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Pronouncing Ballet Names

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Since I found this board, I wanted to ask this question and now I'm going for it!

I was wondering about the pronunciation of various ballet dancers/choreographers names. Whenever I talk about ballet, I always get nervous because I'm not sure how to pronounce people's names, because I have never heard them pronounced myself. So, a few examples -

Marius Petipa- PET-ee-pah or pet-EE-pah or pet-ee-PAH?

Female Russian Names: I have heard Danilova pronounced as da-KNEEL-ova, is this a standard pronunciation for russian names ending in -ova? In other words, is Toumanova too-MAHN-ova or too-man-OH-va?

That's all I got for now, but thanks for replying and I imagine other Ballet lovers have their own questions.

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Thank you, Big Lee! (And welcome : ) Great questions. You're right. Fear of Mispronunciation is one of the great barriers. (I worried for years whether it was TERP see kor or Terp SICK aree. I've heard people use both.)

It's PET ee pah.

Russian names are usually on the second syllable -- Tou MAN ova, da NEEL ova. (Likewise, Mak KAR ova, Kar SA vina; and also for men: Noo REY yev.

Thanks for asking -- ask more :) And I'm sure others have some too (including me.)

Editing to add that we have both native French and Russian speakers on the board, so they may have a different take on this!!

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To follow up on what Estelle says -- of course she's right (she's French :) ) but there are accepted English and/or American pronunciations of non-English names so that we don't sound as though we're trying to pronounce a language we can't pronounce.

I can give more Danish examples than French or Russian ones. Niels Kehlet is pronounced (sort of) Kay'l in Danish. (The ' means you think hard about a letter while swallowing). Americans think it's "Kay-let" When they're talking among each other, they'll say Kay'l. When they talk to us, they say Kay-let. Make sense? (I was rather startled when I began my book on Kronstam of how many people said "Hang Krwone-stam" until I realized that "Hang" was "Henning".

In America, we'd say PET ee pah, or risk sounding pretentious. I'm curious about the British pronunciation?

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In America, we'd say PET ee pah, or risk sounding pretentious.  I'm curious about the British pronunciation?

I think PET ee pah IS the British pronunciation. It was Clive Barnes, the dance critic media star, who brought the pronunciation into widespread use. I wonder how Petipa was pronounced pre-Barnes?

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I'm curious why you think this was something started by Barnes? (I know older critic/historians who were here before Barnes, and wouldn't pick up a pronunciation from him anyway, who pronounce it this way; that's why I ask.) I'd be curious, too, how Russians pronounce Petipa, since he spent most of his career there!

As you can see, Lee, there are no simple answers to anything in ballet :) But if you say PET ee pah in America (or, actually, pet' ee pah, only a slight accent on the first syllable) you'll fit in. Go to France, try Estelle's way :)

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My Russian teachers pronounced Petipa the same way Americans do, as I recall.

Another commonly mispronounced name is Julia Makhalina. It's "YOO-lee-ah Ma-KHA-lina."

Now, say "Asylmuratova" five times fast :) !

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"British" pronunciation: PET ee pah

as alexandra says, the other may be more accurate, but would be regarded as pretentious.

great questions, Big Lee - as alexandra says, there are so many of these potential traps...

PAVLOVA: within my lifetime, accepted pronunciation has changed from pav-LOW-vu to PAHv-luv-u - and in australia where the meringue desert was named after her, we wouldn't dare call the desert PAHV-luv-u, even if we HAVE learned to pronounce the dancer's name that way!

it's a minefield! but thankfully, only your ego can be blown away - not your legs.

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Hans, I personally pronounce Asylmuratova Julie Kent, eg.

Ballet Lover: Whose that great Kazakhastani Kirov ballerina?

Big Lee: Julie Kent.

Ballet Lover: Really?

Big Lee: Yes, Julie Kent is definitely Kazakhastani.

By the way, if Julie Kent is reading this, I love you and your easy to pronounce name.

I guess I would pronounce Asylmuratova as az-ill-moor-AHT-ova, though before this thread I probably would have said az-ill-moor-a-TOE-va.

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By Jove, I think he's got it! :)

I'll add, post a pronunciation guide to the top 25 ballet name, on my To Do list and make it a sticky. I know every time a new Russian ballerina comes along I have to ask how to pronounce the name, and I'm sure I'm not the only one! (Although I have learned the second syllable rule :) )

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:wink: Wonderful thread!

I think I need a crib sheet to keep handy during ballet performances... Perhaps we could make one up with the Ballet Alert! logo and have them made gratis by someone in the plastics world...you know, sort of like those little "tips" guides? :)

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Years ago I worked for a public official who was to bestow a civic recognition on Baryshnikov and Makarova. I drafted his remarks for the occasion, and made a point of emphasizing to the aide who was to accompany him that the ballerina's name was ma-KAR-ova. "Yeah, yeah," she waved me off.

At the presentation, official described the artistic accomplishments of Natalia ma-ka-RO-va, to the snickering of those assembled. :) :shrug: :wink:

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Well, someone presenting an award should make sure s/he knows how to pronounce any names that might come up, IMO, but for the rest of us, unless we hear a name, we won't know how to pronounce it. (I wonder how many people in that audience, hearing Makarova's name for the first time, said, "Oh! THAT's how you say it! I'll have to remember that next time.")

One of my favorite mispronunciations was of a dancer with the Dutch National Ballet who substituted for someone else in New York; we were told that VAH day VAH tall would be dancing. Sounded Dutch to me. Nope, it's Wade Wathall, just the way you'd pronounce it in Texas, I learned years later.

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I agree, and I believe it is the responsibility of the staff to make sure that the speaker speaks accurately. This was a very modest man, a very kind man, not terribly interested in the arts, who accepted his ceremonial duties as bothersome necessities along the route of his Real Job of serving the public. Ari suggested he was vertically challenged, but I would assert that he was fiscally challenged. That it never occurred to him that the intuitive pronunciation was incorrect in a city full of Spanish- and Italian-named residents, well it was a gaffe, but an understandable gaffe from a well-intentioned, good human being.

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Recently on a local T.V. special the news anchor was speaking with Fernando Bujones. She was talking to him for a about a minute and when she introduced him to the viewers she introduced him as Fernando Boo Whoo? nis :blink: ...with a very long Boo Whoonis at that. It was live and there was nothing he could do but :thumbsup:. :angry: :angry: :angry:

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Perhaps worse is the mnemonic (the memory aid) coming to the surface. This is not a ballet name post (except to say that he once said, "I don't usually cotton to that kinda dancing.) But President Jimmy Carter once was addressing his party's national convention, and ended a section of the speech with a long parade of famous party members' names, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Hubert Horatio...HORNBLOWER!" :thumbsup:

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Guest alliecat93

I was just going to post something like this! I think it would be a great idea to make a sticky with a pronounciation guide. I was also wondering if you could give the correct pronounciation for some of these ballets:





La Bayadere

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We've started a sticky -- and we can keep adding to it. I think it would be helpful.

As for your list, my pronunciations are:

Agon -- A' gon (short A, like in "back"; although I've heard people pronounce it "ah-GON" to rhyme with "a loan". Supposedly this is the "authentic Greek" pronunciation, although my college Greek teacher taught us that there are at least five schools of "authentic" Greek pronunciation, since there's no one left who can verify it.)

Bugaku - Boo Gah Koo -- slight accent on the first syllable

Onegin -- Oh NYAY gen

Tzigane -- Zi GAN ah

La Bayadere -- La By ah dare

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K8smom -- I think you've just pointed out the distinction! (As noted above, all of my pronunciations are of acceptable American usage; different countries pronounce things differently, and the way different countries pronounce words in other languages can vary quite a bit.) In American, it's pronounced bal LAY.

[editing to add]

There can be differences, though. If you're saying:

My daughter takes ballet -- bal LAY

I love ballet -- bal LAY

"Swan Lake" is my favorite ballet -- bal LAY

BUT if the word is in a name, it seems to me the word is pronounced flatly, with no real accent:

American Bal-lay Theater

Bal-lay Alert

Bal-lay Imperial

Perhaps this is determined by the rhythm of the surrounding words? Not being a linguist, I can't say.

Edited by Alexandra
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With regard to the pronunciation of Agon, it's worth pointing out that the O sound there is the omega (literally big O), as opposed to the omicron (literally small O). Scholarly convention, as it was passed on to me, requires that omegas are pronounced to rhyme with loan, and omicrons to rhyme with pot. Something similar applies to Latin quantities. I remember once saying " in MEEdias res" in a tutorial, and my lecturer corrected me by asking, "Would you walk down Picadilly, with a poppy or a lily in your mEEdieval hand???"

I think, Alexandra, that your pronunciation of ballet might reflect an east coast rather than a general habit in America. Many Americans tend to accent the last syllable in what French people would regard as even-syllabled words, as for example garAHge. I had to walk out of the film of The Chorus Line because I went to see to see it on a hot summer's day in a thin cotton shirt, and found Arctic temperatures prevailing inside the cinema. The management refused to adjust the thermostat, and so I had to exit to avoid hypothermia--but not before I had heard a song that went something like "At the ballAY, at the ballAY"!

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As a general note on the pronunciation of French words, the accent is almost always on the last syllable. "Sucre" is an exception (but not "sucré"), and I'm sure there are others, but in general, it's ball-AY, pee-KAY, bat-MANH, &c.

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