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BIGGER and glitter dusta few thoughts on coaching


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 07:11 AM

I spoke with a retired Danish dancer last night, who made a comment that struck me as so profound that I wanted to post it (I have the dancer's permission, as long as there's no attribution).

He had read in the Danish press a review with some of the principals in the new production of "La Sylphide" and one mentioned that the dancers had been instructed to ACT (not dance, at least not in this context) bigger. And the dancer I spoke to said he thought that wouldn't work -- wouldn't produce the effect desired. There had been a comment by one of the Danish critics that the production was a bit light. "Of course" -- and this is the profound part. "If you're going for bigger, you'll never get it to look dark, because it will be fake and people can sense that." Spoken like a true son of Hans B :)

Often coaches say BIGGER because they know something isn't working the way they want it, and they don't know how to solve it any other way.

It reminded me of a story I heard once from someone who had been watching rehearsals (not in Denmark, of another company completely) and everyone could tell that the ballet -- a cheery one -- was flat. The ballet had no internal life, the kind of life that a skilled coach can give a work. But the present coach was not as skilled. He knew something was wrong, but didn't know what it was. BIGGER. BIGGER!!!!!! And then, finally, he had the bright idea to shower glitter dust on the dancers to make the dancing brighter.

One of the things you'll hear Danish dancers say constantly is "it must come from the inside." They all know that, but getting it to happen is something else again.

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 08:00 AM

There are ways and ways of acting. The nineteenth-century prevailing style was a sort of external method. You put a part on and take it off like a coat. The acting is very broad, and if you speak, declamation comes out. Today's standards would call it "hammy".

Bournonville seems to have presaged Stanislavsky in making the character take on an internal life. It's not something that can be removed from the person, but a part of the sum of his/her life experiences and emotional reserves. There are many tools for accessing these valuable resources, and coaches should be aware of the work that Stanislavsky did in providing a framework for acting. An Actor Prepares is basic reading, but relatively few pick up his later book, Building a Character. Robert Lewis' excellent series of lectures, Method-or Madness? is also terrific for exploring ways for actors to do a better, richer job, not necessarily a bigger job. (HINT: Click Amazon banner)

#3 Michael

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 08:06 AM

There is a big need pretty much everywhere these days for Stagers or Directors. The things you are trying to convey are things that pertain to staging ballets at the direction level, I think.

When we see a fine production, say the recent one of Fille at ABT, it is almost always because someone like Alexander Grant knew what was needed and conveyed it to the company. Mostly it's a one shot thing, however, someone brought in for a specific production of which they have knowledge and who then disappears. But to consistently have that kind of quality in a company, you need this sort of hands-on-production-shaping at the direction level on a daily basis, or at least someone competent consistently doing a series of stagings as an assistant ballet master.

Perhaps I shouldn't generalize too completely, but it seems to me that the young dancers I've met are often a rather insecure and not too deeply educated (with respect to ballet history and performing traditions in particular) group of people. They are often kids who have spent years staring at themselves in the mirror trying to perceive minute imperfections which you or I cannot even imagine, and they seem to need to be told what to do and who to be on stage. It doesn't seem that they receive very much of what they need in this respect.

Forgetting about new work, one might argue that there is nothing in the existing huge repertory of classical dance that couldn't be made to look and feel very brilliant if there was consistent direction to stage it properly.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 08:17 AM

Mel wrote:

There are ways and ways of acting. The nineteenth-century prevailing style was a sort of external method. You put a part on and take it off like a coat. The acting is very broad, and if you speak, declamation comes out. Today's standards would call it "hammy".

Bournonville seems to have presaged Stanislavsky in making the character take on an internal life.


Actually, I think Bournonville was from the Hammy School. The Stanislavsky style came in in the 1930s, because the Royal Theater's school taught Stanislavsky classes and several of the Danish dancers took those classes. One of them, the great (great great) Gerda Karstens also taught repertory to the aspirants.

So the two lines -- I call them the Innies (Karstens-Stanislavsky) and the Outies (the 19th century declamatory style) -- coexist at the RDB. There have been great artists, and not so great ones, in both groups, so it's not always a matter of quality -- Niels Bjorn Larsen was of the old, external school, but he was top of the line. (The Danes of whatever party will always tell you that it must come from the inside, but some are better at doing that than others :) "They know they should say that!" as one stager told me.)

Michael wrote:

Forgetting about new work, one might argue that there is nothing in the existing huge repertory of classical dance that couldn't be made to look and feel very brilliant if there was consistent direction to stage it properly.


I'd be happy for new work, but when it comes to the existing repertory, I totally agree with you. The tragedy to me, watching Periods of Rot (we're in one right now) is that things are being carted off to the trash that are treasures. Since they're dances, that trip to the trash is a one-way ticket to oblivion. They're not paintings that can be stored in the attic and rediscovered a hundred years from now by someone with eyes.

#5 diane

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 08:21 AM

I agree, Michael.

I often have the impression that some /many of the dancers I see don't know why they are doing something.
If _they_ don't know, and don't believe in it, how is the audience to be expected to?

Mr. Johnson,
Is the Stanislavsky approach the "method-acting" one?
Yes, that has changed things.

My husband has been an actor - a stage actor - for nearly 30 years.
What these types of actors have to have is a technique which can be relied upon to function night for night, (and often several times a day for double or triple performances) much the way dancers have to rely on their bodies to function.

And, it has to be able to be perceived from the third balcony.

That makes the nuances one sees on film, for example, impossible.

It would be ideal to have it all come from within.
With the right coaching, that can happen a lot of the time.

Sometimes, though, that is not possible. We are not machines.
Then we need to be able to make it work. Right then.

But, I have gotten a bit off topic. Sorry. :shrug: :)

-d-

#6 Effy

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 08:42 AM

If the present production of La Sylphide seems lighter it is because the dancers and Nicolai Hubbe has chosen to play the parts young and innocent, rather than dramatic and profound. To a certain degree it looks somewhat like Hubbe and Rose Gad danced the parts when they won the European competition for young dancers. When Hubbe himself last danced James it was the full hammer dramatic approach to the part, but I sense that his conception is that this interpretation would not suit Thomas Lund, whom he coached to a more lyrical interpretation. Regarding the dancing Hubbe has stessed the dramatic elements in the dancing.

As you rightly point out there are the external and the internal Bournonville performers, but in spite of the full drama approach chosen by his own james, Hubbe is very much in the internal corner, with James like Kronstam, Villumsen and others. He is handicaped by not having the greatest madge of the all, Sorella Englund for his disposal, and he is left with a couple of madges who have yet to reach their final intrepretation of therole.

On the dancing there are also two schools which you can call small and large. The small dancers include Dinna Bjørn, Lis Jeppesen, Henriette Muus etc. the large school includes Arne Villumsen, Ib Andersen, Mette-Ida Kirk, Silja Schandorff, Christina Olsson, Kenneth Greve, Nicolai Hubbe, Gudrun Bojesen, Mads Blangstrup etc The first group want to keep Bournonville in a very thight register. The latter expands and danced full out with more energy and line. Lis Jeppesen is external - small, which almost killed her Birthe. My preferance is for the combination Internal-large. There is also a third scool which can be descriped as "faking it" but do not get me started on that subject

#7 aspirant

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 12:20 PM

With this current Hübbe production, I'd have to say that one of the most interesting points for me is watching the "newbies" fit themselves into their roles. Amy Watson, for example, has to be a bit petrified to come up against such huge Bournonville history at this career changing point in her life. She seems to be figuring it out, though occasionally it seems a bit talk here, dance here, talk here again. I have yet to see Caroline Cavallo, but I am interested as she has many more years of Bournonville under her belt to draw from.


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