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Classical or romantic dancers


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#1 Cliff

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Posted 07 July 2005 - 08:16 PM

Some dancers are described as classical and some as romantic. Is this primarily in reference to the ballet, such as as Sleeping Beauty or Giselle? Or is there something else that classifies a dancer. What are the telling signs that indicate a classical dancer instead of a romantic dancer?

#2 artist

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Posted 03 March 2007 - 10:03 PM

a romantic dancer would have more relaxed positions. Like in 3rd arabesque, the arms would be slightly be bent at the elbows instead of elongated as you see it today.

perhaps a romantic dancer appears more ethereal and a majority of dancers today are classical. Romantic period for them is over b/c it's not 'up-to-date' ?

I don't know how to explain or organize my thoughts to writing, but I know there are a lot who know the answer to this question !

also, the quality of their movement and the way they display [arm] positions can decipher between the two.

I wouldn't say it's in reference to the ballet being danced.

perhaps, a classical dancer a more crystaline technique and a certain conformity in their dancing that's like a diamond - sharp, clean, and precise.

whereas a romantic ballerina would resemble a soft ribbon blown in the wind ? (excuse my poor metaphors) She would have a fluidity in her dancing and would be sorrowfully expressive . Romantic ballerinas would refer to Taglioni ?

#3 Paul Parish

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 12:05 AM

artist, I'd say your metaphors are very GOOD.

Generally, I think the distinction between classical and romantic dancers is that classical dancing is more measured, emphasis is on accuracy of articulation of joint against joint, it's simpler (geometrically and emotionally); romantic is looser, more impetuous, the breath is larger and more dominant, positions are more foreshortened, seen from odd angles, the line is less rounded and the allongees are less lengthened -- htere's also usually more jumping, more air.

#4 Hans

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 09:53 AM

Is there much of a distinction between the two types anymore (or was there really ever)? I cannot really think of anyone who could be strictly classified as one or the other, as Romantic ballets require very precise and strong technique, often asking the dancers to do more difficult things than Classical (in this case pretty much meaning Petipa) ballets (although those aren't exactly easy). As far as port de bras, dancers must be able to change their arms and heads to suit the choreography, whether it's Bournonville, Petipa, or Balanchine.

#5 bart

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 11:26 AM

Thanks, artist, for discovering and reviving this thread. (I wonder why no one picked it up when Cliff's original questions were posted.)

The two words -- "classical" and "romantic" -- are used so often in ballet writing, that people must find the distinction useful at least as a kind of descriptive shorthand. I'm looking forward to hearing a variety of takes on what they actually mean.

Another question: How would a dancer described as being a "good Balanchine dancer" fit into this typology? Based on Paul's analysis, I found myself thinking that the Balanchinian would fit into the "romantic" category. This rather surprised me. Or is "neo-classical" a distinct -- or hybrid -- type?

#6 artist

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 11:42 AM

In the Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant, classical ballet is defined:

"(1) The traditional style of ballet, which stresses the academic technique developed through the centuries of the existence of ballet. (2) A ballet in which the style and structure adhere to the definite framework est. in the nineteenth century. Ex. of classical ballets are Coppelia, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake."

romantic ballet is defined:

"A style of ballet produced during the early nineteenth century in which the accent was on the conveyance of a mood to tell a story. Ex. of romantic ballets are La Sylphide and Giselle."

in the Ryman's Dictionary of Classical Ballet Terms: Cecchetti, classical solo is defined:

"A highly structured dance for one performer, using academically defined steps, classical music, and restrained emotional quality."

as for Balanchine, I've been hearing 'neo-classical' more and more. So it goes romantic, classical, neo-classical ?

#7 Hans

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 12:12 PM

There are, of course, Classical and Romantic ballets, but I do not think dancers can be divided up that way.

We've had a lot of discussions about various terms in the past and haven't come up with anything too definitive, although Alexandra has made the point that pre-Romantic ballets are actually Classical, and Petipa is therefore Neo-classical. Balanchine's ballets seem to defy easy classification as some seem Neo-Romantic and others are more in the post-Petipa vein. I see The Four Temperaments, Agon, and Apollo as being some of his most important works, as he takes classical structure and traditional classroom vocabulary and adapts them to form something new, but that short list certainly does not define his entire vast repertoire. Maybe Balanchine is the balletic equivalent of Beethoven--not fitting into one period or another neatly but bridging two?

#8 volcanohunter

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 01:48 PM

There are, of course, Classical and Romantic ballets, but I do not think dancers can be divided up that way.

Surely, some dancers are better suited to one style or the other. For example, Eva Evdokimova, with her ultra long neck and arms, sloping shoulders and feather-light jump, was naturally "endowed" for the Romantic repertoire, whereas Darci Kistler, as was pointed out in another thread, wouldn't be naturally suited to it.

#9 Hans

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 02:44 PM

The impression I got from the linked post was that Kistler's Balanchine training prevented her from assimilating the Romantic style.

I didn't mean to suggest that some dancers are not more suited to some ballets or roles than others, but one cannot easily pigeonhole most dancers as being strictly one "type" or the other.

#10 aurora

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 03:05 PM


There are, of course, Classical and Romantic ballets, but I do not think dancers can be divided up that way.

Surely, some dancers are better suited to one style or the other. For example, Eva Evdokimova, with her ultra long neck and arms, sloping shoulders and feather-light jump, was naturally "endowed" for the Romantic repertoire, whereas Darci Kistler, as was pointed out in another thread, wouldn't be naturally suited to it.


I agree with Volcano Hunter--
Locally (for me, NYC), I would consider Alessandra Ferri a dancer who was lovely in Romantic roles (giselle for example), but whose technique was unsuited to classical roles, and, in fact, she was never (or very rarely!) cast in them.

I would similarly assume that Gillian Murphy was unsuited for romantic roles (though I find her at times surprisingly good in unexpected roles), in large part because of her physique. To me romantic implies ethereal, and Murphy is NOT that. She's very solidly flesh and blood.

This is not to say that there aren't dancers who excell in both types of roles of course. I like Ananiashvilli, for yet another ABT example, in both Giselle and Swan Lake, and the much debated Veronika Part both as Odette/Odile and Myrthe (though I have difficulty imagining her as Giselle!).

#11 Hans

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 05:08 PM

I think the dancers who are specifically suited to one type of role are more the exception than the rule in the ballet world. They are, of course, more obvious, but unless one is a star, then in order to be employable a dancer must be versatile.

#12 drb

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 05:32 PM

Years ago I was told the distinction was
Classical: Odette-Odile
Romantic: Giselle
Throughout years of ballet-watching it has been extremely rare to find a ballerina truly excel (I mean absolutely top world class) in both roles, or even to be allowed to dance both (consider the recent hassle at the Mariinsky when Gergiev "allowed" Vishneva (a fabulous Giselle) to dance O/O). The great exception was Natalia Makarova, who was right at the top in both roles. In recent times there was Nina Ananiashvili. Maybe this means there are just a rare few ballerinas who are fully both Classical and Romantic, although many are some of each, as they'd better be if, as Hans points out, they want to work.
I look forward to Gillian Murphy tackling the Romantic rep; it should be beautiful. I've always seen Ashley Bouder as a natural for Giselle, but the role she's tried and of course conquered is Odette-Odile.
Quoting Balanchine*:
"Giselle's innovation is its summing up of what we know as the Romantic ballet. To be romantic about something is to see what you see and to wish for something entirely different. This requires magic."
What he finds unique about Odette-Odile is that other great ballet heroines "have some relation to the real world" whereas Odette-Odile "is a princess of the night, she is all magic, a creature of the imagination."

*Stories of the Great Ballets

#13 aurora

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 05:55 PM

Drb,

Your response was pretty much spot on how I think about these...but just to be a pain/clarify

Years ago I was told the distinction was
Classical: Odette-Odile
Romantic: Giselle
Throughout years of ballet-watching it has been extremely rare to find a ballerina truly excel (I mean absolutely top world class) in both roles, or even to be allowed to dance both (consider the recent hassle at the Mariinsky when Gergiev "allowed" Vishneva (a fabulous Giselle) to dance O/O).


Can i just say, that having seen Vishneva's O/O at ABT last year, I can see why people might have complained? ;)

But I do think it was worth a shot, and she can dance it technically, so I don't see why she wouldn't be able to do it (she just needs work in the part!)

I look forward to Gillian Murphy tackling the Romantic rep; it should be beautiful. I've always seen Ashley Bouder as a natural for Giselle, but the one she's tried and of course conquered is Odette-Odile.


I know I'm the one who brought up Gillian Murphy, but I actually agree with what you say here. I don't see her as a natural for R&J for example, but i'm definitely going to go see what she makes of it, no matter what, I imagine it will be interesting!

As for Bouder, after seeing her do Sleeping Beauty, I'd go and see her in just about anything!

#14 carbro

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 07:00 PM

Years ago I was told the distinction was
Classical: Odette-Odile
Romantic: Giselle

I think the classical paradigm is Aurora. Odette can be danced with a lyricism more akin to romantic style. While you count two ballerinas (both Russian-trained) who have excelled as O/O and Giselle (or G/G, as the difference between Acts 1 and 2 are as clear as those between O and O?), I can think of none who can claim both Aurora and Giselle as great vehicles. I have seen a great Aurora from Anianashvili, but not a Giselle I would call great.

And yes, I agree that Bouder has the makings of one hell of a Giselle! I'd get on a plane for that, if I had to!

#15 bart

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 07:36 PM

drb quotes Balanchine:

"Giselle's innovation is its summing up of what we know as the Romantic ballet. To be romantic about something is to see what you see and to wish for something entirely different. This requires magic."

Help! I admit it ... I find this to be rather cryptic, even though it's from the lips of Mr. B . :shake: Nor is it all that different from his comments on Odette/Odile ("a creature of the imagination").

The discussion seems to be veering towards the Apollonian/Dionysian model which Robert Greskovic used so effectively in his Ballet 101 as a way of distinguishing between two types of ballet dancer. On pp. 279-80 Greskovic writes:

Identifications like 'Romantic ballerina,' as opposed to 'Classical ballerina,' come and go, and sometimes prove useful. The former are said to excel in works associated with the Romantaic era and with roles that reclaim aesthetics of that time. These ballerinas are sometimes said to be creatures of the air, meaning that ssteps of elevation and opstures of weightlessness come naturally to them. Classical-type ballerinas represent to the eyke more of a brillian prowess, of clean terre-a-terre foot- and leg-work and more angular geogmetryk of choreographic shape.

In Russia, where of course The Sleeping Beauty was born, Auror is a l'classiccal' ballerina's role. The originator o the part was Carlotta Brianza, an imported virtuosa of the Italian school ... known for their extra-strong technical abilities. In particular, Brianza wa praised for her impressive 'steel pointes.'

By contrast, Odette/Odile is considered 'lyrical' in nature, a word related to to other people's use of 'Romantic.' Though in her Odile character the Swan Queen ballerina needs to be less meltinglly nuanced and more 'brilliantly defined, the sense remains of a link to the Romantic world of Swan Lake's libretto.

This moves me back to Paul Parish's post, which suggested that one that has to look at differences in specific movements.

For instance, if you take a particular dance movement -- port de bras, balances, cambres, rising on pointe or descending into plie, jumping, turning, or whatever -- is there something that Giselle should do ("romantic") that Odette/Odile does differently ("mixed") and Aurora even more differently ("classical")?


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