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"An actress with small eyes cannot be great."

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Leo Lerman's journal -- published earlier this year as The Grand Surprise -- contains encounters with, and thoughts about, just about every major actor, dancer, singer, instrumentalist, and society figure in New York City from the 40s through to the 80s -- with lots of transAtlantic connections, too.

On January 9, 1971, he writes -- out of nowhere, and in reference to no one in particular -- the single sentence: "An actress with small eyes cannot be great."

What about dancers? Do the legendary dancers all have big, expressive eyes,, in addition to their other talents? Who rates highest with you as to eyes -- and their use?

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Wow, talk about a blanket statement!

Let's see: Fonteyn and Plisetskaya: big eyes, great dancers; Ulanova: little eyes, great dancer.

I can't image the lack of 'big eyes' would hold anyone back from being a great anything (well, maybe lemurs would have a problem :bow: ).

Personally, I love the expressiveness of large eyes, but I'd have to say 'big eyes' wouldn't be anywhere near the top of the list of qualities that make a dancer/actor/whatever 'great'.

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Glenn Close. Interesting example. Just as I was wondering whether Lerman's theory applied only to stage actresses (although by '71 there was already a degree of crossover), zerbinetta pointed to a highly regarded, small-eyed actress of the stage.

What about dancers? Do the legendary dancers all have big, expressive eyes,, in addition to their other talents? Who rates highest with you as to eyes -- and their use?



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It's not necessarily true. Mathilde Kschessinska, Galina Ulanova, Irina Kolpakova, Natalia Makarova, Svetlana Zakharova, Sylvie Guillem, Alina Cojocaru, Gillian Murphy, Svetlana Lunkina are the ballerinas that I can name off the top of my head with not-large (if not downright small) eyes.

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Eleanor Powell -- not a ballet dancer, but a great tap dancer currently being discussed on another thread -- seems to have had quite narrow and even squinty eyes while dancing.

On the other hand: Fonteyn's eyes were enormously expressive, though not particularly large. Based on photographs, Pavlova was a dancer who knew how to seduce with her eyes. Natalia Bessmetnova. Jeanmaire. Irina Baronova. (Here's a 2007 portrait of Baronova: http://www.abc.net.au/news/photos/2007/03/01/1860553.htm )

So maybe it's not size that matters so much as how the eyes are used?

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This is such a blanket statement that is must be incorrect. However I suspect he was trying, in one sentence to get at how important the eyes are to expressing emotion and non verbal communication. So his assumption is that bigger eyes give you a better emotion expressing feature and that small eyes can't make the cut. This presumes that the size the eyes means they can be more communicative.

The idea has some merit, and that is why stage makeup seems to try to make the features larger... eyes and lips.

I think psychologists have studied how we read faces and discovered something like 900 (I don't recall the number) expressions that a human face can make. This means that there is a lot of subtlety and nuance. And reading a facial expression is a skill we learn but are never taught. But we all know the big easy ones, like a pout or a smile and a laugh and anger.

If you think of the face as a cartoon or in a caricature way and the emotional range of acting and dancing similarly you can make such a claim.

I am not familiar with lots of ballets. But what I have seen, although there IS a range of emotional states of the characters (dancers), I see them more as cartoon and caricature than the full range of facial expression and emotions I can say read on my wife's face.. or even a colleague.

Story ballet is, like theater often a compression of time, highlights if you will where you, the audience are expected to fill in the blanks. In that sense these are cartoonlike.

The real art for these choreographers, directors, actors and dancers is to facilitate the illusions... and they do it with their "stage craft"... tricks if you will. Big expressive eyes may help a lot.

If a performance is ONLY about movement, the dancers faces can be completely obscure. But when it's not, all the body adds to the message, face, hands body form, posture as well as movement.

The eyes have it!

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I read the other day a smile is not genuine unless the eyes are involved. And that is true of other signs of emotion as well -- that the eyes are an integral part.

In terms of recordings of ballet productions, where you do get closer views of faces, my favorite for eyes is Ekaterina Maximova in Anyuta where Anyuta passes through so many different emotional states. And thanks to this thread I see now how much Maximova's eyes are involved in her wonderful expressiveness which I had never really thought about before.

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