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Ballet and reverences

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This post is more of a reflection than a question. Almost in every ballet we can see countless sequences where an abundance of reverences and courtesies are performed. Peasants to court members, court members to royalty, the younger to the elderly and so on. Then I was very surprised to find out that the very last segment of the beginners ballet class I once took was devoted to learn and perform a reverence to the professor-(which I found lovely, but still a surprise note).

So then Wikipedia says that…

"Reverence (attitude)is the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the power of one's superior or superiors ..."…

To then redirect the reader to…

"Deference-(also called submission or passivity)-is the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the power of one's superior or superiors. Deference implies a yielding or submitting to the judgment of a recognized superior out of respect or reverence."

Then, in on the paragraphs of her famous epilogue, Homans writes:

“Ballet, moreover, is an etiquette as much as an art, layered with centuries of courtly conventions and codes of civility and politeness...”


"We are skeptical of elitism…...Ballet fine manners and implicitly aristocratic airs…seem woefully outmoded...…”

Not only do we find reverences in the warhorses. Many Balanchine ballets has them too-(for some reason I particularly remember the two male dancers in Divertimento No. 15, who bow to one another after their dancing…). I also remember in Danilova’s book where she declares that a ballerina should never kneel onstage while taking a bow unless there’s royalty present in the house.

On the other side, this is 2011, and many of us don’t have this type of things incorporated to our daily lives-(probably one of the few things in common I found between my homeland and US). So, perhaps people who live in places where monarchy is still active can identify themselves more with such items…? Are reverences implemented in all ballet classes…? Are they still active and expected to be performed in other places as a regular thing...? DO WE BELIEVE IN THEM, or do we see them as a mere curiosity from past times and no longer justified in our modern daily living…?






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Ballet was founded upon a monarchic and hierarchic view of society. This part of the foundation of the art is now vestigial, but it's still there! Indeed, if we consider that the American view that "the people are sovereign" (Which has had good press for the last 200 years) dancers at the end of a performance still bow to the audience, no matter WHO they may be. In class, the teacher is still the monarch. So, yes, the révérence still ends the lesson. But be careful of linguistic cognates. There may be words in both French and English which are spelled practically the same (there are those pesky és!), but may mean different things to the languages' speakers. Or if they mean the same (denotatively), they may suggest (connotatively) different things when they're used!

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In the discussion of the on-stage class at Saturday's Balanchine's Birthday bash, they talked about the NYCB bow, and how it differs from others.
Yes, Peter Martins explained that the broken-foot curtsy is "more modest" than the pointed-foot one. Since his demonstration was so exaggerated -- the former relatively shallow and brief, the latter a very slow descent of both body and (leaning forward) torso with full port de bras. I don't know that the broken foot makes it more modest, but I suspect it makes it more difficult to indulge in a diva-worthy display.

:off topic:

I don't know how to put in a link to a specific entry, but #29 on this page: http://balletalert.i...22/page__st__15 has a bit of discussion.
In the upper-right corner of each post, you see a little number (in the case you cited, 29). If you click on that number, you'll get a direct link. :thumbsup:
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Christian, I find that a desire to be respected is widespread nowadays -- especially in our "classless" society, it's the people at the actual bottom of the social ladder who are most sensitive to matters of honor and respect. In the restaurant where I work, there are many refugees who are on the staff with me, and it's very interesting becoming friends with them and finding out what's a big deal in their cultures -- but in every one of them, I find there's a sensitivity to disrespect that comes at least in part from the fact that the dominant culture here in California doesn't get the fine points of what matters to them. My friend X, from Peru, who is a janitor and a musician, and a very fine musician, is a case in point -- a very masculine guy, but also very finely tuned to the nuances of respect with which he's treated.

And I think that's what reverence refers to -- not to superiority, but the finer sense in any person , that there's a soul in here, why do you not consider my feelings? I could give many more instances, but what I think is inherently valuable about ballet is that EVERYONE deserves this reverence. When I teach a yoga class, I always turn at the end of the class and make a "Namaste" to my students, and I feel that it is exactly the same gesture as at the end of ballet class when I do reverence to the teacher -- who has in fact given me so much. Yes, they are the master/mistress, but their authority is universally acknowledged as deserved because they KNOW THEIR STUFF and can TEACH you something that you want very much to learn. And in such a case, there is no dishonor in acknowledging their superiority.

As the old Shaker hymn says, "When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed." Reverence is NOT inconceivable in a democracy; in fact, it's (as Major Mel implied) required, or the polity cannot hold.


Also, there are some ballets like Concerto Barocco, and the Preghiera from Mozartiana, which are FULL of reverences -- the Louis XIV reverence ("making a leg"), bows of all kinds, even gestures of prayer -- in Mozartiana, the ballerina actually goes from a "Namaste" into a bent-over-backwards pose in the take-my-heart position.

And almost every penchee arabesque reads to me as a reverence of some kind.


One more thing -- VRSfanatic has hit the nail on the head -- it's an expression of gratitude. at least in this country, the reverence concludes with the teacher saying out loud "Thank you very much."

Edited by Paul Parish
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Cristian our students, male and female, do reverence at the beginning of each class. With time permitting, they also do reverance at the end of class. Reverence in Vaganova training always maintains a very regal, highly lifted upper back for both the male and the female dancer in the classical role. Kneeling to the knee is reserved for only stage work and even then is performed sparingly. I have noticed that each culture has it's own reverence and customs associated with the movement.

I was not at the lecture for the NYCB Balanchine celebration (I had to work), although I was at the matinee on Saturday. The reverence was glaringly different and awkward. I am glad Mr. Martins did address it. It must be one of those things that evolved over time because it was not that way in the 1960s and early 1970s. I am sure I would remember being taught to bow in this way had it been "the way" of the time or at least I would remember being taught not to bow in this way in my later involvement in ballet. :sweatingbullets:

Is reverence necessary in ballet? Yes, it is our way of showing gratitude.

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