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ABT Style


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 28 March 2003 - 11:34 AM

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


It's often said that ABT doesn't really have a style, not having had a formative choreographer with a body of works that defined the repertory or a school. It's sometimes said that ABT is a collection of different styles. However, there are company differences; the balletmasters don't say, "oh, just go out and do whatever you want." There may be some differences among dancers they don't smooth out, but I think there are other elements that the company does want in its classical dancing. (This could be discussed too, of course.)

#2 grace

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Posted 30 March 2003 - 01:16 AM

as somone who has never seen ABT live (gasp!), i would like to kick this off, with an observation that the ballerina cynthia harvey made, when she was dancing with the RB (having come from ABT): that in america 'it' was more about movement/dynamics, whereas in england it was more about positions. ...i cannot remember her comment word for word, so that will have to do - and without overanalysing the comment, i completely agree with her - from what i have seen.

the issue of VIRTUOSITY has been brought up elsewhere. i get the impression that ABT *IS* a virtuosic company - i.e. a company where virtuosity is highly regarded, and is considered marketable. is that a fair comment?

#3 vrsfanatic

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Posted 30 March 2003 - 04:29 AM

Are we discussing the current styles of these ballet companies?

#4 Calliope

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Posted 30 March 2003 - 04:32 AM

To me ABT has always been a mishmash of international styles.
They're not as "fast" as NYCB, but seeing as they rely more on storybook ballets, they're ability to emote is sharper.
this is far harder than I thought

#5 atm711

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Posted 31 March 2003 - 11:43 AM

I always find it ironic that since they added 'American' to their name (how long ago??)--it has become less so. When it was just 'Ballet Theatre', the 'theatre' part was emphasized. Why do I feel it is less American?--probably the influx of the Spanish and Russian contingent---they are not just guest artists (which Ballet Theatre always had)--they are HERE! IMO they have no distinctive style--anything goes.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 31 March 2003 - 12:17 PM

ATM, do you think the "no style" style was part of ABT at the beginning? In the 1970s and '80s, it seemed to be a ballerina-derived style -- both Gregory and Makarova were models. I wondered if during the Alonso, Markova and Kaye years one of those ballerinas was especially imitated?

#7 grace

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Posted 31 March 2003 - 10:37 PM

from a foreigner's perspective, ABT was the company that was like (modelled on?) a traditional 'european'-style american ballet company - in terms of the staffing, the repertoire, the heirarchy, the technique, etc... - while NYCB was the 'groundbreaking' american ballet company, which was taking the artform in one very particular direction.

by that, of course i do not mean to imply that ABT was NOT 'groundbreaking' - but rather that THEIR progressive efforts (ABT's) were progressive in the same way as the traditional european-style companies were progressing (such as: updating the narrative ballet form with new versions, and more 'risky' stories and more 'local' stories, experimenting with more abstract ballets, adding the odd humorous ballet, whatever/etc...)

hope that isn't too confusing to be understood...

of course another way to express it - or another distinction to make - is that ABT had/has the eclectic repertoire, similar to major european-style companies, while NYCB *was* ONE choreographer's company - a tool for his own expression (of americanism in...) ballet...

#8 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 01 April 2003 - 06:13 AM

Just a couple of thoughts about ABT in the past. During the years that I am most familiar with, especially the time that I was there, it seems to me that the eclectic repertoire was very much a part of "who they were", and it created the need for emploi among the dancers, especially the principal dancers. The roles danced by Toni Lander and Lupe Serrano were ususally different, although there were some crossovers there. But Ruth Ann Koesun and Sallie Wilson had their own roles, for the most part. Royes Fernandez was the classical prince, Bruce Marks the dramatic roles, Johnny Kriza the "Americana" roles or character roles, etc. There were often guest artists, usually in the very classical works. Erik Bruhn, Margot Fonteyn, Tallchief, and Nureyev all appeared during those years. Bruhn more extensively than others.

The corps de ballet were dancers who were well trained but not stylized in one particular method, and seemed to be able to dance Les Sylphides, La Sylphide, Swan Lake, as well as the Tudor rep, the DeMille rep, Billy the Kid, Caprichios, some Balanchine work, and even some Tetley work. Some might argue, but I felt that we were able to adapt to the style of Tudor as well as to the classics and neoclassics which we were given to dance. Dimitri Romanov coached Les Sylphides to the eyelash! :D Tudor coached his own work, as did DeMille, Loring, Ross, and Tetley. We did Robbins Les Noces too, which I will say was definitely one of the more challenging works for many of us!

So, I think, at least at that time, while there was "no style", it was intentional and it worked. IMO, of course, which is admittedly somewhat prejudiced! ;)

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 01 April 2003 - 07:58 AM

Grace, I'd switch your observations. The traditional European ballet company IS (or has been until recently) a one-choreographer company. Older ballets stayed in repertory, but when a new choreographer/balletmaster came in, he rechoreographed -- sometimes substantially, sometimes just by diddling, and often by patently stealing, in the 19th century -- works from other companies. Denmark, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Paris, as well as smaller companies, had one resident choreographer. There might be assistant choreographers, but they worked under the direction of a choreographer. In the 20th century, Britain's Royal Ballet did take in works of other choreographers (especially the Diaghilev repertory), but the big classical ballets were redone with choreography by the resident balletmaster. Even the Diaghilev Ballet had one choreographer -- at a time.

I know that Balanchine is often portrayed as existing solely to smash the bounds of ballet, but I've always seen NYCB as Balanchine's transplantation of his heritage to New York. They didn't do full-length ballets until he had a big enough theater for them, and he didn't have a theater bureaucracy and hierarchy, but he's still within that tradition -- and with a single style and aesthetic. ABT didn't start out imitating anybody -- that came later, in the 1960s, when it began to model itself on the Royal. The blueprint for ABT was to create a museum with different "wings" and, from the beginning, it was a conglomeration of choreographers, and I don't think that had ever been tried before.

#10 atm711

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Posted 01 April 2003 - 11:11 AM

Alexandra, in speaking of Alonso, Markova and Kaye, I'm not sure of what you mean by 'especially imitated'. At the time, Markova was the darling of the critics, but all three shared many roles. They all danced 'Giselle' (can you imagine the differences in that!). No one was concerned about emploi back then! Alonso was the most successful in her varied repertoire, she danced the classic repertoire plus Tudor and deMille---come to think of it, I don't recall her doing any Robbins. The Company was also fortunate at this time to have Rosella Hightower who IMO was the best Odette and Myrtha at the time, a genuine 'classical ballerina'.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 01 April 2003 - 11:28 AM

atm, by "especially imitated," I meant I wondered whether one of those ballerinas (or someone else) was a model for younger dancers and soloists, as happened with ABT when I started watching it with Makarova.

Thanks for reminding me that Hightower did Myrtha -- some awareness of emploi, at least. I never saw her dance, but she's on my Most Intriguing list from photos.

#12 BW

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Posted 27 September 2003 - 03:22 PM

A new season is coming in NYC. Perhaps there'll be more styles within this cosmopolitan company?


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