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Treefrog

Ballet styles over time

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Does ballet change over time?

Here's what I mean: suppose you had a tape of performances from, oh, let's say every decade for the last fifty or hundred years. Suppose further that the tape had been altered so that the music, costumes, scenery, lighting, etc. sounded and looked identical, and the dancers themselves were not recognizable.

Could one pinpoint the time period of each performance based on the style of the dancing?

And if there ARE stylistic changes, can you characterize them?

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Interesting topic. Over a hundred years, probably the first thing one would notice would be the very different body types. Dancers would become taller, thinner, possibly more athletic.

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It is a great question (and so was dirac's answer). I was just watching a video of Alicia Alonso in "Giselle" filed in the late 1960s, and it looked much more like films from the 1930s and '40s, so it can be hard. (Why? Because the dancing was very subordinate to the drama, the mime was emphasized, the set took up most of the stage, even in the second act; it wasn't a gym floor swept clean for dancing. The dancers were quite petite, but they weren't at all stretched, and there was a softness to their dancing, even that of the Wilis.

I think the 20th century was so much about LINE, and dancers got more and more exposed and more and more stretched as time went on; that's one clue to dating things. There's a photo pair in a Danish book about Bournonville ("Perspectivs paa Bournonville") that shows the cup pas de deux from Folk Tale. Junker Ove is holding the cup and Hilda is trying to get it. In the 1930s photo, it looks like a scene from a drama and the dancers' arms are close to their body; nothing is stretched. In a mid-1970s photo (after Volkova's Russian training) whole scene is stretched out. He's stretching that cup as far away from her as possible, and she's stretching to reach it. If there weren't for the cup, it could be a scene from an abstract ballet. Both dancers are tall in the mid-1970s, while in the 1930s they're tiny, so the scale is different too.

This is a great question! Other observations? Is it just time, or place as well?

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Thank you. I wondered about place too, but thought I'd keep it to one variable at a time. But maybe they cannot be separated?

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Thank you.  I wondered about place too, but thought I'd keep it to one variable at a time.  But maybe they cannot be separated?

I agree, it would be easier to just concentrate on one element, but I think there are geographical differences as well that compound things. Isolation preserves style. (Why the Danes could keep their 19th century style well into the 20th; I've seen a film of them dancing "Symphonie Fantastique" in 1948-49 that doesn't look like anything else I've seen of that time period.)

To my then-1980s eyes, I remember first seeing a video of the Kirov doing "Sleeping Beauty" in the 1960s, and it looked more like the Royal Ballet's version in the 1960s than it did the Kirov's version of the 1980s. In the 1960s, I would have been able to see the differences between the Royal and the Kirov, and (I hope!) and I'm sure they would have been quite distinct. She offered helpfully :)

In the time that I've been watching ballet, as I wrote above, the big difference has been line and the way women use their feet. In the 1960s, the thought was that you never extended any limb or digit completely; you always left the possibility of further movement. This has changed until dancers stretch as completely as possible. Now, sometimes, it seems they've been stretched on a rack. The bodies are tauter, too; every muscle is visible. Dancers like Vasiliev certainly were muscular but compare him to Mukhamedov (two dancers a generation apart in the same company) and there's an almost relaxed quality to Vasiliev's movement (to me) while Mukhamedov is wound tight as a drum, ready to spring into action. As for women's feet, before 1970 they were not always on point, and so the foot was not always arched (men's feet too, actually. A foot might be planted on the floor then; now it would be pointed and extended. Sometimes now I have the impression that I'm watching shoes rather than feet.

I hope others will ring in on this one.

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men's feet too, actually. A foot might be planted on the floor then; now it would be pointed and extended.

Yes, and the men's feet are more turned out than in eras past, even if it isn't necessarily called for.

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Fascinating question --

The biggest difference -- take what Giselle might have looked like when it was NEW and now-- and the difference would be how mugh HIGHER the women jumped

as ballet developed, through Petipa and Balanchine, pointe technique has increasingly superseded jumping tehcnique -- which means that basically releve has developed and developed. and in pointe shoes dancers can achieve a perfected line, both feet pointed, and the ILLUSOIN of being air-borne, without having to leave the ground... (so there's actually less impact-related problems, more foot-related problems, but those are not aesthetic issues).

And also there's been increasing use of the small muscles, which means, more stretch is possible. If you're not having to use the BIG THIGH MUSCLES so much, nor the glutes, which simply have to be used to jump high and land softly -- I repeat, alight like a feather -- it's possible to turn out more, and to work with greater turnout.....

SO if the big muscles are getting less use, the stretch can be creater. We don't know what Taglioni's thighs looked like, but we can be sure they did not look like Gelsey Kirkland's. Taglioni was not just famous for her toe-steps -- what she could REALLY do was move in harmonious ways in the air, high up in hte air, with her long arms wreathing and wafting, and then she could land like it was nothing, with her arms settling down around her softly as she came to rest, a whle count later, which made it seem she'd gone even higher than she had.

Already in the 50s Karsavina was complaining that Giselle's ballottes were never performed with elevation any more....

But feats of elevation for women were already on their way out when Karsavina was young (Karsavina could do entrechat-huit, which few men can do these days) --

the whole direction of ballet, heading into Sleeping beauty, had gone into pointe work, and hops on pointe -- a jump, after all, however high, is over in no time, whereas with a releve, you can keep the picture alive for a count or two, or 8, or in the Rose adagio, for 32 or 64....

Simple classroom combination, jete, releve hold hold hold -- the picture on pointe stands in hte air long enough to register on hte retina and even leave a shadow...

and all the pas de bourrees that Balanchine explored so fantastically gave him ways of slowing down the effects of batterie to make them more visible -- and then he'd play them off against cabrioles and entrechats, which looked feathery and magical by comparison...

this is also the era when men's steps started becoming huge. Siegfried's variations (which Petipa did not care about and were always set by the male dancers who did htem - -Gerdt did none at all) went from being lots of beats, rather Bournonvillesque, to being heroic grand jetes and grand fouette cabrioles, and the male dance esp in Russia expanded into similar slowed down, super-visible effects performed with colossal elevation.....

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What a fascinating answer! One of the reasons I wanted to study the Danish ballet is because the 19th century lasted longer there than elsewhere. As late as the 1950s the women got no real pointe work instruction. They were handed pointe shoes when they got into the higher (of two) classes in the school, around age 11 or 12, and told to put them on. Classes were both boys and girls. The women (not the men, which I've never understood) had HUGE calves from jumping. The jump was everything. There's a film of Margrethe Schanne's farewell peformance of the Sylph that I've seen, and I've never seen a woman jump like that. It's not only high, it's a real SPRING, and she could clear any piece of furniture in that room. In the early 1990s, the younger ballerinas and the ambitious young women took the men's class so they could jump -- jumps still took precedence over pointework, and the women wore soft shoes in class. One dancer explained to me that you couldn't really jump wearing toe shoes. (I think all this was finally broken in the late '90s and early oughties, but it lasted a long time and was wondrous to see :smilie_mondieu: )

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tangential

the late '90s and early oughties

"Oughties" I hadn't heard that yet -- I'm still giggling.

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:unsure:I thought we were in the oh-ohs. :smilie_mondieu:

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Over the course of a century, you would see arabesques gradually rise in extension and the torso become more erect. Photos taken in the 19oughties show a lot of allongé line.

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Not to derail the conversation further, shouldn't that be the "naughties"?

And my next serious question: why did styles change? Why did attention start to focus on pointework and line?

And finally (or maybe not) -- would audiences today appreciate the ballet of last century and the one before?

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Not to derail the conversation further, shouldn't that be the "naughties"?

From Tiscali:

naught or nought

Naught means 'nothing' in certain idiomatic expressions: All his plans came to naught when the firm went bankrupt.

Nought is the figure '0' (zero): How many noughts are there in a million? Let's play noughts and crosses. Bear this distinction in mind when spelling these two words. In American English, however, the spelling naught is used for both senses.

In the Last Century, the years from 1901 through 1910 were called "The Naughty Oughties."

Someone else will have to answer your seroius questions :smilie_mondieu:

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why did styles change?  Why did attention start to focus on pointework and line?

And finally (or maybe not) -- would audiences today appreciate the ballet of last century and the one before?

Why does any style change? The people want change!

I think the answer, in simple terms, can be seen all around us. Everything that is visual has changed: fashion, architecture, gourmet cooking, hair. We, as humans, crave improvement and variety. We are not content to have things remain the same.

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp". We'd still be living in caves if it weren't human nature to strive for more, better, enriched, improved -- and aesthetically pleasing. In ballet, we are only restricted by the body's physical limitations which are constantly being challenged in all kinds of physical activity and sports. Seeing that what was formerly thought impossible may not be so -- at least not with everyone -- we go higher, longer, pointier, more sculpted, turned-out, lifted, gymnastic, to achieve the more astonishing and the more sublime. Over the years, our eyes and brains acclimate and re-develop our artistic sense.

Audiences today, I think, will continue to appreciate the ballet of previous centuries for its historical significance and for specific dancers they have seen or heard of. Much as we now look at the counter-culture fashions of the 1960s (ironed-straight hair, Twiggy-inspired bodies, go-go boots, minidresses and micro skirts, bell bottoms, granny glasses, leather sandals, fringed vests) as dated and even ridiculous -- no matter how enamoured of them we might have been in the day -- the ballet of that time has become iconic as well, especially to those who never saw it because they weren't born yet.

Our idols from then will forever remain Suzanne Farrell, Jacques d'Amboise, Edward Villella, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Anthony Dowell, Maya Plisetskaja, Galina Ulanova, Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn. Time will probably do little to change their status or appeal.

Ballet in general, and despite the truth, will, as years go by, be thought of as less demanding and less difficult, less beautiful visually, and perhaps less stressful in the "past" than it is today. It is apparent, already, and not only in students, but in the remarks of former star dancers who say, "I would never have been accepted into "_________ Academy" or "_________ Company" if I were a young dancer today.

I have offered a simplistic view, of course, and have not gone into the details which may disprove parts of my argument. Still, I stand by what I say, simply as one who has lived long enough to see many waves of style come and go in all areas of life. Ballet, in all its purity, is not at all immune to the vagaries of style. It contributes its own elements to cultural vogue.

Mini-off-topic-quiz: What were Mary Quant and Rudi Gernreich each famous for?

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I think it's primarily dancer driven and not choreographer or audience driven. My "proof"? :tiphat: The Lippizaner (sp?) stallions. They are perfectly happy doing the same steps the same way they were done 400 years ago. So horses don't change? Of course they do. They have scientists constantly messing about with their genes. And they have a competitive spirit, or there would be no horse racing. Is it that they have no fashion sense???

(Guesses at OT Quiz: Mary Quant, really cool cosmetics, England, Swinging Sixies, around Twiggy Time. Rudy Gernreich, topless swimsuit, 1970s?)

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Didn't Mary Quant introduce the miniskirt, in addition to her cosmetics line?

One caught on, the other didn't but may have been intended mostly as a publicity stunt.

I also believe that dancers and the choreographers (and fellow dancers) who love them drive change in ballet. Go to any advanced/professional ballet class over time, and you can see the "lesser" students adopting the mannerisms of the "stars." (Sometimes it's obviously conscious, but sometimes I think it may be a by-product of trying to emulate superior technique.)

And of course, the choreographers who emphasize the qualities they especially like in the dancers they use -- be it high extension, killer fouettes, lightning speed, etc., etc., etc.

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In response to Alexandra and carbro:

Correct, and correct! One point to Alexandra for Rudi Gernreich's topless swimsuit (it was mid-60s, not 1970s), one to carbro for Mary Quant's miniskirt.

As a flower child of the 60s :flowers: (actually, I was just an onlooker of flower child age, as I still am to all that unfolds around me), Quant was famous for introducing the miniskirt. While others came up with the idea of the miniskirt, she acheived the worldwide marketing coup. The smokey eyes and pale lips look which launched her cosmetics line were triggered by the miniskirt craze.

Gernreich's swimsuit was widely debated as to whether it was a publicity stunt, especially given the times. Whatever it was, it's what put him on the map and into people's consciousness.

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Actually, also, people who make new ballets often respond to the social dances that are popular at the time.

When Balanchine arrived in the US, he found the Lindy hop (which was basically a fusion of the Charleston and the shag, danced to swing music) to be a hugely popular dance; it was an African-American dance that crossed over, and everybody was doing it, black people and white.

Many characteristics of Lindy hop turn up in Balanchine's choreography -- the "legomania" steps and Charleston kicks, the speed, the wit, the "cool" attitude and the emphasis on spontaneity, the pelvic tilt, the placement over the balls of the feet (the best dancers, using "cat style," at the Savoy didn't put their heels down), the turn-in-turn-out steps, toying with the beat, the jazzy postures, elbows akimbo...

Anyone familiar with Lindy will recognize it all over the place in Concerto Barocco.

And for another bit of style trivia, what ballerina had front teeth like the great 60s fashion model Jean Shrimpton?

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Anyone familiar with Lindy will recognize it all over the place in Concerto Barocco.

I did a pretty good Lindy in my day, Paul, but I must be missing something; I didn't recognize it in CB. Now, Danses Concertantes as it was done way back in 1944 is another story---it was all over the place in that work.

PS--can you give us a time frame for that Shrimpton look-alike ballerina?

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what ballerina had front teeth like the great 60s fashion model Jean Shrimpton?
It's gotta be Suzanne Farrell, with that wonderful look-of-innocence-and-mystery overbite!

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Yes, It's Farrell...

The Shrimp was a great beauty of swinging London...

atm 711, it's a pleasure to talk to another lover and practitioner of the Lindy hop.

And I sure wish I could say I'd seen Danses Concertantes.

I'm afraid I (charateristically) overstated the Lindy look of Barocco -- though I'd bet it in Marie jeanne's day it looked more like jazz dancing (she says so herself) than it does now.

The version of Lindy being danced we did in Mississippi in hte 50's didn't involve much kicking .. did yours? I was thinking mostly of all those pique ballonnes, and the coupe-releves in arabesque. They have the timing of the Lindy Charleston, which was simpler than the original Charleston.

Our verision of Lindy, which we called the Bop, was in fact pretty much straight 6-count shag, toe-heel toe heel rock-step -- it was a fun dance, but much less fun (and a lot less kicky) than the Savoy-style version I learned a decade ago. In fact, we didn't kick much if at all. SO I wouldn't say all those battements look much like hte bop, either. So maybe we're not talking about hte same thing.

But what ABOUT "Danses COncertantes"? What did that ballet look like? I;'ve never seen it, only read abut it.

COntinuing our trivia contests,

The Shrimp was a great beauty of swinging London...

What dark-haired ballerina, whose flourishing period began 20 years earlier, looked a great deal like both the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret?

Edited by Paul Parish

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What dark-haired ballerina, whose flourishing period began 20 years earlier, looked a great deal like both the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret?
Dame Alicia Markova (aka Alice Marks) always reminded me of the young queen. She bears a resemblance to the young Princess Margaret as well, now that you made me think about it. And its seems that Princess Anne adopted her trademark ballooned hairdo!

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Re: late 50s Lindy. In middle-class (possibly repressed) Long Island, the basic set of steps -- as I recall -- involved only one waist-level kick to rear (right leg for male). Politeness and concern for neighboring couples, kept this in control. I recall the consevative elements: couple almost always in contact, holding hands or at least male hand at gir's waist. I can think of some Balanchine partnering patterns here. For some reason, parts of Agon, which I first saw as a 10th-grader, reminded me of high school dances, and I could identify with this.

As I recall, lindy improvisation was rare. Movement on one's own, without the partner, was rarer. Years later I saw the lindy in a 40s wartime and was asstonished by how much freer, more athletic, and exhuberant it was than the version we enjoyed on the high school dance floor.

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