Jump to content


Balanchine And Emploi AgainAnother clue?


  • Please log in to reply
19 replies to this topic

#1 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 02 April 2006 - 08:48 PM

In attempting to find a name, I was reading a section of the article I wrote on Agon in '97 and came across a Edward Villella quoting Balanchine. He was about to teach Villella Todd Bolender's part (the first pas de trois) in Agon:

You shouldn't try to do it like Todd. You should dance your way because you are en l'air dancer.


I'm extrapolating wildly, but there may be some clues here about how Balanchine saw dancers.

When I was puzzling how to create a pas de deux on a dancer a few years ago, my rehearsal assistant said "She's an Earth dancer." I haven't checked the exact source for her idea, but my guess is the NYC teacher David Howard. She characterized dancers according to the medieval elements - Air, Fire, Earth, Water. Earth dancers were stable, didn't like to jump and did not like to be partnered.

A lot of hypothetical connections here and I know that "en l'air" isn't the same thing as "Air" - but I wonder if there's a link, at least that Balanchine divided dancers into those that were grounded and those that weren't. I wonder what he considered the opposite of an "en l'air" dancer. "Terre terre"?

#2 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 05:08 AM

This is a fascinating issue. I -- like most people who watch but also think about ballet -- tend to feel that I understand the Air and Earth imagery fairly well. Fire and Water perhaps less so. Are we getting into Four Temperaments territory here?

When it comes to applying these terms to individual dancers -- or roles -- disaagreements creep in. Especially since the best dancers can participate in all kinds of dance, often extremely well, that may not be natural to them.

I have some questions of my own:

What are the characteristic movements associated with each of the 4 elemental types: air, earth, water, fire?

Which roles in Balanchine -- or elsewhere? -- seem to require the most distilled and intense or each type.

Which Balanchine dancers --or others? -- express each of these qualities most intensely?

#3 perky

perky

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 653 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 05:39 AM

This makes me think of Diana Adams. I've read her comments on how she viewed herself as a dancer and how Balanchine saw and cast her and they are wildly different. She thought of herself as a lyrical dreamy type of dancer (Air?). but she says whenever she danced those roles Balanchine thought she was "boring". So how did he see her? Earth or Fire?

#4 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,246 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 06:07 AM

Taglioni was "en l'air". We think of this as being light, but from contemporary accounts -- she was a jumper. Elssler was neither light (in the sense of being evanescent) nor a jumper, and was terre a terre. Bournonville has four "civilian" types of emploi, too. I'd have to look them up, but one is light and one is strong.

#5 Paul Parish

Paul Parish

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,925 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 09:36 AM

Have you SEEN the way Bolender danced Agon? he was like spaghetti -- like Phlegmatic. Like olive Oyl. Lots of fun to watch, but he was NOT ANYTHING like Villella, who was the strongest man of his weight class in the boxing ranks in the Merchant Marine (or something like that). Villella was a ragazzo, a rascal by type... which is why it would have been so much more fun to be a kid in HIS department in Midsummer Night's Dream, jumping all the time.

This is all off the top of my head, haven't had time to look up any of this, and so memory is having to limp around and serve more than perhaps memory is really capable of -- but I THINK I've got this right.

#6 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 09:42 AM

Oh definitely, Paul.

Barbara Walczak on Bolender: "Todd couldn't hit a note if you begged him."

His performance is recorded - weirdly enough, I couldn't find a recorded source for Villella. Bolender dances the first pas de trois on the 1960 CBC kinescope (L'Heure du Concert). Nobody looks like him in the part anymore - almost squishy.

#7 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 11:00 AM

The roles Balanchine made for Villella were emphatically not ethereal in mood, so I assume the comment describes him as a jumper. No, the Villella persona is one I'd describe as fiery.

In terms of the elements themselves, I've never really grasped the essence of Water. Can anyone help me here?

#8 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 11:18 AM

Flowing? Sinuous? Llike a pavane, crossing the floor slowly and smoothly? Or the princesses in Firebird? Or is that terre a terre.

I've never seen the Ravel Pavane solo. Would that fill the bill?

And how about swan arms? Ondine?

#9 Marga

Marga

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,022 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 11:44 AM

Suzanne Farrell. The mere mention of "water" brings her to mind. And to consider the four elements, she certainly wasn't fire, air, or even earth, at least not to me.

Farrell danced as if in a bubble, onstage with others but really by herself, buffered in a way from all else that was happening around her. I saw her relate to her partners, but still felt she was mainly relating to herself (if that makes any sense).

Even her movements, ever so musical, seemed to have a built-in resistance to them, as if moving through water.

#10 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 11:52 AM

Now that I've posited this theory, I guess I have to flesh it out - I think Robbins liked "water" dancers - like Bart said, sinuous and I'd add stretchy.

Diana White, Maria Calegari, Maria Kowroski, Helene Alexopoulos . . .

The way I'd see it -

Nikiya is a water part.
Odette is an air part
Odile is a fire part
Aurora isn't an earth part, but the Rose Adagio is!

This isn't perfect, obviously, and I wouldn't try and cram all parts and roles into four categories. It did help me to figure out what to do with a dancer when I couldn't get a handle on her, though.

Next we can assign them all seasons. Color me ballet-iful.

"I'm sorry, you can't dance Aurora. You're a Fall."

:off topic:

#11 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,218 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 12:00 PM

The roles Balanchine made for Villella were emphatically not ethereal in mood, so I assume the comment describes him as a jumper. No, the Villella persona is one I'd describe as fiery.

While Rubies is a fiery role -- I would cast him as Loge in the ballet version of Ring of the Nibelungen -- and the Symphony in Three Movements role is earthy, Balanchine choreographed the two most Bournonville-like pieces/roles for him: the Scherzo in Midsummer Night's Dream and the lead in Donizetti Variations. I think these are mixtures of earth and fire, with a little air whipped in.

#12 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 01:52 PM

I'm dim about this, but aren't there supposed to be affinities between air and fire, and one hand, and earth and water? And aren't these two sets somehow in contrast with each other. Or am I confusing things?

I see Helene's point about Villella's two Balanchine roles. But if Villella was earth and fire, might these qualities not -- in the alchemical world -- cancel each other out? Very confusing.

And then there's always rock, scissors, paper.

Note to myself: metaphors are metaphors; reality is ... something else.

#13 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,218 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 01:55 PM

If Villella was earth and fire, might these not -- in the alchemical world -- cancel each other out? Very confusing.

In Feng Shui, Fire burns Wood to create Earth. So at least in one system, they are compatible.

#14 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 25,227 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 05:16 PM

Suzanne Farrell. The mere mention of "water" brings her to mind. And to consider the four elements, she certainly wasn't fire, air, or even earth, at least not to me.

Farrell danced as if in a bubble, onstage with others but really by herself, buffered in a way from all else that was happening around her. I saw her relate to her partners, but still felt she was mainly relating to herself (if that makes any sense).

Even her movements, ever so musical, seemed to have a built-in resistance to them, as if moving through water.


Balanchine is quoted as saying, "She's like a whale in her own ocean."

#15 Marga

Marga

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,022 posts

Posted 03 April 2006 - 07:59 PM

Oh my goodness! Thank you for posting that quote, dirac -- it's validation from The Man himself!. :off topic:


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):