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Portraying the elderly ballet

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As someone who takes 1 or 2 classes a week with "adults" young enough to be my children or even grandchildren, I have had more than my share of chances to ponder the old place of elderly people in what's basically a young person's art.

Then, reviewing some Giselle videos in anticipation of a Giselle mini-marathon this weekend, I got to thinking of how the mother (apparently the only older person in the village) is treated in this ballet: quite sympathetically, but with no opportunity to dance. And she's not necessarily old.

This led me to thinking about how elderly people are portrayed in ballet. First to come to mind was the comical put-down, as in Dr. Coppelius. Hopping around, hand wringing, stick waving, vaguely scarey but turning out to be something of a fraud. :flowers:

Are there any real dancing parts for old characters in ballet? Parts that make a mark in the ballet as a whole? Or -- in the absence of that -- are there any sympathetic portrayals of old people in which the character does more than just react to things going on in the life of the younger dancers?

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I really detest the portrayal of the grandparents in many productions of The Nutcracker. There's usually a bit where they totter and stumble about trying to keep up with a quick dance, which is an offensive way of fishing for a laugh.

I don't know whether this fits your bill, bart, but in Neumeier's Illusions like Swan Lake the King's Mother and his Uncle, while not exactly aged, seem to be engaged in politicking, at least from the King's paranoid point of view. While these roles are usually danced by dancers in their mid-late thirties, they're not character roles in the usual sense and require "full-out" dancing.

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In James Kudelka's Four Seasons, a season-of-lifecycle ballet, there's a wonderful dancing part for an older dancer, and I saw Hazaros Surmeyan, a character dancer with National Ballet of Canada, perform it.

Yes! I don't especially like the ballet, but I think the winter adagio, in which the protagonist dances with four older dancers, is its loveliest and most moving part. In the original cast I believe the four "seniors" were Victoria Bertram, Lorna Geddes, Tomas Schramek and Surmeyan.

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Not that I want to fall into the category "everything was better in the olden days", but maybe here you can have a point.

These days, dancers are pensioned off fairly early, in Sweden I believe it is 42 for women and 45 for men, not quite sure though.

But then, on the other hand, take for example Giselle, or for that matter Juliet. They are very young girls, so how old are the mothers supposed to be? I have seen Giselle mothers whom I have interpreted more as Giselle's great grandmother.

The Danish ballet was very good at keeping older dancers on as mimes, Gerda Karstens b. 1903, did a wonderful Madge in La Sylphide long past her retirement as a dancer and long after pension age.

I think a company needs to keep some older dancers, who might be way past their prime as dancers, but can take on character roles adding dignity and weight to their performances. A kid from the corps just doesnt look believable as the king or queen in Swan Lake. :huh:

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There are two Old People (their real names) in Flemming Flindt's "The Triumph of Death." The Old Man throws the Old Woman off a roof. Not really positive, but certainly active!!!

There are very sympathetic (and dancing) roles for middle-aged people, mostly men, in Ashton's "Enigma Variations." Two ride bicycles (one an old-fashioned three-wheeler) and the latter sports an ear trumpet.

You're right, though, Bart, that so many of the roles -- the mother in Giselle, the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, the King and Queen in Sleeping Beauty -- are often reserved for the one or two people they let stay around. Giselle's mother should be in her 30s.

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