Throwback Thursdays: Changing Character Roles With Style in Princess Tutu

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine suggested watching Princess Tutu. I briefly looked up images, and they gave me a typical shoujo vibe. I was very skeptical that I’d enjoy it, especially since it had to do with ballet and I had no interest in dance, but I finished it anyway since it was highly recommended. The anime started slow, but by the end I couldn’t wait to see the grand finale. Even with my lack of interest in ballet, it showed a surprising level of depth that I wasn’t expecting. The heroine focuses on how to deal with emotional distress, in the healthiest and most optimistic way possible. I found myself getting invested in each and every character and their well-being. Princess Tutu is a strong character who saves people without resorting to violence. As someone who focuses on character development, I was ecstatic to see that Princess Tutu and the main cast are given different roles than you’d expect, and the lessons they reflect real emotional challenges in life that people struggle with. It’s become a classic to me, and I can’t wait to share it with you and other people too!

What I Expected from knowyourmeme

What I Expected from knowyourmeme

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the show, it’s available for free on Hulu!

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Theatre Thursdays: Swan Lake

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to see ballet classic Swan Lake performed by my hometown company, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. Swan Lake is easily one of the most well-known ballet stories, with adaptations including animated childhood favorite The Swan Princess, the decidedly not-for-children film Black Swan, a Swan Lake anime, and a Barbie movie. I’ve even seen a live Rocky Horror Show where Frank-n-Furter danced Odette’s swan choreography as he died, and you’ve almost certainly heard a snippet of Tchaikovsky’s score at some point in your life.

I have trouble critiquing particular ballet performances because I’m not an expert or a dancer myself; I can’t look at a jump or watch a pas-de-deux and say how great or terrible the form was. It’s similar to watching the Olympics: you sit there entranced by the miracle that a human body can do any of that stuff—while a professional critic commentates on the myriad of errors the athletes have just made. PBT’s performance was stunning; the costumes were gorgeous and the dancers were amazing. The sets were a bit lackluster, but all in all, it was a tremendous spectacle. So while I can’t really talk about the specifics of this performance, I can talk about the story.

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Theatre Thursdays: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Moulin Rouge

Last weekend I had the pleasure of going to the ballet. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre always puts on a stunning performance technically, and this evening was no different; usually when I review their shows I’m forced to comment on the plot of the show itself rather than the performers. (Let’s face it—I’m no ballerina, so I don’t feel qualified to say anything besides “Those jumps and lifts and spins were fantastic!”) Continue reading

Theatre Thursdays: Giselle

A few weekends ago I had the chance to see the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Giselle, and, before I say anything else, let me say that it was beautifully done, from the dancing to the costumes to the music from the orchestra.  I never have any complaints on those fronts as far as the PBT is concerned.

But I would like to address a few things about the ballet that left me wanting. First of all, although the part of Giselle is apparently a prized role in the ballet community, I don’t think that the character of Giselle is particularly strong.

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Theatre Thursdays: Body Image in Ballet

A friend of mine who is a dancer posted this article on facebook and in light of Lady Saika’s post on ballet last week I thought it was particularly appropriate to share here:

New Artistic Director of English National Ballet Aims to “Stamp Out” Anorexia in Ballet

Tamara Rojo seems to have made it her mission to change the perception of beauty in the Ballet world and thereby make a safer environment in which dancers can carry out their profession. I think this is wonderful but even in reading the article and seeing what an apparently full-figured woman looks like in the ballet world it’s clear that what is considered thin by an audience’s perspective and what is considered thin by a dancer’s perspective are two vastly different conceptions.

The article mentions that Rojo has been compared to a famous dancer, Dame Margot Fonteyn:

It is in these images that we can really see the kind of pressure these dancers are under. Think about it, these two women are examples of “heavy” dancers. Imagine how great the pressure is to be thin when a woman of this size is the standard for overweight.

Dancing ballet is some of the most physically strenuous activity imaginable and the fact that dancers, particularly women but of course the men are affected too, have to go to such dramatic lengths to have what many consider to be the “right” body for the art form is not just sad, it’s dangerous.

I applaud Miss Rojo for her advocacy. I truly hope that she can help create a Ballet world where eating disorders are not the norm; where I won’t see status updates from my dancer friends along the lines of “Photoshoot coming up; no more eating for the next week”; and where young boys and girls can go to the Ballet and be inspired by powerful, healthy dancers rather than thin, frail waifs.

Theatre Thursdays: A Trip to the Ballet

So I love the ballet.  (Going to it, that is – the extent of my dancing is an ability to do para para.) I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a very talented company, and also lucky enough to have a mom who’s had season tickets since before I could spell ballet. Because of all of these reasons, I was able to see their performance of Coppelia about a fortnight ago.

The production was, of course, lovely, and I greatly enjoyed it (I’m a sucker for the formulaic ways of classical ballet, and the company is truly excellent).

Coppelia is a ballet in three acts about a small town (German or Austrian, I think).  Anyway, there’s a young couple in love (Franz and Swanilda), a mysterious girl on a balcony (the tiitular Coppelia), and a grumpy old inventor (Dr. Coppelius). Franz, despite his love for Swanilda, is intrigued by the girl who sits on the Coppelius’ balcony every day, silently reading her book and paying no attention whatsoever to the outside world.  Swanilda, who’s a bit of a firebrand, gives her boyfriend all sorts of shit for swooning over this bookworm.  Dr. Coppelius thinks the whole town is a nuisance, caring more about his inventions (no one in the town knows exactly what he does).

One day upon leaving his house, the good Doctor drops his key.  Swanilda finds it, and she and her friends sneak into his house to see what exactly goes on there, what with all the mysterious bangs and explosions and whatnot. At the same time, Franz succumbs to curiosity and climbs up to Coppelia’s window.  To the group’s great amusement, they discover that Coppelius makes toys – life size dolls – and that the pretty girl in the window is no more than a pretty puppet.   Swanilda switches clothes with the doll and plays a trick on Coppelius when he returns, making him believe his beloved creation has come to life.  Eventually she grows tired of it, reveals the doll’s body behind a curtain, and she and her posse make their escape as Coppelius laments his persnickety-old-person forever-aloneness.

The entire third act is Franz and Swanilda’s wedding.  Yes, this is a classical ballet, and that is how it is done. There is corps dancing, there is a grand pas de deux, and curtain call.

 

There’s a lot to unpack when looking at ballet from a feminist perspective – the dedication to a purported ‘ideal’ body type; the superhero-comic-like double standard of males portraying a masculine power ideal while women portray a male’s sexual ideal; the annoying stereotype that any man dancing ballet is gay and any man attending ballet is either gay or really really wants to get some; and the stereotypical hetero fairy-tale-esque love story that ends with a happily-ever-after marriage.

However, I think it’s also worthwhile to point out that ballet is a venue where stories about women tend to take preference, where women’s roles are the ones that get top billing, and where, more often than not, the girls and women who are portrayed in these stories are imaginative adventurers with dreams and (like Swanilda) sassy, not-exactly-a-damsel-in-distress personalities.

What are your thoughts on ballet, dear readers?