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I've been reading the reviews of the latest RB triple-bill, and I was struck by the number of reviews (not just of this triple-bill but also previously) referring to Zenaida Yanowsky as a "dance-actress." I'm wondering if this is some new subdivision of dancer, because I thought that being an actor was an intrinsic part of being a dancer (or opera singer). I suppose this goes back to the argument about whether pure technique is becoming paramount, and the tendency for contemporary ballets to be abstract to a greater degree than a few decades ago, but it seems strange to me that the ability to act is being called out as something apparently different from the norm.

 

Is ballet training these days de-emphasising acting in favour of spending more time on pure physical ability and technique, or is this "dance-actress" business just a currently fashionable catch-phrase?

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Yes, it's a term that's been used for a long time. When I started watching ballet, it was often used in relation to Lynn Seymour but it may well have been used before that too. Dance-actor was and is a recognised term too (e.g. David Wall, Stephen Jefferies etc).

 

From what I can gather from what dancers have said over the years, the acting element of dance has sometimes been somewhat neglected in training, though I'm sure that varies according to school. But some dancers have an exceptional ability to express/embody a character through dramatic ability and not just by dancing the choreography very well. I think it's comparatively rare, and incredibly precious. Zenaida Yanowsky is definitely in that category. I don't know to what extent the talent is instinctive or innate in some dancers, but I think it can also develop. e.g. Fiona Chadwick at the beginning of her career was a beautiful but rather reserved and sometimes even inexpressive dancer; by the time of her retirement she had developed into a superb and sophisticated actress.

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The same can be said about Jonathan Cope, who didn't make much dramatic impression at the start of his career, but by the end of it was up there with the finest dance actors around. His Rudolf was wonderful, and I think his partnership with Tamara Rojo, especially in MacMillan, really brought him out of himself to great effect.

 

I think the terminology is a valid one, because it differentiates between those who can dance the choreography, and those who can dance it, feel it, interpret it, characterise it and, most importantly, elicit empathy and emotion from the audience.

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The same can be said about Jonathan Cope, who didn't make much dramatic impression at the start of his career, but by the end of it was up there with the finest dance actors around. His Rudolf was wonderful, and I think his partnership with Tamara Rojo, especially in MacMillan, really brought him out of himself to great effect.

 

I think the terminology is a valid one, because it differentiates between those who can dance the choreography, and those who can dance it, feel it, interpret it, characterise it and, most importantly, elicit empathy and emotion from the audience.

 I agree with all that, but I don't recall Margot Fonteyn being referred to as a dance-actress, yet she could inhabit a role better than almost anyone I remember seeing. When she danced Aurora or Juliet in her mid-40s, I was seeing a teenager on the stage, while her Marguerite was all woman and Ondine was very other-worldly.

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In my opinion "dance-actor/actress" is a very high accolade for a dancer.

 

Yes, dancers are expected to act, particularly in narrative works, and most can.  To be a dance-actor/actress, for me, transcends that dancer who can act tag.  Some of the dancers I have seen who have attained this status are:

 

Trinidad Sevillano

Koen Onzia

Desire Samaii

Marion Tait

Martha Leebolt

Toby Batley

Robert Parker

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I have no issue with the terminology and, if we are to have dance actresses, then Zenaida Yanowsky must be in the first rank of those around today.  And the need for dancers to be also actors and actresses was one faced by the ROH management back around 1957, when there was the 12-strong Opera Ballet group.  The dancers were told that they would be given a number of acting lessons and, on turning up in the Crush Bar on the first appointed morning, they found that their tutor was to be Sir John Gielgud.

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Lovely posts by bridiem and Sim. So agree that this interpretative ability is indeed 'incredibly precious'.

 

On another note, I do wish that reviewers would switch to using 'actor' for both men and women, as J Mackrell does, I think. I often wonder why the term 'actress' is not seen as archaic, like poetess or paintress!!

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I have no issue with the terminology and, if we are to have dance actresses, then Zenaida Yanowsky must be in the first rank of those around today.  And the need for dancers to be also actors and actresses was one faced by the ROH management back around 1957, when there was the 12-strong Opera Ballet group.  The dancers were told that they would be given a number of acting lessons and, on turning up in the Crush Bar on the first appointed morning, they found that their tutor was to be Sir John Gielgud.

Wow, so they took it really seriously by the sound of it.

 

Does the current curriculum at the RBS include acting lessons?

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Lovely posts by bridiem and Sim. So agree that this interpretative ability is indeed 'incredibly precious'.

 

On another note, I do wish that reviewers would switch to using 'actor' for both men and women, as J Mackrell does, I think. I often wonder why the term 'actress' is not seen as archaic, like poetess or paintress!!

Or dancress. Ack!

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In my view both Francesca Hayward and Yasmine Naghdi have this week consolidated their places as very fine dance actresses. The Invitation makes huge, wide ranging demands on its dancers, especially on The Girl, and they both took their audience on that harrowing journey.

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How anyone could leave Edward Watson out of that list is beyond me :)  Or Gary Avis, Bennet Gartside, ...

 

I think that there is sometimes a tendency to hark back to the past rather than to celebrate the amazing talents of today's artists.

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Lovely posts by bridiem and Sim. So agree that this interpretative ability is indeed 'incredibly precious'.

On another note, I do wish that reviewers would switch to using 'actor' for both men and women, as J Mackrell does, I think. I often wonder why the term 'actress' is not seen as archaic, like poetess or paintress!!

Sorry but I disagree. To me the word actress suggests glamour and excitement. Actor is either male or just utilitarian.

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On another note, I do wish that reviewers would switch to using 'actor' for both men and women, as J Mackrell does, I think. I often wonder why the term 'actress' is not seen as archaic, like poetess or paintress!!

 

Its a 'Guardian' thing - they always refer to males or females as 'actor', rather than actor for men, and actress for women. House style I guess!

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How anyone could leave Edward Watson out of that list is beyond me :)  Or Gary Avis, Bennet Gartside, ...

Agreed - and personally I would add Lauren Cuthbertson to the list. Was it in "Infra" that she was required to stand still and cry? Moved me to tears. She's my favourite modern-day Juliet too because she's able to inhabit the role so completely.

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Sorry but I disagree. To me the word actress suggests glamour and excitement. Actor is either male or just utilitarian.

 

Yes, I can't see anything wrong with being called an actress, it just indicates the sex of the performer.  Otherwise, you have to say female actor, which is the term they use at the Oscars now.  Seems just plain silly to me.  

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I think there's a view that "feminising" certain professions reduces the esteem in which they are held compared with their male counterparts. Although possibly in this case it may be linked to the justifiable concerns about the lack of parity between male and female acting in Hollywood.

 

I think that there is sometimes a tendency to hark back to the past rather than to celebrate the amazing talents of today's artists.

Very true, capybara. When Cory Stearns was promoted to principal at ABT, I remember pointing out that some balletgoers, in bemoaning the fact that he wasn't Carreno, Stiefel or one of his other illustrious retired or on-the-verge-of-retirement predecessors, risked missing out on appreciating the different qualities which he would undoubtedly bring.

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Amongst today's Links, Ismene Brown describes Francesca Hayward as 'a blistering actress' when reviewing The Invitation - and if she is happy with 'actress,' then I don't expect to change my usage of the term anytime soon.

 

But, unfortunately, this article is behind a paywall.

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Marcia Haydée. Alessandra Ferri. Alina Cojocaru. How could you forget them???

I don't know, they are the 3 names popping out in my head when I hear "dance actress".

I would just add Silvia Azzoni and Tamara Rojo (when she want) among the contemporary dancers.

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