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Violent acts in ballets?


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Hi all,

Hope you’re having a good week so far 😊

It was hard finding a suitable subject line for this post but I’m working on my master thesis about the oppression of women in culture throughout history. I found some interesting facts in art, classical music and opera but then a classmate told me to look at the old classic ballets. 
 

So my question to this community is simply: Do you know of any classic ballet acts where the heroine gets abused or even murdered by its male

counterpart?

 

Thank you and have a good weekend!

Alex

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There is Kenneth MacMillan’s The Invitation where a young girl is attacked if not raped raped by an older man and his The Judas Tree where a female is gang raped by construction workers. I haven't seen either. Both are 20th century ballets and neither are what you would call classics (though it depends how you define a classic).

 

Laurencia is a 19th century primarily Russian classic where the attack on, if not rape, of the female lead by the local lord of the Manor is strongly implied if not actually portrayed.

 

Manon, in the ballet of the same name (Macmillan again) suffers a form of abuse from all the men in her life, apart from her lover who is the only one to stand by her.

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Surely Swan Lake & Giselle are perfect examples where the woman/women are oppressed by a man/men (would be partner/lover/fiancé) & indeed by the society represented (Giselle being a lowly peasant girl it is deemed ‘ok’ for her to be subjected to subterfuge & public humiliation….‘has lighting’ is definitely on show here)

Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty & Coppelia all have themes of men manipulating women…

Not an older ballet as such but Romeo & Juliet too of course.

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6 hours ago, Peanut68 said:

Surely Swan Lake & Giselle are perfect examples where the woman/women are oppressed by a man/men (would be partner/lover/fiancé) & indeed by the society represented (Giselle being a lowly peasant girl it is deemed ‘ok’ for her to be subjected to subterfuge & public humiliation….‘has lighting’ is definitely on show here)

Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty & Coppelia all have themes of men manipulating women…

Not an older ballet as such but Romeo & Juliet too of course.

 

Swan Lake - Odette is put under a spell by an evil sorcerer. I suppose you could call that male oppression, but it's a stretch

Giselle - many Albrechts are portrayed as being in love with Giselle and bitterly regret the outcome

Sleeping Beauty - Aurora is put under a spell by an evil fairy (sex indeterminate)

Coppelia - Dr Coppelius is a slightly sinister but not evil doll maker; Franz is a twit; once she sees what's happening, Swanhilda manipulates the situation to her own advantage and wins the day (and the man)

Romeo and Juliet - Juliet fights the pressure on her to marry someone she doesn't love, and would have succeeded in her marriage to Romeo if he'd received the crucial message. She's helped in her plan by Friar Laurence (a man)

 

So, I don't see any of these works as having a theme of female oppression. They're much more subtle and interesting than that.

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It's true that MacMillan has often portrayed abused women; but there are often traumatised men in his ballets too (often in the same work/s). So even at his bleakest, I think that MacMillan really deals with the human condition rather than specifically the female lot. 

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54 minutes ago, bridiem said:

Sleeping Beauty - Aurora is put under a spell by an evil fairy (sex indeterminate)

 

The evil fairy Carabosse is interesting. Although in the 1890 original production Carabosse was famously danced by a man, the programme for that first run of the ballet makes clear that the character is female (as are all the other fairies in the ballet). This is also the case with the character in the Perrault story from which the ballet derives. She is an old woman, with a humpback (some argue that her name derives from the French word "Bosse" for hump) and other stereotypical identifying characteristics.

 

In modern parlance it could be said that the portrayal of Carabosse is sexist, ageist, disablist and racist. But one thing she is not is a man, oppressive or not.

 

On the wider question of whether Aurora in Sleeping Beauty is oppressed or not, there has been some feminist rethinking about this character who spends a century asleep. One person who has written most interestingly about Aurora's agency - the entire ballet revolves around her, after all - is Laura Katz Rizzo in "Dancing the Fairy Tale". 

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1 hour ago, Richard LH said:

Well put bridiem.....let's not try to see virtually every classic ballet as representing some  form of   female oppression by men!

 

ha! - I was tempted to say "all of them" 😉

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On 18/11/2022 at 21:51, Alex73 said:

Hi all,

Hope you’re having a good week so far 😊

It was hard finding a suitable subject line for this post but I’m working on my master thesis about the oppression of women in culture throughout history. I found some interesting facts in art, classical music and opera but then a classmate told me to look at the old classic ballets. 
 

So my question to this community is simply: Do you know of any classic ballet acts where the heroine gets abused or even murdered by its male

counterpart?

 

Thank you and have a good weekend!

Alex

 

Hi Alex, are you looking at literature too?  If any books you have identified have been used as the basis of a ballet then perhaps you could tie some in like that.

 

I suppose it's a fact that women were basically chattels until not that long ago so we were all oppressed.

 

Some of the classic ballets mentioned above could perhaps be used to show that women may have been oppressed and manipulated but did achieve freedom one way or another.

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5 hours ago, Sebastian said:

 

The evil fairy Carabosse is interesting. Although in the 1890 original production Carabosse was famously danced by a man, the programme for that first run of the ballet makes clear that the character is female (as are all the other fairies in the ballet). This is also the case with the character in the Perrault story from which the ballet derives. She is an old woman, with a humpback (some argue that her name derives from the French word "Bosse" for hump) and other stereotypical identifying characteristics.

 

In modern parlance it could be said that the portrayal of Carabosse is sexist, ageist, disablist and racist. But one thing she is not is a man, oppressive or not.

 

On the wider question of whether Aurora in Sleeping Beauty is oppressed or not, there has been some feminist rethinking about this character who spends a century asleep. One person who has written most interestingly about Aurora's agency - the entire ballet revolves around her, after all - is Laura Katz Rizzo in "Dancing the Fairy Tale". 

 

I definitely prefer the character performed by a woman.  I love the way the RB costume the character, especially when it's Kristen McNally who I think is fantastic.  I like her being glamorous in a femme fatale / kicking ass and taking names way.  

 

I would say Aurora is not particularly oppressed in the versions I've seen.  Giselle bothers me more because it feels like she's being made a fool of, and Albrecht often comes across as a mansplaining jerk.

 

 

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6 hours ago, bridiem said:

 

Coppelia - Dr Coppelius is a slightly sinister but not evil doll maker; Franz is a twit; once she sees what's happening, Swanhilda manipulates the situation to her own advantage and wins the day (and the man)

 

 

 

 

Coppelia I think it depends on the setting and the characterisation.  Coppelius can come across as very creepy, making a doll for his (potentially dubious) purposes and trying to steal life from others but most productions don't go down that route.  I agree that Franz is a twit and I have the feeling Swanhilda is going to be the one in charge in that marriage.

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In La Bayadère, Nikiya is under the constant torment and advances of her male superior in the temple. She is killed later in the ballet but that’s a plot conceived by a woman (with help from her father).

 

In Le Corsaire, Medora as well as many other women are slaves. 
 

In some versions of Swan Lake, Odette is driven to suicide because of her curse at the hands of a man (Rothbart).

 

Unknowingly, James kills the Sylph in La Sylphide, but again, this is a plot conceived by a woman.
 

While there is certainly oppression of women present in many classical ballet storylines, it is true that the 20th century violence against women (and indeed violence in general) became more present on stage in the advent of Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography. There are some exceptions including Balanchine’s La Valse, and Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring. 

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Interesting topic has got us all talking! I agree with Jan that all has to be taken into the context of the times conceived in….or the times being portrayed or when/where each production may be dramatically set in….

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I'd recommend Sally Banes Dancing Women for a look at differing interpretations of the classic ballet female roles and her reading of Aurora as empowered rather than passive, and there are lots of feminist critiques of ballet which take hugely differing views about how far women are empowered- or otherwise- by these roles and by ballet generally. Off the top of my head, Alexander Daly, Jennifer Miskec, Priya Thomas on the sylphide, a few searches will  these will bring up copious examples through their bibliographies. This subject is especially close to my heart as I'm midway through a PhD on the children's ballet novel as an empowering female space! As others have said, there is a big difference about how the ballets seemingly treat gender at plot level, as opposed to the differing interpretations across the eras, as well as ballet offering such a powerful space for female expression- albeit often with male ballet company directors in charge!

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Interesting thoughts above: my own feeling is that wrt most of the oppression historically took place off stage, possibly to a greater degree than any art form. (Google Avdotya Arshinina for a particularly nasty example.)

 

I wonder if there's an inverse relationship here: I can't think of any particularly brutal acts in old ballets, but terrible things happened in the ballet world; whereas operatic heroines often meet violent fates but female singers were celebrated and frequently wealthy.

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Well, also  "Carmen" of different choreographers  can be used as a good example of a violence against women but then again, it's not a classical ballet.

  Wow, indeed, almost every ballet has some scenes of if not violence, then bullying of women/girls, even " The Nutcracker"!

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A little off topic - sorry - but 2 ballet films spring to mind…

The Red Shoes…. The original film a tale of how the ballet world oppressed & manipulated the ballerina! And this too the stage versions (Matthew Bourne…are there others?)

Also Black Swan warts & all film….

 

A modern ballet that still gives me chills remembering the visceral portrayal of oppression & abuse is The Suit by Cathy Marston for Ballet Black.

 

 

 

 

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Has Nijinsky/Stravinsky original version of ‘Rite of Spring’ been mentioned ?  The ritual sacrifice of a young girl forced to dance herself to death.  
 

Creepy violence against women … the pianist and dance teacher in cahoots in Flemming Flindt’s ‘The Lesson’

 

 

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A new candidate may have emerged in Toronto this week, in Wayne McGregor's Maddaddam, premiered by National Ballet of Canada.  Check reviews in Links, particularly Rebecca Ritzel in the Globe and Mail.  Co-sponsored by the Royal Ballet, it will presumably reach Covent Garden in the next year or so.  

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12 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

A new candidate may have emerged in Toronto this week, in Wayne McGregor's Maddaddam, premiered by National Ballet of Canada.  Check reviews in Links, particularly Rebecca Ritzel in the Globe and Mail.  Co-sponsored by the Royal Ballet, it will presumably reach Covent Garden in the next year or so.  

 

Sounds blooming exhausting. 

 

Personally, I think it's a bit of a cop-out to stage works based on literature but then not worry about whether the storytelling or characters are in any way clear. Why not develop your own scenario on a particular theme - or keep it abstract - if you don't actually want to follow the source? Seems a bit like piggy-backing on someone else's creativity without showing it due respect.

 

And again personally, I've had enough of dystopia in real life. I'd generally prefer to be taken away from it when I go to the theatre/ballet; maybe even offered a vision of something better.

 

(Please, bring back Fille. Or even Requiem. Or Serenade. Or... the list goes on.)

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