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Over-dancingIs there a dance equivalent to over-acting?


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#1 Amy Reusch

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 07:41 PM

"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?

#2 carbro

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 08:34 PM

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.

#3 Paul Parish

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 08:42 PM

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.

#4 Michael

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Posted 28 April 2006 - 04:49 AM

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.

#5 kfw

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Posted 28 April 2006 - 08:12 AM

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?

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 28 April 2006 - 09:55 AM

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.

#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 28 April 2006 - 04:58 PM

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.

#8 canbelto

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Posted 28 April 2006 - 06:19 PM

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.)

#9 Justdoit

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Posted 30 April 2006 - 04:24 PM

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."

#10 Hans

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Posted 30 April 2006 - 07:09 PM

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.

#11 Amy Reusch

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Posted 01 May 2006 - 07:57 AM

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?

#12 Tiffany

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Posted 03 May 2006 - 06:27 PM

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)?

#13 Hans

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Posted 03 May 2006 - 08:29 PM

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.

#14 Amy Reusch

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Posted 04 May 2006 - 07:33 PM

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...

#15 Marga

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 10:41 AM

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 pliť. 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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