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Thread: Plots - and other things...

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Default Plots - and other things...

    How do *you* watch ballet?

    Do you remain detached - listening to the music and analysing the dancing?

    Or do you get involved with the plot, so that at the end of 'Swan Lake', for instance, you feel a catharsis?
    If so, what about the dances that don't 'further the plot' but are mainly for display or padding - does that weaken the artistic or emotional effect?

    I'd be interested in your views on how much the actual plot contributes to the ballet.
    Thank you.
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    I rarely bother with the plot. The dancing may look cool, the music might sound great, the plot doesn't interest me in the slightest. It's opera where I pay attention to the plot because a) it has words that the characters sing, b) it has acting like one would see in theatre, cinema etc. When I see dancing I become intrigued with....just the dancing! It's visually spectacular!

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    I agree; plot is far more important in opera.

    But when I've been to the theatre to see 'just dancing' - Riverdance, or Tango specialists or whatever - I get a bit fed up after a time and think 'just more of the same'. In the same way, I do feel that the suitors' dances in 'Sleeping Beauty' & the ethnic ones in Nutcracker, lovely as they are, seem a bit 'pointless'; and my favourite ballet is 'Swan Lake', because of its story & climax. Genuinely cathartic.
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Most of what we have watched in ballet is the 19th century repertoire.

    Lully and Rameau were writing almost masques with dancing but the move to Ballet d'action led to a more naturalistic style where dancing was the main thing that provided characterisation. Later in the century, we had more developed music and a greater involvement of the choreographer. Interestingly, the Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty were choreographed by Petipa who gave Tchaikovsky clear indications of what he wanted in terms of tempi and the number of bars whereas for Swan Lake Tchaikovsky had a freer hand. Perhaps that is why Swan Lake works better because it was less driven by the choreographer.

    In general, I find dancing for its own sake without a plot function is less interesting than when it drives the plot.
    Last edited by Taggart; Aug-03-2013 at 12:33.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member CypressWillow's Avatar
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    I'm a plot person, myself. As a voracious reader and wannabe writer, it's all about the plot for me. And yet, with regards to the dance, a strange thing has happened since I've gotten older. The dance for the sake of movement has overtaken my preoccupation with plot. Young bodies (sigh) moving gracefully, doing things I can't do at this age, even if I were trained, now have their own fascination, quite apart from what their dance is about.
    One of the compensations, I suppose, for growing older.
    "If I follow the dictates of my government, I will be violating the dictates of my god."
    -Chiune Sugihara

    "Were my Maker to grant me but a single glance through these sightless eyes of mine, I would, without question or recall, choose to see first a child, then a dog."
    -Helen Keller, quoted by Dr. Andy Mathis

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    As a Scottish Country dancer, I have an odd perspective. Technically, it's ballroom dance. The latest book of dances for the 90th anniversary of the RSCDS makes that point fairly strongly. But all of the dance instruction is based on ballet positions, we dance in ballet pumps so that we can do "nice" footwork. So in a sense I have some innate understanding of what ballet should be about.

    As a dancer there are two basic things, the movements and the tunes. Some dances are basically a waste of a good tune, they don't fully exploit the strength and flow of the music. Other dances have excellent movements but "poor" tunes. The tune doesn't help the flow of the dance or the tune is itself tasteless. Some dances have a nice idea but are basically undanceable because of the speed of the movements or the co-ordination required with the other dancers which is not possible in a social setting. The best dances have a lovely match of tune and movement.

    When I look at ballet, I apply the same analysis. The best will have a match of melody and movement and they will have a purpose. They will get somewhere, convey an emotion, move the plot onward.

    Simple demonstration dancing is nice but it eventually palls, for example the mazurka in Coppélia:



    I dance for the social interaction; I watch dance for the plot. Simples
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    I care about the plot. It's possible to enjoy ballet without that (more so than opera), but dancers too express something when the're dancing. It helps when you know what that something is.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

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    Senior Member Selby's Avatar
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    I love plot! I do. I feel like I'd be a better, more refined, and musically smart person if I didn't, but I just do.

    How can you truly appreciate Daphnis and Chloe's magnificent reunion and love (and orchestral orgasm) without knowing what they had to persevere through to get there? Pirates! Pan! Oh my.

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    I love a good abstract ballet. Forsythe "Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude") comes to mind as one that is so totally thrilling that plot would only get in the way.


    But I love plot and characters too. It is probably much harder to create an interesting abstract ballet than to create an interesting story ballet. Although there are also boring story ballets (Sleeping Beauty).
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CypressWillow View Post
    I'm a plot person, myself. As a voracious reader and wannabe writer, it's all about the plot for me. And yet, with regards to the dance, a strange thing has happened since I've gotten older. The dance for the sake of movement has overtaken my preoccupation with plot. Young bodies (sigh) moving gracefully, doing things I can't do at this age, even if I were trained, now have their own fascination, quite apart from what their dance is about.
    One of the compensations, I suppose, for growing older.
    I think you've touched upon the prime reason there is an audience who are willing to sit and watch others dance, and it has little or nothing to do with us old folks longing for or envying what young bodies can do.

    Young or older, their is that vicarious sensation that you are one or more of the dancers you are watching: you are moving like that; are somehow magically able to leap a number of feet in the air and for a moment seem to hover in a zero G's environment. I think it is this vicariously experienced physicality, often with plainly visible feats of prowess, which is a main draw for many, and that is also what can be cathartic about it ("I went to the ballet last night, and I could swear, for at least a moment, I flew.")

    I should confess here, whether it is gymnasts, aerialists in the circus, dancers, flying, hang-gliding, sky-diving, i.e. anything which has to do with feats of balance, and especially if any of what is done is gravity defyingly off the ground, those all have held a very keen fascination for me which has never diminished in the least.

    For me it is that vicarious movement element foremost, while I grew up with story ballets, and my favorite story ballet score + original sets, costumes and choreography is Petrushka.

    I also have attended some fine contemporary dance evenings, where there was no 'meaning' -- or at least no plot -- but nonetheless the abstract motions, still executed by people and accompanied by music, have yet to have failed to communicate something to me, leave me with both some emotional import as well as 'thoughts.' There is a whole arena of performed art which is anything but specific, music and now contemporary dance being two of those, when if well done, still leave one with a cumulative effect, a sense of sentiment (as in distilled emotion) while none of that, pointed as it is, could be put clearly in so many words.

    When people are moving, choreographed, and making gestures, it is near impossible to not make something of it because they are people and we can not but help but turn our minds to interpreting what they are doing as having some meaning (whether it is accurate to the intent or other :-)

    My attending dance events has been irregular and not at all frequent, but cumulatively over decades, I have seen a moderate to fair amount, from the most classical (Nutcracker / Sleeping Beauty / Romeo and Juliet), as performed by some of the very best, to the later very fluffy romantic pieces with featherweight scores, Giselle / Les Sylphides. It was the Joffrey ballet re-creation of the original production of Petrushka I saw, and I remember several years in a row, when they were relatively new, attending performances of the Alvin Ailey company. The other more contemporary, I can remember but do not remember the names of the companies or personnel.

    The Moiseyev Dance Company lingers in memory from middle childhood, a Slava fest of ethnic dances, and later in my mid twenties, the Royal Balinese Dancers (correct name?) with their musicians was more than memorable (one interesting credit in the program was several of the company were listed as "Keepers of the Jewels"), and a Korean dance troupe performing traditional dance -- all without plot, all still remembered.

    But hey, whenever you recall it as real that you were flying, you tend to remember :-)
    Last edited by PetrB; Aug-07-2013 at 13:04.

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    Moderator Huilunsoittaja's Avatar
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    I don't really like to watch ballet, but I may on some occasions. I prefer to imagine the dancing and acting than see it portrayed in real life. I've very into the story-lines. But for example with Prokofiev's Cinderella, I never want to see that ballet if I can help it, I want to imagine the story for myself, with music accompaniment. I don't know, sometimes I feel the dancing weakens the emotions of the music, since after all the music is for the dancers.
    "Music is an art, and art is forever. Music should not succumb to fashion, which is passing and forgotten."
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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    @Huilunsoittaja, maybe your imagination of ballet dancers pleases you because it's more perfect than the real thing - no creaking of boards or leaps not quite high enough!

    I have 'imagined' ballet to music since I was a child. Music on its own rather bored me - but if my family were playing our 78s - Ritual Fire Dance & Bolero, as well as our Jimmy Shand - I would dance round the sitting room to it. Then I broke my leg when I was 6 and a half, and it was 3 months in plaster - must have been a bad break. Every morning I was taken down to the sofa in our lounge ahead of everyone else & the wireless (radio) was left on, on the third programme. It was practically non-stop classical music, just coming at me! I 'listened' to it either by air-conducting, or by shutting my eyes and imagining a ballet. Ballets were often shown on tv then, and I can actually remember the time when I thought it worked by putting small ballerinas inside the box!
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member Vesteralen's Avatar
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    I can watch ballet with dancers in modern costumes, but tutus and men in tights ........not my thing.

    Some modern dance videos I find interesting, as well as the occasional older ballet in more modern dress.

    As to the plot question - it helps to have a riveting plot for a ballet. But, experimental dance often doesn't need it - it sort of suggests its own "plot", which may be something different for each listener.

    That much being said, I find your broken leg story fascinating, Ingenue, especially the little ballerinas in the box.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vesteralen View Post
    That much being said, I find your broken leg story fascinating, Ingenue, especially the little ballerinas in the box.
    This must be somewhat universally common, or at least for a generation for whom the technology was still relatively newish... I had the (crazy, to think back on it) similar thought about the radio, that
    1.) there were tiny musicians with tiny instruments in it.
    2.) at a still very young age put more "rational" still was amazed about AM radio, that this or that performer could get all over town so quickly from one radio station to the other to perform that song (it was recordings, of course :-)

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PetrB View Post
    very fluffy romantic pieces with featherweight scores, Giselle / Les Sylphides.
    LES SYLPHIDES IS ALL CHOPIN PRELUDES, NOCTURNES, MAZURKAS AND WALTZES.
    Explain yourself, PetrB!

    (P. S. I do think that the traditional Les Sylphides orchestration is incredibly schmaltzy. It dates from a period when Chopin was always performed schmaltzy. But. That music is anything but featherweight. I want to know what your explanation is )
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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