Auguste Vestris


"Mime in Ballet"

Book Review, February 16th 2004

by Beryl Morina
Woodstock Winchester Press
Winchester, 2000.

The introduction to this invaluable book has been written by Richard Glasstone, formerly the Senior Teacher for Boys, Royal Ballet School.

"Ninette de Valois speaks enthusiastically of her own studies with the famous Italian mime artist, Madam Zanfretta, who 'taught my head teacher, Ursula Moreton, about two hundred gestures, with every detail of footwork and transfer of weight'.

"Alas, many current Western productions of the 19th Century repertoire follows the Soviet example, marginalising the mime element...

"A gesture is a movement that conveys meaning and indicates a state of mind ... any such gesture must be performed with great accuracy.... it must be precisely focused and strictly confined within a specific, limited area of movement. In this respect, there is a fundamental relationship between mime gesture and correct, academic port de bras....truthful motivation is the key to expressive gesture, and these gestures need to be as carefully studied and as clearly controlled as any pirouette or entrechat."

It is common coin to hear both that dancers today are far superior to those of twenty years back, and that the English have never known how to dance or mime. Allow me to draw to all our attention the challenges posed by the compositions of Frederick Ashton.

In a film broadcast by the BBC about 25 years ago of "A Month in the Country", Mr Graham Sutherland as Kolya in the original cast, dances the "ball" variation at a speed that is nowhere to be seen these days, with breathtaking batterie and ballon, a musicality to make one quite literally jump for joy, and withal, expressive to a degree ! Nor is Mr. Sutherland wandering about alone at that level in the cast ! How is such expressiveness within such difficulty, at all possible ?

This well-written and pedagogical work, intended for professionals and the general public alike, goes a long way towards the reply.

The book takes the form of twenty-two mime passages that are first explained (even someone with a feeble knowledge of English will be able to get through) and then illustrated in masterly fashion, in a series of 300 photographs, by Mlle. Muriel Valtat, formerly First Artist at Covent Garden, and Mr. Michael Raynaud of the English National Ballet. Appropriate musical indications are given throughout.

This may be the best work available on the subject. To order it,

or write to:
Woodstock Winchester Press, 12 Stoney Lane,Winchester, Hants., SO22 6DN,

K.L. Kanter