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"And not your yellow hair" - Do looks matter to you in balle

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The title of the thread is from a poem by W.B. Yeats, "For Anne Gregory", and the subject of the poem desires to be loved for herself, not her looks.

How much do looks matter to you when you watch a ballet? Are you more attracted to certain dancers because you find them more attractive? Do you ever have to overlook someone's physical appearance to enjoy their dancing? Do you even have a "type"?

This is a very personal issue for all of us, and I'd love to hear how people feel about it - it can get heated (think of how loaded Balanchine's comment about a ballerina's skin ought to be the color of a peeled apple is and I think you will see what I mean.) Let's hear what everyone has to say.

So how do you feel about Beauty and the Ballet?

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A sort of "cherem" against blonde hair existed in the Romantic period and on into the Petipa period. Fanny Elssler was famous offstage for her strawberry blonde hair, and yet her portraits show her as a dark brunette. It might be interesting to see her monthly outlay for macassar oil, the standard brown/black tint of her era.

Me, I don't care!:)

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I remember both Shearer and Sibley saying that they were bothered by the fact that their coloring didn't fit in with the reigning Markova-Fonteyn dark-lady look. They both managed, however. :)

I don't see anything wrong with admitting that looks matter. Dance is visual. It's also true that pretty people have an inbuilt advantage in that they are more pleasing to the eye than less-pretty people. We enjoy looking at them more. However, a dancer who is beautiful but lacking in ability or magnetism isn't going to hold that appeal for too long without being able to back it up with action, as it were.

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As recently as 1978, an ABT dancer (then corps, later principal) said that she thought the reason she was getting more roles than others of her same age and experience was because she had dark hair and blondes looked more washed out on stage.

Beyond hair color and on to beauty, I think beauty does matter in ballet -- and beauty in the traditional sense. (The stark beauty of a gnarled oak struck by lightning is more modern dance :) ) I would expect most balletgoers to have personal preferences about looks in the same way we do about movie stars, and I think that one's reaction to physical appearance has emotional content that's hard to separate. If one sees blondes as cold and brunettes as warm, for example, then saying "I don't like him because he's blond" is more than a comment on beauty.

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Make-up techniques are so advanced that almost anyone can be made to look beautiful. I recently saw a dancer who was not very attractive even with make-up and I thought I'd never get through the performance; however she danced soooo beautifully that I forgot about physical short-comings. And that's what it's all about, isn't it? Cheryl Yeager had a gamine look that I think held back her career; I felt she could have minimized it with make-up but she never did. I saw 2 back to back performances of Onegin starring Coppen (I think that's his name) and Kobborg. I found Coppen the handsomer of the 2 and had a more romantic reaction, while Kobborg's thrilling dancing provided an emotional whollop to the story. And then there's the male dancer with a traveling Russian company who looked like my daughter's boyfriend, Bob; I could never get past that!

Yes, looks count, but not much.


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Of course looks matter. Why not?

A dancer's soul may be shown through their art and if it is beautiful as well, then that is an enhancement.

I agree with Giannina completely on:

"Make-up techniques are so advanced that almost anyone can be made to look beautiful." There are people with unfortunate physiognomies, but there is not a single reason to look bad on stage.

Body build is another matter--we all have our particular preferences. However, although I may really not care for Ballerina X's natural build, what she does with her technique and artistry will generally render that secondary. A person has only so much control over how they are shaped, although their particular training may accentuate certain characteristics.

As a costumer, I have a certain measure of control over appearance and generally a dancer and I will come to a happy agreement, but of course looks are important.....

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Initially looks do "matter"...just as in real life - or in off stage life ;) - one is going to be initially attracted to, repelled by, or even left with that nondescript feeling, by what someone looks like. Now for most of us, once the first few seconds tick by, and the individual opens his or her mouth the this initial image usually fades into the background and one would hope that one was more interested in content than appearance.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that in ballet I really do look at the dancers' faces. When the curtain parts, and I've pulled out my auto focus, extra wide view binoculars, I scan the dancers to get a good look at "who" they are...from corps to principals...it doesn't matter to me. I just want to see their faces - there's something important about this to me...maybe it's along the lines of "the eyes being the window to one's soul"...?

As for beauty - well, there are many opinions on that one aren't there? One person's "gamine" - as Giannina mentioned - might be considered unattractive in a ballet sense, while others would swoon for such a young lady - look at Audrey Hepburn, or several of Eliot Feld's Ballet Tech ballerinas.:) Although I may be more attracted to a certain "type" in either male or female dancers, I can still be lured into falling for another due to their portrayal of their character or, what I perceive to be, their vituosity as a dancer.

To me, Janie Taylor and Jennifer Ringer couldn't be more dissimilar, yet they both have that certain something that can draw me to their performances...and it's not just their steps. The same goes for such disparate male dancers as Peter Boal and Angel Corella, or Carlos Acosta and Guillaume Graffin... I guess I'm just a "fool" for a personality that shines through. ;)

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Yes, of course, but I don't have a prescription for beauty. I just know handsome and beautiful when I see them. The handsomest dancer I have ever seen, in any format, no gnarled oak he, is the modern dancer Rob Besserer. He happens to look the same on stage as off, but there are many instances where beauty is projected onstage, but not off. (Also, in contrast, some off stage beautiful faces don't take stage light well. )Bottom line: When people are prancing around with practially no clothes on, beauty is a significant asset.

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A ballerina friend who is of Icelandic origin and typically very fair and blonde used to dye her hair dark in order to look "more like a ballerina". She said directors had suggested that she do this in order to "look better on stage."

As far as "beauty" on stage, I do think that there are dancers with unfortunate faces - and there are those for whom no amount of makeup will help - although they may look perfectly good-looking offstage. I'm sure that there are those who dance beautifully and whose careers have been stunted or who have been shunted into character roles because of the way they look. And then there are those with body types that I find unappealing, such as those who either are unfortunately proportioned or who are too thin and/or obviously muscular. Obviously this can be a matter of personal taste. One ballerina whom I find painful to watch in classical roles has the "ideal" body type for a bunch of ballet students I met at a performance. The saying "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder" really does apply.

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It's much easier to verbalize things I DON'T like than things I do. For instance, I was watching the NYCB Lincoln Center thing, and I noticed that Darci Kistler's hair was ALL OVER the place. I was worried that Jock Soto might get entangled in it or something. Now I have nothing against ballets where the women wear their hair down, if it helps give that flowing appearance, but her hair was [is?] so long it just got in the way. She's a wonderful ballerina, and I'm sure her looooong blonde hair gets many compliments offstage, but onstage it's a little out of control.

The thing I hate most, though, is when a ballerina is extremely thin. Some people, especially directors, like this, I think, but to me it just looks disgusting. This, by the way, is the main reason I am so hard on Lucia Lacarra: she's just very hard to look at. [Just in case you thought I had a personal vendetta against Lacarra: I'm mean to Lara Flynn Boyle, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Calista Flockhardt too. Especially Calista. Yech!!:eek: ] Sure, there are women who are very thin without eliciting this kind of visceral reaction, but generally, I am talking about those who look gaunt , like they are terminally ill or, more likely, starving to death, than those who are possessed of a slender frame [although I do know that one doesn't always look gaunt automatically from an eating disorder, at least not until a certain amount of weight has been lost...]

As always, I do make exceptions; Yuan Yuan Tan is a favorite of mine. I'm fond of Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, and Janie Taylor as well. All of these are, of course, extremely thin ballerinas. So I'm a bit flexible.

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I'm glad this topic has come up, because I think that looks matter enormously in ballet, but have felt that it was too politically incorrect to say so! I really mind about faces, and in fact there are one or two dancers in the Royal Ballet who are without doubt excellent dancers, but who I never book for because I don't like their faces. Ballet is a visual art, relying in part on proportions, and faces have proportions like the rest of the body. I can easily think of dancers from the past who did not succeed because they had the "wrong" face.

Faces don't seem to be considered quite as important as they used to be, probably partly because of "political correctness" (which I am not entirely against), and partly because virtuosity is more important than it once was, so a dancer might be more likely to succeed now because of his/her technical brilliance. I don't think it would have occurred to someone like Ashton that looks were unimportant. He knew they were.

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I find myself sometimes trapped by the "looks" of dancers.

For example, whenever NYCB does Bournville, I look for the blondes (and often think how miscast the brunettes are)

And then there are dancers who are stunningly pretty, but the dancing just isn't there.

It of course varies, depending on where I'm sitting.

As Giannina pointed out, makeup techniques helps out a lot. (though that streamed eye liner that Julie Kent still drives me crazy)

I remember reading an interview with Wendy Whelan where she was so self conscious of her angular features, she never thought she'd be able to do a role like Aurora or Mozartiana. Yet she was beautiful in both.

There are roles that make some dancers seem more glamorous (and some that backfire completely) like seeing Riolama Lorenzo do Carabosse, Beauty becoming the Beast. Or Pascale van Kipnis/Rachel Rutherford in "Old Fashioned", carrying on in that old Hollywood style.

I guess everyone starts out as the ugly duckling and some become swans and some not.

Unfortunately/fortunately I never have this problem with the "guys".

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I hestitate to bring this up but talking about blonde versus brunette and what comes down to white beauty cuts out minorities of color completely. The question arises whether or not the lack of minorities in major ballet companies is due to this sterotypical casting or thinking of what a ballet dancer should look like to be considered appropriate for the role or beautiful. If you are saying you are looking for a blonde versus a brunette you eliminate completely Asian, Hispanic, or Black dancers.

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Funny, but hair colour never even occurs to me! They change it so frequently.

Unfortunately, men's "look" matters just as much as women's, I think. One can make up in accordance with a character, but too often this vital point is somehow deemed not important. One may have the face of a farmhand offstage, but when dancing Siegfried, please get out the makeup kit. I do not mean to sound nasty, but it is very important.

As is proper barbering--contemporary ballet can have a lot more leeway than classical, but I remain firm in my belief that Theme and Variations should not be done with a crewcut.

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On the blonde/brunette issue, I found myself quite disconcerted this summer when all the Shades in the Kirov's La Bayadere wore the same color wigs. It looked so odd to me. I find one of the most fun moments in Balanchine's Walpurgus Nacht is when all the dancers' hair flies free and you see the magnificent variety of human hair color. So for me, it's Vive le difference!!! And that goes for skin color too!!

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Facial beauty in a dancer isn't important to me but facial expression is. A beautiful stone-faced dancer is reduced to being merely a stone-faced dancer in my mind. Likewise, a dancer who doesn't have conventional beauty but an expressive face will appear beautiful to me.

I had no idea till reading this thread that hair color can be so identified with certain ballets or roles. I've never paid much attention to it. I like variety. I also like variety in body types and skin colors.

Once again, conventional beauty doesn't matter to me but beauty of movement and expression is paramount.

The only exception I can think of is one dancer who's so thin that my stomach flips a little whenever I see her dance. I don't think she's unhealthy because she seems to be a real workhorse with relatively few injuries but I confess to having a hard time seeing her dance. It may be that I don't get to attend performances enough to get beyond that.

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That's the point...if hair color is associated with a role in ballet and it's blonde or brunette...would an Asian or Black dancer be cast in the role? So when will Albert Evans get used more? Or Aesha Ashe in a traditional role associated with blonde or brunette hair let alone skin color?

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I'm sort of regretting how I titled this thread; I really like that poem, but this thread is not about hair color! :) Call me an optimist, but I think people can be trusted to realize that assumptions about things like hair color only are pertinent in certain situations, and that non-traditional choices are possible. I think people simply make equivalents. Could there be a Snow White with black skin? As contradictory as it sounds, I actually don't think most people would be that confused. But she would still have to have an equivalent delicacy.

Beauty comes in many colors and forms for me, but it's very important. The dancers who work with me know what I look for in casting, I've been told when they recommend someone, "She's your type." (Many years ago, a friend remarked that I liked female dancers who were "girly-girls" most. Don't ask me to explain what a "girly-girl" is, but it's quite true.)

This isn't confined to female dancers, though. I can think of one major male dancer for whom I have to continually remind myself how good a dancer he is to get beyond disliking his physiognomy.

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With all due respect (I also have red hair), I don't know of *any* directors who hire dancers who are unattractive, nor is there a particular animus against redheads. Quite the contrary -- there are just not as many of us!

It is very common to "match" dancers and/or partners---makes visual sense on stage, and I always check the casting when I am designing a show to make sure that there is a good colour interplay.

OK, I won't talk about hair colour any more!!!

Body types, well, that's another tangled mess entirely......some people cannot change their genetic makeup. I think it is just as harmful to be disrespectful to thin dancers, assuming that they are anorectic, making snide remarks, etc. What looks good on stage is not necessarily what looks good on the street, remember. I am always struck when I see performers in street clothes, noticing how thin they look, when on stage or in costume they look perfectly fine to me.

We all have a different aesthetic, which is fine. I dislike chunkiness (I don't mean fat), but there are dancers with a stocky build who move beautifully and I just have to put aside my own bias! Looks matter, of course, but everyone has their own set of what they like and don't like, directors included. It would be nice if this weren't so, but reality intrudes.

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I think while makeup can hide a multitude of sins, there are still dancers whose bone structure and proportions don't meet contemporary standards, whatever they are that decade. The farther away from the big companies one goes, the more no necks, jutting chins, longlong arms, shortshort legs, etc. one sees. It's always instructive, and a bit painful to me, to watch the end of school shows of local schools. A lot of the students have no intention of going for a professional career; they're taking ballet the way I took piano lessons. But a lot of them do, and there are some very good dancers who one knows will never make it because of one or more of the attributes mentioned above. Diversity of body types in this sense is one of the marks of a regional company -- right or wrong, the best and the most beautiful are the ones who get the best jobs.

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I watched the Classic Kirov video last night and was fascinated by the "evolution" in dancers looks it illustrates through the years.

Just watching the feet in terms of arch & turnout is a history lesson.

The stocky peasant bodies of the 30's slowly give way to the streamlined fineness of Kolpakova in the 80's.

It re-inforced the concept of Ballet as Beauty for me.

It's not entirely unfair. Those dancers genetically cheated by the game of DNA pinball can only profit from ballet technique, flexibility, stature, discipline, etc. and take it to other dance forms, esp modern but certainly B'way. It's a big dance world. Terphsichore is as likely to alight upon the high school gym as onstage at the NYState Theatre. It's we who attempt to contain her wild spirit.


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In the book "Tributes," there's an essay by Robert A. Caro, which ends:

"When the curtain rises on a ballet, I frequently take off my glasses. Therefore, I can still see what's happening, of course, but the colors and the movements become a little hazy. The lines of the corps and the soloists swirling among the lines become more like pure patterns to me -- captivating patterns. I am lost more than ever in that world onstage -- that wonderful world."

I consider Caro's sentiments borderline-idiotic, but I bring them up because from where I sit in the New York State Theater (First or Second Ring) or the Metropolitan Opera House (Dress Circle), I cannot make out the dancers' faces. And I only take off my glasses when I go to bed at night. If I wish to discern a facial expession or have a closer look at some steps, I must look through my opera glasses. I can state truthfully that, without opera glasses, all dancers look beautiful to me.

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