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Epaulement: where's it gone? who still has it?


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#1 bart

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 09:57 AM

Here's a statement about the relative disappearance of epaulement in ballet today. (It's from The Observer: Luke Jennings' review of the Royal Ballet's celebration performance for the Queen's 80th birthday.)

One of the most recognisable characteristics of Ashton's work is épaulement - the oppositional torsion of shoulder and waist and shoulder with which choreographers colour classical dance. An eloquent épaulement used to be the hallmark of the English style; these days, with the ever-increasing pressure on dancers to extend themselves technically - more turns, longer balances, higher legs - such refinements have become a rarity. A 24-year-old policeman's daughter from Buenos Aires, Nunez is the finest Ashton dancer of her generation, with an upper-body expressiveness that speaks, almost, of a vanished age.


Having just been saturated with the role of "oppositional torsion" in Renaissance sculpture, I'm thrilled to find that this is an aesthetic issue in ballet as well.

Is it true that epaulement is now undervalued or has disappeared from most classical ballet today? Do you agree with Jennings about Nunez? Are there other dancers today who are notable for their "upper-body expressiveness" in this classical manner?
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P.S.: Here's the link to the entire review, from Mme. Hermine's Sunday selectionç
http://observer.guar...1794575,00.html

#2 Marga

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 12:21 PM

Épaulement is valued by companies that employ dancers trained in the Russian style. There are some in the U.S., many in Europe. Some major companies seem to not want it. I think when carbro spoke of Guillaume Côté's dancing with ABT, and mentioned his "square-torsoed" style as being that of NBoC, that is what she meant.

I wouldn't say that épaulement

has disappeared from most classical ballet today.

It is still being strongly taught in many schools. When the student dancers become working dancers, they must adapt to the style that a ballet company's AD requires (perhaps sacrificing some artistic expression) or go looking for work where the style they were trained in is used.

Here is Ballet Alert's picture of Maria Bystrova at 15 which shows her lovely épaulement.
Maria Bystrova

#3 Helene

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 12:22 PM

Of the dancers I've seen on the West Coast, the two dancers with the most notable epaulement are PNB's Mara Vinson, whose arms are very English in style, and Giselle Doepker's (Ballet Arizona).

Cechetti training also emphasized epaulement and the upper body. I haven't seen them perform for a number of years, but when New York Theatre Ballet was called Balletfore, the company's dancers had very lovely epaulement.

#4 ami1436

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 01:51 PM

And I'd completely agree regarding Nunez. She's one who can crank out the turns and do all the tricks but she has a lovely, easy, generous, flowing quality to her dancing, including epaulement....

Off the top of my head, Royal Ballet dancers I'd include as having the 'upper-body expressiveness' would be Nunez, Morera, Yoshida, and the young but effervescent Yuhui Choe.

#5 Hans

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 07:16 PM

The Kirov still has most of its épaulement intact, and I'd imagine the Royal Danish Ballet still has a good bit as well. To develop a truly beautiful upper body, one has to learn to coordinate the head, arms, and legs starting very early in the training so it becomes second nature. I don't approve of the practice of training first the legs, then the arms, as it gives a disjointed look to the movement.

#6 bart

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 09:39 PM

I agree that this placement and movement of upper body is "beautiful." In fact, extraodinarily beautiful. However, standards of beauty change over time. I wonder when -- and under what influences -- this particular standard developed?

And, Hans, as someone who has experienced training from an early age, how did you learn to do this and to value it? Where you just placed in a certain way and told that it was correct? Or was there an attempt to explain WHY classical ballet values this positioning and movement so much?

Growing up, and forming most of my ballet "eye", with Balanchine, I don't recall people talking about epaulment very much. Dancers certainly had what I guess I would have called "carriage, " "elasticity," or even -- :blushing: -- "good posture". But this kind of epaulement, if it was there, passed me by. What WAS Balanchine's view (and standard) on the subject?

#7 canbelto

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 08:21 AM

Alina Cojocaru IMO has beautiful epaulement. Her arms always serve as a musical instrument.
But about epaulement in general, I saw Sylvia at the ABT and then I saw the Sylvia telecast from the Royal Ballet, and I realized what was missing from the ABT production, which was the upper body coordination of both the corps and the principal dancers. At the ABT, the dancers kept their upper bodies as stiff as possible, perhaps to imitate the "stereotypical" British style and carriage. But the Royal Ballet corps understood the difference between the regal upper body and a stiff upper body.

#8 Andre Yew

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 11:11 AM

I think ABT's Zhong-Jin Fang has beautiful epaulement, to the point where she stood out like sore thumb in Sylvia when ABT was at Orange County a couple of months ago.

I was very impressed with Misa Kuranaga when I saw her Lise in Boston Ballet's production of La Fille Mal Garde a few months back, and how she captured the English style so well. It was especially impressive in her solo in the Ellsler pas, where her epaulement and arms seemed to serve the same function as the reverberation of the hall during the silent pauses of the music: you could see and hear the music resonating in the silences through her arms and shoulders.

One reason I've heard that a lot of young students don't develop their upper body expressiveness is because it's considered almost an affectation that is added only after they join a company so that they fit in with that company's style. I really don't buy it. I think the real reason is that many students don't see enough productions so they don't see the expressive possibilities of their technique, and there seems to be an overemphasis on pure technique, especially for the lower body.

--Andre

#9 ami1436

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 12:40 PM

In the insight events/masterclasses I've been to, the Royal Ballet dancers have all mentioned how Ashton wanted them to bend, and then bend more. The masterclass where Nunez was learning the Act III Pizicatto solo Monica Mason had her demonstrate the sisonne ferme section - 'upright as normal', and then 'as Ashton wanted it' - huge, bending difference!

And yes, regarding Cojocaru, and I think with her it's also a lot about port de bras - I was just thinking last week what a transformation has occured in her arms - their almost floaty now, but not in a hyperbolic way. They've always been gorgeous, but there's a slight difference - almost more natural, and to me it appears to create the impression of a huge transformation.

#10 Hans

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 05:39 PM

Bart, unfortunately, my early training was Balanchine, so I learned very little in the way of épaulement until I attended the Kirov Academy toward the end of my training. At that advanced stage, the teachers used a mix of techniques--sometimes we were just told what was correct, and sometimes they went into more detail.

Having taught ballet students of all ages, I think the teaching technique must depend on the students, and there is a variety of ways to get them to produce a particular position so that it still has life and doesn't look affected or "placed." Imagery helps, as does telling them where to look (which engages the eyes). Connecting the movements of the head with the arms is extremely important (and difficult to accomplish) and of course the line of the head and neck must flow into the back and shoulders. It's all very detailed, and various styles and methods have different rules for what the head and arms do according to what the legs are doing, not to mention when or how far to incline or turn the head, precisely where the eyes go, the angle and specific shape of the arms in various positions, &c. (I mention the arms because it's impossible to have épaulement without port de bras.)

I hardly know how to convey how rich and varied épaulement can be; it is quite different from the bland, simplistic "turn your head toward the leg that's in front." I fear much of the detail is ignored today, even by those who try to implement as much as they can.

#11 Helene

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 11:03 PM

To develop a truly beautiful upper body, one has to learn to coordinate the head, arms, and legs starting very early in the training so it becomes second nature.

I watched the first half of Children of Theatre Street for the first time today, and watching the class of 11-year-olds at the barre, it was already clear that the young girls had learned this from the beginning of their training.

#12 Hans

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Posted 15 June 2006 - 07:09 PM

I hope I didn't frighten people away from replying--as with everything in ballet, one needn't know every tiny rule about épaulement to have an opinion about how it looks and/or who does it well. I know what's correct from a teacher's point of view, but what does the audience think? :clapping:

#13 Drew

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 07:57 AM

Last summer I saw soloists from the Royal Danish Ballet at the Sadlers Wells in London. I enjoyed them very much but, on the whole, did not think they compared well with the groups I saw back in the eighties (though I always love Tina Hojlund). I had read strong praise for Thomas Lund, but was not as impressed with him as I expected to be until at a certain moment in mid air, during a leaps forward with the back leg in attitude he suddently tilted his head and upper body just the barest hint more than the other dancers and opened his arms before him just the barest hint more as well: suddenly the jump was beautiful and beautiful in a way that no-one else's was. I don't know if this is exactly what is meant by epaulement, but certainly that slight angling of the upper body over the working leg as he went through the air completely transformed the jump from a well executed stop into something free and expressive.

In the past I had read (usually in newspaper articles) that Bournonville does not emphasize epaulement the way the Russians do, but it does seem to call for "whole body" dancing...

#14 Anne74

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 10:57 AM

Epaulment is a subject near and dear to my heart because its importance was emphasized to me in no uncertain terms from my very early training and onward through teenage years--- and that training was at the School of American Ballet, a school which is often derided for producing dancers too unfamiliar with classical style, port de bras, or clean technique. I won't get into refuting any of those arguments, but I will attest to how strongly we were urged and directed to use our heads, necks, and eyes to complete positions and lines. I will never forget how our teachers would walk around and adjust each student's head position individually so we could feel exactly how it should be, as opposed to simply being told to "turn your head this way", for example.

Now, when I teach, I find most students are completely unfamiliar with the concept of opposition in the torso and neck, as well as reluctant to focus their eyes anywhere to complete the line. I do agree that epaulment must be explained early, because once a student has gotten used to holding their neck so stiffly and in one block with their torso, it's really hard to break that movement pattern.

#15 drb

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 11:05 AM

As a company cited above for its relative lack of epaulement, ABT's dictionary gives this definition:

Épaulement
[ay-pohl-MAHN]]
Shouldering. The placing of the shoulders. A term used to indicate a movement of the torso from the waist upward, bringing one shoulder forward and the other back with the head turned or inclined over the forward shoulder. The two fundamental positions of épaulement are croisé and effacé. When épaulement is used the position of the head depends upon the position of the shoulders and the shoulder position depends upon the position of the legs. Épaulement gives the finishing artistic touch to every movement and is a characteristic feature of the modern classical style compared to the old French style. which has little épaulement.

The tricky to find dictionary:
http://www.abt.org/e...nary/index.html
also supplies photos for both croise and efface.
Alxei Ratmansky, in discussing his new ballet for NYCB in Time Out ( http://www.timeout.c...oi_and_tell.xml ) also compared Russian and American dancers in this regard

How would you compare Bolshoi and NYCB dancers?
I'm not sure if this is right, but for Russians, the center of movement is more in the upper body; it's lower with the American dancers, so I'm working on relaxing the upper body and trying to get them to move in all directions with their shoulders, neck and head contracting and arching the back and giving much more freedom for the arms. When I choreograph with Russian dancers, I usually concentrate on the feet because I want them to turnout, to be more precise, to straighten every time they step.

Has anyone seen the new Russian Seasons that can comment on whether (s)he can see changes in the individual dancers?


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