Yesterday, my first official day in Suzhou, the 15th of September, the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, I attended a ballet performance with my friend Minyuan (Eleanor).
The ballet performance took place in the Suzhou Culture and Arts Center. As my first time in a big city, I was blown away by the size of the building. From an architectural approach, the curves and the high ceiling gave the impression of luxury and expensive lifestyle. That was all a first for me. Coming from Greece, a small country with financial issues I was never familiar with this type of entertainment. My family and I mostly attended cultural exhibitions that were free of charge but still worth watching.
The performance was, in my opinion, a coalescence 0f ballet and theatre. Having in mind that ballet follows really strict rules of posture and moves, this particular performance didn’t fit into the boundaries of traditional dance, but actually embodied pieces of comedy and theatre staging. For those reasons, I decided to write about my observations during the performance in my theatre journal.
This is also the first time I am analyzing and writing an entry that is not the product of a theatre class. In my opinion, education should interfere and blend with reality, by making connections to real life events.
In theatre class, we talked about how the director and designer achieve moments of TENSION, EMOTION, ATMOSPHERE, and MEANING. These all are applications also seen in the ballet show.
-And yes ladies and gentlemen after my never-ending introduction, the time for the long-awaited analysis has come.-
The production had modern elements which were visible from the start. From the costumes to the choice of dancers revolutionary statements were made throughout the show. Those changes differentiated the show from similar recreations of cinderella while making it eligible for everyone to watch since the audience included both children (they witness funny and colorful elements, to catch their attention and keep them entertained.) and adults (they’re most likely interested in the technical aspect of ballet and perfect execution of the choreography will keep them pleased.), since the balance ballet-theatre and fun-professional is kept throughout.
The theatrical nature of the performance used certain gestures and movements to convey different messages. Since the use of spoken language is minimum and non-existent, the emphasis and the importance of the kinetic features is even bigger.
Throughout the performance, there was a contrast between the confident and arrogant step-sisters and the introverted and restricted Cinderella. This contrast became visible by their posture. On the one hand, the step-sisters were walking and acting as their hands and feet were extended; covering more space and giving out their confidence level.Both of their feet were facing outwards, which is a sign of extroversion and confidence. On the other hand, Cinderella afraid to express herself always kept her movements to the minimum, by avoiding to elongate her arms and legs, and never felt at ease to let loose, which was shown by her always tilting her shoulders forward and looking out so that no one sees her when doing something out of her comfort zone.
A number of other examples can be found in the performance especially when referring to movements and kinesis. One of the elements that impressed me the most was the use of their bodies to form objects or concepts without having to use more scenery. A perfect reference for that was the clock formation that the dancers formed to imply the passing of time and the need for Cinderella to leave the ball. The clock was formed after all lights on stage were turned off with the exception of one central source of lighting. The light originated from the central ceiling and went through a combination of two intertwined rings which were connected to it. The result was the formation of two circles on the floor (one bigger and one smaller within that). The circles were used from the performers to form their own circle one by one; showing the passing of time (each dancer represented one hour). Once twelve dancers completed the circle, three men created a gate with their bodies for Cinderella to come through.
The show apart from traditional ballet consisted of bits of Spanish and Arabic dancing techniques. This gave a more intercultural scheme and made the story-telling more interesting.
Color throughout the performance played a contributing role to the perception of the audience. Color conveys emotion, so the right use of color can be used as a tool to create atmosphere and emotion.
One of the places in which color was used was the costumes of the performers. According to the color of the dress or suit, the social and personal identity of the character was given out. The most distinct example one can use is an element found particularly in this show and it is four dancers, wearing four different colored dresses and representing four different seasons. The colors were white, green, orange, and pink which represented winter, summer, autumn and spring accordingly. Since the time is set during a play, it is quite challenging to portray passing of time without words or fast forward video. This problem was solved by the right use of colors.
This following reference in the use of color particularly aims to intensify the emotions felt by the person while at the same time create the image of the character’s situation. Cinderella, for example, was dressed in a gray dress helped to prove her awful living conditions (mistreated by family members, working as a maid) and to portray her emotional status (depressed, sad and hopeless). Once the emotional status changed from hopeless to hopeful as she found her prince the dress became white with sparkling details (happy, peaceful, pleased with life).
The color of the costume helped also distinguish other characters such as the stepmother and stepsisters of Cinderella. The two sisters wearing bright colors the opposite for each other to display their love-hate relationship with each other (love when it comes to together plotting against Cinderella and her dad, hate when it comes to who will dance with the prince) and their hilarious and stupid attitude (bright, clown-looking). Their mother on the other hand by wearing a long black dress shows her evil nature since black and darkness are often associated with that.
The scenery in both theatrical and dance productions plays a catalytic factor in the establishment of a performance. The scenery has to be chosen carefully since it contains messages concerning the atmosphere and the general context.
In the first part of the performance, the scene is set inside the house. Nevertheless, the scenery that accompanies the performance is a dark image of the moon and many abstract shadows. Here it is obvious that the scenery’s purpose is not to inform or make things clearer for the audience, but set the undertone mood of cruelty (Stepmother & Stepsisters – dark colors) invading in tranquility (Cinderella & Father – the moon).
Lastly, an interesting observation is that the roles of the stepsisters were embodied by men. The movements of the characters were distinctively more stiff which does not agree with what is traditionally considered the womanly figure.This caused the audience to laugh more since the contrast between expectation and reality was great.
(As the power of language is easier to pass on information, there were two screens used on both sides of the stage, giving a bilingual outline of the fairytale while accompanying the dancing act.)