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Alexandra

Style, attempts at definition

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I'm going to put up a series of threads to discuss style of different companies and countries, one per thread. I'd like this to eventually be a resource where someone who's interested in what "Balanchine style" is, etc., could come and read about it -- recognizing that there are differences among generations, etc. But what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a dancer to have correct "Kirov style" -- or "Bolshoi" or "Ashton" or whatever style. I'm only going to put up threads for the major Schools now, meaning styles related to institutions wiith recognized Schools (not the building); one could have interesting and useful discussions about the difference between Miami City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet styles, too, but perhaps for the first round we could be more basic.

There are those who don't recognize the concept of "style" saying that what we call "style" is really technique. I think that is true up to a point -- if you're at the Vaganova school, you're not learning "Kirov style." You're learning to dance. It's when others look at you, and see that your arabesque is different, the carriage of the upper body, the arm positions, the way the fingers are held, etc., that is what is called style -- and that's the way I'm intending the question. All ballet dancers have to jump and turn, but do the arms form a circle when they're turning, or do they not? Are the fingers spread or held together tightly?

I will do everything possible to keep this discussion civil. Please, no, "their arms look like sticks," "They can't turn for beans," etc. Partisanship is great at soccer games, or if you're in your own home theater. Then "they" are icky, awful and we're glad we don't dance like them. But "They" are also reading this board, and I'll ask everyone to be polite.

I think it's also interesting to talk about what happens when a style changes -- what is changeable? what is not? -- or ossifies. How do you keep the style living without changing its essence?

But first, please, definitions.

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I got an email this morning from someone saying, "how technical should we be?" -- perhaps that worry is what's stopping everyone's fingers from responding :)

I'd ask -- as NON technical as possible, since this thread is intended to be read and understood by everyone.

(And please, contribute! I can't believe no one has thoughts on various styles.)

I've put up a few notes on POB and Royal Ballet style -- but there should be dozens of people here who can say something on NYCB and ABT and the Maryinsky. (I'll try to do the RDB later.)

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Musings on Style,

Alexandra has posed a dilemma. To try to define a style it is necessary to generalize and for each citation one can find more exceptions than definitive examples. A living style is a chimera and I suspect that even in a historical context, it’s a fool’s errand. Nevertheless it’s an irresistible dilemma, for we all think that we can identify what we like and that there is some justification, some aesthetic hierarchy for our likes and dislikes. I certainly have them. I like classical ballet because it has a vocabulary of steps and a history in choreography, a syntax, so that when you see a staging you’re able to read and compare, to see allusions or variations from the original themes.

A style would necessitate continuity and this would imply a school as opposed to the characteristics of an individual dancer, where former dancers would impart their techniques to the new generation. Thus one could talk of a style as a product of a Vaganova school or of a Bournonville school as preserved by the Royal Danish Ballet or of a New York City Ballet under Balanchine’s directorship. However how can one look for stylistic cohesiveness in a contemporary company when the dancers are recruited from Cuba, Brazil, Ukraine, France and England and Japan? A talented AD can mold the lot into an exiting company but can one really speak of a stylistic unity? Is this not similar to the question whether a ballerina is a Romantic, a Classical or a Demi-Caractère? When I asked this of a current AD, he replied that their dancers were so well trained that they could dance any role! And they do. From necessity in my view. But the finer points of stylistic refinement, as of the Perfection class, has gone the way of the Dodo.

What of the individual dancer? Can her/his characteristics of speed, precision, épaulement, be spoken of as style? It certainly is by critics as well as balletomanes. For instance Arlene Croce wrote in Afterimages: “the absurd sky-high penches, the flailing spine and thrust hips, the hiked elbows and flapping hands “, that this was not simply a individual peculiarity, “She also speaks of the 1963-69 years as the Farrell Years in which Balanchine projected what he saw in her onto the company's other dancers - "so that her image became the company norm, the "swinging pelvises, baling-hook arms, and clawing hands" of that image became the company's "new cruel orthodoxy". Whatever one thinks of Croce, the question is at what point do individual characteristics constitute a style?

In the same vein, if somewhat less controversial, the arabesque as defined by Cecchetti and Vaganova as in the 3rd. and the 4th. have very different aesthetic qualities. The modeling is Greek in the lather and Roman in the former. Does the reference to the pas Failli as Demi-Contretemps and the confusion in names when jeté en arrière is referred to as jeté derrière and do an accumulation of such examples constitute a style? Is the English style nothing more than the Cecchetti Method?

To conclude this nebulous question - we may not know what style is but we all recognize it when we see it. Or so we would like to think.

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