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Royal Ballet style


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 28 March 2003 - 11:30 AM

What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for Royal Ballet Style? Head, fingers, knees and toes, please. And for men as well as women.

Sub-question: once "Royal Ballet style" was synonymous with Ashton style. Is that still true? If not, what are the differences between current Royal Style and Ashton Style?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 29 March 2003 - 08:54 AM

There's a debate on whether there is anything left of the Royal Ballet style -- but there are shreds of it, or people wouldn't be reacting so strongly to the "differences" Makarova has brought in with her new "Sleeping Beauty."

The first season I saw the Royal, I was disappointed in the dancing because I didn't think it was very exciting (this was my first season seeing ballet, and "exciting" to me was Nureyev in "Le Corsaire.") A few years later, talking to an older critic about the company's style, he said, "It's never been a virtuoso company." I had to mull that one over for a few years. What's a nonvirtuoso company? Why would anyone want to do that -- how could that be a hallmark of style?

With that introduction, I offer a few observations.

First, the shape of the dancing is square or circular, not rectangular or elliptical. And by that, I mean that if you take a dancer in arabesque, you can draw a circle or a square around it, but no other shape. Arabesques are at 90 degrees, NOT because the poor little things couldn't do any better, but because that was what Ashton wanted.

Second, epaulement, which was integral to the style. The body is always turned a bit, you see the dancers at an angle, not head on. The dancing is three dimensional.

Third, footwork. Ashton choreographed for feet. Many of his variations for women were made for women in skirts, and the leg is not visible. The footwork is extremely fast.

Fourth, musicality. It's a melodic musicality (I think this comes form Cecchetti; that's the one link I've found among Ashton, Tudor, and the Volkova-influenced Royal Danish style of the late 20th century.

David Vaughan wrote (paraphrase) that Ashton's style had the clear melodiousness of English speech. He used virtuosity -- the Blue Boy in "Patineurs" -- but he used it as a spice, in contrast to the harmony of the whole.

The sense of harmony is key to the whole line, and to other aspects of technique. Arms en couronne, for example (when the dancer lifts the arms above the head and curves them so that they suggest a crown) are directly over the head; the arms are aligned with the ears.

I've seen some film of Ashton coaching, and geometry was crucial to him. There's a film of him setting "Monotones" and he explains, in his patient, crotchety way, that if the arms of three dancers -- standing next to each other, arms en couronne, interlaced -- are not crooked EXACTLY at the elbow then the whole thing is all wrong. "Monotones" is an essay in geometry, as much as "Scenes de ballet." It was written for three dancers who had exactly the same proportions, height and line (when the woman was on pointe).

When Ashtons' style was a living, breathing thing, the dancing MOVED -- there is film evidence of this, for those who weren't around to see it on stage, but most of it is archival, not on commercial video.

#3 grace

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Posted 30 March 2003 - 01:04 AM

Alexandra wrote: once "Royal Ballet style" was synonymous with Ashton style. Is that still true?"

my answer: no

and "If not, what are the differences between current Royal Style and Ashton Style?"

my answer: aaargh! :-(

very hard Q to answer - of course! ;)

try this: take what you are calling the old RB/ashton style, add onto it what macmillan's choreography (in particular) required...then begin to train the new young dancers in the school via vaganova method(s)...introduce various other international choreographers works...and hey presto, there you are! whatever THAT is, that's what they've got. ;)

#4 pleiades

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 07:24 PM

May I respond from another perspective, I hope it's appropriate? One of my teachers is a former senior ballet mistress at the Royal Ballet, and I see very, very clearly the differences between her 'style' and my other teachers.

1. The arms in arabesque are qualitatively 'wispier'/more ethereal than any others I've seen -- I realize that's not very clear, but it's the only way I know to describe it -- and there are never any right angles.

2. Re: penchee -- we are constantly told that the true arabesque, or for that matter, any developpe, goes no higher than 90degrees, anything else is a modern aberration. As a corollry, the upper body moves very conservatively -- there are no extreme angles or arches.

3. The impression I get from my teacher is that individual style is less important than the ability to move cohesively as part of a uniform whole -- the emphasis is on being able to function exquisitely as a member of a corps rather than as a soloist.

4. Frappes are taught with a flexed ankle and pointed foot at the point of extension (at least by this teacher now) and rises to pointe are sprung, not rolled.

#5 grace

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Posted 12 April 2003 - 01:55 AM

not contradicting you at all, plaeidies, but might we ask who this teacher is? judging from your point 2, it sounds as though she might be very old (?),... and therefore expressing some ideas which MIGHT no longer be generally held?

#6 pleiades

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Posted 12 April 2003 - 12:05 PM

You're right, she is well on in years, and while still vibrant, I'm sure that her perspectives reflect those of a different time.

#7 grace

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Posted 13 April 2003 - 06:18 PM

sure. :) i have to admit that the basic idea that 'the' arabesque is at 90 degrees DOES have some appeal to me! ;)

#8 BW

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Posted 27 September 2003 - 03:07 PM

Just bringing this up for the new ballet year. :gossip:

#9 dido

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 09:55 AM

This is really more of a question than a comment. I have yet to see the Royal Ballet actually :blushing: and so I am relying pretty much entirely on the video Sleeping Beauty with Durante and the entire company seems very stiff/jerky/rigid to me in some indefinable way. I notice it most in the smiles, which seem a little frozen, but it's more than that. Reading this thread it seems as though one of the salient characteristics of the RB was pliancy.

Mostly I wonder, am I imagining the stiffness?

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 10:47 AM

I doubt your imagining it -- it's probably a matter of perception. What is "stiff" to one person is beautifully, classically correct to another. What is free movement, or an easy style to one is undisciplined or sloppy to another.

#11 silvy

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 11:11 AM

My word would be "staccatto" rather than "stiffness". Referring to that Sleeping BEauty video, it is most clear in the fairies variations as opposed to the same variations as danced by the Kirov (I am mostly recalling the Violente variation - the "finger" one).

It is also noticeable in the Wedding pdd: the port de bras with a side bend after the passe devant: very "stacatto"

silvy

#12 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 03:56 PM

Well, Dido, I don't think that that video shows them looking very good -- though Durante is obviously very strong, i don’t find myself liking anybody in it very much.....

Is there any way you could get your hand s on one of the older videos -- like the one with Fonteyn and Somes in Swan Lake, or the one with Aurora's wedding -- also Fonteyn and Somes -- the point is not just Fonteyn, though she really was wonderful -- the whole company had incredibly fast and clear footwork -- the legs didn't go high, but they could MOVE, it was brilliant and astonishing and feathery.

They did have a "dry" way of dancing, and in poses they would "freeze" on the count -- it's kind of like the way Glenn Gould played Bach on the piano, where you could "SEE" the bar lines; but it gave their rhythm a taut energy, very different from City ballet or Russians but vivid, clear, and exact -- and they were SILENT, very quiet footwork. (Freeds are made in London.)

Bu the feet did very lacy things -- on the Aurora's wedding, a very young Merle Park is flashing around all over the place as some kind of fairy doing (I guess) sissonne battus -- I don't remember what they are, but I do remember the effect of knowing that she was doing beats that were so fast I could not see them, but I knew they were there....

Aurora's Wedding is really quite wonderful because the whole thing is SO old-fashioned, but GORGEOUS, sumptuous to look at -- what a fantastic polonaise-processional when they all come in, it IS a big deal, all those courtiers like Catalabutte and the queen (young Gerd Larsen, I think) really register as significant people....

Some of the dancers don't film very well -- Brian Shaw as the bluebird, for example, doesn't measure up to his reputation -- but Antoinette Sibley is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL Princess Florine I shall EVER see, and hter4e you’ll see everything you could want t o see about Royal Ballet style -- the accuracy, the strong pointes, the beautiful correct action, AND also the pliancy -- she does the passage with the toe-hops (where the leg folds through from devant to arabesque) with an incredibly beautiful, bird-like shimmer in the back and arms, and continues with the most astonishing dancing: double ronde-de jambes leaning, with the MOST beautiful carriage of the upper body, probably, that I've ever seen. It's all over in a flash, but it's like with the Nicholas Brothers, you just want to scream and make her do it over and over till you can believe you've actually seen it..... And of course with video tape, you CAN encore it over and over again, run it in slow motion, check out her timing, LOOK at those tilts in the upper body while the lower body is doing such difficult things....

#13 perky

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 05:15 AM

Paul,

Is the video featuring Antoinette Sibley as Princess Florine still available to purchase? I would love to have it!

She's always been my favorite from the Royal Ballet. Such a sensitive and beautiful dancer. I love reading recollections of her dancing days.

#14 dido

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 10:23 AM

Thanks for all of the replies. I guess I was thinking also of (how embarassing again) the Red Shoes, because Moira Shearer (well, ok, Dowell too) is the only earlier RB dancer I've seen much of.
I know what silvy means about the "stacatto" effect, and I don't think it was that I was reacting to, the Violante and Canary are two of my favorite variations. Upon further viewing and reflection I realize that it isn't the whole company at all (what a dumb generalization!) and not even all the time. Just in certain places, certain times I spot something that I find something jarring, something that makes me uncomfortable to watch, as if I were worried for the dancer(s).
Mostly I guess I was expecting something very like what Paul so beautifully described, and wondering if my imagination was demanding the impossible.

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 10:35 AM

perky, the video is "An Evening with the Royal Ballet" and it is available (I just checked; it's on Amazon). Also on the tape are Ashton's "La Valse," "Les Sylplhides" (with Fonteyn and Nureyev), "Le Corsaire" (also with F&N) and "Aurora's Wedding" with Fonteyn and David Blair. Anthony Dowell is in the corps in this - he's a courtier.

dido, I think what you wrote about your second thoughts is very interesting, and often happens. We see one thing that jars -- and we generalize from that particular, and remember the whole picture that way. It's hard not to do!

The urante "Sleeping Beauty" is several generations away from the "Fonteyn" one, and the things that you all are noticing are things that those who complain about changes in company style often talk about. The classical dancing doesn't "sing" any more -- it often isn't, as Paul wrote, " brilliant and astonishing and feathery." Why? One theory -- a company dances in the language of its choreographer, moves the way that choreographer wants to move, and what became known as Royal Ballet style was Ashton style. They danced the 19th century classics very much the way they danced his contemporary neoclassical works. But he hasn't been around in awhile, and later choreographers, even those who, like MacMillan
used the classical vocabulary, didn't revel in that vocabulary for its own sake, and it's, if not a foreign language, at least a special, company-manners-accent now for the dancers.


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