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Alexandra

Robert Gottlieb reviews the Maryinsky's Balanchine

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Horizontal? ...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...

Having studied both "ways to dance" Balanchine, as a student, Vaganova, as a teacher, I cannot say that I am following what the actual difference is in terms of movement quality.

It is true that Vaganova training does teach the usage of arms, legs, and head from the beginning of training. I just do not see what that has to do with horizontal. As for vertical relating to speed and mobility, again I do not get it. Both groups of dancers are extremely mobile and both groups of dancers can move quickly, but in different ways. What does that have to do with vertical versus horizontal? I really do want to understand this idea because I have heard it before, but I just do not get it. Maybe I just need to accept that I do not get it. :shrug:

Thanks for trying to explain it though. :)

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I'd like to understand it too, vrs. I've also heard it, and I've put it to a misunderstanding. It's often said about Bournonville that the legs and upper body are separate (legs fast, arms doing nothing) but, in my experience watching, that's only true of dancers who would look stiff in any style. Medium to fine Danish dancers, in Bournonville or anything else, dance with the whole body. The arms are down, but the upper body is not at all lifeless. I don't see the bifurcation in Russian dancers, either Kirov or Bolshoi, either. And finally, I don't see that either "horizontal" or "vertical" is superior. When I've heard the "It was Balanchine who divided the body along the vertical, not the horizontal," it's always said in a way that applies "Aha! A major advance!!" Why? Isn't dancing with the whole body better than dancing with half of it, whether a west/east or a north/south divide?

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This might help the discussion---it is from my trusty "Dance Encyclopedia" ed. Anatole Chujoy, 1949--it is an excerpt from a 1,000 word article written by Balanchine:

"All ballet positions are based on two principles: the horizontal alignment of each movement in space, and the vertical balance of the human figure. The alignment is an invisible horizontal line on which the dance is built; it extends unbroken from the point where the dance b egins to where it ends. Upon it the movements of the dancers exist, as upon a thread or a string of pearls is held.

The vertical balance of the human figure is tghe basis of the positions from which every ballet movement originates and in which every ballet movement ends. In the five initial positions the body is balanced on both feet. When a movement is started with one foot from one of these positions, the body remains balanced on the second supporting foot, erect, as though an invisable vertical line were drawn from the dancer's head to the floor.

the choreographer frees his mind from the limitations of practical time in much the same way that the dancer has freed his body. He turns not away from life, but to its source. He uses his technical proficiency to express in movement his essential knowledge."

please excuse my misspellings......

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Susanne Farrell wrote on this issue in her autobiography. In Russia to stage Scotch Symphony she and Irina Kolpakova are speaking after a rehearsal:

"We proceeded to discuss a basic difference between Balanchine and the Russian school that we had both observed. The Russian training split the body horizontally at the waist, meaning the upper body worked separately from the legs. The expression and emotion was conveyed on top, where the heart resides, while the technical steps were executed below, a separate event. Balanchine had extended what the legs could do and might do by envisioning the body vertically. He would often close one eye and optically split the body down the center, leaving each half with all the necessary components-head, arm, body, leg, and foot. To him, the lower body was as capable of expression as the upper."

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That makes sense, but Balanchine isn't the first person to think that "the lower body was as capable of expression as the upper." (Not that she's saying he was.) Tudor springs to mind, others as well. I can't speak to Vaganova training, but I don't see that kind of heart/legs split in Russian dancers in performance.

Thanks for the Chujoy quote, atm.

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Thank you all for your explanations. Things are making a bit more sense now.

It is a most important point in Vaganova training that the legs have equal expressivity as the upper body. Character of movement and expressivity is always a major portion of every movement. In our examinations, as teachers (as well as for the students) this was always a major portion of the answer. Saying that the body is split horizontally is only a portion of what a student/dancer must physically understand.

Perhaps Ms. Farrell did not understand what Ms. Kolpakova was saying? Perhaps the translator was not someone well versed in translating for ballet, which is a very specific thing? I will also check with I. Kolpakova the next time I see her. Perhaps Ms. Kolpakova got side track and was not able to complete her thought. I do not know, but I can say that the training of dancers in Vaganova method is three dimensional at all times. In fact, one could even say there is a 4th dimension of the soul (thank you Kevin). I would like to read both the Farrell book, as well as the essay by Balanchine. I hopefully already have the correct addition of the A. Chujoy Dance Encyclopedia.

"All ballet positions are based on two principles: the horizontal alignment of each movement in space, and the vertical balance of the human figure. The alignment is an invisible horizontal line on which the dance is built; it extends unbroken from the point where the dance b egins to where it ends. Upon it the movements of the dancers exist, as upon a thread or a string of pearls is held.

I seems to me that Balanchine was stating that both the horizontal and the vertical are necessary in ballet. Although in this quote the horizontal is not clarified, he does seem to state that it is necessary. It only makes sense for all forms of dance, not just ballet. :)

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Perky quoting Suzanne Farrell: "He would often close one eye and optically split the body down the center, leaving each half with all the necessary components-head, arm, body, leg, and foot. To him, the lower body was as capable of expression as the upper."

Which is where I guess the pelvis comes in, as an expressive part of the lower half.

Many European (not the mention the Asian) dancers have a problem sticking the pelvis out in Balanchine.

However I have a hard time believing this story about Balanchine shutting one eye to split Suzanne Farell down the middle (vertically). Try it yourself.

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He would often close one eye and optically split the body down the center, leaving each half with all the necessary components-head, arm, body, leg, and foot. To him, the lower body was as capable of expression as the upper."

If I understand Farrell correctly, she's saying that Balanchine wanted the body to work integrally, without the north/south divide. But then why did he "optically split the body down the center?" What was the point of that?

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Too bad Anna Pavlova and Olga Spessivtzeva are not here to be told that at the Mariinsky their legs were not expressive since Balanchine had not yet begun to choreograph.

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The quote I posted from Farrell is not exactly my viewpoint I just thought it would add to the discussion. :wub:

Herman, you mentioned that European dancers have a problem with sticking the pelvis out in Balanchine. How do they look dancing The Four Temperments with it's very pronounced forward pelvis?

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