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Subject: "Ballet Mime" Archived thread - Read only
 
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #2745
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Brendan McCarthymoderator

20-05-02, 09:57 AM (GMT)
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"Ballet Mime"
 
   LAST EDITED ON 20-05-02 AT 10:10 AM (GMT)

Monica Mason has told a 'ballet summit' in Canada that the Royal Ballet is thinking of using surtitles over mimed scenes to make the story ballets more accessible to new audiences.

Link to story.

This issue was also discussed at the recent Giselle Study Day when Sandra Conley was asked how receptive young dancers were to learning mime. She confessed that they initially did not see it as terribly important, and that teaching it at the Royal Ballet School had been a bit of an "uphill struggle".

There is an interesting debate here. Nineteenth century audiences in Paris often went to the ballet, forearmed with extensive guides to the scenario (and great detail of the significance of mimed scenes). Does mime still have a place in theatre dance, or is it of a time, and now irrelevant?


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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Ballet Mime Bruceadmin 20-05-02 1
     RE: Ballet Mime Brendan McCarthymoderator 20-05-02 2
         RE: Ballet Mime Paul A 20-05-02 3
  RE: Ballet Mime AnnaM 20-05-02 4
     RE: Ballet Mime Brendan McCarthymoderator 20-05-02 5
         RE: Ballet Mime Odette 20-05-02 6
             RE: Ballet Mime sylvia 20-05-02 7
                 RE: Ballet Mime Paul A 20-05-02 8
                     RE: Ballet Mime Flight 20-05-02 9
                     RE: Ballet Mime Helen 20-05-02 10
                         RE: Ballet Mime Brendan McCarthymoderator 20-05-02 11
                             RE: Ballet Mime AnnaM 21-05-02 12
                             RE: Ballet Mime Brendan McCarthymoderator 21-05-02 13
                             RE: Ballet Mime Helen 21-05-02 14
                             RE: Ballet Mime Brendan McCarthymoderator 21-05-02 15
                             RE: Ballet Mime Justin 21-05-02 16
                             RE: Ballet Mime eugdog 21-05-02 17
                             RE: Ballet Mime katharine kanter 21-05-02 18
                             RE: Ballet Mime Annelieseagain 05-06-02 29
                             RE: Ballet Mime Annelieseagain 05-06-02 28
     RE: Ballet Mime alison 23-05-02 19
         RE: Ballet Mime John Man 25-05-02 20
             RE: Ballet Mime alison 27-05-02 21
                 RE: Ballet Mime Lynette H 27-05-02 22
                     RE: Ballet Mime Isobel Houghton 27-05-02 23
                         RE: Ballet Mime Brendan McCarthymoderator 27-05-02 24
                             RE: Ballet Mime Steven 27-05-02 25
                             RE: Ballet Mime alison 28-05-02 26
                             RE: Ballet Mime Paul A 28-05-02 27

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Bruceadmin

20-05-02, 10:05 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #0
 
   >Monica Mason has told a 'ballet
>summit' in Canada that the
>Royal Ballet is thinking of
>using surtitles over mimed scenes
>to make the story ballets
>more accessible to new audiences.
>

Just remember you heard it here first:
http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_02/apr02/rb_seat_back_displays.htm


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

20-05-02, 10:45 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #1
 
   ......Bruce!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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Paul A

20-05-02, 11:43 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #2
 
   I'm speechless - I can't believe it's true.

Thinking back I do remember mime being difficult but not impenetrable. Surely performed with conviction it registers.


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AnnaM

20-05-02, 12:02 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #0
 
   >Monica Mason has told a 'ballet
>summit' in Canada that the
>Royal Ballet is thinking of
>using surtitles over mimed scenes
>to make the story ballets
>more accessible to new audiences.


If this was not so very sad I would say it is ridiculous.
Can it really be true that the audience is unable to follow and even understand these few surviving mime scenes that are left in ballet these days??
You do not need to sit in the front row of the stalls to catch every nuance and detail of the story but you always get the gist of it from where ever you are sitting.
What's the added value or surtitles for mime scenes? Are people really that thick? The story of the ballets are always described in the program, where is the difficulty? It is not like Opera where surtitles make perfect sense because it is difficult to understand the words or the language. But ballet??!!
Come on!
I have never heard or met anyone to have been confused or baffled by the Nutcracker re-inacting how Clara saved him, how Aurora should avoid needles, or how Giselle's frolicking around might end badly.
And where does it stop then? Will we have a running commentary on every action?
"Now, folks, pay attention! We see Juliet. Juliet is really impressed by Romeo's extensions and will now piruette around him to show us how much she fancies him. "
Not even an American baseball game has a running commentary and that's quite tricky....


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

20-05-02, 12:18 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #4
 
   LAST EDITED ON 20-05-02 AT 12:45 PM (GMT)

I think Monica Mason has a point. A newcomer, or occasional member of the audience, is unlikely to catch the nuances of the mime scenes. And, to tell the truth, neither would I, had I not been to numerous ROH study days over the years.

For those of us who love ballet, it is easy to lose sight of the ways in which it can be inaccessible as an artform. If audiences at the Paris Opera in the 1830s and 1840s were in need of elaborate explanation of mime and gesture, it is unlikely that the situation is greatly different in 2002.


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Odette

20-05-02, 04:35 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #5
 
   I myself haven't ever found mime difficult to understand, although obviously I have studied classical mime. However I do find that if I take someone to the ballet or am sitting next to a 'new' ballet goer, they do require an explanation. But I think surtitles would be a mistake-and an annoyance if you do already understand!


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sylvia

20-05-02, 04:50 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #6
 
   I agree, from the amphi the surtitles could be a bit of a distraction if you already know the mime. JMO but I've seen the opera once and while I found it invaluable, it really is a pain to have to keep looking up, then back on the stage, then up again throughout the whole performance when I just wanted to sit back and enjoy it. Ballet's meant to be watched and constant checking to see what's coming next takes away from how beautiful mime can be done. I thought the notes in the programme seem enough for the etxtensive sections. And isn't this the kind of thing that Insight Days and Pre-performance talks are for? Oh well, I guess surtitles would do a lot to educate the audience rather than leaving them to figure it out on their own.


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Paul A

20-05-02, 04:57 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #7
 
   >I guess surtitles
>would do a lot to
>educate the audience rather than
>leaving them to figure it
>out on their own.

I don't like this spoon feeding. There were the days when I would go through a score when I was first going to opera till I realised it wasn't necessary to enjoy the work. But I do think effort is repaid by increased appreciation. Surely if you are actively concentrating, and it is well put over, the mime or the performance in general will register.



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Flight

20-05-02, 05:40 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #8
 
   I shouldn't have thought it was that difficult for people to simply read the programme notes.


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Helen

20-05-02, 05:52 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #8
 
   Agreed, Paul. To me mime is part of classical ballet, and as such is very important. It is not really hard to understand - the older formal mime has quite a limited "vocabulary", really, and can be learnt quite easily, even by young children. Informal mime should explain itself, though of course some dancers are better at it than others.

Surtitles - well, I'd have thought this was an April Fool if it was on the right day. On reflection, I suppose they could serve a purpose if people really have become too lazy to learn something about what they are going to see. Anything (within reason!) to improve audience figures - but I really can't understand why everything should be completely effort-free. Appreciation of any art form takes a bit of work, I'd have thought - we're not talking Andrew Lloyd Webber here.


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

20-05-02, 06:24 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #10
 
   LAST EDITED ON 20-05-02 AT 06:27 PM (GMT)

I think ballet is in some ways a less accessible form than is music. While relatively large numbers of people have had some access to music education, this is not true of dance. There is arguably more of a chasm between the knowledgable dance audience and the wider public, than there is between the specialist music audience and occasional concert or operagoers.

While most people coming to the ROH could sensibly make some preparation before seeing an opera, what are the realistic options open to most members of the public of making any meaningful preparation to see a ballet? How many, especially outside London, can attend an ROH study day? How many bookshops in Britain have dance sections? How many people will know of the RAD mime video, still less have read Beryl Morina's Mime in Ballet?

The Royal Ballet has had to become aware, like other public institutions, of social inclusion. Explanation is part of this. And if mime is so obviously apparent in its meaning as many previous posters seem to think, will they please address the following issues?

(a) Why 19th century audiences required substantial explanation, and why they had to be provided with wordy scenario guides?
(b) Why many Russian productions of the classics dispense with mime altogether on the basis that audiences don't understand it anymore.


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AnnaM

21-05-02, 10:04 AM (GMT)
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12. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #11
 
   LAST EDITED ON 21-05-02 AT 10:16 AM (GMT)

LAST EDITED ON 21-05-02 AT 10:14 AM (GMT)

>I think ballet is in some
>ways a less accessible form
>than is music.

I disagree. Even a first ballet-goer can sit back and enjoy watching the dance. At least it combines visual with the music so it will always provide more entertainment to a neophyte than mere music. Note that I am not saying dance is a higher art form than music, that is not true as you can not rank art forms. But what I am saying is that dance is more accessible to people than you think. They will not get the nuances a more experienced audience member might do but they can still watch the activity on stage. Most will experience this as more pleasant than a visit to a gallery or a symphony. Even if you are uninformed you can still respond to dance by enjoying or not enjoying it.

>While most people coming to the
>ROH could sensibly make some
>preparation before seeing an opera,
>what are the realistic options
>open to most members of
>the public of making any
>meaningful preparation to see a
>ballet?
I would think reading the program before curtain up should be enough of a "preparation". Narrative ballets are usually quite easy to follow.

How would you then handle abstract ballet? What surtitles do you offer audience then???


>The Royal Ballet has had to
>become aware, like other public
>institutions, of social inclusion. Explanation
>is part of this. And
>if mime is so obviously
>apparent in its meaning as
>many previous posters seem to
>think, will they please address
>the following issues?
>
>(a) Why 19th century audiences required
>substantial explanation, and why they had to be provided with
>wordy scenario guides?

Where did you get this from and are you implying that the average understanding, exposure, sophistication and knowledge of the 19th century audience has not evolved until now??
Every art form in its early days will meet a less informed audience but by now most Western people have assosiations with say Sleeping Beauty. Most ballets anyway are based on fairy tales or common clishes that are accessible to people these days.

Again, if Sleeping Beauty requires surtitles to be understood, for God's sakes how would you make absract dance "accessible" ??
My, I would have welcomed a running commentary on This House Will Burn. I would have offered to give on emyself in fact...

>(b) Why many Russian productions of
>the classics dispense with mime
>altogether on the basis that
>audiences don't understand it anymore.
That does NOT mean that dinspensing with mime is the correct approach !

Apologies if this seems too forceful but the trend to cut, rephrase, adjust art form to suit the smallest and least denumerator ticks me off.
Why shouldn't art educate or at least ADD something to the average audience member?? Why not challenge and enhance your understanding ? And the public is less dumb than expected.
It may be because I am not British that I do not suscribe to the hysteria the word "elitism" seems to provoke *gasp*. Art is elitist if the tickets are expensive but otherwise I fully agree to the "Do not spoonfeed them" someone said. Make the resources accessible int he form of program notes, internet information and let the public grow.
Yes, I know I am being simpistic but in this day of age the approach should be to make information accessible to everyone (be that over the internet or else) but NOT to eliminate the need for knowledge.
There.
I said it and probably swamped your poor server with my ranting....



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Brendan McCarthymoderator

21-05-02, 10:28 AM (GMT)
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13. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #12
 
   LAST EDITED ON 21-05-02 AT 12:31 PM (GMT)

A few brief answers to Anna.

1. My remarks in respect of surtitles are limited to mime sequences in story ballets (e.g. Act 1 Giselle, Act II Swan Lake) and I am agreeing with Monica Mason. I don't see how it is possible to imply that I am suggesting surtitling for anything else (the thread is titled 'ballet mime')

2. The references to Parisian audiences in the 19th century derive from research by Professor Marian Smith of the University of Oregon, author of "Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle". She is one of the foremost scholars of the 19th century romantic ballet. Ballet librettos were in effect mini-novels. Audiences would bring these librettos to the theatre, and read them closely while trying to follow the action on-stage.

3. My point was this: if 19th century audiences needed to have mime explained to them (although mime was still a living theatrical convention), the need for elaboration was unlikely to have diminished with the passage of 160 years.


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Helen

21-05-02, 02:22 PM (GMT)
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14. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #13
 
   Do you think it is just possible that the "mini-novel" form of libretto in 19thC Paris might merely have been the result of the general 19thC love of verbosity? Writers at that time rarely used five words if five hundred would do. Think of the novels of the time, whether French, Russian or English.


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

21-05-02, 03:30 PM (GMT)
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15. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #14
 
   Helen, I guess it's entirely possible. And I don't want to go for overkill on this either. It's just that I'm not sure that ballet mime is that accessible, unless it is explained.


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Justin

21-05-02, 03:52 PM (GMT)
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16. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #15
 
   Just a couple of non-heated points - I really don't know where I stand on this one.

First - are surtitles a distraction? I haven't seen them, so I don't know how easily you can shut them out.

Second - does it matter if you don't 'get' everything the first time? If you are interested in ballet and enjoyed it except for the mime, isn't that an incentive to get hold of some book and do a bit of research? I accept the need for inclusivity and opening ballet to wider audiences (doesn't eveyone here?) but I don't think demystifying everything is the answer.


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eugdog

21-05-02, 06:00 PM (GMT)
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17. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #16
 
   I remember watching Swan Lake in the summer of 96. The delightful American girl (who was going to ballet for the first time) next me was a bit lost after the first act. Her first words to me were "what happened". So I would not completely reject the idea or subtitle.

Perhaps a compromise would be using the surtitle screen to give a synopsis of each act before the curtain goes up - (videos do the same thing)

But using subtitles during the miming is going to look very strange.

BTW would anyone seriously understand the miming of Giselle's mother in Act one or the reason as to why Princess Odette is a swan at night etc who can only be saved by eternal love???


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katharine kanter

21-05-02, 06:47 PM (GMT)
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18. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #17
 
   LAST EDITED ON 21-05-02 AT 06:48 PM (GMT)

As Kirsten Ralov once said:

"Think of Mime as a beautiful wave and let it break over you. Audiences today are in too much of a hurry. They want to rush the thing on to the dancing bits. They have not got time to enjoy beauty."

May I suggest that anyone who thinks Mime is a bore, try to hold out till the Bournonville Festival in 2005. "Far from Denmark" has some of the most astonishing mime scenes you will ever see. I shall never forget Henriette Muus and Petruska Broholm, as the two Cadets, with Henriette "playing the piano".

Bournonville's mime is unlike what we are used to from other theatres. It is dancing mime, not grotesque gesticulating, nor Marceau-like imitation of reality.

Try it. You will find that it grows on one.


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Annelieseagain

05-06-02, 12:33 PM (GMT)
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29. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #16
 
   Inclined to agree with your second point.
Re. the first, I find surtitles a distraction - it's very easy to keep looking at them and they actually tend to draw you away from the whole experience. They're certainly not essential (as someone suggested) for opera - after all we've done without them for many many years!


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Annelieseagain

05-06-02, 12:29 PM (GMT)
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28. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #12
 
  
>It may be because I am
>not British that I do
>not suscribe to the hysteria
>the word "elitism" seems to
>provoke *gasp*. Art is elitist
>if the tickets are expensive
>but otherwise I fully agree
>to the "Do not spoonfeed
>them" someone said.

Sorry, that's rubbish. Art is elitist if it is only accessible (in all senses) to the elite. Elite is very different from rich.


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alison

23-05-02, 01:38 PM (GMT)
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19. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #4
 
   >I have never heard or met
>anyone to have been confused
>or baffled by the Nutcracker
>re-inacting how Clara saved him,
>how Aurora should avoid needles,
>or how Giselle's frolicking around
>might end badly.

Well, I'm afraid I have. Noticeable giggles from members of the audience last Christmas during the RB Nutcracker, possibly not so much of a problem for Sleeping Beauty, but certainly members of the audience in the RB (and probably ENB) Giselle were obviously confused by Berthe's mime.

While it may be easy enough to pick up individual things like "love", "marry" (but why on earth should circling your hands above your head mean "dance"?!), some of these mime scenes, in particular Odette's and Berthe's, represent pretty substantial chunks of "speech". Plus, of course, many of them are supposedly in French, so an English native speaker may be confused by the syntax as well. Your average infrequent balletgoer probably isn't going to take the time to get hold of a book on mime and read it, but surely a page or two could be taken in the programmes for Giselle and Swan Lake to set out the mime together with a translation? I think that using surtitles is distinctly OTT, but on the other hand I hate the practice of many companies, predominantly Russian ones, it seems, of dispensing with the mime altogether, as that risks turning the ballet into nothing more than a display of dancing.


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John Man

25-05-02, 08:35 AM (GMT)
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20. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #19
 
   The mime in Giselle presumably can't be that accessible if there was an article in the programme about what the various movements meant.

People also have to bear in mind that not everybody will, or can afford, to buy a programme.


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alison

27-05-02, 01:17 PM (GMT)
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21. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #20
 
   I didn't say there *was*, John, merely suggested that there could be. And I have to say that I've never found it 100% accessible anyway. As for people not buying the programme, well then they're already going to be completely at sea because they won't have a clue what's happening throughout, let alone in the mime scenes, unless of course they've taken the trouble to download the synopsis off the ROH website. Perhaps the mime scenes could be added there somewhere as well?


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Lynette H

27-05-02, 01:42 PM (GMT)
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22. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #21
 
   I have a very soft spot for the mime in Giselle, at least in the RB's production. I'm sure I probably don't catch the nuances of each phrease, but I enjoy Berthe's - well I can call them 'steps' but the shapes she makes with her hands and the movements. You can see some of those very movements again in the second act, and I like to see them prefigured like this.


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Isobel Houghton

27-05-02, 05:18 PM (GMT)
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23. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #22
 
   Now can ballet not only not pay for itself, it can't even get its message across.

Proof positive that ballet is an outdated, elitist, impotent, apathetic throwback which erroneously believes itself to be an art form and should be expunged from society asap.

Or not?


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

27-05-02, 05:24 PM (GMT)
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24. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #23
 
   Interestingly, Alastair Macaulay said something a little like that on Deborah Bull's Radio 4 documentary, 'Ballerina'. The relevant quote is:

“I sometimes wonder if, when we have a really equal society, if there will be a place for ballet – if in fact it isn’t actually something that belongs to a historical period – and whether the whole business of a woman rising on tiptoe in her blocked shoes will one day seem as curious as women binding their feet in China. And we’re lucky that we saw it being expressive and beautiful and seeing the good things of it. But it may one day have its sell-buy date”.


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Steven

27-05-02, 08:47 PM (GMT)
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25. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #24
 
   I have encountered people completely bemused by what was happening in Giselle. I overheard them saying "The first act was fine because there was a story, but in the second they were all just dancing around on her grave."

I must say that for my first few Giselles I too did not understand anything like all that is going on in Act 2 (I may still not!). I'm glad I persisted, though... Interestingly, it was Act 2 where the story is told more or less in "pure" dance that was a problem - but who is to say that what they believed was the story of Act 1 is actually what was intended?

Every time I see Giselle, I see new nuances and I think this is the same with any narrative (and indeed, non-narrative) work.


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alison

28-05-02, 01:14 PM (GMT)
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26. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #25
 
   >Every time I see Giselle, I
>see new nuances and I
>think this is the same
>with any narrative (and indeed,
>non-narrative) work.

Yes, I agree. I've always said that this ballet is rather like an onion - the more layers you peel off, the more you find underneath!

And I think I was reading only the other day a reference to a complete "script" or story for the first act, but can't remember where it is now.


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Paul A

28-05-02, 01:24 PM (GMT)
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27. "RE: Ballet Mime"
In response to message #26
 
   Still thinking about this issue.

Could it be that we are saying the three-acter is dead?

Vive the triple bill!


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