Fairies of the stage- Summer Swinson

This collection of paintings by Edgar Degas during the late 1800’s includes depictions of ballet dancers, either during the performance or in preparation of it. These pieces are created in an impressionist style that focuses on movement in light and in human behavior. Degas’ observations of these fascinating creatures in their natural environment create a sense enchantment, as he unveils the simple and overlooked moments in their world of magical elegance.

In this portrait, the dancer waits, poised with her arms overlapping on top of each other at the elbows. The portrayal is a static figure, in between actions. Using different hues of blood red fading into a lighter beige shade with dull shadows, it heightens the intensity of the scene and highlights the passion of the mood. This intensity is displayed in the use of red, as well as the dancer’s grave expression. The contrast of the color chosen for the background against the desaturated dress also defines the dancer as the main subject of the hierarchy, who waits intently in anger, or deep meditation.
This painting displays five ballerinas preparing for the performance. Each lady is engaged in a task: one dancer adjusts her sleeve, another is scrutinizing her feet, as yet another looks out the window. The texture of long soft brush strokes on the skirts emphasize the elegance of their costumes, while the neutral colors of pale blue, grey and tan lend to the idea that this setting is a prologue to the decedent performance that is about to begin.
Stretching their muscles and lengthening their limbs prior to gracing the stage, these young women in rich shades of purple and orange reveal the beauty in preparation. In this scene, the figures create dynamic shapes, complemented by the swirling texture behind them and emphasized by the dotted brush impressions, combining to give a blurred effect of both body and environmental motion. With the focus cropped tight on the various movements of these three dancers, the whole scene has a sense of completion without needing to include any other subjects.
As a young dancer pulls her tights snuggly against her leg, the accompanying dancer bows her head in silent meditation. Behind the girls, one woman observes the sitting ballerina, as the second woman intently fluffs her tutu. The diagonal lines of the floor stretch beneath their feet and towards the back corner of the painting, giving the picture a sense of depth and three-dimensional space. The primary colors of cream and gold cast a warm light throughout the scene, emphasizing the silent grace of their postures.
On the stage, but not yet in full performance, a dozen petite dancers stretch and practice in anticipation of the show amidst the shadowy theatre. Although the light brings focus to the white costumes and their full skirts in long dreamy brushstrokes, there is a darkness in the back of the stage that creates a sense of mystery. The desaturated colors produce the effect that the lights are dimmed, spotlights focused on the dancers and their rehearsal to cause them to pop and sparkle.
Each of the four ballerinas are involved in making sure the final touches are completed by tugging at their sleeves or practicing a pose. The similar appearance of the ballerinas creates the illusion of a repeated figure, causing an intriguing rhythm. The organic shapes of leaves and foliage, textured with short staccato brushstrokes, shield the dancers from sight. In the background, the golden color of the twilight sky distributes a balanced color, specifically highlighting the shrubs in the distance. Rolling green hills sweep from underneath in smooth blurred strokes. All elements, from the organic greenery, to the nearly camouflaged tutus, blend together and create a sense of earthy unity.
Fully engaged in her craft, the radical movement of one dancer dominates the center of the stage. Behind her, several girls stand and wait, spread across the top of the frame. Beneath the ballerina in motion, a blur of tutus and legs indicate that she is not alone in the dancing. Contrasting to the orange dancers in the background, the teal tutu shapes of feathered brushstrokes with dotted gold spread out, demonstrating the dynamic motion of the ballet.
In this colorful painting, several dancers are spread across the stage. The movement in this piece is characterized by the focus on red and yellow dancers flowing across the middle of the stage. Although not perfectly symmetric, the composition is well balanced by the split of dancers on either side of one ballerina in particular who is gracefully bent over to fix her shoe. The neutral brown stage contrasts against the deeply saturated colors of the backdrop that seems to sweep the ballerinas up into it’s lively palette.
Within this shadowy theatre, one solo ballerina floats elegantly out of the darkness, caught in a graceful pose. The lines in this portrait are organic and rounded to emphasize the flowing movement, above rigid diagonal lines of the stage floor. The soft pastel pink of her dress emerges delicately, yet prominently, contrasting against the less saturated browns and olive greens of her environment. The magic even seems to rise off the dancer’s figure, as textured streams ascend from her movement. Around her skirt, the blurred texture adds to the captivating dance, almost as if she is in flight.
On this stage, a couple dancers are engaged in their performance. As they dance, several other ballerinas wait in static silence, except for one girl whispering to the girl on her left. An orchestral pit is revealed below the stage, filled with musician’s faces. A tropical setting adorns the back of the stage with earthy blues and greens that cause the misty pink and white of the dancer’s tutus to pop. Rolling shadows of graceful limbs decorate the stage floor, emphasizing the dynamic and bewitching movement of the ballet.
Credits: All media
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