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


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#16 bart

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 11:19 AM

I hope I didn't frighten people away from replying--as with everything in ballet, one needn't know every tiny rule about Úpaulement to have an opinion about how it looks and/or who does it well.

I really appreciate your insights, Hans, as well as those of others who have studied ballet seriously and even taught.

Although I understand the reasoning behind the split between BT and BT for Dancers, I often find myself wishing that those of you who truly understand the technique beneath and within the dancing would talk MORE about what it is that you see and experience during performance.

The concept of "opposition," as presented in drb's post, seems crucial. In Renaissance and Mannerist sculpture, the opposition (often referered to as "torsion") tends to between upper body and lower body -- a kind of twisting of the spine.

The influence of Hellenistic sculptures like The Dying Gaul and Laocoon on artists like Michelangelo and Caravaggio is unquestioned. Comparison of representations of the human figure with this tension and without it -- for instance, Michelangelo's Pieta versus Piero da Cortona's -- is striking. The artists who use this more elaborate version of epaulement produce figures that "live" in the way that other, more conventional artists, could not.

It may be an optical illusion, and I don't understand it, but the effect is definitely there. So why not in ballet as well?

#17 drb

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 12:02 PM

I am one of those with no ballet training at all, but who thinks he can see epaulement. Working with the expression "oppositional torsion" used early in this thread I will risk being mathematical (sorry!).

Torsion is a very tricky word, as it has radically unrelated meanings in various fields. But I'll stick with math and physics, since dancing does take place in 3-D, dynamically so, since time/music is also involved. From the math field called differential geometry, which is the framework for the subject, torsion refers to a curve (movement pattern) that deviates from being confined within a plane; in other words, it twists through three dimensions. So it would "fill" all three dimensions. Dynamically, movement (velocity) involved in the process not only involves changing velocities (acceleration/deceleration) but even changes in the rate of these changes. For a real-world example of this latter, imagine you are driving and see a wall ahead: you try to cut your velocity (decelerate) but encounter the wall before you've completed that process. You would experience the effect of a change in the deceleration as a "jerk". I would suppose that this makes mastering epaulement difficult. For both beauty and comfort, the dancer would have to smooth-out (make harmonious) the changes in acceleration. I would guess that music(ality) would be crucial to this. As noted in an earlier post in this thread, ABT's Zhong-Jing Fang has this characteristic, which seems to show as a lingering or after-glow in her ports-de-bras. I would also guess that epaulement is among the strong points of Sara Mearns's appeal, when the conductor gives her sufficient time...
The oppositional part of the description I would guess refers to the asymmetry through the body's center between upper and lower body, determined by the contrasting (counterbalancing) relationship between feet and shoulder positioning. I would "feel" that the oppositional aspect of the torsion would be crucial to avoiding the jerkiness of the (mathematical) jerk referred to above.

#18 Andre Yew

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 01:37 PM

In classical sculpture, this oppositional posture thing is called controposto, and I think many ballet choreographers were aware of it and used it.

Another way to think about this is that ballet is performed in spaces where the furthest seat still has to be able to grasp the shape of the choreography: you have to be able to project clearly to back of the hall. I think this was codified in one way by ballet: looking towards front leg, the spatial relationships between the various limbs, etc. are all designed to project line and shape to people far away.

And I think it doesn't take any special training or skill to appreciate good lines or epaulement or any of that stuff. In a way, many of these positions and choreography were done because they appealed to human psychology, and were effective in how they could communicate what the choreographer wanted to a large number of people, not just a select, trained few. For example, people will tend to look where you're looking, so in an arabesque, to extend the line of the pose, you wouldn't look down on the floor, you'd look up to where you want your line to be, among other things.

My (current) favorite school of thought for epaulement, heads, and arms is the Royal Ballet, and especially the Ashton rep. It's a luxurious, plush style that has a unique life that I don't see anywhere else: lines and shapes grow, and shift and change in shape.

--Andre

#19 ami1436

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 02:24 PM

Well bart, I'm more of a BT4D poster, but I'll drop in here because you mentioned something I was thinking about... I think there are many others here more knowledgeable and articulate than I, so I hope this makes sense and feel free to correct!

Anyways......Oppositional torsion. I like that term!

I was thinking about the spiral in class tonight - just got home. This teacher is huge on how we 'make' movement and the processes involved, and today we were working on a certain arabesque a terre position - and the spirals that it creates through the vertical plane of the body to create the epaulement. Or the movement of the shoulders/upper bodies facilitates the entire process of the larger movement... I don't know if that makes sense at all?

I think epaulement is one of those things that is often not used in class enough, or if it is, it is often in cookie-cutter fashion - when the arm is here, the head here, the eyes here, this incline to the head, etc.... In reality, there are many more variations, and it is not about the position itself, but the *process* of making that position. One of the revelations I had with this teacher a few years back was that you don't have to 'present' front.

I remember being at an Insight Day at The Sadlers Wells last year, with the Forsythe Company. Forsythe (and the others who spoke on him) essentially said that epaulment was the center and the foundation of dance... I can't find my notes right now, and I'm also not someone who feels familiar enough with Forsythe and his approach to technique and dance to comment on how he uses epaulement in practise, but it might be interesting in light of the Kirov's current tour in the U.S.

#20 bart

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 04:12 PM

Ami1436, it sounds like you have a wonderful teacher. My beginner's experience of barre work is that it is very much a matter of positioning the body forward, with emphasis on movement and placement of the limbs. Other than "keep your shoulders down," and some adjustments of the angle of my classmates' heads, I don't think the concept of epaulement has ever come up. Maybe they cover that in Intermediate. :blink:

I remember being at an Insight Day at The Sadlers Wells last year, with the Forsythe Company. Forsythe (and the others who spoke on him) essentially said that epaulment was the center and the foundation of dance.

This is fascinating. From my viewing of only 3 Forsythe works, I would not have thought that this was the case. Those of you who've seen the Kirov Forstythe program in London or in Washington: what do you think? Did the performances demonstrate the kind of concern for epaulement that Forsythe claims?

#21 vicarious

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 06:09 PM

You would experience the effect of a change in the deceleration as a "jerk". I would suppose that this makes mastering epaulement difficult. For both beauty and comfort, the dancer would have to smooth-out (make harmonious) the changes in acceleration. I would guess that music(ality) would be crucial to this.

I think core strength is crucial for smoothing this out. Some young students I've seen look very rigid because they don't have the muscle strength to manipulate thier torso and some others sway and wobble like grasses in the wind because they don't have the muscle control.

#22 vicarious

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 06:37 PM

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,


I was surprised by your post because it has corrected a misconception I had of SAB training. My dd was taking classes with someone who had been trained at SAB and was told "Keep your head perfectly still and look only at the bun in front of you. This is how we were taught at SAB." Previously dd had been working with David Howard videos. That school worked hard to get her to keep her head forward during barre instead of moving it like on the videos. We switched to a Russian school so now epaulement is definately being taught and encouraged.

#23 GoCoyote!

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 06:46 PM

I am lucky enough to see the Royal Ballet often including quite recently open-to-the-public coaching sessions of some rather wonderful Ashton choreography and there is a very particular delight and satisfaction of seeing a dancer who 'has it' - dancing choreography which has it too, of course.

Being a musician I would liken it maybe to adding an additional melody line to produce two melodies playing together, counterpoint... and of course the great thing being that at any given moment you do not always get the harmony you might have predicted.

Maybe the analogy is too obscure... anyway it looks awfully difficult*..... sort of like ballet▓




*hats off to those who make it look so easy :blink:

#24 sandik

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 07:52 PM

Several years ago I watched quite a lot of RAD classwork, and came away from it with the image of a nested Chinese ball, where a single piece of ivory is carved into a series of intricately pierced balls, each inside the next. The physical counterplay of epaulment is complex and subtle -- I've always thought it needed to be seen fairly close up to observe all the detail, though an ensemble working in unison can knock you out even from the nosebleed seats.

Pacific Northwest Ballet just finished a series of performances of Jewels, and I was very struck by the epaulment in Emeralds, especially in the Verdy role as her arms constantly cross the centerline of her body, which creates incredible torque. Louise Nadeau was very, very effective in that role here.

#25 bart

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 06:48 AM

Being a musician I would liken it maybe to adding an additional melody line to produce two melodies playing together, counterpoint... and of course the great thing being that at any given moment you do not always get the harmony you might have predicted.

A great analogy! Thanks, GoCoyote.

Sandik's comment, in reference to Emeralds -- "the physical counterplay of epaulement is complex and subtle" -- seems completely justified by so many of the contributions to this thread. You all have changed the way I will look at ballet in the future.

#26 bart

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 09:03 AM

My apologies for repling to myself, but I've just come across a review, by Alastair Macaulay, of the Royal's Peter Wright production of Giselle (Times Lliterary Supplement, 5/16/06, not online).

It gives an example of epaulement gone very much awry.

... Act One features a peasant dance in which three rows of men advance and kneel, looking up piously over their right shoulder with the correct epaulement. Two lines of women move down the avenues they have created: the left and central rows of men can look at them admiringly without changing their head positions, but the chaps int he right-hand row go onlooking into thin air despite the fact that all the girls on on their left: academic seemliness apparently matters more than sense. Why?

If Andre is correct and the audience tends to look where the dancer is looking, I suspect a great number of viewers were distracted by this. :flowers: :flowers: :blink:

#27 Paul Parish

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 03:24 PM

I THINK one reason so many American dancers are not taught much epaulement is that Joseph Pilates moved to new York after world war one and had a big influence on the dancers who came up in the thirties. Graham and Balanchine both worked with Pilates -- and even though Graham uses a LOT of spirals, still, the emphasis on core strength owes a lot to Pilates.

One of the Pilates concepts -- not sure how early it developed, but it's certainly widely used now in both Pilates and in ballet class -- is the idea that the torso is a "BOX"-- the shoulders are over the hips, square. THis is a reference point, or set of reference points, and people are constantly referred to them. It facillitates very clear turns, the kind that flip around fast, and also for going straight up and down in jumps.... Dancers once trained are asked of course to move OFF this center a lot -- but it's a different "orientation technique" than thinking naturally in spiralling contraposition, and many American dancers will square themselves back up if they run into difficulties, whereas Cecchetti-based dancers may try to renew their spirals.....

I haven't put that very subtly, but something like that is surely in play at a deep level.

For a FABULOUS example of epaulement, one of hte most beautiful I know of on video (wish we had more Violette Verdy on film, for she sure had it) is Adam Luders's partnering (of Merrill Ashley?) in Act 2 of a Midsummer Night's Dream (the televised NYCB performance from about 10-15 years ago). Normally it's the ballerina who gets the attention in this dance, but I could not take my eyes off Luders (who was not upstaging Ashley, he was nobly at her service) -- but what noble attention, and what beautiful lines he created.

#28 drb

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 08:02 PM

For a FABULOUS example of epaulement, one of the most beautiful I know of on video (wish we had more Violette Verdy on film, for she sure had it) is Adam Luders's partnering (of Merrill Ashley?) in Act 2 of a Midsummer Night's Dream (the televised NYCB performance from about 10-15 years ago). Normally it's the ballerina who gets the attention in this dance, but I could not take my eyes off Luders (who was not upstaging Ashley, he was nobly at her service) -- but what noble attention, and what beautiful lines he created.

And he hadn't forgotten it in his teaching, 15 years later (photo from 2001):
http://www.mainestat...uders_glenn.JPG
And even if OT, just because it exists, a photo of Mr. B. coaching Adam and Karen in Davidsbundlertanze:
http://members.autho...arenadammrb.jpg

#29 Hans

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 10:02 PM

To clarify re: SAB training, its faculty underwent a radical change. At first, the entire faculty was Russian (and French?) and dancers were not taught the Balanchine style until they became company members. Currently, most of the teachers are American, former NYCB dancers, and the students are taught the Balanchine style from the beginning. Therefore, if one was trained at SAB in the 50's, 60's, and probably the 70's, one had old Russian imperial-style (pre-Vaganova) training, but that is no longer the case. I attended SAB in the late 1990's, so my training there was entirely Balanchine style, and to be quite honest, the Balanchine style does not use much Úpaulement, at least not nearly as much as the Vaganova method does. (I know that last statement will probably not be popular, but it was my experience. :dunno: )

#30 drb

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 08:00 AM

You've really nailed it Hans. They seemed to have forgotten that Balanchine's Balanchine style very much emphasized epaulement. Quoting the former Balanchine dancer and current great teacher (of many NYCB dancers) Wilhelm Burmann, from a Dance Magazine interview in 1996:

"How can you get dancers to move when all they want to do is stand in First Position, with their arms in Second Position with the head immovably facing front for forty-five minutes at the barre! People from the street can do that. Epaulement becomes a tremendous effort. No wonder there is no joy of movement. Any movement you do with your legs without using your torso is garbage. You might as well not do it. I see a lot of exaggerations being taught in Balanchine's name. It's out of hand. His use of beautiful arms, hands, and head positions has become contorted."

In full:
http://www.findartic...v70/ai_18640447


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