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Contradiction


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#16 Hans

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Posted 12 July 2006 - 07:05 AM

Omshanti, I think we agree. One must of course be mentally "present" and aware of every moment when dancing, but it is not possible to think about every tiny thing each muscle is doing. One must have the ability to do ballet steps without thinking about it, but one must be conscious of what one is doing nonetheless. Ballet dancers are trained to do this from the very beginning when they learn how to stand. If one is doing a series of complicated pirouettes or petit allegro, it is not possible to be minutely aware of every aspect of one's posture--the posture just has to happen because the dancer's focus is elsewhere, such as on projecting an emotion.

#17 omshanti

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 12:29 AM

Thank you Hans for understanding what I was trying to say, but in my opinion a (well) trained human body and mind is very much capable of being aware of and concentrating on every part of the body technically as well as focusing on other things such as projecting an emotion. Being aware or concentrating are different from being preoccupied. In my opinion the aim of years of traininng in ballet is to attain that high level of awareness , rather than to be able to forget every thing and rely on mustle memory in the end. A good dancer is a dancer who is able to be aware of every thing technically without showing it , not a dancer who can forget everything. It is such a dancer whose body will remain young longer and whose career will last longer. When some teachers say forget the technique it is a metaphor , they are not meaning it literally.

I do not think it is possible to compare dancing(especially ballet)
1. to being a musician because for a musician it is the quality of the sound that he/she creates which matters not the quality of the body movement while playing the instrument, for example it is the sound of the F-sharp that matters for a pianist not how he reaches for it
2. to remembering a poem because muscle memory in ballet is trickier than brain memory, for example body muscles will go back to the natural usage of that person easily and also the gravity will take hold easily.
They might be easy ways to explain to a beginner but it is better for the beginner (even if it is harder) to know the truth or the higher level of ballet from the beginning because otherwise he/she might never be able to get out of that mind set to grasp the truth. If we use the walking analogy we have to use walking in perfect posture rather than just walking. A person has to intend and be aware to walk in good posture and even if he/she has been walking for years with that intention and awareness once he/she stops doing that and starts to rely on muscle memory the posture will worsen because the muscles will take the easy ways and gravity will take hold and it will start to look different to a trained eye. It is the same for a glissade. A glissade might be glissade whether done aware or unaware but without the right body usage which requires awareness and intention it will look completely different to a trained eye.

#18 vrsfanatic

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 02:39 AM

In coaching dancers, students and professionals, one often discusses at this moment try to remember to do this or that, or making analogies to various emotions when training the feeling of a particular movement, port de bras and lift of the back. These things are repeated endlessly in rehearsal so that it is performed that way on stage. Each dancer is different in what they think about while they are performing. Some think technique more often than others and others do not think about it at all. At some point however I am sure it does pop into all dancer's minds..."eek, remember heel forward here, knee out (side) there, get on your freaking leg...go, go, go!" The actual mechanics and thought process of how to execute a step is definitely not part of the performance process. There is no time! That has all been repeatedly gone through in the classroom and rehearsal. The dancer who needs to think before doing is the dancer who is off the music! The dancer who entertains the audience is the one who is thinking more often than not..."wow, this is great fun!" :)

#19 DefJef

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 03:22 AM

vrsfanatic raises an interesting issue which I am not even sure I want to know the answer to.. and I am sure there are many many answers... ie no correct one.

But here goes. When a principal dancer is doing a role such as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet... she clearly has to perform the dance with technical perfection.. at least that is one objective of course. But she is also an actor and conveying the moods and mental states etc of the character. How much of her focus and thought is really "in charaster"? You can, of course, read this in facial expressions perhaps more easily than in how the body "is" moving at a particular moment. But one can read much in movement and position.. but perhaps not all.

In reflecting back on seeing Paloma Herrra perform Romeo and Juliet last week, I was struck by how "convincing" her portrayal of a child like Juliet was in the beginning and this "acting" seems to reside in more than simply dancing the part technically. Since I am not a dancer I haven't a clue about these things and so some teachers might want to help me out in understanding about the intersection of acting etc. in ballet and what is involved mentally in the dancer's mind when they are on stage.

Does this make any sense?

#20 vrsfanatic

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 03:53 AM

Your questions make a lot of sense and of course there is no one true answer. In story ballets, the craft of choreography should enhance the acting of the performer. If the choreography is not well crafted, the performers may look over done while acting. Also, some performers are good actors while others just simply, are not. There are many reasons to cast a dancer in a role. One being to hopefully develop the dancer. All dancers have to begin somewhere. Generally speaking the more seasoned a dancer, the acting abilities are stronger, but this is not always the case. :)

#21 sz

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 06:01 AM

I know when I see a perfomance which is especially "emotive" I sense it but I can't figure out why it is... how was this achieved? What exactly did THAT dancer do that this other dancer didn't??? I am not a dancer obviously... so this is very new to me.


The technical, bare-bones-mechanics, part of dancing is (usually) very well rehearsed. The artist's style, how each dancer interprets the music, cannot so fully be programed in advance, but it too is (usually) well rehearsed. Much of what makes each dancer so different in their artistic style/emotive choices is very much due to their own natural personality. Each dancer's personal ways of relating to, hearing the music, will be different from another dancer's way. Emotive styling can be improved upon with lots of coaching, but the core self, the natural personality self, has a life of its own.

#22 DefJef

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 07:05 AM

To elaborate on my ignorance...

What are some specific "things" dancers do which personalize a role? They cannot change the choreography... yes or no?

Artisitry is not, in my understanding, simply acheiving perfect technique.

I suppose in music, for example, a pianist doing a concerto can "play" with tempo and even intensity of the notes as an example how they can perform technically well, but add their own flair... artistry if you like... interpretation.

I do understand that dancers also interpret their roles.. but I don't know of any of the mechanisms available. Please excuse my ignorance and help me out a bit here.

How do dancers do this?

#23 2dds

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 08:04 AM

It is interesting to me to see how the musicality, the technique, and this contradiction threads are all converging and trying to look at how the magic/illusion aspect of ballet is taught and executed. We are using analogies and every other technique at our disposal to explain a transformation that is probably somewhat beyond the ability of words to convey. Ballet demands so much of its pactitioners. I often comment to my dancing children, you must act without words, and sing without voices. Because their bodies (entire bodies) are their instrument, they have to train and condition like athletes. Unlike athletes they are also required to make it look effortless and easy, but not so matter of fact it becomes pedestrian. Does this happen in the head or in the heart or in the limbs?

Currently my main interest in ballet is in the care and feeding of its practitioners. I was somewhat shocked to realize (actually during a performance one summer several years ago), that I was no longer raising children who danced, but rather dancers who were still children. Since my personal epiphany, I have taken this responsibility very seriously.

From this perspective it seems to me an extraordinary number of things need to come together quite precisely to achieve even the most fleeting moments of success in ballet. Prominent among these things are persistence, faith, and passion cultivated in an atmosphere of hope and with a healthy dose of good luck and good fortune. The support and curiosity of balletomanes like defjef and others on this board reassures me that the community working so hard to produce dancers and dances can look forward to appreciative fans for sometime to come.

Both my children have devoted a lot of sweat and tears to dance (primarily but not exclusively ballet) and hope for careers though they know the odds against them. Ballet even takes over their dreams. I remember how touched I was when I first heard about the dream pirouettes where the dreamer asceded and spun flawlessly for countless revolutions. Both my children have dancing dreams pretty regularly (although some are pretty ordinary and every once in awhile there are real nightmares!) It seems you must train, train, train, and strive in all ways: physical, mental, and spiritual to have a hope of doing what Defjef is trying to understand. The culture of excellence and dedication begun in the studio and perpetuated all the way to the stage are a totality that combine to generate what we are all so proud of. An elusive constellation of magic, and sweat; inspiration and perspiration, that on a good day lift us all up so high it is its own reward.

#24 DefJef

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 08:21 AM

One thing which I want to comment on here is that the intelligence, wisdom, the command of language and complex ideas are so beautifully conveyed by people who are involved in a art which uses no words, only movement. Damn you people are amazingly articulate!

The more I look at ballet from the other side of the proscenium.. and read the comments of those on BT... the more I realize how little I understand. As I age I realize I know more and more about less and less or something like that.

What is happening to me is that I am increasingly being drawn into to ballet, the beauty, the mystery, the amazing perfection of the human body and movement. I can't tell you BT people how important this forum is to me.

I do consider dancers to be living breathing works of art.. when they perform... like Bernini's come to life... unfrozen perfect sculpture free to move in what to me is rather super human ways. Too bad Bernini, Da Vinci, or Michelangelo could not see ballet! Aren't we lucky!

WOW!

#25 Hans

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 10:14 AM

DefJef, just consider how much more you already know than the average person! :)

Principal dancers and some soloists are sometimes allowed to work with the ballet master/mistress to alter choreography in very small ways to suit their abilities and personalities to create the most effective performance, so that is one part of the equation.

As far as exactly what dancers do in order to interpret a role...well, they think about it quite a bit, and the ballet master/mistress usually assists them in finding the logic behind everything they do in the ballet and how it all flows together, similar to an actor "finding motivation." They also analyze their movements very carefully, and they may rehearse a seemingly simple gesture over and over to do it with the appropriate energy, facial expression, eye focus, and so on. Eye contact between dancers is important, and so is the way they touch each other--how a ballerina takes her partner's hand, how a cavalier offers his hand, and what the dancers do with this physical connection.

In fact, it is perhaps most difficult to perform alone because the dancer doesn't have a crowd of people onstage, or even a partner, to relate to. In that case, the dancer uses his/her own energy to uniquely shade each movement, and s/he uses his/her eyes and face as well as body to appear (for example) withdrawn and remote or warm and approachable. To relate directly to the audience, the dancer might often look out into the auditorium, attempting to gaze through the very back wall of the theater. To create the impression that the audience is looking through a one-way mirror at the stage, the dancer could look only at his/her partner or even envision an opaque wall at the front of the stage so that his/her gaze stops at the proscenium as if the audience is not there.

It's pretty difficult to explain, and I think parts of it are impossible to explain, but if you ever have the opportunity to watch a rehearsal, that might help you to see exactly how dancers prepare for their roles and create particular artistic effects onstage.

#26 2dds

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 10:30 AM

Yay Hans!

I am going to recommend my dancers look at your very informative comments (especially since partnering--much of your post--is so hard to come by with so few boys available at so few schools for the training students).

I also find rehhearsals very informative and enlightening.

Thanks Defjef for your enthusiasm and the good questions.

#27 kfw

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 10:51 AM

What are some specific "things" dancers do which personalize a role? They cannot change the choreography... yes or no?

DefJef, you might find it illuminating to watch dancers rehearsing with a coach. There are a number of commercial recordings that show portions of rehearsals. If you're interested, the Dancer's Dream series, featuring Paris Opera Ballet productions of Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, and La Bayadere, would be a good place to start.

#28 DefJef

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 11:02 AM

Hans,

I have thought about trying to see rehearsals at both the Met and the ABT... if that is possible for someone who is not a professional such as myself.

On the one hand I would imagine I might discover some of the answers to the questions I find swirling in my head answered as the performers prepare their magic. On the other hand I love the feeling of not seeing the nuts and bolts and just experiencing the finished work of art.

I have similar conflict about actually seeing an artist outside of their medium. This is not that I place them on a pedestal (which I do to some extent)... but I am not sure that it would add to my experience and illusions which are created by seeing only the "performance".

For the dancers, teachers and so on, it may be hard to even uderstand the place I am seeing this from as they are so intimately involved with every aspect of dance and I am merely a consumer of their talent and hard work.

Would you or others here at BT recommend that I DO try to see some of these magnificant works in rehearsal? Is this something that balletomanes who are not dancers or ex dancers etc inevitably do at some point? What I fear is that I will see all sorts of matters of timing and very minor technical things being sorted out as opposed to the etheral matters which attract me so much now.

Your point about interaction of dancers is well taken and I can see this with my binocs which is much harder to see without them. There is in fact, more "acting" (interacting) taking place than I would have thought. My previous notion was that to see a ballet was like seeing a human clockwork in time/space/motion. How wrong I was!

And how amazing it is that so many of these young dancers possess so much artistry in those bodies at such an early stage in their lives.

edit

thanks for the suggestion kfw

#29 Paul Parish

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 04:50 PM

Def Jef, I think it might do you a lot of good to watch some ballet classes and see how dancers prepare. A lot would be explained rightt here -- other mysteries would arise, but seeing the academy in action would clarify the basics. I doubt very seriously that it would harm your enjoyment of performances.

#30 Hans

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Posted 14 July 2006 - 06:57 PM

The difficult part would be finding a school or company that would allow you to watch its rehearsals, as usually that sort of thing is reserved for people who donate large amounts of money. Parents are usually allowed to watch school dress rehearsals--perhaps you could tag along if you have any friends with relatives who dance? Be warned, though, you are right that rehearsal can be insufferably dull. Not always, but sometimes. kfw's suggestion of the "Dancer's Dream" series is a good one, as those documentaries go through what goes into producing a ballet without getting too dry and boring. Perhaps that would be a good first step and then if you decide you would like to see more, you could maybe look into attending a dress rehearsal or something.

Edit:

Regarding dancers relating to each other onstage, one of the most beautiful examples I've seen of this occurred with no eye contact at all. In Act II of the Kirov's Giselle, Hilarion performs a diagonal of tours chaînés deboulés toward the lake where he drowns, and as he does so, the Wili corps performed a sort of wavelike movement--standing pointe tendue derrière, each did a temps lié en arrière, bending her upper body slightly and as she did so, she allowed her fingers to lightly brush the back of the dancer in front of her, which was how the next dancer knew when to do the step and continue the "wave." It was extremely impressive and done so deftly that I really didn't know quite how they did it until I thought about it later.


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