

Bournonville's Valdemar (1840s) had very realistic battle scenes in it, enough to rouse the public -- it was the national patriotic ballet until Lander ditched it in the 1930s. I can't believe that was the first.

There are drawings in Marian Hanna Winter's "The Pre-Romantic Ballet" of men with swords, but I can't remember the ballets -- and don't have time to check right now.

I have an anecdote that some might find amusing. A friend of mine took her little boy to the ballet from the age of 3 ("Swan Lake"). After seeing the Kirov in "Le Corsaire," when he was about 8, he pronounced it his favorite ballet and wanted the video. When told there wasn't one (at that time), he was chagrined. "Don't the people like it?" he said, having grasped at that early age the basics of arts finance. I asked him why he liked it so much and he replied, "It's got blunderbuses in it." It replaced his previous favorite ballet, "The Nutcracker," which had a cannon, but the cannon only goes off once.

Moral: to bring boys and men to ballet, we need more blunderbuses! Forget the swordplay. Big things that go bang and produce smoke. That's what we need!

Thanks for the topic, Paul.

Link to comment

There is a duel in the Gluck/Angiolini Don Juan which makes 1761 a definite terminus a quo for echt sword fighting in ballet, and there must certainly have been a duel in Galeotti's Romeo and Giulietta of 1812, though Bournonville was rather scathing about it, and said it had more to do with Steibelt's opera than Shakespeare's play.

Link to comment
Moral:  to bring boys and men to ballet, we need more blunderbuses!  Forget the swordplay.  Big things that go bang and produce smoke.  That's what we need!

That, in an odd way, is what modern military reenacting of Roman, Medieval, English Civil War, War for American Independence, Napoleonic, and American Civil War does.

Five years ago, I participated in a reenactment of parts of the battle of Gettysburg, and the event culminated with a FULL-SCALE "performance" of Pickett's Charge! That's about 12,500 on a side. It did give you an idea of the pageantry of battle, and all the cost of battle, as the casualties had been worked out in advance (Now if only the dead hadn't popped cameras out of their haversacks to record the carnage!) But the most astonishing thing about the event was the most perfect order kept by both sides despite the continuous, deafening roar of battle, in which individual shots or even volleys could not be picked out - it was that loud, and that seamless a din. Even the artillery became mere crescendos in the overall wave of sound. The only thing missing, and I didn't miss it, was the smell and sight of people and horses being blown to bits, and the drenching of the ground in blood. The "tang of gunpowder" was quite enough, thanks.

Link to comment

Swordplay - and horses were "ballet" in Sweden 1600 to 1700. Quite normal, it was a kind of stylised "movement". Elsewhere in Europe it was similar.

Swordplay is also used today. I cannot keep from you an anecdote from my youth.

I was a pupil at the Gothenburg Opera School - the company was perfoming I think either "Prince Igor" or "The Desert Song" (Rodgers & Hammerstein? Sorry, cannot check at the moment). One dancer happened to hit another dancer over the thumb with a papier mache sword.

Unfortunately thumb was broken and the injured dancer quit dancing and studied to become a psychatrist, now he has a practice as Dr. Psych.

So you see what a theatrical sword can do to you - beware!

Link to comment

My favorite R&J swordplay was a Northern Ballet Theater version on video. Very young, rough, and rowdy.

And how about Spartacus? It's by no means the first, but it may be one of the most powerful and iconic, at least with dancers likle Vasiliev/Lliepa and Mukhamedov/Vetrov. And doesn't "gladiator" come from the Latin word for a kind of sword?

Amid all the fist-waving, foot-stomping and weapon-thrusting, there are two stylized duels important for the plot. Short swords are used. In the first, Spartacus and another gladiator slave are made to entertain Crassus and his guests by fighting each other blindfolded. Much later,, the rebel slaves have captured Crassus. Spartacus gives him the opportunity to save himself by dueling with Spartacus himself -- without the blindfolds. The action is very stylized, with very little actual body or weapon-contact, as I recall.

Link to comment

Yes, bart, a gladius is the typical Roman sword. It's short and heavy, and the gladiators get their name from it. There is another kind of Roman sword called a spatha which is longer and even heavier. It was the cavalry weapon. As time rolled on, it became thinner and lighter, so that it could be conveniently used by infantry to reach out and touch someone.

Link to comment

Mel, I've just taken out the Mukhamedov dvd to look at the second duel. How "realistic" or plausible is the duelling style in this. I know that there's an effort a stylized movement (gesture, posture, pose), as well as the need to fill the huge stage with long runs, etc. But, even allowing for this and trying to miagine them fighting closer up, this is definitely a different style from that which we see with, let's say, fencing in all its contemporary forms.

Which makes me wonder (a propos the swordplay training which MJ's company is to receive prior to their Romeo and Juliet performances): which would be the most authentic R&J duelling style, and the most authentic sword, given the time and place in which the events are meant to be taking place?

Link to comment

R&J is probably all right with modern fencing styles, but for things set in the Medieval period, a very different school was in place. The swords were great long things, and while they had an edge, the effect was very much like hammering at somebody with a long, narrow club. Most had points, but some didn't which tells us that their whole use was to batter the enemy. The Roman gladius had both a point and very sharp edges, so it was both a cut and a thrust weapon. In R&J, the fighters would likely be using rapiers, and maybe here and there a main gauche dagger. Jean de Brienne would probably heft a sword that takes two hands to control!

Link to comment

Just a quick note:

When Zefferelli was filming R&J c.1967-68 and concerned about accurately setting it in the late 15th-early 16th centuries, he used a historian & fencing master to train his young cast. They used the master's collection of 16th century rapiers, and at the conclusion of filming he presented one of them to...? (can't remember if it was Zefferelli himself or maybe Michael York?). But if you will notice, the swords used in the film are accurate for the time period. Historically, as the use of armor decreased as the use of gunpowder increased, maneuverability and skill became more important than brute strength, and the two-handed broadsword was replaced by the familiar fencing sabre, rapier, and foil, and the more elaborate than protective quillons and contre-guards.

Link to comment

Right, today's fencing foil, epée and saber are based on eighteenth-century weapons, mostly smallswords, which were smaller and lighter than the two-handed broadswords of the Medieval time, or the Renaissance rapiers, which were long and thin, in length-to-width ratio, but still pretty heavy. They were often combined with the cloak and the main gauche to snarl the opponent's blade and to stab with the "off" hand.

Link to comment

Thanks, mel and 4rmrdncr for shoring your knowledge. Mel, I have a question about your last post:

They were often combined with the cloak and the main gauche to snarl the opponent's blade and to stab with the "off" hand.
I can visualize the use of cape from films, etc. Sometimes, as I recall, it's wrapped around the free arm, and occasionally its waved and tossed to distraact and possibly ensnare the opponent.

I'm unfamiliar with the "main gauche." Was it a protective device? This raises questions about what left-handed people did in these situations. Was it an advantage sometimes to be left-handed in sword combat? Was it permitted in ritualized duels later on? How do stage directors -- and the kind of instructor MJ re fers to -- deal with it?

Link to comment

The "main gauche" was used for the "off" hand, whichever it was. Lefty fencers would use it in the right hand. Being a left-handed swordsman has its advantages and its drawbacks when fighting a right-hander. The main gauche is a fairly formidable dagger with a significant cup-guard for a knucklebow. Usually, it's matched to your primary sidearm, like matching jewelry. I've only seen a couple of examples out of about a hundred that have been dedicated to right- or left-hand use. Usually they were hilted to be used in either hand.

Link to comment

off topic, here, but still weaponry-connected.

this scan shows a British photocard of Mordkin in one of his "Dance with a Bow" numbers.

such poses are not that rare in Mordkin's case but this one is especially alert and alive looking.

i noticed it was recently reproduced in a new book on Pavlova out of St. Petersburg, where it is dated 1910.


Link to comment

Is that a kind of Scythian bow?

Do you have any idea what ballet it comes from?

The only bows that come immediately to mind are in Polovtsian Dances (tiny C-shaped bows waved around by the mean in the current Kirov production) and the large bows, more like this one, waved around by the Huntresses in Sylvia (Royal dvd with Bussell). Come to think of it, doesn't Aminta have a bow at one point? The costuming could fit that role.

Then there's Fille du Pharaon. Keith Money's Pavlova book has a photo of Mordkin as Lord Wilson. The costume in rg's photo does look, however, quite a bit like that of Wilson's alter ego Taor in photos of other dancers.

This card may be one of a series of Mordkin in exotic costume, several of which are reproduced by Money. They are dated "c. 1910" and include one in a st range, skimpy version of a tunic with arm draperies,, with what appears to be a garland of grapes on his head (Bacchus?). The other shows him wearing a leopard skin and flexing his bare upper arms.

Edited to add: I just answered my own question about the ballet. Money's book has (pages 106-107) 2 photos of Pavlova and Morkin dancing what is described as "the Bleichmann pas de deux," elsewhere described as an "Adagio classique." This was during her first season at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, and later the Palace in London (1910). Mordkin is wearing the same costume as in rg's photo. The caption says that it was borrowed from Fille du Pharaon. All the Mordkin "publicity" photos seem to be in costumes from these runs. For example, the classical Greek look was for Fokine's Bacchanale. (I gather there was a great deal of costume cannibalization during Pavlova's tours.)

Page 121 has three photos of Mordkin, Alexandre Volinine, and Anatole Oboukhov in this role, each drawing his bow dramatically. According to reports, Mordkin actually released an arrow into the wings. (No injuries to stage hands or other members of the cast are reported.) Oboukhov, however, is shown taking aim without any arrow at all.

By 1910, according to Money, "Mordkin's bow-and-arrow dance was so popular that he ... extracted it as a separate solo."

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...