Adagio act

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My current researches into metre perception in dance teaching lead me to think that a lot of ballet isn’t really dancing, especially the slow bits.  This was prompted by an article on pulse perception which had nothing to do with ballet, except that this line jumped right out at me as describing a lot of ballet perfectly:

‘…at much slower tempi, although motorically possible, dancing can hardly be called a spontaneous activity: it feels more like moving slowly from one position to another, and one has to really concentrate and count to keep synchronized’ (Van Noorden, L. & Moelants, D. (1999) ‘Resonance in the Perception of Musical Pulse’. Journal of New Music Research, 28 (1), 43 – 66.)

Perhaps we ought to call the slow bits something other than dancing, I thought, just to avoid the conflation of ‘moving slowly from one position to another’ with that thing you do when you hear something you like, and you want to move.  Why, I thought, do they call this kind of display in Vaudeville an ‘Adagio Act’, but in ballet, they treat it simply as a subdomain of ‘dancing’, when it’s clearly not in so many ways?

So I thought I’d do a quick Google for ‘adagio act’, and up came that famous clip of the woman being thrown around like a bolster in a pillow  fight to the strains of the Blue Danube (Ganjou apparently called it a ‘romance in Porcelain’). In the clip below it’s the whole sequence, and amazingly, there’s a short interview with her (Joy Marlowe) and her ‘thrower’ Serge Ganjou on a TV talk show with Dennis Norden. The conductor in the film is Serge’s sister, Adele. The most amazing part of the story, since I spent many of my student evenings in there 30 years ago, is that Serge Ganjou was the person who set up Daquise in South Kensington. Which nicely rounds off another connection, which is that  Woytek Lowski used to laugh every time I played the Blue Danube for class because it reminded him of this film – which I only saw long after he died, and now I know what it is, and who the people are at long last.

The story of the ‘Ganjou brothers and Juanita’ is wonderfully touching, and nicely told in this obituary of Serge Ganjou, who died in 1999. And for more on ‘Adagio Acts‘, have a look in the rather expensive Vaudeville Acts Old & New on Google books.  On the whole,  Adagio Acts  are just like ballet without the critics and warm white wine on opening night.

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1 Response to Adagio act

  1. A. Brannon says:

    Read your page with much interest.

    Les Cygne Four were another sensational Adagio Act, which toured the Moss Empires and various theatres in Britain, from 1931 – 1955. Les Cygnes were a family act, involving two men and two women performing daring moves, including the human skipping rope.

    If anyone has any old programmes/posters with their act I would be interested to obtain them, as some of our originals were destroyed by fire.

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