Amy Reusch

Over-dancing

36 posts in this topic

"Dance smaller," you wanted to call out perversely at times in the Ailey II section and through the first few variations in excerpts from Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15," performed by the American Ballet Theater Studio Company. "Let the choreography reveals its secrets." There was big, authoritative dancing from Allison Miller, Isabella Boylston and Leann Underwood in the first three variations. But Nicole Graniero, Eric Tamm and Abigail Simon let the nuances come through in the admittedly more delicate final three. And a regal Ms. Simon and Mr. Tamm, an easy classicist and a good partner, were impressive in the culminating pas de deux, in a cast completed by Gray Davis and Eduardo Permuy.
- Jennifer Dunning in the NY Times about the 1,2,3 Festival at the Joyce April 27, 2006

I've been wondering, lately, whether we've entered a new stage of technical prowess to the point where at times we've gone too far, and dancers can now be said to be "over-dancing" the choreography... by which I mean the rhythms and shapes are so emphasized that they are over emphasized... similar to over-acting a part.

50 years ago, perhaps, there wasn't such an abundance of extremely physically gifted dancers, and nuances in energy were more in evidence... artistry had to fill in... or, I don't know, the choreography had a different focus than shape and rhythm... I'm talking myself into a trap, here, I realize, but still..

Is there a dance equivalent to over-acting, and is it possible for technique to show too much?

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Is there ever! I think it was in the pd3 of NYCB's Swan Lake last season, when I turned to my companion, "They really punched that out." The attack was relentless, there was no breath, the musicality was lost and phrasing? Well, forget phrasing. Just when you start thinking that they finally understood that to be effective, attack needs to be tempered by modulation, they start proving you wrong.

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Great question, Amy -- and a really nice citation of Miss Dunning at her best.

Actually, it's SO tempting to rely on the over-acting analogy. The main problem with over-acting, though, is ego, isn't it? The actor is stuck in on the border of entering his/her character, can't get across, and is forced back onto mannerisms in hopes of keeping anyone from noticing the failure of imagination -- or is that maybe just a definition of one kind of over-acting?

Some parts must be drawn large, they're built for it -- like Lady Bracknell or Big Daddy. Von Rothbart in McKenzies' (awful) Swan Lake.

Some people thought that Farrell distorted Concerto Barocco by dancing it too big, some thought Makarova distorted the White Swan by dancing it too slow.....

I think van Hamel "over-danced" Balanchine's "Sylvia Pas de deux" -- grand as she was, the ballet doesn't CALL for that.

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Another analogy (beside "overacting") would be that of "overplaying" music

-- specifically the way white guys are said to always "Overplay the Blues." You simply can't hear a white musician, instrumentalist or vocalist -- whether John Mayall or John Hammond or Paul Butterfield or Eric Clapton -- play the Blues with the natural and "laid back" quality you hear in John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters or T Bone Walker. "White guys always Overplay" my Guru used to say.

That analogy works for me with dancing, but you have to transport it out of the racial/musico context.

There are some dancers who do things as if from an inner nature and vision, effortlessly and without pushing, unselfconsciously. Then others come around and try to muscle it or get at it from the outside in.

How do you achieve the appearance of unselfconsciousness in a profession that requires so much preparation? It's a matter of spontaneity in a dancer. Some of them are very good at making something new on the stage.

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Another analogy (beside "overacting") would be that of "overplaying" music

-- specifically the way white guys are said to always "Overplay the Blues." You simply can't hear a white musician, instrumentalist or vocalist -- whether John Mayall or John Hammond or Paul Butterfield or Eric Clapton -- play the Blues with the natural and "laid back" quality you hear in John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters or T Bone Walker. "White guys always Overplay" my Guru used to say.

What a great analogy, although in my opinion that an abundance of notes is more often a fault when it's characteristic of young players than of white players; to use jazz examples, I wouldn't say that Trane overplays in comparison with Miles, they just have different styles. But it's true, just as some artists don't use space around the notes as part of their phrasing, and play with relatively little dynamic range, some dancers punch out the steps without much modulation. But here too I'm wondering, technical ability aside, isn't this choice more characteristic of young dancers than mature ones?

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Nah, mostly of uncoached ones.

The people I see who overdance do so because of insecurity. They don't trust the choreography, the audience or themselves (pick one or all), so they overdance to punctuate the points.

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Thanks, Leigh; I'm sure you're right.

There's the story of Conrad Ludlow going to Balanchine and asking him what he's supposed to DO in Concerto Barocco. Mr B said, "you're like the avocado in the salad," and then Ludlow knew exactly how to be creamy and smooth and subtle and how to phrase everything. The choreographer is usually hte best coach.

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I have a video of Giselle with Nureyev and Fracci. Late for both of them. Anyway, both of them are dealing with failing technique. Nureyev compensates by over-dancing -- rotating and jumping wildly, tongue sticking out, eyes ablaze, sweating so hard you worry about him dehydrating. Fracci compensates by under-dancing. She somehow gets through Act 2 of Giselle while moving as little as possible. The result was the worst Giselle/Albrecht pairing I have ever seen. (And keep in mind that Nureyev is one of my favorites, and I like Fracci too.)

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Leigh,

I agree with your assessment of over-dancing. Thank you for saying it so concisely.

"The people I see who overdance do so because of insecurity. They don't trust the choreography, the audience or themselves (pick one or all), so they overdance to punctuate the points."

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I think there are also those who over-dance because of bad coaching. From what I hear, the members of ABT Studio Co. (for example) don't exactly languish in a vacuum of inattention.

Perhaps dancers (& others in the field) feel that in order to reach today's audience, impatient and used to over-the-top spectacle as it is, they must emphasize every tiny detail.

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People used to complain about dancers over-emoting (which curiously enough, I haven't heard much about lately).

I think dancers over-dance from lack of understanding the choreography and that encompasses the insecurity of not trusting the choreographer or audience, but also includes those over confident types who are pretty sure they're doing it "right". Yes a certain amount of maturity helps, but not if the dancer is determined to Peter Pan, in which case we end up right back in Leigh's insecurity realm.

Ballet technique is so difficult, it's almost paradoxical that we could have trouble with dancers "over-dancing". Most of the training is struggling with "under-dancing" if you will...

I like the blues analogy; hits the target.

I wonder if gifted coaches are as rare as good ballet conductors. What makes for a good coach? Great verbal communication skill isn't necessarily a gift dancers are born with... but maybe talking dancer-to-dancer is a different type of thing?

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Or what about another point of view....overdancing in the studio, non-professional venue. In the movie "The Company" with Neve Campbell & Joffrey Ballet, there is a short clip of young students and 'young Neve' is dancing more enthusiastically than the others. I see this at my former studio, non-professional but non-dinkle also, just a good recreational studio, where there are one or two that are the best in their class and dance with more energy than the rest. So are they overdancing? Or is the rest of the class underdancing (who don't use as much energy, have as good of mastery of their dance, have as good technique, as the best one or two)?

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I think that when one is a student it is perhaps better to err on the side of over-dancing in class as long as you still focus on your technique. Professionals have to conserve their energy for rehearsals and performances, so class for them is more to help them maintain their technique.

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Class isn't the kind of choreographic context in which overdancing can be considered to exist.

Class is pretty much about technique and shape and not about nuanced interpretation...

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Oh, Amy, I beg to differ, based on personal viewing experience. My daughter's (and my) friend, who has been dancing professionally for 6 years (3 years with the Universal Ballet, 3 years with the Hungarian National Ballet), treated each and every class she took while training (I watched her in class from age 14) as a performance -- from the very first plié. She found a way to interpret every barre exercise as a role. Nuances aplenty!

Granted, she was over the top, but she DID become a working professional ballet dancer (a demi-soloist now). She was the most over-dancing class taker I have every seen, but on stage her emoting (and technique) were perfect. She is a relatively quiet young woman, but ballet brought out the actress in her and despite the teacher's advice to tone it down, she just couldn't. I notice now, however, when she visits and takes class, that she does not overdo it in the way she did when she was aspiring to a ballet career.

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I don't understand the concept of "overdancing" in class.

If class is the opportunity to extend one's athletic, technical and kineseological range -- which in turn provide the artist with more interpretive options -- why is more/higher/faster/bigger a bad thing?

As Erik Bruhn wrote in "Beyond Technique," he fell fairly often in class. When asked why, he replied, so that when he was on stage he would know how far he could take the movement and not fall.

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In Suzanne Gordon's book, Off Balance, she relates a story about how Darci Kistler danced in class with such intensity that she fell badly, and how the response of her fellow classmates was to laugh at her. I guess it wasn't "cool" to show how much one was invested, regardless of how Balanchine prized this characteristic, and he was the person in whose hands their career was.

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I studied for several years with Mr. Bruhn...His classes were difficult (and wonderful). But, always, he told us, "Class is where you make your mistakes."

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People don't seem to know the meaning of 'subtle' nowadays. I like a dance that is exciting but not feverish. Dancing that is artistic and not just flashy. Acting that conveys meaning, but is not soap opera-ish.

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Not over-dancing is what I liked about Robert Tewsley in 'Emeralds' 2 years ago. Now that Helene put up the links, you can see that he was holding himself apart in some ways, not sold on NYCB as the only thing he had to live for--but this made the performance stand out unforgettably. Not something cultivable though. I thought Farrell 'over-danced' in 'La Valse' in 1986, but that that was exactly what was needed, maybe a touch of decadence. But surely that was a very conscious choice for this particular ballet and not what people are talking about here.

In music, some have thought Ivo Pogorelich is 'affected,' etc., whereas I find him the best living pianist even though I don't see him scheduled that much. Lang Lang may be the first huge career with Rachmaninoff traditions inherited as if purchased in whole large pieces and imported into the hothouse as newly commodified items. It's a knockout sound, but sticks more as theater than music.

There's another kind of overdoing, thinking you can do everything--as in those periods when Barbra Streisand thought she could sing any kind of music, whether 'classical', disco, Broadway albums, etc., or write wonderful songs and adapt people's books for her stardom and buy many homes and then sell them, etc., do Las Vegas and overpriced tickets to rehashes of 'The Way We Were.' None of it ever sounded as good as 'Sleepin' Bee' or 'How Does the Wine Taste?' Kiri TeKanawa did a huge variety of pop and folk and musical comedy and religious in addition to opera, although I thought she pulled most of hers off, fairly unusual. Jean-Yves Thibaudet sounds subtle in all Ravel and Debussy, and good in the big Liszt transcriptions, however it's mostly just superficial silver sounds when he records written-out Bill Evans and Duke Ellington, sort of disembodied. Nureyev and Baryshnikov did Hollywood things, but that was normal when the heat's there. If they'd been 'down freaks' they would have just stayed in the Soviet Union.

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In Suzanne Gordon's book, Off Balance, she relates a story about how Darci Kistler danced in class with such intensity that she fell badly, and how the response of her fellow classmates was to laugh at her. I guess it wasn't "cool" to show how much one was invested, regardless of how Balanchine prized this characteristic, and he was the person in whose hands their career was.

Gelsey Kirkland tells a similar story in her first book -- she goes for too much and and falls flat, and there's a horrified silence until Balanchine steps forward and says that "energy" is exactly what he wants.

papeetepatrick writes: None of it ever sounded as good as 'Sleepin' Bee' or 'How Does the Wine Taste?'

Totally off topic, but: What you say is true, but I didn't really blame Streisand for trying. She couldn't sing those songs forever, and to her credit she found a very successful way to adjust to the changing pop scene in a way that Minnelli for example couldn't. But we digress. :jawdrop:

I love Gene Kelly, but on some occasions he's a good example of an over-dancer -- grinning too broadly, straining for effects (The Pirate), trying too hard, and venturing into areas -- some of his more 'balletic' efforts -- out of his depth.

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until Balanchine steps forward and says that "energy" is exactly what he wants.

Toni Bentley says the same thing of him in her short non-fiction book, Winter Season.

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I think that when one is a student it is perhaps better to err on the side of over-dancing in class as long as you still focus on your technique. Professionals have to conserve their energy for rehearsals and performances, so class for them is more to help them maintain their technique.

A little off topic but, this presents an interesting dilemma for young dancers trying to get jobs.

The great thing about taking company class is that you and the AD can see immediately whether you fit into the company. In company class you aren’t competing against a room full of auditioning students. If you fit in then you fit in, and at the moment there is no one better than you for the AD to choose from. When I went around taking company class I made a conscious effort to fit in with the company. That meant looking like a professional looking for a job, not a student looking for a job; I took those classes less academically.

However when I went to open calls I found that the best way to make an impression was to approach class very academically, it shows that you are smart and work intelligently and that will generally set you apart from the other options in the room. At an open call unlike Co. Class it’s not about fitting in at all, it’s about looking like the best option in the room. I am a well rounded dancer, there is always one person that can turn more than I can, one person with better extension, one person with better beats, one person with more control in adagio. So since you can’t win each battle the only way to win the war is set yourself apart, for me that was to look clean the whole time. I think that consistency is valued more at the open calls.

I dont like the idea that professionals have to conserve energy. In the short time that I have worked I've found that the happiest dancers here tend to be the ones that enjoy class every day and dont come to simply maintaining their technique.

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dirac--yes, I think so. Streisand just developed that way, which shows she's intelligent, even if we don't find nearly all the results satisfying artistically, as they were (to me) about through 'Hello, Dolly!'

Although my tendency to digress is straight out of 'Tristram Shandy', and I'm trying to curb some of it, this time I'm glad I was undisciplined: it occurs to me that ballet dancers don't very often stray that far from their discipline in the way that other artists do. Even when they become huge celebrities, like Nureyev and Baryshnikov, their little excursions don't constitute but a very small percentage of their production. I remember that remark of Bogart's about working with Audrey Hepburn in 'Sabrina.' Somewhat irritated, he said 'She's disciplined, like those ballet dames.'

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Great quote re Hepburn -- and a tribute to ballet training! Thanks. :)

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