A Grand Gesture

By Morina, Beryl | Pointe, December/January 2002 | Go to article overview

A Grand Gesture


Morina, Beryl, Pointe


How It's Done

In ballets like The Nutcracker, mime tells the story without words.

The moment that you step onto the stage, in any role, it is your responsibility to create your own atmosphere, appropriate to that role, to which the audience reacts and from which the gestures that follow will be a natural outcome, however stylized. This is especially true in the mime scenes in classical ballets.

The Mime Tradition

Influenced by the genius and the artistry of the commedia dell'arte, the French tradition of mime performance goes as far back as the court of Louis XIV (1638-1715). In France, these mime performances reached their peak in the Romantic era of the 19th century, when such famous French ballet masters and choreographers as Jules Perrot, Arthur St. Leon and Marius Petipa were traveling back and forth from France to Russia. Because mime for ballet developed in France, the gestures are made in the same order as the words in the French language. In French, the phrase "I thank you" is literally translated as "I you thank" ("je vous remercie").

Gestures in classical mime are codified, but balletic mime gestures may be modified, according to the character portrayed. There is a standard positioning of arms, which should be followed when appropriate. The point is not so much that the arms should be placed at a given number of inches to this or that side of the body, but how best to express the feeling that lies behind the gesture at that moment in the ballet. By showing the strength and quality of your emotion, the audience will then appreciate the logic of the gestures that follow.

Telling The Story

The golden rule is look, react and then gesture. Take for example, this moment in Act II of The Nutcracker. The Mouse King suddenly shoots up high into the air, revealing for the first time the full horror of his countenance. The Nutcracker must react to this by expressing an immediate abhorrence to the very sight of this perceived monster, before he withdraws for a moment to show his gesture of "TERROR!" To execute this gesture, the dancer faces the front, bringing the palms of both hands to almost cup his face (without touching it) before pushing them strongly to the left, with the fingers turned up. Both elbows remain very bent although the upstage arm extends further than the other. The chest is deflated, the shoulders hunched and the expression is that of revulsion, before the head turns away with the chin lowered.

In the following excerpt from the mime scene after the Mouse King battle in The Nutcracker, Karl, Drosselmeyer s nephew (and the former Nutcracker), having told the Sugarplum Fairy how he and Clara journeyed to the Kingdom of Sweets, explains:

1

"I (was a) NUTCRACKER (because) I (was under a) SPELL! …

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