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


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#16 carbro

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 11:48 AM

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.

#17 Helene

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 11:55 AM

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.

#18 Gina Ness

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 10:58 PM

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."

#19 Amanda_K

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 07:43 PM

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.

#20 papeetepatrick

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 06:33 AM

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.

#21 dirac

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 02:35 PM

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.

#22 Ed McPherson

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 03:44 PM

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.

#23 Ed McPherson

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 04:08 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.


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 arenít 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 itís not about fitting in at all, itís 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 canít 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.

#24 papeetepatrick

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 04:16 PM

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.'

#25 bart

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 04:46 PM

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

#26 carbro

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 07:17 PM

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.'

Well, that makes sense! After all, she originally aspired to be one of "those ballet dames"!

Even when they become huge celebrities, like Nureyev and Baryshnikov, their little excursions don't constitute but a very small percentage of their production.

Hmmm. Not sure I agree. After all, Baryshnikov's career in modern dance continues, and who knows what would have become of Nureyev had he not become AD of Paris Opera Ballet. Ballet demands extremely fine-tuned muscle memory, often in conflict with what it takes to distinguish it from Modern (Eg., the use of weightedness). I've never seen a professional-level dancer who is equally convincing in both genres.

#27 papeetepatrick

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 08:11 PM

carbro--yes, I needed to be updated on Baryshnikov, and need to research him. I confess to not keeping up all that carefully with him, not because I don't see what he is (you'd have to be an idiot not to see that), but just that for some reason I have never been that much of a fan in the way I have with so many others. However, I am gradually going to know a whole lot more than I ever imagined--this site is quite relentless, and does make one want to expand beyond the limited picking and choosing I've been doing. It does seem that most ballet dancers do stay within the field, but I am only judging from the most visible probably. It could also be that some of the less famous go into any number of areas of teaching and performing that are not specifically ballet, and I definitely don't have much knowledge of that.

#28 Hans

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 08:35 PM

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.


Ed, if a professional dancer doesn't enjoy class every day, s/he is in the wrong profession! It was certainly not my intention to suggest that class is some sort of necessary evil. However, as Danilova wrote, "A true artist is awakened on the stage."

#29 silvery_stars

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Posted 27 September 2006 - 10:30 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.



So, so true.

I also blame the schools. So much emphasis on doing the steps and not any emphasis on acting! If I wanted to see people pounding out skills, I'd watch gymnastics. It's as though the acting exploration is saved only for those moving beyond the corps, which is quite late in one's career.

It's a performing art, and there's a story in there somewhere, remember? The poverty of good acting on the ballet stage drives away audiences, sealing the stereotype that ballet is distant, affected prancing that means nothing to "my life". Which is why I so treasure Alessadra Ferri, who is a stunning actress. In fact, I generally like Kenneth MacMillan's work specifically because of his narrative style. As much as I like Swan Lake, I need more than just some mime interspersed with big dance numbers.

#30 leonid17

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Posted 28 September 2006 - 08:55 AM

"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?


My feeling is that when one notices the physical gifts of a dancer all art is lost.

Technique is part of the art of dance, but only a part and physical gifts are part of technique but only a part. To put it crudely if a dancers physical gifts are 'in your face' you are not watching an artist but an athlete wherein physical strength is on exhibition.

Classical ballet dancers need to strive for physical excellence which then needs to be assimilated into the art to which they belong. Along with others I can marvel at physical prowess in dance, but this is not what the ART of classical ballet is all about.

When you watch Sofiane Sylve in the clips on the website 'Youtube' performing six pirouettes I am not offended by the physical and technical attainment and it doesn't for me appear to be 'over danced'.

But when you see physical expression that takes athleticism to a level when it remains just the physical expression of an athlete dancer and not an artist in a role, even if it only in a variation, count me out because I watch classical because it is an art I appreciate.

I have seen very well-known male dancers in a manege within a classical variation, physically heave themselves upwards from a plie into an elevated turn with a power driven change of direction, exhibiting a visibly strong push off and the arms flung high. I consider it acheap effect that will always appeal to thrill seekers, but not to those that have witnessed truly artistic performances.

The best of character dancers who frequently represent a more physical side of dancing might seemingly be entitled to employ such physicality, but they do not do so. Why, because character dance in classical ballet has its own aesthetics.

Lets get back to what classical ballet aesthetics should be, the triumph of technique and art melded as one. where everything is achieved seamlessly and comprises a whole rather than being punctuated by the art being ledt behind to exhibit visible physical effort.

Edited 29/09/06 as original written inhaste.


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