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Ballet Talk for Dancers

scene stealing


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I didn't want to rain on the positive parade over on Parents 13+ which is focusing on all the good things that kids learn from being in the Nutcracker, but a few of the happy descriptions of scene-stealing skills kind of bummed me out, and I'm wondering (as I so often am in the ballet world) if it's just me or if this is regarded as a good and valuable skill for a dancer. I appreciate chutzpah in performance as much as the next person, but I just have a really hard time endorsing a performer doing something that sets them apart from everyone else when they're supposed to be performing as part of a group or in tandem with others. For example, one of the things I admire most about some really excellent dancers I know is when they keep the extra-oomph extensions in check so as to keep their movements in synch with less skilled dancers. I saw a performance once of an otherwise world-class company where a few of the corps dancers were so clearly bucking for promotions and doing everything they could to draw the audience's eyes to themselves, that it really detracted from the quality of the show.

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No, I don't think "scene stealing" in the sense you described is ever encouraged or really will get anyone anywhere in the long run. The exception being certain comedic or character parts where a dancer may be allowed or encouraged to take it "over the top." In student productions, I think that extra bit of focus, energy, technique, performance quality ... will draw the eye without extra shenanigans.

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I should have added to my first post that part of my concern over encouraging these kinds of skills is that I know from family and friends who act professionally there is no faster way to get yourself removed from casting directors' lists of employable actors than to gain a reputation as someone who "upstages" or tries to steal scenes from others.

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Can you imagine "scene stealing" in the Kingdom of the Shades, or from one of the Wilis in Giselle, or in Symphony in C? Or how about someone in the corps of...the Snow scene in the Nutcracker?:wink::green: I don't want to even think about it. :(


I'll never forget the performance by the Bolshoi Ballet I saw in July 2000 at the New York State Theater...among other pieces, they performed "Kingdom of the Shades" from La Bayadere. I have never ever seen anything like it. I have seen this ballet performed by other companies such as ABT and there was NO comparison. Me thinks a scene stealer in there would have been banished if not beheaded. :)


If any member of a ballet company - student or professional does not follow the rules to the T, they should have their "heads handed to them" - be it any "extra" that they added from glitter where none was called for to cubic zirconium stud earings when not specifically called for. No question.


Scene stealing sounds like something a dancer would do on purpose, while a wonderful dancer will draw the audience's eye due to their "je ne sais quoi"...they are not doing it on purpose - they just have an intrinsic special "something" that draws people to them.


Now I guess I should go read that other thread. :blink:

Edited by BW
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It's called corp for a reason, the unity. Anything less would be high treason and I"ll assume looked at as a negative by any director in his/her right mind.


However, I do think a distinction needs to be made in scene stealing and having the performance of one's live even while in the corp. Intent would be the key in my humble opinion. And poor intent to upstage the corp makes it simply a recital.



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Why, the Coarse Actor is a precious commodity and must be cherished and nurtured when truly found. They make the Fine Actors seem so much better by contrast.


There is a book by Michael Green written in 1964, I believe, in which he gave detailed descriptions of the ways for a member of the crowd in Julius Caesar to upstage Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech. (Play a drooling idiot) He suggested creative ways for Peleg to upstage Ishmael, Queequeg, Captain Ahab and even the WHALE in Moby-Dick (It involves pyrotechnics and a strong death wish) even though he is never onstage after scene 2. The work has been put to use by various playwrights in confecting the delightfully unwritten Shakespeare play, All's Well That Ends As You Like It, or the unrememberable Chekhov masterpiece, The Cherry Sisters.


The Art of Coarse Acting by Michael Green.

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chauffeur, when I referred to 'any part is a chance to shine' over on the Nuts thread, I wasn't talking about scene stealing. I was talking about viewing every part as valuable and focusing on doing it the best you can, with the appropriate facial expressions, technique, artistry, etc. and making that the goal, rather than bemoaning the fact that you don't have the choice role that you might have hoped for.


One of the things Suzanne Farrell tells young dancers who come to her program is that (I'm paraphrasing here) "HOw you dance is who you are. There will always be someone with better turns, or higher extension or better turnout, etc. but there is only one you. You make a role special because of who you are."


This is the essence of what I was aiming at. It is an important lesson for a dancer and I think when a dancer finally 'gets it', everyone does take notice of them. Not because they are doing something different or bigger or adding something or trying to stand out at all. But, rather because they have invested themselves fully in the part and are dancing from their heart.

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Guest drive2ballet



I couldn't agree more! I know a mother who does deck out her daughter like that -- gobs of makeup applied at home, glitter, etc. Then she actually leaves the theater like that, too! She is only 9 years old, and she looks like a "lady of the evening!"




She wouldn't last 5 minutes in my daughter's company. Uniformity/conformity is praised at her company, not a desperate plea to "Look at me!"


Good post!

Edited by drive2ballet
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With regard to leaving the theater in makeup, this is a huge no no. Part of the magic of Nutcracker and ballet in general is the fantasy that draws you in. My dd's Nutcracker comes with a book of "The Rules" one of which is no child is allowed to apply their own make up. Volunteers must follow drawings showing the correct makeup and application. Also no child is allowed to leave the theater with makeup on. It's got to come off, every trace.

My dd's school dances with the attached professional company. This sets the tone and the kids (and their moms and dads) are expected to behave accordingly.

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"Scene stealing" does eventually catch up to you! At our Nutcracker, there was a child who would sit in the wrong place- right in the middle of the stairs- when she was supposed to line up with the other girls on the side. I was surprised that nothing was ever said to her. I assumed that no notes meant that the AD found it charming. The next year it was clear, when the roles were cast, that they did not find it charming. I think the same thing has held true for children who don't follow the rules about hair, makeup, etc. It is sad that this usually happens because the parents encourage it. It is heartening when children are rewarded for good behavior and trying to meet the high standards that are set by the company.

One of the many things I love about ballet.

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