BALLET-1

Degas is perhaps known for "exhausting" the topic of the ballet, and in particular young ballerinas, rather than male dancers.

Degas has several works done in pastel that depicted ballerinas on stage.  What is unusual about Degas' work is that he went backstage and to ballet lessons to understand more about the dancers' movement as well as the hard work that these young girls and women invested to be on stage.  Seldom had ballerinas been depicted off-stage before.


Edgar Degas
The Dance Class 1874

In the next two pictures to our left, Degas depicts dance lessons.

Degas, fascinated by the movement of ballet dancers, closely observes as they diligently practice.  In the painting on the top is Mr. Perot, a well-known teacher lecturing the rats (as they were sometimes called). 

Degas works with light and perspective in these two paintings, augmenting the space in which the ballerinas practice by giving us a slight "fish-eye" view of the whole scene.  The light plays off the tutus of the ballerinas, directing  our sight around the composition. Although both paintings are full of ballerinas practicing, Degas is skillful in allowing for a spacious, rather than cramped,composition.

Edmond de Goncourt, a writer, Degas' friend and admirer of the painter's work, talked about the way in which Degas would mime the dancers when he showed his pictures, by "imitating with the expression of the dancers one of their arabesques...it is really very funny to see him, upon points, his arms rounded, mixing the aesthetic of the dancing master with the aesthetic of the painter" (Sutton, Denys; Degas, p 169).

Edgar Degas
The Rehearsal c1873/78


Edgar Degas
Dance Rehearsal in the Foyer of the Opera c1889/90

These next two paintings focus on the persistent practice of ballerinas.

The tenacious work of these hard-toiling, persevering ballerinas, does not stop at class.  The painting to our left shows ballerinas practicing in the foyer.  The rounded arms of their poses echo the round  windows in the background. Unlike Beraud, a painter contemporaneous with Degas, who chose to show ballerinas flirting with their rich patrons in the foyer, Degas chooses to depict the ballerinas' focus and dedication to their vocation.

In this next painting we see a dancer bending over, perhaps in pain or maybe in a gesture of flexibility.  Clearly she is not on stage, rather, based on the title, she is waiting.  Perhaps the bent-over figure connotes a sense of anxiety of whether she will be chosen or not.  Next to her is a figure dressed in black.  We're not sure if these two women are related.  If they are, the woman in black could be her mother, similar to a "soccer mom" who takes her kids to practice and accompanies them through the trials and tribulations of their discipline. 

Such a backstage scene would unlikely be chosen by the Academy.

Edgar Degas
Waiting c1882


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