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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Men don't bow?

Ed McPherson

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A question to all:


I recently saw the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet's version of Swan Lake. It was great, but that is besides the point. The men in this production did not bow. I am wondering if this is custom of Swan lake, Russian Ballet, or neither? My mother jokingly said they'd all defected during the second intermission... i know bad joke...


Thanks for your enlightenment.

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It may be an idiosyncratic tradition of that particular company. I know that other Russian companies I've seen have bows for the men, although they're kind of more restrained as a rule than some of the effusive bows the women do.

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I always bow.

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I've seen ballet performances in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Men took bows.

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I just saw the same company. The principal men don't really bow, but the corps did a very slight bow with the bent leg. This is how I was taught to bow.


I thought their Swan Lake was wonderful. Their corps work is exceptionally strong and very nicely timed. Are they doing Giselle in your city? I found it a bit lacking. I thought the corps equal to their SW but the leads were uninteresting. Together they made a great partnership, alone they were flat. I had to laugh when Giselle reappeared as a Willi. Nice entrance doing 6 or so very fast promenades, but she was about the happiest Giselle/Willi one could imagine. No weepy, spurned girl here.

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Funny story about bows in Russia.


The first city I visited was Moscow. On my first night, I saw the Bolshoi perform "Giselle". All was wonderful and the audience upstairs applauded for a very long time. I had the feeling that we downstairs people were tourists and the upstairs people were Russians (who really appreciate their artists).


In Saint Petersburg the Mariinsky was being refurbished but I got to see a dance performance at the Hermitage Theatre in the Winter Palace. Although my tour guide promised me that it was the Kirov, I do not think it was, as the level of dance was very uneven. It was an evening of pas de deux and divertissements.


At the end of the program there was a mass bow. Everyone from both acts came on stage to bow. The ballerina who had performed "Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux" in the first half of the evening came out in her costume but she wore ballet slippers instead of pointe shoes.


I had to chuckle at her decision to wear ballet slippers instead of uncomfortable pointe shoes, no matter how much those rich toursits had paid for tickets.

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hmmmm. Last night when I saw it the only man to come on stage was Sigfried...


and yes they are doing Giselle, though fewer showings than Swan Lake.

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I had eastern european teachers who taught that men can bow or nod the head. Russians also tend to stand behind their partners, bowing behind her may not be appropriate.

A bow to an appreciative audience would be different from a bow to the throne or a bow to a nobleman. Bows have changed through time, a Royal french bow is very different than a cowboy's tip of the 10 gallon hat.

I assume the reason why russian men don't bow is the applause may be for the ballerina! A Danseur Noble should just stand there and appreciate the glory of his partner.



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My partner and I were taught how to bow at the Kirov Academy. I've also seen the Maryinsky men bow along with their partners, though the women stand slightly ahead of the men. I have also seen the woman continue to bow as the man goes backstage to prepare for his variation. I don't know why the Stanislavsky men wouldn't bow, unless they are extraordinarily self-effacing.

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There is an exceedingly nice (as in narrow) point of etiquette that decrees that a gentleman should step back from his lady and give her the greater part of the bow, he humbly offering a simple bow, a mere nod of the head, in concert with her révérence, but it's not written down anywhere, you just learn to do it. Now, for solo variations, it's all yours, son, do as you like, but be dignified about it!;)

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Come to think of it, I've never bowed more than once after a variation...except during Peasant Pas de Deux, when my partner and I agreed to bow twice so as to give the other more time to rest!

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Knock knock, but I have a bow story :)


Nikolaj Hubbe told me this (in a formal interview, so I can post it here). He was taught the meaning behind the mime in a bow.


First, you raise your arm to the gallery ["Thank you for understanding my art"]


Then you lower your arm and cross your chest and bow from the waist [not too deep; this is a constitutional monarcy], ever so humbly, taking in the eyes of everyone in the first four rows of the theater (which at Kongens Nytorv were the most expensive seats) to say ["And thank you for paying."]


Of course men bow!

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That's a great story, Alexandra:). I've heard various versions of it, but none that good. Did he say whether or not the Danes bow in 3rd position, as the Russians do?

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Aw, go ahead, that's a classic. I don't remember it well enough to quote it, but it's sure bound to springboard more talk!

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