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How graphic do we want our ballets – may contain spoilers


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I thought the hanging of Justine in Frankenstein was borderline on being too graphic. There is a similar execution scene in The Flames of Paris, just as moving and shocking but not as horrifying.

 

Am I being too sensitive?  :rolleyes:

Do we want even more horror?

 

(Note, this is not meant to be ‘having a go’ at Frankenstein – it just got me thinking about violence and horror in ballet in general).

 

I’m sure there are more scary/violent/nasty ballets out there…  :o

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This doesn't answer your question, but for some reason I'm put in mind of the Royal Ballet's programme synopsis last time they did Mayerling, which coyly referred to Prince Rudolf's gunpoint rape of his virgin bride as "making love"...

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Well there's a hanging scene in Jeune Homme et la Mort and then there is always The Judas Tree. That also includes rape -  at which point we move on to the gaoler in Manon, the wedding night in Mayerling and, soon to be seen, The Invitation......

 

We may not feel comfortable with it, but isn't that the point? If it is pertinent to the story it should be included. The young friend we took to the cinema to see Frankenstein had never seen a ballet. She loved the dancing but was bored by the love interest portrayed in the pdd and absolutely adored the anatomy lab and all the gruesome bits (including the hanging). She will never enjoy Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty.

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Las Hermanas also ends with a hanging scene (although it is quite obviously a dummy!).  However, it is the idea that is put to the audience that counts, not whether it is a dummy or not....

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Maybe it depends on one's general expectations of ballet. The sad bits of Swan Lake nearly always make me teary eyed and that’s achieved by mime and dance and music. In Justine’s hanging there was no dance, no mime, just twitching legs (only seen it once so correct me if I have mis-remembered).

 

The Manon Gaoler, yes that was somewhat disturbing.

 

The Judas Tree, not yet had an opportunity to see that, it does sound unpleasant, I may give it a miss.

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You're right, Timmie. I thought Justine/Megan's face as her hands went to her throat was absolutely right though - she showed both horror and dread. I think the scene was necessary though as if it ended with the guards dragging her away would have left the scene unresolved and the utter havoc which the Creature creates which steadily built up throughout the act would have been missing.

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I have seen some of the ballets mentioned here but the one that I thought crossed the line was the first part of David Bintley's Arthur. Even the poker scene in Edward I wasn't as bad, probably because I was expecting it.

I think that as with so much else in art if the violence or whatever is done well and justified in its context, like the scene with Rudolf and Stephanie in Mayerling, it is far more acceptable than when done badly.

Edited by Two Pigeons
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I have seen some of the ballets mentioned here but the one that I thought crossed the line was the first part of David Bintley's Arthur. Even the poker scene in Edward I wasn't as bad, probably because I was expecting it.

 

I haven't seen either of these Two Pigeons, I shall live in fear and trepidation...

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I think that as with so much else in art if the violence or whatever is done well and justified in its context, like the scene with Rudolf and Stephanie in Mayerling, it is far more acceptable than when done badly.

 

I guess this is a reasonable position.

 

I had sort of hoped ballet would be a bit different and that violence etc. would be portrayed by means of dance as in the classics (I am a relatively new ballet watcher so I am still trying to understand what ballet is).

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Obviously some ballets need to include such disturbing scenes, but I do think some warning might be in order - possibly along the lines of Film certificates? 

Certain ballets do say that they are not suitable for under a certain age but it is surprising how little notice people take.

Hansel and Gretel carried such a warning, but there was a couple on the front row with what looked like a five year old. That ballet was one of the creepiest things I've ever seen and I've often wondered if that child had nightmares afterwards....I certainly did!

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I booked for Mayerling but because I know the history of the period, we decided not to take our two dds. I told their ballet teacher that we were going and she exclaimed in horror at the thought of us taking our rather sensitive youngest daughter to see it. I hastened to put her mind at rest. "It is a brilliant ballet but not for children" she said firmly. I agree.

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As far as I'm concerned,however violent or nasty a scene may be on stage, I find it less disturbing than watching a film version.  I adored Les Mis in the theatre and it moved me every time I saw it.  I did not enjoy the film, because they really made it graphic in parts, with very nasty closeups and gory details.  At least on stage it's distant from us.  I saw Mayerling many years ago, but I don't remember being disturbed by it, somehow a part of my senses accepted that it was make-believe!

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I saw Mayerling many years ago, but I don't remember being disturbed by it, somehow a part of my senses accepted that it was make-believe!

I find it considerably *more* disturbing in the knowledge that it's based on real events...

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I hope I am not in breach of copyright if I quote the late Peter Cook here:

 

"You know, I go to the theatre to be entertained... I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction... I can get all that at home."

 

I assume he was referring to the TV programmes of the time?  Anyway, that's how I feel about ballet.

 

Linda

Edited by loveclassics
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Apart from La Fete Etrange the Royal Ballet has performed ballets choreographed by two other female choreographers since 1999. De Valois' The Rake's Progress created in 1935 was last seen on the main stage in 2006 while her ballet Checkmate created in 1937 was last seen in 2007. These two revivals were, I think, both connected with the company's celebration of its seventy fifth anniversary. What you think of these works will depend very much on the casts you saw dancing them. As far as Rake is concerned the cast headed by Samodurov and Hatley made a strong case for it being a ballet that still has a lot of theatrical life in it, the cast headed by Kobborg and Morera showed a dead thing. Somehow the essentials of the character of the Rake escaped Kobborg who merely presented beautifully executed steps. A similar fate befell Checkmate the cast headed by Nunez gave the audience a painted pageant while that headed by Yanowsky gave a full blooded account of the ballet. Then there is Nijinska whose Les Noces created in 1923 and acquired by the RB in 1966 was last seen in 2012 and Les Biches created in 1924 was acquired by the company in 1964 and last seen in 2012. The company's revivals of Les Noces continue to show a strong theatrical work but at the last revival Biches was undermined at some performances by the decision to cast Bussell as the Hostess.

 

While de Valois ballets may be of interest for the part they play in the company's history those created by Nijinska are great works. La Fete Etrange is not the only work by Howard that has been in the company's repertory but it is the only one that has shown any staying power. Unfortunately its last revival did nothing to argue persuasively for its retention in the active repertory. It was badly lit because of a problem with the backcloth and neither cast was satisfactory because they were not convincing in their roles. There were far too many compromises and neither cast fielded a satisfactory Bride or Young Boy.

Edited by FLOSS
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*Was* Les Biches really last performed in 2012, FLOSS?  I have no recollection of it.  And if it was, how come Bussell would have been cast in it, given that she retired in 2007?

Edited by alison
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She was the hostess, the one with the beads and long cigarette holder in the earlier revival, in the early 2000s I think, possibly 2002.    But I don't remember her coming out of retirement for the 2012 performances.

 

Linda

 

Edited for clarity.

Edited by loveclassics
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Alison you are quite right to question 2012 as the last time Les Biches was seen on the Covent Garden stage. It should read 2005.I did not check what I had written closely enough. It is now ten years since we last saw it and I think it highly unlikely that we shall have the opportunity to see it again with Yanowsky as the Hostess.

 

As far as female choreographers are concerned if the RB were to stage a mixed bill with the works of the three female choreographers whose works are in its repertory it would still smack of tokenism.It would raise the question about what happened to the female choreographers after 1945? The earliest work in its repertory created by a female choreographer,Les Noces, dates from 1923 and the latest, La Fete Etrange, dates from 1940. It seems that all three women whose works are in the RB repertory started choreography because new works were needed and there was no one else around to make them. I believe that Diaghilev was between choreographers when Nijinska made Noces and Biches for his company.She went on to work for Ida Rubenstein's company where she had to create works for a leading lady who was not a trained dancer and ended up working for various companies in the USA where I believe her papers and records of her ballets are preserved. De Valois began making dance works for her young company out of necessity as well as being employed to arrange ballets for the Vic-Wells Opera. The list of her creations is quite impressive whether we would ant to see them again is another question. I think that Job would be worth reviving and possibly The Prospect Before Us.

 

As far as Andree Howard is concerned she worked a great deal for Rambert and for small dance companies of which there were many before and after the war. I should like to see the RB have another go at Fete and try to get it right. I think that Ball, Hay and possibly Campbell would be good as the Yong Boy, while Naghdi, Hayward and Stix-Brunell would all be good as the Bride. The one Howard ballet that intrigues me is Lady into Fox. But as no one is interested in reviving works by renowned major choreographers such as Ashton or Tudor it is unrealistic to expect any enthusiasm or interest in attempting to restore works by choreographers who were well respected in their day but now appear somewhat obscure. I am not sure how much of a lost cause Howard is. I believe that Rambert kept a film record of works created for her company so perhaps there is hope.

 

As far as "challenging" subject matter for ballet is concerned I am not sure that I am that interested. In much the same way that I am not that interested in works which "push the boundaries". My experience of such works is that generally they seem to be an excuse to stage unpleasant scenes for no other reason than that they are unpleasant, in a vain attempt to cover up a lack of original thought and inspired invention. Generally they show the art form's limitations rather than extending its boundaries.

I am not sure why a choreographer or any other creative artist should think that they have the right to take it on themselves to assume that they know more about the real world than those sitting in the audience and that everyone sitting in the audience lives a very comfortable life untroubled, unacquainted and untouched by the terrible things that people are prepared to do to each other and to their children. There must be some people in the audience every night who in their working lives have to deal with things far worse than anything that the choreographer can dream up. Perhaps such people want a break from "real life" at the theatre. I am not convinced that creating dance works which depict brutal death or sexual assaults is evidence of anything except perhaps a choreographer's own obsessions if the themes keep recurring in his/her works. It may be good for the choreographer to be able to deal with his/her fears and traumas by putting them on the stage but while it may be therapeutic for the dance maker it is not necessarily good for the audience. Perhaps I am revealing my frivolous nature but I should love it if just occasionally we could break away from the idea that the way in which a choreographer establish that he/she is a serious artist is by creating ballets on dour and earnest subjects.

 

For me there is an enormous gulf between the greatest choreographers of the twentieth century such as Ashton, Balanchine, Tudor and Nijinska and the rest. These are choreographers who either were geniuses or have touched genius in their greatest works. Then there are choreographers like Cranko, MacMillan and Robbins who are the chorographic equivalent of Richard Strauss and Elgar, top of the second division, providing many enjoyable and enduring works.Then there are the rest who range in ability from the barely competent to the occasionally good. I think it is too early to decide about how those currently working in the field should be categorised. At the present moment I think that I would be very happy to see a few more choreographers who are more than merely competent and just occasionally someone with a bit of wit and a real sense of humour.

Edited by FLOSS
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Job and The Prospect Before Us have both been revived by BRB: I saw the former at the ROH and the latter at Sadler's Wells.  Rambert also did Lady Into Fox a few years ago, but I think it was a rechoreographing by Mark Baldwin rather than a revival.

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I know that BRB have danced both ballets in the past. Job was seen at the ROH in 1993 with Michael O'Hare as Satan. The Prospect Before Us was seen at Sadler's Wells in 1998 as part of the celebration of de Valois' hundredth birthday. I am not aware that either ballet has been revived since then and there does not appear to be any sign of them on any one's "To Do List". BRB seems to  enjoy a reputation as a conservator of early British ballets  based on what it was doing  twenty and more years ago. much as the BBC continues to enjoy a reputation as a broadcaster committed to televised  ballet and opera programmes largely based on the activities of John Drummond  in the 1970's and 1980's.

Edited by FLOSS
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