Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
DefJef

Grey Area

32 posts in this topic

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?

Share this post


Link to post

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".

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Share this post


Link to post

"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.

Share this post


Link to post

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"?

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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!

Share this post


Link to post

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?

Share this post


Link to post
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.

Share this post


Link to post

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.

Share this post


Link to post

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. :)

Share this post


Link to post
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::)

Share this post


Link to post

I think that omshanti made some good points. There are lots of ballet schools and ballet teachers today, and many of them are excellent. But one often reads complaints by company artistic directors about the quality of the training. I diid an interview last year with a director who had 150 eager young dancers at the company's audition and didn't take anyone. I also agree that the verticality of ballet, and other special qualities -- epaulement, style, polish -- are often sacrificed for other qualities (as modern dance is losing its weightedness when danced by ballet dancers, as Carbro noted above). There may be disagreements about issues like this depending on what one sees and what one values, of course.

Share this post


Link to post

I also recognize the situation omshanti is describing, and I hope that director will think about sharing his/her concerns with other directors. I've seen many kids get training in ballet and work to become good enough to dance professionally to find that if they're not in one of the top ballet companies in the country, what they're expected to do is Dracula, Nutcracker and crossover work. Why bother gaining classical ballet style if you won't get to use it?

Share this post


Link to post

If directors are so unhappy with current ballet training, perhaps they ought to start their own company-affiliated schools. That would ensure a steady stream of employable dancers for them.

Also, I think teachers are only responding to directors' demands. Directors program seasons consisting of barely any ballet and hold auditions requiring modern/contemporary dance, and then when teachers start training students to be able to dance that material (because there isn't much point in training an unemployable dancer) the directors complain that they aren't good enough at ballet.

Share this post


Link to post

I just saw a number of wonderful kids at the Pacific Northwest Ballet school performance. PNB took just one apprentice last year, and this year has accepted two from the Professional Division (at least according to the graduation program, and it didn't mention if they were corps or apprentices.) There were a number of accomplished classical dancers in the parallel track for teenagers, some of whom are going to college next year. Given the number of beautifully trained dancers that come out of the San Francisco Ballet school, SAB, and Miami City Ballet pre-professional programs -- and there may be others with which I'm less familiar -- not to mention CPYB, Harid, North Carolina School of the Arts, UBC, etc., which are not company-affiliated, it's hard to imagine that the small number of openings that are available each year couldn't be filled by well-trained classical dancers.

Which makes me think that there are many graduating dance students aren't that willing to dance for smaller companies with limited seasons, at which they may not be able to make a full-time living.

Share this post


Link to post
There may be disagreements about issues like this depending on what one sees and what one values, of course.

I disagree Alexandra. I do not believe that it is a matter of opinion or value but about really knowing what classical ballet is/how it should be and having the experience and the eyes to see the difference. My concern is that there are very few people left who have this and those who have are already very old. So soon there will be nobody left who really knows and has the eyes, and I would say that the true tradition of classical ballet will die with them.

But of course ballet will go on superficially and most people would not even notice what has been lost.

Forgive me for being off topic in this thread.

Share this post


Link to post

The school of Miami City Ballet describes its curriculum as:

... based on the dynamic evolution of classical dance as it enters the 21st century and beyond.
I'm not entirely sure what that means.

MCB hires extensively from the school. This year they have accepted 2 graduates as coryphees and 2 as company apprentices. There will be 2 school apprentices, who get quite a lot of real performance experience during their apprenticeship. MCB also offers a job to young Jackson winners, still of an age to be formed according to the Villella/Balanchine aesthetic, which now integrates work by Taylor, Tharp, Tudor, Robbins, and others. Several current principals entered the company originally via winning medals at Jackson.

This certainly helps to form a distinct company "style". I don't know, however, whether the results fit the "classical" standards as defined by Alexandra, omshanti and others.

Incidentally, the following Ballet Talk discussion about the relationship between "classical" and "contemporary" appeared in 1999. Alexandra's opening sets these issues out brilliantly, and there are many, many insightful posts. For everyone who attends ballet today, and cares about these issues, it's really worth reading (or re-reading) .

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=3017

Share this post


Link to post
I disagree Alexandra. I do not believe that it is a matter of opinion or value but about really knowing what classical ballet is/how it should be and having the experience and the eyes to see the difference. My concern is that there are very few people left who have this and those who have are already very old. So soon there will be nobody left who really knows and has the eyes, and I would say that the true tradition of classical ballet will die with them.

Unless you define "very old" as someone in their 50s and 60s, there is a world of teachers who have "the experience and the eyes". Assuming Alla Osipenko, Alla Sizova, and Irina Kolpakova, for example, have this double "e", then would not their students have it as well? Osipenko was a student of Vaganova. My daughter's teacher was a student of Osipenko. She certainly has the two "e"s. That would lead to my daughter and her ballet peers around the world who are around the age of 18-28. Do I believe that some will be able to impart the same deeply-seeded knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, the "knowing"? Yes I do. The young dancers I knew as students have not only had training on this side of the Atlantic, but have trained (and even graduated from the schools of) the Bolshoi, the Estonian National Ballet, the Hungarian National Ballet, the Universal Ballet (under Oleg Vinogradov), the Stuttgart Ballet. They are well-prepared to carry on the age-old traditions of true classical ballet.

And there is an entire generation of retired dancers in their 40s, like Altynai Asylmuratova, who are admirably passing on the torch. They are not "very old". I think we are in for the long haul, especially given the intense interest of today's ballet students. The true traditions of classical ballet are not in for an imminent demise. It is being handed down as before.

We've had a few very interesting and exhaustive discussions on what is being lost in classical ballet today in general and what must be done to restore/retain the essence of the art.

One thread in which I had a particular interest is the recent one on the interpretation of the character of Aurora. Because my daughter just performed the role (and she read the posts I printed out from that thread that were especially meaningful and instructive) and danced it in the pristine way it should be done (I know a little about ballet, ahem, having been a dancer myself and having had my own ballet school and the lifelong passion of the balletomane which includes research both visual and book-acquired), I am keenly concerned about the preservation of classical ballet.

The subject of this thread -- "grey area" -- is stimulative, as well. As a student of modern dance in the 1960s, studying the techniques of Mary Wigman (brought to North America by Hanya Holm), Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor from members of their companies (Don Redlich, Yuriko, Viola Farber, Dan Wagoner, Taylor himself) and having in addition as teachers Pearl Lang, Clive Thompson, Martha Myers, and performing in the works of choreographers Jack Moore and Jeff Duncan, Dan Wagoner, Viola Farber, Don Redlich, even an avant-garde project of Robert Rauschenberg, I got a pretty good grounding in what modern dance was all about.

I submit that there is not only a grey area between modern dance and ballet but within modern dance itself. The term "contemporary dance" is used interchangeably with modern dance by many dancers and teachers. Contemporary dance is more an umbrella under which all alternative dance styles seem to gather. Modern dance is based on techniques which were developed in the early to mid part of the 1900s by dance pioneers who devoted their lives to the study of how the body works and how to make it work for their creative visions. The history of modern dance is unknown to many today and the distinctly different techniques are a mystery. It pains me to see what is presented in the name of "modern dance" by some ballet companies.

Share this post


Link to post

Perhaps someone could identify a series of ballets or "dances" and place them on some sort of continuum from a completely classic type ballet through to the gray area where modern influences are seen right on to a contempory dance which has defintely balletic influence, but is mostly idenitfied as a modern work. I am referring mostly to "technique". I suppose. Are any new, but very classic ballets being choreographed these days? Which ones and by who?

Share this post


Link to post

There may be disagreements about issues like this depending on what one sees and what one values, of course.

I disagree Alexandra. I do not believe that it is a matter of opinion or value but about really knowing what classical ballet is/how it should be and having the experience and the eyes to see the difference. My concern is that there are very few people left who have this and those who have are already very old. So soon there will be nobody left who really knows and has the eyes, and I would say that the true tradition of classical ballet will die with them.

But of course ballet will go on superficially and most people would not even notice what has been lost.

Forgive me for being off topic in this thread.

I don't think we disagree at all, omshanti. I'm saying that people's opinions are formed by what they see, not that I think that all opinions have the same weight. Today, what I read mostly are inferious classical productions touted as "great," dancers without line or refinement praised for their line and refinement OR nonclassical ballets pronounced far superior simply because they're not classical ballet -- they go beyond it, etc. etc. Or both. I don't agree with that, but if that's what you're seeing, and that's what you're reading, that soon becomes the new standard. Someone who's never seen or appreciated classical ballet working at its highest level won't be in sync with someone who has. That's all.

It's very hard to have this kind of discussion on message boards, as we've found time after time, because the conversations usually quickly dive right down into personal taste :)

Share this post


Link to post

DefJef, that's a very tricky question for a few reasons, primarily because what we often think of today as Classical ballet is actually neo-classical (having occurred after the Romantic period). We've had discussions about this before (I believe the threads are in the archives) and haven't really come up with a satisfactory solution. The fact that many people call Balanchine neo-classical doesn't help things.

If someone would like to attempt to place some ballets on this type of continuum, I would suggest that for the sake of clarity we refer to Petipa ballets as Classical and Balanchine ballets as neo-classical and not bother with anything before the Romantic period (as it's extremely unlikely that any of us have seen, or will see, anything that old anyway, unless of course someone wants to comment on Baroque dance :) ).

Share this post


Link to post
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0