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spotting


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#1 pleiades

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Posted 30 December 2003 - 08:03 PM

I'm currently reading, and loving!, the Henning Kronstam biography and there are a number of intriguing points in it. One of them is that someone, oh God, now I don't remember who, taught the Royal Danish Ballet dancers to spot.

That got me thinking, what did they do before? Who invented spotting, and how did the notion of spotting spread and become incorporated into technique?

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 December 2003 - 08:17 PM

Before Vera Volkova, and even now when they're doing Bournonville correctly, the Danes didn't spot singles. And the doubles were only rudimentarily spotted. Pirouettes in arabesque and attitude (again singles) didn't get spotted at all because it would spoil the line. It's that way with attitude and arabesque pirouettes in the old Cecchetti System, too. Tough, but then, you're not supposed to be killing the turn, only just turning. Spotting really became more important after about 1860, when multiple turns and series of them came into demand because audiences wanted more virtuosity. Earlier ballet masters like Bournonville and St.-Léon would write to people like Petipa asking why he was incorporating such gymnastics and big lifts into his ballet and the answer was simple - "the public wants it".

#3 pleiades

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Posted 01 January 2004 - 09:12 PM

thank you very much.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 01 January 2004 - 09:20 PM

Thanks, pleiades!

Hans Brenaa brought spotting to the RDB from his studies with Egorova in Paris. Erik Bruhn said he spotted naturally, that no one taught him.

I love the little pieces of lore that indicate Bournonville deliberately put impediments in his teaching and other practices to discourage gymnastics -- no spotting, the turned in arms, the thread between the legs so the women wouldn't put their legs up too high.....you have to work hard to keep the public from getting what it wants!

#5 Paul Parish

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Posted 02 January 2004 - 01:40 AM

in the tape called 50 Bournonville enchainements, the lovely Rose Gad sdoes many many turns in sur-le-coup-de-pied (after entrechat, quatre, for example), doubles, without spotting, and will come down in fondu and glissade backwards or some such -- it's quite something to see hte accuracy in hte line achieved with so little vigilance in the demeanor......

#6 Susanne

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Posted 04 January 2004 - 03:49 AM

Does this mean that all the dancers at the Royal Danish Ballet do spot today? I imagine it might be difficult not to spot if you were taught that way ever since toddler years, as quite many dancers in the company aren't originally Bournonville-trained?

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 January 2004 - 01:53 PM

Alas, in the opinion of many, this writer included, there are NO dancers today in the Royal Danish Ballet who have been properly Bournonville-trained, including the ones from the school. They may have all the steps but not the music anymore. Bournonville is a severely endangered school and style. Some principals of the company have been able to rediscover the style, but the school as a whole is still threatened.

And yes, all the RDB dancers spot now. Unless they're told not to. They also do double pirouettes on pointe.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 04 January 2004 - 02:19 PM

I think there are some Danish dancers still dancing who have had proper Bournonville training including the musicality -- Rose Gad, previously mentioned on this thread among them. Training certainly has been eratic during the past decade, but Anne Marie Vessel Schlutter has been head of the school throughout the Time of Truobles and she does care about the Bournonville style, and is knowledgeable about it. And I think now they're looking at it consciously.

They stopped teaching the Bournonville Schools in the company in 1931 and in the school in 1949. Since 1951 (when Volkova came) the teachers incorporated Bournonville steps in their classes, but did not teach the set schools which, I believe, Beck had codified to be used in times when there wasn't a teacher of the caliber of Volkova -- and later Brenaa and Kronstam.

The Danes have been working on a syllabus, or talking about working on a syllabus, for decades, and somehow it's never happened -- there are so many different strains of opinion in that company. I think they're working on it again.

On spotting, they may well spot in some ballets and not in others -- the head positions in some Bournonville enchainements may preclude spotting? Just a thought, and I'll ask the next time I have the chance to.

#9 Amy Reusch

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Posted 04 January 2004 - 09:58 PM

They stopped teaching the Bournonville Schools in the company in 1931 and in the school in 1949. Since 1951 (when Volkova came) the teachers incorporated Bournonville steps in their classes, but did not teach the set schools which, I believe, Beck had codified to be used in times when there wasn't a teacher of the caliber of Volkova -- and later Brenaa and Kronstam.


You use the word "schools". What are those? Set classes? Or were there different "schools" of training for men vs. women? I'm curious.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 January 2004 - 04:17 AM

The Bournonville "schools" are a syllabization of Bournonville's classes and are divided into days of the week. Monday, Tuesday, etc., and every class is unusually long. During the course of each is a repetition of a portion of a monstrous combination called the "dark step", which is finally done in its entirety on Saturday. In Bournonville's day, the classes were given in an ungraded manner, that is, everyone from the newest aspirant to the most senior ballerina did the same class all together.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 05 January 2004 - 08:54 AM

In addition to what Mel wrote, they aren't a syllabus as we know that today, although each "day" focused on something different (Tuesday, if I'm remembering correctly, is to build strength, for example). There's a lot of Bournonville's choreography in them -- it was a way of keeping the ballets. (Konservatoriet, for example, as well as Flower Festival). Eventually, each combination acquired the name of a dancer who did it particularly well, or particularly ill, and this was the way the children in the dancing school learned about the company's history.

Most intriguing to me there's a Seventh School, "the Sunday School," compiled by Karl Merrild well after Beck, which contained HIS favorite variations. Apparently it is now lost. (Merrild retired in 1949.)

#12 Amy Reusch

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Posted 05 January 2004 - 09:04 PM

So.... just to understand the term... Monday is a "school", Tuesday is a "school" and so on until Saturday?

Mel, when you say "unusually long", what do you mean? Two hours instead of 90 minute? 3?

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 03:57 AM

If you were to do everything in each "school", the class would last three hours.

#14 Amy Reusch

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 09:27 PM

Did they really give 3 hour long classes? Or did they do sort of "abridged" versions of each school, varying from week to week on what was kept in? I guess I've read somewhere about incredibly long classes Taglioni gave Marie... they were sort of contemporary with Bournonville, right? Was that the norm back then? Do we have records of how long ballet classes were in Petipa's day?

They stopped teaching the Bournonville Schools in the company in 1931 and in the school in 1949.


So Erik Bruhn, born in 1928 would have been trained in the schools? And that famous NYCB/SAB teacher, Stanley Williams, how about him? Is there anything in print from Bruhn about his training? I'm always curious about Bournonville because there is so little of it in the training in the United States... we have something I've heard called a Bournonville grand jete with Bournonville armes, but other than that, I rarely hear anything about it. I tried to get Nikolaj Hubbe to open up about it during a master class here in Hartford, but he said the class he gave was more reflective of Balanchine technique than Bournonville. He did tell us a little about the culture of the school, but didn't elaborate at all on differences in technique or style. Now I wonder if that is because he wasn't truly trained in Bournonville if the Royal Danish ballet school wasn't giving the "schools" for so many decades before his birth.

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 10:11 PM

The classes weren't three hours long. They weren't given on the name day of the week either. The children's classes would do Monday class for a few days "until the teacher felt we made some progress" and then move on to Tuesday. Bruhn was trained in those classes. Everyone through Niels Kehlet and Flemming Flindt -- they'd be one of the last who had contact with those classes before the school was trained. I deal with the training system extensively in my biography of Kronstam :D

Yes, Hubbe was trained in Bournonville. You don't have to take "the schools" to get Bournonville training. From 1950 on, the teachers -- Volkova, Williams, Brenaa, Kronstam -- would use Bournonville steps and enchainements in their teaching. Volkova would concentrate on the preparatory work needed for a step, and expanded the classes in that way. There were always Bournonville classes of some sort, I think; I doubt there was a season without them, so that the dancers could stay in touch with them. There is a generation that didn't know the shcools by heart -- didn't know that the steps they were doing came from Thursday's class, say, but that doesn't mean they didn't know the steps or weren't trained in the style.


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