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Best villains (and villainesses) in ballet?

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Recently many of us had the chance to see a rather original kind of Rothbart when Marcelo Gomes portrayed him in the televised ABT Swan Lake. After that, I can't imagine any other way of doing it. It made me think how memorable -- and even lovable, in a perverse way -- villains and villainesses in ballet can be.

My favorites -- Rothbart/Gomes

-- and the lead spider woman in Robbins' The Cage. I've seen so many photos of Nora Kaye in the role, that I tend to forget I never saw her dance it. But I saw several performances at NYCB in the early 50s -- right through Patricia McBride much later. And all were chillingly great.

Who are the best villains (and villainesses) in ballet in your estimation? And who portrays/ed them most effectively?

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Another superb Carabosse (and you could have knocked me over with a feather) was Merrill Ashley.

Since the current ABT production is the only one I know that gives vR a chance to -- er -- shine, Marcelo's competition would seem to be few in number. The amazing thing about him, though, is that he is such a natural, sympathetic hero, as well. Maybe it is that very quality -- our desire to identify with him -- that makes this vR so effective. Quite scary, now that I think of it.

Madge is a great villain. One who sticks in my mind is Shelley Washington's portrayal, another instance of evil tempered by vulnerability. Then, there's the question of whether Madge is evil or just mightily teed off.

QUESTION: Is Myrtha a villain?

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I'll cast a vote for Monica Mason's Carabosse too.

Madge: Sorella Englund. (I never saw Gerda Karstens, who is, to many, THE Madge of Madges. Photos show her as a harmless old crone in Act I and a near-toothless, twisted monster in Act II.

There must be dozens of great villains (as opposed to villainesses) but I'm blanking. Help!

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I would give a vote for Gomes as vR as well. I bought a ticket to see him dance Seigfreid in July based on that performance.

Another mention as I watched the Bolshoi DVD of Raymonda again, Gedeminas Taranda as Abderakham!! This is not a vote for the Character, the story really doesn't allow him to do much other than woo her and get killed for his best efforts, but boy, what a performance. He dances most of the Spanish dance and the audience goes crazy. A great image of him standing there trying to move the ballet forward but the audience demanding a bow. Finally the conductor just starts over the audience and you can barely hear the music.

Edited by jllaney

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Would the Siren in Balanchine's "Prodigal Son" count as a villainess?

If so, I would have to give Maria K. high marks for this role. True, I have only seen "Prodigal Son" one time, but she made me afraid. (In a good way, of course; it would be boring if you didn't get a little bit scared by the villians)

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Erik Bruhn's Madge in "La Sylphide"

Alexander Godunov's Tybalt in Grigorovich's "Romeo and Juliet"

Nina Timofeyeva's Aegina in "Spartacus"

Gary Chryst's Iago (The Moor's Friend) in "The Moor's Pavane"

Lucia Chase's Stepmother in "Fall River Legnd"

Edited by klingsor

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Monica Mason was without a doubt the very best Carabosse (IMHO of course!).

She's also quite a terrifying Myrtha in the German film of Giselle with Nureyev and Seymour.

This has been released on DVD in the

US fairly recently

Richard

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Mason caused a real rethinking of the role of Carabosse, and played her as sort of Bad Queen Bess. I anticipated her reappearing as a restored Lady of a Certain Age at the wedding scene, but even though it is in the original script that she appears as a kind of Eumenid in the procession, alas, no one seems to have picked up on this.

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Monica mason was a great Myrta live -- I saw her in 1970 or 71, will never forget it -- she was adamant, but she wasn't mean. it was like hegel's view of tragedy, where evil is not really the characteristic of the antagonist.

But for EVIL, one of the greatest villainesses I've ever seen was the stepmother in "Fall River Legend," as danced by the Oakland ballet, who took deMille's ballet seriously and delivered it like it was Martha Graham, somewhere around 1990. It was a stunning experience for us, almost on the level of "les Noces." That company had powerful interpretive dancers, and they were downright anti-Balanchine in their determination to dance dramatically and with conviction.

When ABT came through with it just a year or so later, everybody in it looked a little embarrassed to be dancing in this old thing. But Summer Lee Rhattigan was simply amazing as Lizzie Borden, and Alison Deane was really horrifyingly cruel to her as the stepmother. That axe just gleaming away in the stump down-stage left, waiting....

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