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

Ballet in Baghdad?

Recommended Posts


i just want to point out to anyone who might not have realised it, the derivation of this singularly important word for us ballet-people: *ARABESQUE*. it seems to be hanging in my mind recently, as i am watching CNN or skynews continuous coverage of the iraq war...

it really DOES mean 'arab'-ish or 'arab'-ian, hence 'arab'-esque. i have tried to explain this to students occasionally (not recently), and i've found that their level of sophistication about language is such, that they often don't 'get' it, even when it's explained. i know that readers here are generally far better educated, but i think there might still be a few people who have never thought about the WORD - i hadn't until a few years ago. and now would be as good a time as any!


just came across this:

"There will be a mid-year show - before, after or during the attack, we do not know - but the show must go on."
i thought we might all be interested to see that the same passions that we share, exist and flourish even in baghdad at present...


i tried to post the photo, and failed, so here is the link to see the photo, which rather brings it all closer, causing me (at least) to wonder about these people....and what else there might be to tell, about ballet in baghdad...?


Link to comment

It's interesting to see that ballet has a foothold in Iraq. Perhaps it's symptomatic of the division of the country that we've been hearing about, with the secularist Sunni Muslims being in the middle of the nation and the stricter Shi'a being in the south, although I would be perhaps less surprised to find ballet in Basra, which is subject to much international influence.

Link to comment

sounds like you might be suggesting that ..??..well,.. to be honest,.. i can't quite work out what you are suggesting.

...but i assume that you are maybe wondering if ballet might be MORE popular in areas where the 'variety' of muslim faith is the more 'liberal' interpretation 'variety'. is that it?

i think this teacher is actually in baghdad, isn't she? it DOES surprise me. given the strictures of muslim dress and women's behaviour, i hadn't really thought of there being muslim ballet participants! (within strict muslim countries, that is).

i don't mind if that is revealing my ignorance - i would rather confess to what i am thinking, and become better informed, than shy away from being specific, and thereby remain no better off.

of course, i probably should add, that i think we should all be careful to talk ballet here, and related issues - rather than politics. :)

Link to comment

Here's part of what the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) has to say about arabesque. Note that in Blasis's definition, he cites non-Arabic design sources.

1. Arabian, Arabic.

1842 Encycl. Brit. II. 693/1 The inglorious obscurity in which the Arabesque doctors have in general slumbered.

2. esp. Arabian or Moorish in ornamental design; carved or painted in arabesque (see B2).

3. fig. Strangely mixed, fantastic.

1848 DICKENS Dombey (C.D. ed.) 105 Surrounded by this arabesque work of his musing fancy. 1863 MRS. CLARKE Shaks. Char. xvi. 411 Launcelot is a sort of ‘arabesque’ character.

B. n. [the adj. used absol.]

1. The vulgar Arabic language. Obs.

1770 W. GUTHRIE Geogr., Egypt (T.) The Arabick, or Arabesque, as it is called, is still the current language. 1796 MORSE Amer. Geog. II. 580 The vulgar language..is the Arabesk, or corrupt Arabian.

[A.T.'s note, before we get hate mail: they don't mean "vulgar" as being coarse or nasty, but common, everyday -- i.e., nonliterary -- speech.]

2. A species of mural or surface decoration in colour or low relief, composed in flowing lines of branches, leaves, and scroll-work fancifully intertwined. Also fig.

As used in Moorish and Arabic decorative art (from which, almost exclusively, it was known in the Middle Ages), representations of living creatures were excluded; but in the arabesques of Raphael, founded on the ancient Græco-Roman work of this kind, and in those of Renascence decoration, human and animal figures, both natural and grotesque, as well as vases, armour, and objects of art, are freely introduced; to this the term is now usually applied, the other being distinguished as Moorish Arabesque, or Moresque.

3. The figure described by the leading lines of the composition, in a drawing or painting.

1883 W. ARMSTRONG in Eng. Illus. Mag. 155/1 The same qualities, but with more freedom and a finer arabesque.

4. Ballet. A pose in which the dancer stands on one foot with one arm extended in front and the other arm and leg extended behind.

1830 R. BARTON tr. C. Blasis' Code of Terpsichore II. v. 74 Nothing can be more agreeable to the eye than those charming positions which we call arabesques, and which we have derived from antique basso relievos, from a few fragments of Greek paintings, and from the paintings in fresco at the Vatican, executed after the beautiful designs of Raphael. 1911 J. E. C. FLITCH Mod. Dancing iii. 42 One of her [sc. Marie Taglioni's] most wonderful attitudes was an arabesque which gave her the appearance of actually flying. 1928 A. L. HASKELL Some Stud. in Ballet 151 Everything in it depends on line, absolute precision of movement and the purity of the arabesque.

Link to comment

Administrative note:

Since it came up, a note on "politics" generally. Any mention of the war -- an aside, an "our brave boys at the front" or "the poor beleaguered populace" or idiot/brave leaders; mentions of nationalities and characterizing them in connection with the war; snipes at, or applause of, actions at the United Nations; the validity or nonvalidity of protests -- anything will be deleted. I want this entire subject kept off the board. Like a good dinner party, we do not discuss politics or religion here. Leave your guns at the door. As it were :) [And my list is not an invitation to find loopholes. Anything means anything, defined as broadly as possible.]

A discussion of the derivation of the word is perfectly acceptable, of course. But I don't want it to become an excuse or springboard for a wider discussion, and this includes coy non-mentions of it while mentioning it.

Link to comment

I was told by one teacher that arabesque was based upon the comma, which she said was an Arabic mark, and that it should therefore not be a right angle, but should have an upward curve. I doubt it that's really true, but it's a nice story :).

Link to comment

That is a nice story -- and I think the curve might well be part of it, Hans. The Danes STILL bend the back leg a bit in arabesque -- it's not quite an arabesque en attitude, but their nickname for it is attabesque.

There's a fascinating video I saw once called "Dance in Human History" and it divided the world into three "bands" with movement styles evolving out of work indigenous to the peoples who live in these bands. Northern Europe was straight up and down -- from ice fishing, spearing. up down up down needlework, syrup tapping, etc. etc. The dancing kept a stiff upper body, the action was in the legs. The line was straight, movement one-dimensional.

From Africa, through the Middle East, through the Russian steppes was the second band -- wheat agriculture. The body's movements are two dimensional; there's a curve in there, matching the curve of the scythe, not the spear (difference between cross and crescent/sickle?) That twisting torso is reflected in the dancing too.

In Asia, there is three-dimensional movement, and this is from the rice paddies. Not only twisting the torso, but bending up and down, producing the most supple style of dancing.

Link to comment

The arabesque is an Arabic word. meaning an ornate ornament - and how beautiful these ornaments are. Which cannot be said about some dancers torturing themselves into some kind of split leg things which are very far removed from the beautiful flowing lines of a proper arabesque. So, lower your legs a bit and think of line in stead! A real arabesque is supposed to look like a work of art!

Link to comment

Alexandra - your B2 is the definition i learned as a child - and found that beautiful, too.

as a young teen, i also always related the word and its meaning to a particularly atmospheric and lovely portrait of fonteyn, arabesque a terre, arms upraised, in a B/W silhouetted archway of the alhambra (i believe it was the alhambra - i think it was a keith money photo).

does anyone know what that first definition of alexandra's refers to? : "The inglorious obscurity in which the Arabesque doctors have in general slumbered." -?

Link to comment

AND a follow-up, with somewhat happier news (thanks, Ari):

Thieves looted the Baghdad School of Folk Music and Ballet right after the war, ripping open the cello cases and prying keys from the pianos for their ivory. - - -  

Two months after Baghdad's fall, ...teachers and students are again ... standing at the barre in fourth and fifth positions, pushing arms and legs and souls through exercises of timeless grace.

to read more (& see a pic):


Link to comment

I saw the same thing, Nancy. It was not only "victimizing" the ballerina, but doing something awful to her "trainer" (lovely concept). But I didn't catch the name.

The clip was of the corps in "Swan Lake" and they looked gorgeous! Very a la russe (which, given Iraq's post-World War II history, makes sense).

Link to comment

Oooooh, I want to see those lovely Iraqi Swans! I didn't see a photo on the Inquirer page, let alone a link underneath. (I know there's a problem with my computer's display.) Could I bother you to send me the direct link to the video, anyone? :wacko: Thanks. :)

Link to comment
In Asia, there is three-dimensional movement, and this is from the rice paddies.  Not only twisting the torso, but bending up and down, producing the most supple style of dancing.

Alexandra, is this video available commercially? It sounds facsinating.

I take Chinese folk dance, and what you described is very true, although I never thought my dancing could relate to rice paddies!

Link to comment

Old Fashioned, it was fascinating. It's not available commercially (i.e., it's not sold in video stores or on Amazon) but it is available for purchase to academics, so a local university library or dance department might have it. Problem is, I saw it 15 years ago and I can't remember the exact title. It was, I think, called "Dance in Human History."

There was another segment I will never forget -- more interesting as anthropology than as dance -- of a small tribe of people dancing (where? :wacko:). Talk about uniform body types!!!!! There were about 2 dozen people of all ages, and they had exactly the same body -- short, slim except for a little pot belly in everyone over 12. And the skin tones were exactly matched as well. If a stranger from the tribe two rivers over came to call, they would know instantly that he was a stranger. The dance was very basic -- to the outside observer; it could well have had very complex meanings, of course -- little more than rhythmic shuffling around a campfire.

"ethnic dance" has always fascinated me. One of the first topics we discussed in dance history was perceptions of space and how they related to both architecture and choreography. Tribes that had round houses had round dances (and tended to be matrilineal). Tribes that had rectangular houses had line dances (and tended to be patrilineal). Hmmm.

Far from Baghdad, I fear.

Link to comment
Tribes that had round houses had round dances (and tended to be matrilineal).  Tribes that had rectangular houses had line dances (and tended to be patrilineal).  Hmmm.

Oh, my! :) Next time I tempted to criticize a performance because the corps couldn't keep its lines straight, I'll think twice! :wacko:

Link to comment

There's an alternate version of "Giselle" -- it's on the video of the Fracci/Bruhn "Giselle" in which there are circular patterns at the beginning of the second act. A vestige of the [feminine] Romantic Age that's been replaced by a later, more linear aesthetic?

Link to comment
Old Fashioned, it was fascinating.  It's not available commercially (i.e., it's not sold in video stores or on Amazon) but it is available for purchase to academics, so a local university library or dance department might have it.  Problem is, I saw it 15 years ago and I can't remember the exact title.  It was, I think, called "Dance in Human History."

This film is from a research project by Irmgard Bartenieff, Forrestine Paulay and Alan Lomax, using a kind of hybridized observation process called Choreometrics. They looked at work and leisure activities in cultures aroud the world, analyzing their biomechanics and energy patterns (Bartenieff was one of the major developers of Laban Movement Analysis, and much of that material is reflected in the coding sheets that the investigators used). They published their results in an academic context, but the three films they made are much more widely known. The first two (Step Style and Palm Play) look specifically at locomtion and gestures -- Dance and Human History is more of a synthesis.

Unfortunately, some of the conclusions that people drew using the materials from the study (that cultures employing mostly 3-D movement were more complex and therefore more developed, i.e. better, than cultures using mostly 2-D movement) were biased and rather Euro-centric -- they have for the most part been discarded, but the observations themselves are not really value-laden, and the methodology for observation is excellent. I worked with the coding sheets when I was studying LMA and thought they were very useful.

NYPL has all the films in their collection, as do many college libraries -- if you're interested you could probably get hold of it through interlibrary loan.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

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