Notes on Ballet Bodies


When, in Ride Back‘s first scene, Rin dances, she looks to me like she has weight. I don’t mean that she looks like she’s heavy, I mean that she doesn’t look ethereal. It helps that the first few shots we see of her show her testing and adjusting her ballet shoes.

We even hear the noise her right shoe makes when she places it on the bar here:


The name of the music that’s playing, which is usually translated as ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ (apparently), also draws our attention to the physical. That title doesn’t tell us much about ‘The Great Gate’ (except, I suppose, that it’s in Kiev), but something tells me it’s not a little postern that swings silently open with a gentle touch. (That title probably refers to a picture, which is itself weightless, of course, but I won’t tell you that because it doesn’t help my argument.) And check out the suggestion of muscle here:


This embodiedness is appropriate because the dance leads to a physical catastrophe in the short term, and to an involvement with lumpy metal motorcycle mecha in the long term.


Compare Princess Tutu, who looks weightless. She appears magically (she never has to put her ballet shoes on) and can walk on water.

Tutu’s disembodiedness is just as appropriate: she is a bird – it’s a long story, and I’d rather you watched the anime than read it here – and birds almost always weigh less than they look like they ought to, because they’re optimised for flight (their bones are honeycombed rather than solid). It’s also appropriate because Tutu’s a child. It’s okay for Rin to be very ’embodied’ (if you will), because it’s okay for Ghostlighting to say ‘Rin is hawt’. If my memory serves me correctly, Tutu occupies the same age bracket as those fourteen-year-old girls in that anime with the crosses, so it’s possibly not okay to say that she ‘is hawt’.

Princess Tutu‘s weightless characters are in keeping with its general attitude to the physical world. The floor of a ruined building can become the stage for a ballet performance, replete with lighting, in seconds. Tutu’s arrival turns her world into scenery, a change which is in my opinion an enhancement, not a cheapening:

Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as diverse poets have done, neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more lovely: her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.

(Sidney, Defence of Poesie, with modernised spelling)

All animation is inherently like this, I suppose, but Princess Tutu takes that fact and runs with it in a way that most anime don’t. Maybe there’re two gilding processes, the second one being more overt? So the fact of Tutu‘s being animated is one golden delivery, and the changes in lighting, &c, that occur at the beginning of the story’s dance-offs are the second, more obvious improvement on Nature? This is not my area of expertise.


Tutu does fall when, in a very moving scene, she dances a pas de duex on her own. A pas de duex is apparently a ballet duet, and so it has elements which don’t work unless you have someone to, for example, catch you. Tutu crumples in midair and falls quickly, making almost no noise. But it’s not really an accident like Rin’s fall, since the solo pas de duex is Tutu’s choice. Her determination is one of the scene’s most moving elements – having fallen, she picks herself up and carries on.

(Notes don’t need a conclusion, but I enjoy Princess Tutu so much that I feel compelled to break one of my self-imposed blogging rules, and actually flat out recommend it to you. I haven’t finished it yet, however, so if you comment please don’t spoil it.)

10 responses to “Notes on Ballet Bodies

  1. Princess Tutu was shown on Animax last year I think. I passed on it because I’ve had enough of the network’s dubbing cadre. I will consider watching it sometime (still going through lotsa Gundams).

    I however, had just seen the second episode of RideBack and whew, what a thrill! It almost makes me wish I had seen a lot of racing anime so I can contextualize the/get perspective on the race scene. I really do feel it’s done well.

    And yes, Rin is hawt with her messy hair and her ferociousness under that shy demeanor.

  2. Spike dies.

    I thought this post was about Ridebacks at first, because the idea of weight is a great angle to attack those action scenes. It’s just the right thing for a mecha ballet.

    But compared to real life, Rin still floats a little bit. It’s not that she composes herself like Ahiru, but there’s a weaker sense of impact in her moves; much like dancing mecha don’t just leave and land on the ground with so little fanfare.

    I suppose it’s an artistic choice.

  3. i just loked Princess Tutu on wikipedia: mytho and drosselmeyer are very pretty names, i’ll put this on my to watch list.

    Why go for modernized spelling?? 16th century spelling rocks!

  4. I would argue that Princess Tutu is actually one of the very few anime that are truly fairy tales, and but of course I mean the Grimms Brother-style fairy tales as opposed to the Disney-fied versions. Princess Tutu actually does a pretty good job in rendering ballet, unlike many other titles which try to incorporate that art form, other than the weightlessness associated with their version of it. And since that itself ties in directly with the entire feel of the story, which is certainly one of fairy tale surrealism, it’d be bizarre if people landed solidly like they would in real life. Which is kind of what you said, anyway, but I suppose I just felt like blathering on because I loved Princess Tutu.

    Also, dammit, now you’ve made me want to check out Ride Back! I’m a sap for ballet… even if its only included a little bit…

  5. I want to follow adaywithoutme’s example and praise the exquisite delicacy that is Princess Tutu. It really is a bliss to watch Tutu dance so lightly, gently. And the changes of scenary definitely enhances that sense of otherworldly weightlessness, never cheapening it.

    Not terribly impressed with first episode of Ride Back, so I would personally recommend watching Tutu instead to those who haven’t yet! :D

  6. Hehe. Despite the OP image, I felt deep down there was going to be a Princess Tutu reference. Yes, it’s a great show, and yes, Tutu(ChuChu?) is hot.

  7. It get’s slightly worse, ‘The Great Gate at Kiev’ was a design for a gate (at kiev) so probably didn’t even have a weighty frame.

    Anyway yeah! Princess Tutu is the dog’s nethers!

  8. @ ghostlightning: Tutu is a title to have in mind, at least. I’ve seen almost no racing anime myself, so I’m afraid I’m of no help there.

    @ omo: The Ridebacks always look weightless to me, because for some reason CG work puts my nose out of joint. That might not be a bad thing, though, given the ‘mecha ballet’ aspect. And you’re right that Rin’s definitely still dancing rather than clomping around like your average human.

    @ animekritik: I imagine (and I could be entirely wrong) that PT is right up your street.

    It seemed to me that sixteenth-century spelling might slow the reader’s progress through the post, and these are ultimately only notes.

    @ adaywithoutme: Princess Tutu is definitely a fairy tale, and, as I’m sure you know, it’s very conscious of the fact itself. It’d be interesting to find out how well-known occidental fairy tales are in Japan – offhand I can only remember that Tokyo Akazukin apparently riffs on Little Red Riding Hood and that Kamen Rider Kabuto makes a passing and unsatisfying allusion to HCA’s story of the red dancing shoes.

    @ gaguri: The changes of scenery are often some of my favourite moments in each episode. I wonder if real-life ballet performances are that exciting? I’ve never seen ballet live.

    I can’t say I was blown away by Ride Back like some have been, but I don’t really have good taste anyway. It’s probably something superficial like the character designs.

    @ Shin: It’d be a crime to post about ballet in anime without mentioning Tutu. And trust you to state the taboo!

    @ Marmoset: Hmph. I hate it when reality gets in the way of a good argument!

    Tutu is extremely fun, and I’m grateful for the bloggers whose reviews persuaded me to watch it despite my initial concerns (‘Magical girl anime. About ballet?!?’).

  9. Nice post, when I read your comparison between Rin and Tutu I felt that your absolutely right about their differences. While Rin and Tutu are both anime characters, Rin is more human, and Tutu is more like a marionette doll.

    Here’s a excerpt from a essay on differences between dancing dolls and dancing human

    “These marionettes, he said, have another advantage. They haven’t discovered the law of gravity. They know nothing about the inertia of matter. In other words they know nothing of those qualities most opposed to the dance. The force that pulls them into the air is more powerful than that which shackles them to the
    earth. What would not our dear G— give to be sixty pounds lighter or to have a force that would lift her for her entrechats and pirouettes. These marionettes, like fairies, use the earth only as a point of departure; they return to it only to renew the flight of their limbs with a momentary pause. We, on the other hand, need the earth: for rest, for repose from the effort of the dance; but this rest of ours is, in itself, obviously not dance; and we can do no better than disguise our moments of rest as much as possible……… He replied: It is simply impossible for a human being to reach the grace of the jointed doll. Only a god can duel with matter on this level” (Kleist 1801)

    I had at one time thought about using this to write a comparison between Tutu, and Sora & Layla of Kaleido Star; when performing at godlike levels, Sora and Layla achieve their power by almost working themselves to death while Tutu seems to perform with a natural unconscious grace and very little practice.

  10. @ animewriter: I like the doll comparison. It fits rather neatly with Tutu’s position within the story, being (like all the other characters) manipulated to some degree (how much I can’t say – I haven’t finished it).


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