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#1 DefJef

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 07:25 AM

Classic ballet of course is very rigorous and involves not only a historical repertoire, but rigorous steps and "style" such as pointe.

The use of the classic ballet style and steps could be used in "contemporary" dances and choreography... and some modern dance, although demanding and rigorous may contain no classical steps and style.

I am interested in the gray area where dance uses much of the rigors of classic ballet but less so. Is this called modern dance? Are dances being choreographed using some classic style but less so than in the classic repertoire? Do modern dance companies do more of these contemporary dances as time marches on? Or do they remain very much rooted in a classical repertoire?

Do classically trained dancers have an "easier" time at doing modern dance than modern dancers moving to classical work? Are some dancers known for their work in both genres? Or is this considered a "no no". What are the general vibes between classically trained dancers and modern dancers?

Can some of you experts shed some light on this gray area for me?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 08:07 AM

DefJef, modern dance has its own rigor. It doesn't require as many years of training. Many modern dancers started as ballet dancers, but many also don't discover dance until college and start then. It's very rare for someone who's a trained modern dancer to switch to ballet -- especially women, because if pointe work is not started very early one won't be proficient. It's not rare for ballet dancers to do modern dance -- these days, there are almost no companies that do not have modern dance in the repertory.

For years there has been a "crossover" style and it's had different names. The French call it "ballet moderne" (as opposed to "ballet classique"). It's also been called hybrid, crossover, altoballet, etc. It started in the 1950s with Glen Tetley, John Butler and several others who experimented with blending modern dance and ballet technique, really blending it, not just staging a modern dance work on a ballet company, or having a modern dance choreographer come in and choreograph a ballet. In the past couple of years, a new genre has started to emerge called "contemporary dance" (as awful a name as modern dance, because it's confusing. A new "Giselle" staged this week is a "contemporary" version, but may not be a "contemporary dance" version. It's a blend of everything, including ballet's virtuosity. (Modern dance had, as its credo, an emphasis on expression and a loathing of virtuosity.)

Modern dance companies do what their choreographers do. Merce Cunningham or Paul Taylor will do modern dance, because that's what they do -- they won't invite someone in to do a "contemporary" work. I'm not sure I understand "Or do they remain rooted in a classical repertoire." There are very, very few repertory modern dance companies. They're nearly always one-choreographer shops.

Nearly all classical dancers today have training in modern dance, or jazz dance, or some other non-classical form. Some have no trouble moving among genres, others do. There are some dance students who see ballet technique as a means to an end -- builds strength, gives you a good vocabulary, develops muscles -- and others who want to dance classical ballet.

When I became interested in dance, I remember having a hard time sorting out the various genres -- I'd read it was all about the shoes, but Alvin Ailey's dancers sometimes wore street shoes, sometimes were barefoot, and sometimes wore pointe shoes. Then I realized that the easiest way to try to sort things out is to think of dance as a language. Balanchine borrowed from German modern dance, jazz, Broadway, everything else around him -- but he spoke classical ballet, and, unless he was choreographing for Broadway or circuses, what he made was ballet. Paul Taylor and Mark Morris know how to use ballet technique and ballet dancers, and when they make a work for a ballet company, it will suit the dancers, but they're still modern dance choreogrpahers because that's their language.

One caveat: In Europe, many people use "contemporary dance" to include "modern dance." I just read a 'short history of contemporary dance' on the web that began with Isadora Duncan. This is new. In the '30s, there was "German modern dance," and when modern dance began to develop in England, it was called "modern dance," but "contemporary" took its place.

This site, by the way, was founded partly because of this grey area, as you put it. I was alarmed constantly reading that ballet was disappearing, that it was just another kind of dance. It's its own thing, and I wanted to have a place where it could be explored and discussed: "a place for civilized discourse about classical ballet".

#3 papeetepatrick

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 08:43 AM

Alexandra--what was Lar Lubovitch's 'Red Shoes Ballet' like? I had liked some of his work from the 70's like 'Clear Lake' and 'Joy of Man's Desiring' (danced by J. Solan--a classically trained dancer who later did a lot of work with Netherlands Dance Theater--when I saw it), but not the ice-skating Sleeping Beauty thing, which I saw on television. I recall that when the musical 'The Red Shoes' had a dreadful fate on Broadway, ABT was putting on the 20-minute + 'Red Shoes Ballet,' but I didn't get to see it; and wondered if it sometimes reappears in the repertory there.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 08:47 AM

Patrick, I didn't see it. He's one of the "blenders/hybrids/crossovers" whatever types. I'm sure others here did see it and I hope they'll chime in with specifics.

#5 Helene

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 09:21 AM

Paul Taylor and Mark Morris know how to use ballet technique and ballet dancers, and when they make a work for a ballet company, it will suit the dancers, but they're still modern dance choreogrpahers because that's their language.


I agree with Alexandra almost completely, and with this statement about Paul Taylor, because I don't think he's ever tried to create a ballet for a ballet company. Mark Morris though has created both: modern works for ballet companies, and at least one classical ballet: his Sylvia for San Francisco Ballet is classical ballet by any definition I know, while paradoxically I wouldn't call him a ballet choreographer, that's not how he self-identifies. Sylvia was like a painting by a current artist working in the subject matter and style of the masters, but with the unmistakably energy of his time.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 12:23 PM

"Company B" was created on Taylor dancers, but intended for a ballet company (Houston). It's an exception, but I use it to prove a rule. The Bugle Boy solo, especially, is a ballet solo. (In its early seasons, Houston looked better in this ballet than the Taylor Company. Really!) Mark Morris is often quoted as saying he's a modern dance choreographer (I have some friends who consider him post-modern). Ballet is definitely part of his background, but it's not his primary sensibility. I haven't seen "Sylvia," and I'll be curious how New York sees it. :dry: More and more, there seems to be a difference between West Coast and East Coast perceptions -- not saying one is "right" or "wrong," just different. I remember hearing and reading friends iin LA and San Francisco who thought Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" was a new classicism and New York colleagues had a different take. All of this to say that things are in flux and until -- and if -- there's another Center, a big movement in which people either buy into or rebel against, there are going to be a lot of grey areas.

#7 DefJef

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 12:43 PM

Are the gray areas mostly among companies in the USA? Or are these "hybrids" seen around the world?

Another question is about Asian dancers. I have seen several of them in ABT and NYCB, but was wondering if there are any ballet companies based in Asia with most of the dancers of Asian decent?

There are many extremely gifted muscisians...Yo-Yo Ma comes to mind. Is ballet eurocentric? and is this a result of where it "came from"?

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 12:48 PM

There are several mixed genre companies in Europe -- one of the most famous is Netherlands Dance Theater. Then there's tanz teater, a new (now several decades old) descendant of modern dance that's a kind of movement theater.

There are several Asian ballet companies -- in China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Don't know about southeast Asia; perhaps someone else will. I know BT4D has quite a few students from Singapore. I think ethnic or national sensibilities and aesthetics will always be visible.

#9 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 12:57 PM

The most interesting description I've heard about Morris is from a friend who danced with Cunningham who felt that Morris looped back to old-fashioned modern dance, particularly Jose Limon.

Also, DefJef - do check out the archives (they're located at the bottom of the home page) as well as some older threads. I think you'll find the earlier discussions on these questions add extra perspective and dimension to the current one.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 01:05 PM

To make the discussion even more interesting, there's a lot of ballet that isn't classical -- demicaractere ballets (almost never done anymore) and character ballets, or character elements in ballets. Ratmansky uses character dance. Of the contemporary (meaning: working this hour) choreographers whose work I've seen, he's the one who seems to use the entire ballet vocabulary, not just the danse d'ecole. And there's a lot of dance of all genres that's called "classical" that I would call "formalist" -- to differentiate between vocabulary from structure. The more you get into it, the more the differentiations matter and the more fun they are to decode. But one doesn't need any of this to enjoy watching dancing, of course!

#11 DefJef

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 01:54 PM

The tutu in my mind (naive and uneducated in dance) represents the classic ballerina's costume. But this is surely not a requirement for the definition of ballet. I don't associate the tutu with anything but ballet. I do love the way a ballerina doing point in a tutu looks... usually stunning... no?

What is the "deal" with the tutu and costuming in general? Are more "modern" costumes associated with more recent productions?

#12 Hans

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 02:14 PM

Do classically trained dancers have an "easier" time at doing modern dance than modern dancers moving to classical work?


Short answer: they think they do. :dry:

Long answer: It depends on how much training in modern dance the ballet dancer has had, and also upon what type of modern dance it is. A ballet dancer with a lot of experience doing Limon, for example, will probably not be all that great at Graham, though s/he might be better than one with no modern training at all.

The length of time necessary to be proficient in a particular type of modern dance also varies; Graham takes approximately as long as ballet, and the dancers start later in life (sixteen is the youngest age Graham would start seriously training students, although she did have a program for children).

I like to think of the Classical (short) tutu as the natural evolution of the Romantic (long) tutu. Over time, as ballet technique developed and tastes changed, they simply shortened the skirt to show the dancers' legs better. However, tutus are not only used in Petipa ballets; Balanchine used them often, and some Forsythe works are costumed in very flat, disc-like tutus. I've even seen a version of the Dying Swan danced in the traditional tutu and pointe shoes but with modern/contemporary twists on the choreography, including turned-in legs and deconstructed port de bras.

#13 omshanti

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 05:06 PM

In my opinion, most of the dancers who are called classical ballet dancers are not truly classical ballet dancers recently. Most of them are in the grey area rather than classical nowadays. I am one of those people who think that the level of classical dancing is dropping. For example many dancers today seem to have difficulty differentiating between the up or in the air quality of classical ballet and the down or on the ground quality of modern dance, and dance classical ballet with that down or on the ground quality.

I think one of the reasons that this is happening now is because there really are not many people left who truly know classical ballet dancing and the tradition of it inside out , and those rare people are ignored in the ballet world.

#14 Marga

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 06:55 PM

Oh dear! I'm afraid I have to emphatically disagree with you, omshanti. :dry:
I am seeing a rapid rise in teaching of true classical ballet, in North America, Europe, and Asia. Witness the level of proficiency of teenagers and young 20-somethings competing in the myriad international ballet competitions. I don't think we've ever had such a worldwide climate for the proliferation of true classical ballet dancers, many who are technically far more virtuosic than some of their predecessors.

With the fall of communism, the chains that bound Russian dancers and teachers have burst apart to release a huge contingent of pure classically trained individuals into the rest of the world. Hordes -- and I do mean "hordes" -- of them have made their way into the United States and Canada. They teach both in the top-notch and the not-so top-notch ballet schools of the nation, imparting their own training with all its significant balletic nuances, to a generation of dance students so hungry for this type of training that many of them devote themselves to it almost to the exclusion of everything else. Scads of young ballet students are homeschooled so as to have access to their ballet teachers whenever possible, many, many have moved from home, sometimes with the whole family but most often with one parent (usually the mother), in order to be physically near to their chosen ballet schools and teachers.

Today's ballet teachers are mentors and coaches of their most promising students so as to give them everything that is needed for a career in classical ballet. If anything, there are far more highly-trained students than there are jobs available in the ballet world. The relationship between teacher/coach and student outside of Russia is now, in so many cases, the same as the traditional bond so treasured in Russia. The teachers are revered and in return they love their gifted students. This is not to say that the training is not harsh or demanding. It often is as archaic as it was back in Russia throughout the last century. I've come to believe (partly from the personal experience of my own daughter and several of her friends) that, in the end, a little fear going into class each day produces a superior instrument in the art of ballet. The skin-toughening doesn't hurt, either, during encounters in the cut-throat world of classical ballet, no matter where the dancer goes.

For example many dancers today seem to have difficulty differentiating between the up or in the air quality of classical ballet and the down or on the ground quality of modern dance, and dance classical ballet with that down or on the ground quality.

I don't see that at all when I watch performances or tapes of classical ballet dancers today. Many of the highly-trained dancers I wrote about above are already dancing in companies all over the globe. They certainly dance with the "up in the air" quality and skill you mention. The liftedness that ballet requires, the ballon and the elevation are all second nature to them and in their muscle memory. You must be seeing bad ballet if you have not noticed this!

I think one of the reasons that this is happening now is because there really are not many people left who truly know classical ballet dancing and the tradition of it inside out , and those rare people are ignored in the ballet world.

See my second paragraph. And my third. :)

#15 carbro

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 07:07 PM

I don't think he's ever tried to create a ballet for a ballet company.

No. Taylor, in his autobiography, "Private Domain", speaks with contempt about ballet, ballet dancers, and even the term "ballet" applied to his choreographies. I strongly suspect that were it not for the (literal) payoff, he would not permit his [ahem] ballets to be performed by such groups as ABT, Houston Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, etc.

When I see ballet dancers dance Taylor, I miss the weightedness that the dances seem to need.


I like to think of the Classical (short) tutu as the natural evolution of the Romantic (long) tutu. Over time, as ballet technique developed and tastes changed, . . . .

. . . and standards of modesty relaxed. :dry: :)


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