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Alexandra

Robert Gottlieb reviews the Maryinsky's Balanchine

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Copied from today's Links:

Robert Gottlieb goes to St. Petersburg and sees the Maryinsky/Kirov and Perm Ballets dance Balanchine.

The real question isn’t how many Balanchine ballets they’re doing, but how they’re doing them. And the answer is mixed. A case in point: Their current Prodigal Son has some very peculiar touches—at the beginning, for instance, the Father makes a series of irritating fussy gestures over his children’s heads as he’s blessing them. Was this the idea of Karin von Aroldingen and Paul Boos, who staged it? I doubt it. Or is it a bit of scene-stealing by the famous character dancer Vladimir Ponomarev? As for Mikhail Lobukhin, the Prodigal, who encouraged him to be so relentlessly randy? This wasn’t a naïve kid mesmerized by the Siren, or awed by her, or scared of her; he was just hot to trot. Well, maybe, but that’s not the way Jerome Robbins or Francisco Moncion or Edward Villella saw it—and from the photographic and written evidence, it’s certainly not what the original Prodigal, the somewhat epicene Serge Lifar, was all about. There are well-meaning and capable coaches at the Maryinsky responsible for monitoring the Balanchine repertory after the balletmasters sent by the Balanchine Trust to stage works have come and gone, but do they know enough about a ballet like Prodigal to intervene in such matters? And do they have the necessary authority?

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Thanks for highlighting this, Alexandra. A great read, even if it is from the Balanchine-centred side, but what a relief to find something different than the usual "how-superb-the-Kirov-is-in-Balanchine" fare.

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I wondered how it would be read. I think it's valuable, and always interesting (if you're thick skinned!) to read a knowledgeable visitor's view of one's home company, so I wondered what St. Petersburgians would think.

I thought Gottlieb's comments about the Father's added gestures was very telling about an aesthetic difference. My guess is that in Russia (and elsewhere) this would be considered an interesting enhancement, one that might become Text and might not, depending on the role's next inhabitant. In NY, one sticks to the Text. I'm not saying either is right or wrong, but varying something in Balanchine would be regarded as heresy by some -- even those who might happily accept the Maryinsky's current stagings of Petipa (the old/new ones, not the new/old ones :) ) which have been enhanced out the wazoo, as we might say here.

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I find his conclusion interesting:

The artistic miracle would be the absorption by the Russians of his approach to dance. It’s what they should be aiming at, and it should be achievable: After all, Balanchine didn’t turn away from his Russian training, he amplified and modernized it. They don’t have to totally reinvent themselves; they just need to catch up.

OK, saying this as a NYCB-phile, I disagree with this entirely. They should not be aiming to absorb his approach as much as be open to exposure to it. And I don't regard Balanchine as the final evolution point for all ballet companies. They don't need to catch up. There are plenty of ways in which our training needs to catch up to theirs. For great companies, as long as it doesn't utterly contradict the ballet, let them do Balanchine with their own native accent. The ballets can handle it just fine.

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Could not agree with you more, Leigh.

Edited by Daron

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For great companies, as long as it doesn't utterly contradict the ballet, let them do Balanchine with their own native accent.  The ballets can handle it just fine.

This is something I have felt for a long time and it should be encouraged. It is refreshing to see his ballets with another accent and a softer edge.

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As Leigh's, Daron's, and atm's posts indicate, Balanchine fans seem willing to accept performances of his ballets that are danced in the "accent" of the company doing them. So why isn't the reverse true? Why, when NYCB does Petipa, do Petipa fans complain about the NYCB "accent" in the performances?

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Well, first, I don't think it's a general opinion that all Balanchine fans accept other accents -- and it's certainly not the written record (and it hasn't been the general voice on this board, either!). Secondly, I think there's a difference among the complaints -- there are matters of accent, and matters of language and grammar, if you will. There's always an elasticity (unless you take the view that the works can be danced only in the style of the original) but what is permissible stretching, and what snapping the elastic in two? If a company turned Agon into a Romantic idyll, or danced it with soft arms or gave us a Davidsbundlertanze with bouncy leaps and sunny grins, I'd say that would be too far a diversion, more a misreading than a matter of stylistic difference. The complaints about NYCB's Sleeping Beauty, especially lately, that I've read have been a lack of polish in the dancing, and I don't think that's inappropriate in a ballet that's been regarded, throughout it's life, as a statement about classical style. I think, also, that there have been more "Petipa fan" complaints about NYCB's Swan Lake than the Sleeping Beauty. And both productions are post-Balanchine, so that muddies the waters too.

A lot of it is simply the old What We're Used To question, and its cousin, anything my company does is fine. But beyond that, there are real distinctions and it's interesting to try to figure them out. I saw a TV show of Ashton rehearsing Monotones where he was determined to get what he called "the geometry" right -- it was Monotones II, and the three dancers were standing, side by side, arms en courone, elbows joined; the joining HAD to be at the crook of the elbow, and Ashton was upset because one man was about a half-inch off. That ballet originally had been very much about proportions: when the woman was on pointe, all three dancers were at the same height.

This might not matter at all in another choreographer's work. Another example, the Danes had no problem putting some dances for women that had been originally demi-pointe on half pointe, but the arms MUST be kept down. That latter point was not negotiable; it was considered intrinsic to the work, so it would not be acceptable for a foreign company to dance with free or raised arms.

We discussed whether NYCB "should" do "Swan Lake" about a year ago, I thiink; I looked for the thread to link to it, but couldn't find it. If this exchange inspires a discussion of that topic, I'd suggest whoever is interested post another thread, in Aesthetic Issues, perhaps, so that we could discuss the topic generally, and keep this thread for the Gottlieb article on the Kirov.

Edited by Alexandra

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It's funny about the father's arms, because as I was watching Arizona Ballet's production of Prodigal Son a couple of weekends ago, I thought they seemed unusually fussy, and, as a result, overbearing. It was one of the details that made me feel empathy with Prodigal. Paul Boos was a stager (with Ib Andersen) of the AB production as well.

In Mozartiana there's a gesture in the opening movement where the ballerina frames her face with her arms with her wrists crossed slightly to the side. Farrell said that Balanchine pointed out a painting at the church where Farrell worshipped and told her he based a gesture in the ballet on the painting, and I think it was this one. I thought that one of the gestures the father used was similar, so I'm wondering if it is iconic.

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I've never complained!

Let them all dance well Petipa and Balanchine alike. What a pleasure to see those great dancers cross the borders of their training! But, please, let us not distort the choreography and the aesthetics.

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I think the full-length -- and one-act, too -- Swan Lake that NYCB dances were conceived as vehicles to suit the company and not intended to extend the dancers' stylistic range significantly. The full-length neither looks nor feels like a traditional Swan Lake (which raises the question, Kirov excepted, which ones do these days?), because it was designed to give viewers a sense of Swan Lake but also a feeling of Today.

Let them all dance well Petipa and Balanchine alike. What a pleasure to see those great dancers cross the borders of their training! But, please, let us not distort the choreography and the aesthetics.

Where do we cross the line between a shift of accent and a distortion of aesthetics?

I think the point of dancing the great choreography has something to do with the challenge of mastering its style. (Another spectrum question.) How much of its style and exactly what aspects of that style, are necessary for the performance to be artistically valid? :shrug:

I'm getting dizzy. :dizzy:

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I think the full-length -- and one-act, too -- Swan Lake that NYCB dances were conceived as vehicles to suit the company and not intended to extend the dancers' stylistic range significantly.  The full-length neither looks nor feels like a traditional Swan Lake (which raises the question, Kirov excepted, which ones do these days?), because it was designed to give viewers a sense of Swan Lake but also a feeling of Today.

Let them all dance well Petipa and Balanchine alike. What a pleasure to see those great dancers cross the borders of their training! But, please, let us not distort the choreography and the aesthetics.

Where do we cross the line between a shift of accent and a distortion of aesthetics?

I think the point of dancing the great choreography has something to do with the challenge of mastering its style. (Another spectrum question.) How much of its style and exactly what aspects of that style, are necessary for the performance to be artistically valid? :shrug:

I'm getting dizzy. :dizzy:

Those are tough questions to answer. Time and training may be variables here.

Time - as in to really learn and absorb the ballets, for more than just a few days or weeks of rehearsal, with a quick festival (ie. 3-4 days vs. the old ones that

Balanchine used to present, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Ravel). For the Maryinsky this is a repertory scheduling issue. Training is another issue beacuse the Vaganova system cuts the body in half horizontally, and SAB cuts the body in half vertically. If M. Ashley gives class at the Kirov, its safe to assume she's going to teach what and how she learned it from the master. The trick is to make the Maryinsky body unlearn what it has learned, speed up, not emote and be individual. The Kirov is trained to fully express with their upper bodies, emote, perpetually prepare combinations, and think 'story,' and 'ensemble.' When NYCB dances the full length SL or SL Act 2, its going to be likewise different for the same reasons, with the opposite effect because of the schooling. Interpretation is a coaching issue. Expect to see a difference in performance style when they swap works. Gottlieb's quest for 'The Complete, Authentic, Historic, Aesthetic and Politically Correct Balanchine Performance' from the Kirov is kind of, well, unfair at this point.

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There’s at least one Balanchine fan who does not accept that Balanchine is danced with the local “accent”, and he is the author of the article we’re considering.

One is bound to disagree with certain of Robert Gottlieb’s points (to put it mildly :wink: ), but where to my mind he hits the ball right is by stressing that it takes a bit more time to get to Balanchine than the Mariinsky and also the Bolshoi are allowing themselves – regardless of how “authentic” one thinks Balanchine should be performed – it is still "Concerto Barocco" and not "Chopiniana". Secondly, I think Gottlieb rightly questions the knowledge and the authority of the “local” coaches after the Balanchine ballet masters have left the building. How safe is it to be coached by someone who never danced Balanchine himself?

Some good examples of how far Alexandra’s elasticity can go, were given by the Bolshoi Ballet, recently returning to Balanchine as well. When I saw this program ("Concert Barocco", "Tarantella", "Agon", "Symphony in C") last May, it struck me how some of them seem to find a story in everything. A duet in "Agon" was turned into a straight declaration of love by the flirtatious behaviour of Shipulina, while Nadezhda’s Gracheva 2nd movement in "Symphony in C" was a clear alternate take on "Swan Lake", Liebestod and all included. And that’s where the elastic snapped in two for me – no matter how "good" the performances might have been on their own.

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Not having seen the performances of the Kirov in question (for that matter I have not seen the Kirov in almost 7 years) however, I do have a few quick questions! :) And perhaps some not so quick comments.

Cygnet, could you please explain what you mean here? I am not quite sure I understand what you mean.

...Training is another issue beacuse the Vaganova system cuts the body in half horizontally, and SAB cuts the body in half vertically...

and

...but do they know enough about a ballet like Prodigal to intervene in such matters? And do they have the necessary authority?...
... I think Gottlieb rightly questions the knowledge and the authority of the “local” coaches after the Balanchine ballet masters have left the building. How safe is it to be coached by someone who never danced Balanchine himself?...

If this is being questioned regarding Kirov dancers performing Balanchine then perhaps it also could be questioned for dancers everywhere dancing many ballets they are rehearsed in, by coaches who also have never performed various ballets? It is actually a very common practice within the ballet world to have coaches who have never performed ballets by various choreographers. Many choreographers and Directors even present to the audience their versions of standard classical works that they themselves have never performed. Not saying this is wrong, just that it is done by many.

While studying in Vaganova Academy, I had the distinct pleasure of watching I. Zubkovskaya reconstruct the female variation from Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux for one of her seventh year students to perform in the small theatre in the school (not a public performance). I assumed she learned it from video (my guess would be the G. Kirkland). I never asked, I just sat quietly watching day after day as she taught her student. It was a most interesting process indeed. Many things were alien to them from the musicality, to arm movements and steps. Speed was not a problem actually since the seventh year program requires lightening fast foot work at the barre and in the centre. The way the actual steps are combined was a challenge however. Just as taking class with a different teacher is something to adjust to for a dancer, so is becoming acustom to the way a particular choreographer combines steps to create the movement.

There were a few rehearsals that the Artistic Director, I. Belsky, came to watch (upstairs, in Rep Zal, where unless you get all the way upstage in the studio and look up you could not see who is watching). It was interesting to sit there quietly with Mr. Belsky commenting to me periodically about the movement. There I was, some sort of American/Balanchine trained dancer/teacher thinking about the mistakes and the things they just did not know about Balanchine training when all of a sudden, Mr. Belsky blurts out, "no, no,no that is all wrong." And you know what, he was all right! I do not remember what it was exactly (this was almost 10 years ago) but I do remember that what he said amazed me since I could never figure out how he would have known the right way to fix it! There was a 21 year age difference between the two men. The point I am trying to make is that sometimes ballet masters and coaches just may know and sometimes they do not. Sometimes they have the authority and sometimes they do not. Sometimes dancers take it upon themselves to "put something in" out of the blue that was never rehearsed. And often times, dancers do not do what the coaches ask them to do. Ballet is a living breathing artform. The dancers and the coaches all need time to develop in all roles in all ballets. One of the first things my teachers, J. Schneider, J. Cunova and Valentina V. Rumyanseva, asked me when I began to study Vaganova pedagogy was why are you doing this? What were my intentions? Over the 10 years of study, the answer evolved. Madame Cunova and Madame Rumyanseva used to tell me, you cannot make your dancers like Mariinsky dancers because of the cultural differences. Help your students to retain their national identity, but give them the tools to work as dancers for all choreographers. All they will need is time and then there will be another generation of dancers, critics and balletomanes who will discuss endlessly the various aspects of this that or the other. These conversations will always take place, thank goodness. Do we get further way from what was originally intended? I, for one, will never know, but aren't we at a lucky time in the developement of ballet that we can actually be involved in this remarkable period in history when all dancers are free again to learn everything that is out there?

:D:wink:

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Where do we cross the line between a shift of accent and a distortion of aesthetics?

I think the point of dancing the great choreography has something to do with the challenge of mastering its style.  (Another spectrum question.)  How much of its style and exactly what aspects of that style, are necessary for the performance to be artistically valid?  :shrug:

Let's see if we can pin this down. Marc has already given one example of the elastic snapping (for him) -- when the Bolshoi danced Agon and Bizet as though these ballets had a narrative. Can anyone else give other examples of crossing the line between maintaining a company's own style and rendering an unfamiliar choreographer's work faithlessly?

I can think of one. In the Diamonds scherzo, there's a moment when the four female demis are dancing alone, in a horizontal line, far downstage. At one point they are supposed to extend their right hips gently. When done properly, and to that music, the effect is one of great elegance and sophistication. But the movement went against the dancers' training, which is very straight up and down. Now this aspect of Kirov style, when applied to their native works, is beautiful and gratifying, but straight up and down is not what Balanchine is about at all. The Kirovians couldn't do the movement; one or two of the dancers looked like they were trying to jut out their hips (which is not what is called for at all) but couldn't; the others didn't even try. As a result, Balanchine's choreography was lost.

So, this raises two questions: is dancing Balanchine in a straight up and down fashion an acceptable native "accent" (my own opinion is that it's not, but I'm open to hearing others :wink: ) and if not, is it fair to expect the dancers to be able to master the looser Balanchine style? Can they extend their hips in Diamonds and keep them strictly in line in Swan Lake?

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Balanchine expected his ballets to look 'different' when he was no longer around---but they also looked 'different' when he was around. They changed and evolved during his lifetime. Gottlieb seems to want to put Balanchine into the proverbial 'box'. I have been looking at Balanchine ballets for 60 years (good grief, did I really say that :wink: ) and they looked good then on non-balanchine dancers and will continue to do so---no Balanchine fan is advocating wholesale changes---just a bit of subtlety.

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There are so many good points on this thread -- Cygnet, or someone, I hope you will explain about the vertical/horizontal question. It's something I've often heard, but would like to read more about. (Leigh, Paul?)

Marc, thank you for those comments. I think the "looking for a story" is one problem, although that's a line too. I'd agree with you about Agon, but I liked their hints of a story in Diamonds; I thought it was in bounds. (To take Ari's goose/gander point made earlier, though, Western audiences have gotten used to the Petipa pas de deux being danced without any hint of a story, or relationship of any kind between the two dancers. That's just ballet today, to some.)

Ari, my one example would be the Villella role in "Rubies." In both casts I saw when the Kirov danced this in Washington, that role was done DEMICARACTERE!!!!!!!! It was a Jester part. I found Ari's "Diamonds" example very interesting. That would drive me crazy if NYCB were doing it; I'm not sure it would in another company. If the dancers can only do the movement by exaggeration, is it better not to try? At least not this year? On the other hand, if the hip thrusts are ironed out, is it Balanchine? And is it inevitable. I remember an older critic telling me that onceuponatime ABT danced "Les Sylphides" like Fokine, not like Swan Lake Act II. You could really tell a difference in style. Now that has become a sort of generic "classical/romantic" style. Is that what happens to dance, inevitably? Look at the way 19th century curved line, with the arm shielding the face, became straightened and then stretched. There are some people still screaming about that -- but if Giselle came out with 19th century arms, would a 21st century audience accept it?

That's another consideration. Audiences. In those old houses, they take the audience into account, too, know what is expected and what accepted. To go back to my Rubies point, we might see the Jester Rubies Man as a red hot glaring misinterpretation, but a Kirov audience might see an NYCB-pure, seal of approval dancer in that role as too bland.

vrs, I agree with you about ballet masters -- there are some who can stage something they've never seen, much less never danced. About 2 a generation in the world, but they exist :wink: Unfortunately, you're also right about the current practice of a ballet master staging one of the major classics without having danced in it, or having any familiarity with the ballet or the aesthetic. To me, this is one of the main signs of trouble in ballet today; it's something that would not have been tolerated during the high water mark of ballet in this century. It's a throwback to 18th and 19th century practices of anyone coming into town, throwing up a ballet, calling it by the same name as a big hit in Paris. It's provincial in the bad sense of the term.

atm's point about not putting Balanchine in a box is a good one -- he did change, and change radically. Depending on what? Depending on the dancers? On who was available? On who he wanted? Look at Apollo -- from wild boy demicaractere role, with Balanchine saying in an interview that he absolutely did not want an Apollo Belvidere, to.... a very classical Apollo Belvidere. Followed by something a bit in between. Which is "right"? How is a foreign ballet master to cope with that one?

Which brings us back to the elastic. For us, as viewers, we'll all have a different standard. But what we're trying to get at, I think, is what the balletmasters' standards are, how they view the elastic.

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The question I usually ask is, are they learning and striving to learn and master the style and technique? If I see a bunch of primas happy with imposing their own style and mannerisms on the ballets, I'm not going to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they look like they're striving for the wrong thing -- something other than native their technique, but totally off -- then I start to stew against their coaches/stagers. If they look like they're trying, and this is the case for a lot of smaller US companies which get their first Balanchine ballets, then it's like watching a journey. Balanchine himself would tell dancers that "in X years" they would get it, and most of them were hand-picked and trained in his school.

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I think there's a big difference between the few companies with a clearly defined style (the Kirov, POB, the Bolshoi, et al.) and everyone else (apologies to everyone else.) If a company does not have an institutional style of its own, it should try to dance as close to the Balanchine style as possible. In companies that have their own tradition to bring usefully to the table, I want to see the dancers make an effort to meet the ballet without losing their own identity.

The lines crossed are soft, rather than hard. The ABT Balanchine evening was a good example for me. There's nothing wrong with Dvorovenko dancing Tschaikovsky Pas in her native style. . .until she deletes the sissones in the coda. To me, that's one of the steps that you have to do. There's nothing wrong with Ananiashvili's overly soulful Mozartiana; I don't prefer it, but it's valid. There is something wrong with Ananiashvili doing White Swan in one corner, Corella doing Basilio in another and the corps somewhere anonymously in the middle. Of all the styles, many styles/no style is the worst.

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I would like to know how this is viewed in St. Petersburg. The audience, at least at one time, knew exactly what the style was, and what they wanted to see. (I remember reading that when Nureyev first went up on high three-quarter point this caused a month of discussion in the coffee shops.)

Maybe this is the ultimate solution to what is permissible and what is not: it depends on what your definition of "it" is. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.) The more clearly "it" is defined, the more everyone -- artistic staff, dancers, audience -- are in sync with this, then the tighter the style. Then we get to atm's point above, that it can't be a box (I agree with that).

It would all be so much easier if we could trust the artistic direction :wink:

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Balanchine expected his ballets to look 'different' when he was no longer around---but they also looked 'different' when he was around. They changed and evolved during his lifetime.

Yes, they did look different during Balanchine's lifetime, but back then he was still around and able to judge what was acceptable and make alterations, if he wished (and, as atm says, he often did). The challenge facing his heirs is deciding where to draw the line. There may be several different ways in which to dance a Balanchine ballet authentically or to solve a problem a dancer may be having with a Balanchine ballet, but determining what those parameters are is the task that the Trust is facing right now. To that extent, yes, it is "putting Balanchine in a box." Maybe it's hopeless; perhaps, as Alexandra says, the style will inevitably die out. That's what Balanchine meant when he said that he expected his ballets to look different after he was gone -- he said something like, "Oh, in the future people will all have a hole, and they'll go around being proud of their hole." But that doesn't mean we have to cave in. The issue of what constitutes Balanchine style is particularly acute now, when those staging Balanchine works are still those who have first-hand experience of working with the choreographer. Fifty years from now, stagers will look to their work for guidance.

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You know, I can't remember, who, what, when or where, but years ago I too heard that phrase about 'horizontal' and 'vertical' aspects of the two systems. Here goes. Horizontal? My thought is that the upper body is taught from day one to sing and address the heavens while the lower limbs are taught to execute the steps in a very formal (academic) way. Vertical? The arms, legs and feet are taught to move with the greatest mobility with the main emphasis on speed. Makarova once said in that she would always want the tempo slow enough to (sic) "make body to sing." Whereas Balanchine could calculate how many minutes it would take to dance a work. This is probably as clear as mud. Its hard for me to explain; I defer to vrsfanatic's experience at the V Academy. Am I

in the ballpark or completely in outer space? :wink:

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I think you're in the ballpark, especially about the horizontal. I would argue, though, that there are other schools that integrate the upper and lower body. (And just because a dancer, as many do, says that the legs carry the rhythm and the arms the melody doesn't mean the two halves are working against each other.)

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I can't recall where I read it, but I'm rather sure that Balanchine also "split" the body mentally on the vertical. Not the horizontal.

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Leigh, I think Cygnet said that -- that Balanchine split the body along the vertical, Vaganova on the horizontal.

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