Cliff

Classical or romantic dancers

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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?

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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 ?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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 ?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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

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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!

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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!

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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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...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")?

In the "long ago" I, a non-dancer, was a ballet cretin, and the Swan Lake/Giselle comparison was given to me so I could see the difference. Back then there were splendid versions of both ballets, readily available. But such was not the case with Sleeping Beauty. Of course, we've since lost Swan Lake too. (But we should all be confident that ABT's Mr. McKenzie will soon return Aurora to her proper environs.) With all the complaints about the state of ABT's aged Giselle sets, I'm sure we won't see that old tattered gem again. Will there be another choregrapher's name attached when Giselle comes back? Of course this is not a problem limited to what can be seen in America. The empirical luxury afforded me at my beginnings seems lost to the Genius of modern-day ADs.

I thank Artist for beginning Paul Parish's project, her words resonate with real differences experienced in those early days. As empirical experience becomes less reliable, such inquiry becomes all the more important. This is a really difficult project, being akin to so many efforts at understanding emploi (put that in BT's Search and you'll find a book-length of material!) here at BT.

In the field of mathematical statistics there is something called variance explained: When comparing a given movement by dancers in two ballets each performed by a different company, I wonder which, the periods of the ballets or the styles (if any) of the companies, would contribute more to the variability we experience in that particular movement?

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I never saw her Giselle, but I know she danced it as well as Aurora--does anyone have an opinion of Sizova in those roles?

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Alla Sizova was an uncomparable Aurora,but her Giselle is another story.Technically there were no hurdles.

She was light as a feather,practically weightless,but she didn't move you,didn't make you weep the way Bessmertnova did, especially when she was partnered by Baryshnikov. Sizova was actually Baryshnikov's first Giselle,but there was no chemistry, no fire you could feel when he danced it with Bessmertnova, and later with Makarova or Kirkland in the States. Of all Kirov Giselles, Yelena Yevteyeva ,though not the greatest Giselle,but a excellent one,was better suited to Baryshnikov,than Sizova or Kolpakova(another great Aurora if not the greatest,but again,though technically perfect,did not belong to the list of great Giselles). Alla Shelest ,of the older generation of Kirov dancers,was by all accounts both- a great Giselle and a great Aurora. She was young Nureyev's favourite partner at the Kirov,the exact contempary of Fonteyn,both being born in 1919.

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...but she didn't move you,didn't make you weep the way Bessmertnova did, especially when she was partnered by Baryshnikov...

This must have been and interesting pairing. I wish I could have seen it. Not having seen Bessmertnova in person, it is interesting to imagine her in Giselle with Baryshnikov. :angry2:

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Alla Shelest ,of the older generation of Kirov dancers,was by all accounts both- a great Giselle and a great Aurora.
So it is possible to do both exceptionally well. (Even if few can achieve this.) What qualities did Shelest have that made her memorable in both the quintessential "romantic" role AND the quintessential "classical" role?

p.s. I note that Shelest does not appear on the "Glory of the Kirov" dvd.

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From my experience, it wasn't an emotional (acting) approach at all; it was simply a difference in technique. And for a dancer, I think the distinction was more an "adagio" vs. "allegro" dancer. Today our well-trained technicians should be familiar with both techniques, though as said previously, body type may limit somewhat what roles they are given. Below is what I was trained and experienced as the difference in techniques of Romantic vs. Classical...

1) Romantic was always...

a) ROUNDED ELBOWS, softened shortened (think round circling) port-de-bras;

b) RELAXED neck as if the head is a small weight (dandelion tuft) that bends that neck (stem) like a reed/grass; and yes cambres that bend first, rather than being pulled up and then bending as in classical.

c) Pointe shoes were always SOFT so you slowly worked thru foot and FOLDED up or down, not immediately hit it & balanced like now.

d) Equated with a lightness, elevation, airiness in jumps;

and extensions or developes that UNFOLDed upwards/outwards slowly leading the eyes up too--even though the dancer's gaze may have been lower.

e) In Romantic, the gaze is almost always DOWN (meek, shy--Act 1 Giselle, ethereal caressing subservient-to-Myrta Giselle Act2). Even that famous pic of 'Taglioni in the window as the Sylph' is gazing head tilted and slightly down.

f) Bournonville contributed the quickness and "sprightly" (sorry not the best term) lift in jumps--balon that BOUNCES always upwards rather than lifted/suspended mid-jump like now. Bournonville's pdb's too are important and different from "classical".

g) Romantic phrasing is always LENGTHENED, even in allegro, where it's stretched, and then cut quickly to give that 'caught breath' suspension effect.

For Romantic ballets (Giselle, La/Les Sylphides etc.) I am constantly thinking: round, circles, down, like everything is a big slow ronde de jambe inside each movement.

2) When I think Classical, I tend to think Russian--mostly because that's how I was taught--as in:

a) VERY pulled up, high carriage emanating from center up/out, with again

b) STRONGER, longer arms, and head/neck held HIGH. Even chinlines emanate UP first, then out to follow the line.

c) Lines extend out, NOT insular rounded as in Romantic.

d) And as others stated before, classical is much more legs/feet attack & grounded (ie. attached to earth, NOT necessarily weighted, AND always pulled up!)

e) ANGULAR

(The lyricism of Odette is in bent/rotating wrists/elbows, not necessarily rounded ones. Aurora of course is the epitome of "pulled up" high carriage, long extended-out lines, an attack to phrasing, and "steely" pointes.

In Classical technique, (all that Petipa, and even off-centered Balanchine) I'm always thinking of that string attached to my head pulling me up, tight/controlled, giving me lift, helping me balance.

In short, Classical= UP, STRONG, OUT... Romantic= DOWN, SOFT, IN.

It DOES NOT mean lyrical--lyrical is the adagio version of CLASSICAL, NOT Romantic. If the look, extension, port-de-bras reach OUT and up it is Classical, however willowy the elbows/wrists are.

And not mentioned in earlier posts but important for the women: The Romantic hairstyles reflect the 19th century chignon at the NAPE of the neck, or the looping braids under/around the ears before attaching at back to that lower chignon, while Classical is our dear 'bunhead': small and tight and higher up, and no braids unless you're Juliet, or hair-challenged (too thick, straight, long to hold bun tight) like me.

Of course, those long "Romantic-length" tutus/skirts got their name for a reason too.

Just my thoughts, and by no means historically expert.

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Thank you so much, 4mrdncr. Your precis is remarkable and your examples are really useful. This will give lots to look for when next I see the major Romantic and Classical ballets.

From my experience, it wasn't an emotional (acting) approach at all; it was simply a difference in technique.
I've always felt this about the greatest artists -- emotion working and finding expression through the technique rather than technique being made to serve the emotion.

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Thank you so much, 4mrdncr. Your precis is remarkable and your examples are really useful. This will give lots to look for when next I see the major Romantic and Classical ballets.

From my experience, it wasn't an emotional (acting) approach at all; it was simply a difference in technique.

I've always felt this about the greatest artists -- emotion working and finding expression through the technique rather than technique being made to serve the emotion.

yes, thanks 4mrdncr for that great info.

and, bart, I think this is what I have trouble with dancers of today. Because of advancement of technique, they surely express emotions, but just differently. I always thought of the 1900s/romanticism was 'raw' and pure art; but now I see that perhaps they feel the same w/out sacrificing precision. So the look is just different, but I still personally still like and react better with the earlier times. But now I won't judge performances on that particular quality, rather, train my eyes to find other aspects and how the dancers assimilate the feelings through what they've focused more on.

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Thak YOU, Artist, for bringing up this topic, and for prompting the post by 4mrdncr, one of the most helpful and educational posts I've read on BT.

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