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Who would think that an arbitrary ballet dance rehearsal could turn out to be such a fascinating work of art? The painting “The Rehearsal” by Edgar Degas, created in 1878, portrays a ballet dancer’s scene taking place in an urban ballet studio. Degas, having been born and raised in France, reflected France’s influence on ballet in this painting along with most of his art work, which predominantly consists of ballet paintings. In the picture, Degas depicts a scene of a typical day in the studio and puts it under a spotlight, making it glorious and intriguing to look at. His ability to take a daily scene and turn it into a magnificent moment is what makes this painting seem timeless, truthful, and accurate.
“The Rehearsal” lures you into a ballet studio. The studio is a large old and peeling room that smells like dust mixed with sweat and perfume, resembling the smell of a woman at the end of a party. The brownish-gray colors of the room are lit only by natural light, beaming through three floor-to-ceiling windows. The view from the windows is of a tree-top and roofs of buildings. Stretched between two of the windows on the right side of the painting is a dancing barre along with several dancers, one of which is wearing a white tutu. As she leans on the barre while stretching her right leg, the dancer gazes outside at the tree-top, her face bright and warm from the reflection of the sun. To her left are two other dancers, standing and gossiping together. One of them is faced towards the center of the room and the other is facing the window so the viewer is only able to see her back. The two dancers are standing close enough to each other in order to listen to one another over the loud music. In front of the two dancers is another dancer watching the rehearsal carefully. In the center of the painting are four dancers exercising a routine together. They are all dressed in white tutu dresses, each wearing a different colored ribbon on her waist, distinguishing each from the others. Each ribbon is tied flawlessly on their backs, like a perfectly wrapped present, showing off their narrow bodies. Their hair is decorated with flowers and around each of their necks is a black ribbon tied nicely like a necklace. In that moment, the dancers are standing with their right foot on the floor while their left foot is raised above their waistline. They all appear to be focused on the music and the routine, counting the steps in their head, and the viewer can practically see the fear of failure in their eyes, while they anxiously attempt to succeed in the routine. On the bottom left corner of the painting is a partially-visible man. The man is dressed in all black, in contrast to the dancers, and is sitting on a chair while playing the violin.
In the center of the painting, right past the violin player, is Degas’ favorite dancer. She is one of the four dancers who are exercising but she is different from all of them, as she is painted with much more detail. Her hair is brown and curly and pulled back in a messy ponytail. Her facial expression seems serious and her eyes are focused on a particular spot on the floor. She is taller than the rest of the group and much more interesting than all of them. Surprisingly, the viewer is not able to notice her at a glance. In order to notice her the viewer must really pay attention to the composition of the painting and to Degas’ point of view. Upon spotting her, the viewer irresistibly continues to look at her, like the feeling of falling in love at first sight; everything else around her suddenly seems blurry and vague. This way of looking at the painting is like revealing Degas’ secret love, which may explain why this scene is so unique despite the fact that it is simply a rehearsal in a studio.
Although the painting was created in 1878, it can be painted again today. This scene is an every-day moment of a ballet dancer’s life back in 1878 and is still true of the studio today, which makes this painting timeless. The ability to take a daily scene and turn it into a magnificent moment is what makes this painting so unique and interesting. Edgar Degas is known as an expressionist-realistic artist who remains true to what he sees in reality. Everything about this painting appears real. For example, the dancers in the back talking to each other, the one dancer stretching in the back, and the focused faces of those dancers practicing in the center. Each of these scenarios is commonly experienced by all dancers and can be taken from any ballet studio at any time. Degas accurately conveys each moment without straying away from reality. As a byproduct of this approach, Degas pays a lot of attention to small details which are important in a dancer’s life. For example, he drew the dancer’s pointe shoes so clearly, as if it were the most important part of the painting. Also, the dancers in the front holding their legs above their waistline have their foot pointed flawlessly as only an advanced dancer can do. These details exemplify how much respect Degas has towards dancers and engage the viewer, leaving her with the feeling of being inside that studio.
Not only is Degas familiar with the characteristics of dancers, he is also very capable of portraying multiple tones. Degas shows so much contrast in this painting, making it look elegant and poor at the same time. For instance, the contrast between the old stale urban studio and the purity of ballet dancers. The dancers look like princesses; their hair is decorated with flowers, in the shape of a crown, and their skin is so white and pure. They are wearing white tutu dresses with a colorful ribbon belt on their waist, similar to a ball gown, while the room itself seems cold and ancient. Moreover, they are dancing classical ballet, which is known as a delicate, high- society type of dance. In contrast, the dance studio has a poor look, as it not well-maintained and does not look like an appropriate background for the dance. In addition, the man playing the violin is dressed in black, which is contrasted by the dancers in white. Degas located him in the lower left-hand corner of the painting which nearly blends him with the old gray room. The man seems old and dresses very poorly as opposed to the young dancers in white. Even though the differences in the picture are so clear and in contrast to each other, they blend well together, leaving the viewer feeling as if the painting is real and attainable. The painting does not appear to be something that it is not.
“The Rehearsal” is one of many ballet-dancer paintings that Edgar Degas crafted. In his early years he would invite dancers to his studio so they could pose for him and then he would paint or sculpt them. As he became more famous he was invited backstage during ballet performances and he would paint and capture the moments. He loved the costumes, the stage lights and the dancers’ anatomy. In this painting, Degas’ familiarity with the world of dance is very evident. Upon taking a closer look at the dancer stretching on the barre in the back of the painting, it is noticeable that her form is not perfect. Her left leg is slightly bent and her back is a bit tilted, showing how hard this pose is for her. However, the viewer can practically taste the dancer’s determination to execute this pose perfectly. In addition, all of the dancers’ faces are looking down towards their feet, showing how focused they are on their footwork. This comes as no surprise since footwork is most important in ballet.
In his painting “The Rehearsal”, Degas is taking a peripheral view of one of the most delicate and amazing types of dance, ballet. He paints a dance rehearsal which is a scene that any ballet dancer during any period of time can relate to as every working dancer experiences it almost every day. With his knowledge of dance and dancers’ body movements, Degas draws a very realistic painting, focusing on the proper details from accurate angles including the dancers’ apparel, poses, and the atmosphere of the room. His way of painting a scene of contrasts makes it look even more real, reachable and desirable to the viewer. Degas’s painting, “The Rehearsal”, is a unique painting that transforms a daily scene into an experience of fine art.
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