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Buddy

Technique

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Could someone please tell me what the term "technique" means. If this has already been discussed could you please refer me to the topic. Thank you.

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In Vaganova schooling technique requires the mechanical knowledge and ability to achieve the classical ballet vocabulary as well as the artistic understanding of musicality of movement, expressivity of movement combined with coordination. Without these key components a dancer does not have technique.

In my American training, technique was considered to be the mechanical aspects of movement only. Coordination, musicality and artistry were considered separate entities. I am not sure if this is the case everywhere in the US, but that was my experience.

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Thank you very much, vrsfanatic. I use the term with my own 'variable' idea of what is means, but I was never sure what it means to others.

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In my American training, technique was considered to be the mechanical aspects of movement only.

Technique, in my (American) experience also, covered the physical mastery of the classical vocabulary.

In common understanding, as vrsfanatic pointed out, interpretation, musicality, stage presence were spoken of as issues separate from the mastery of technique.

Training for over a year in Paris (Mme Rouseanne, Ana Ilic), the approach seemed to me to be the same: classes were designed for technique, ie. physical mastery.

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Like Buddy, I am grateful for the clarifications. I also have a few questions.

For purposes of analysis, I can understand breaking down the training into mechanical and artistic/expressive components.

But, how does this actually work in class settings?

Is it really possible to WORK on technique separately from these other elements?

And if you do so, aren't you creating the possibility that some dancers will have difficulty, later on, in integrating all these aspects which they have worked on separately?

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Is it really possible to WORK on technique separately from these other elements?

I think working on technique separately is not only possible but the explicit goal of a class.

Another way of saying it is that dancers don't usually role-play or 'perform' in class.

Many teachers don't favor familiar 'ballet' music for classroom, for the reason that it

distracts from the task at hand.

Rehearsals are where the integration of all elements for a performance take place.

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It is important to recognize the differing levels of training when one is discussing the artistic development of a step, a class and individual dancers. The Vaganova program has 8 years of study (well even that may be changing again). In the first 3 years, the fundamentals of body placement, coordination, basic leg movements, jumps, arms,heads and musicality are strictly taught. In the 3rd year nuance is introduced by elaborating on the breath of movement through the carriage of the arms and heads and well increased tempi. Movements are taught to the students with an importance placed upon artistic expressivity of each pas. Each movement has a particular musicality and way of being done that is adhered to and further developed. Such strict attention is given to the usage of the back, head and arms that they become an intrical part of the whole. By the 6th, 7th, and 8th year of study these nuances are just considered to be the way it is done, part of the whole.

When I say in my American training technique was about mechanics, for the most part I am discussing perfecting the leg movements, balances, turning movements, turn out, and pointing the feet. Arms were important, yet there were no real answers about how the arms moved. It was known that they were held in the back and that the shoulders were down with a long neck, but it was never taught exactly how to do it so that it looked to be part of the whole. There were arm positions but no answers to how the arm moved mechanically from (for example) over head (3rd position) to the side (second position). Although this is a mechanic, it is a mechanic that becomes the artistic expression of ballet. The study of focus (eyes) and the head were never isolated from the the shoulders. Yes, of course I was told they should be used separtately, but again it was never studied how to do it. There was a lot of talk about the idea that it should be done, but the study did not produce the results.

In Vaganova schooling there are strict goals mechanically and artistically for each level of study that are directly related to stage work. In this way, the ballet class must continue to be for the development of the whole artist not just the mechanic or in American terminology, the technician.

As with language, perhaps the cultural differences of the two countries allow for differing sentiments in the teaching of goals of ballet. Please just a thought. Not a dogma! :flowers:

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Brava, vrsfanatic!

It seems to me that much artistry is rooted in technique, in dance effect: the two cannot really be divorced, unless we are speaking of simply warming up the body. Similarly, it is impossible for me to say someone is a great technician if they have no nuance, or lack a complete style (like the student's development of Vaganova style vrsfanatic describes). It does not matter what the style is, just that there is one.

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chiapuris and vrsfanatic thank you very much for your further clarification. vrsfanatic thank you for your extremely interesting detailed description of the Vaganova method.

Beck_hen you have steered things a bit more in the direction of my next question.

When one says that a dancer performed with 'Good Technique' does that refer principally to performing 'Correctly' what has been 'Taught' or 'Systemetized'? Is there a 'Broader Interpretation' of the word 'Technique'?

Beck-hen has suggested that personal(?) "Artistry" might be a factor as well. Can a dancer not perform 'Correctly', if this is the right word, and still be 'Technically Good'?

I only search for precise definitions because 'Good Technique' is such a widely used term in describing ballet performances.

I guess I should add, "What do you think most reviewers have in mind when they refer to "Good Technique"?

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Buddy, I agree we are moving to the heart of the matter. I did not exactly mean that artistry is necessary to good technique, but that a mastery of style was.

For example, for each position or step there may be one accustomed position of the arms, head and shoulders (epaulement). I would expect a dancer to have internalized this so she could present to me a beautiful image or movement. However, I would also expect the dancer to have mastered alternate versions, so that she could show me the step with a different emphasis. In this case, where an artist must be sensitive, she is not a technical "robot" or "machine". If a dancer really understands "the system," she can select from it or expand on it appropriately. She must master it fully, but if she adheres to it slavishly, with no imagination, she is a classroom dancer.

As to reviewers, one begins to judge their relative sophistacation—they will mean different things. But I generally assume they are speaking of the lowest common denominator, or what vrsfanatic referred to in her first post as "the mechanical aspects of movement only." In the worst cases, the reviewer will be impressed that a dancer has performed a triple pirouette, without analyzing how well it was done. Technique is a question of taste—on this board we assume it is better to perform a good double pirouette than a bad triple.

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This discussion is very interesting to me as the terms "technique" and "good technique" seem to have different meanings to different people. I was especially happy to read the detailed way in which artistry or at least "prescriptions" for artistry are included in the higher levels of Vagonova technique. I never knew/fully understood this, but it does explain perfectly my and my dks'* fondness for Vagonova technique. I like to see artists making choices :cool2: :clapping: , not technicians executing steps :( . The dks were taught the clean double trumps the funky triple rule early in their mostly Vagonova training.

Could this also explain a distinction between American training (however this is being defined) and other styles? Maybe it even explains why Americans sometimes fail to make much impact in international competitions (Lausanne for example). Could it be part of the reason ballet does not have broader appeal/support among American audiences? Less artistry and more technical emphasis would make ballet more of an acquired taste and reduce its general appeal. That would be ironic if American training is producing artists less accessible to American audiences.

All this explains why a dancer would have to be so well trained to be well enough informed to even understand how and why they have the responsibility to make choices artistically. I've noticed some young dancers do not seem to realize they even have this responsibility, and exercise little or no reflection inside or outside the studio. Having said that, where do the Vagonova or other style recommendations/prescriptions about choice come in? Are there only a certain number of pre-defined alternatives in a given style, or is a dancer free after mastering a given vocabulary (the training) to make unique or unprecedented choices? Where does the artist's own imagination and creativity come in?

I am interested in hearing feedback on the relationship among technique and types of training, artistry and a distinction beween Vagonova and an American style. Where would Balanchine style, Checetti, or Royal or Paris Opera style fit? I am especially interested in the implications for American audiences of American training producing certain styles of dancers. Many have commented on how in the top American companies there are more and more internationally trained dancers. How are the American trained faring outside the US? Finally what are the implications for the economic future of American ballet.

I would like to mention here a post that I made today in the musicalty thread that may be of interest to some engaged in this technique thread. Warning, my musicality post is even longer than this one :jawdrop::rofl:

Glad to have come out of the shadows at last.

Moderator's note:

*For those who don't read BalletTalk for Dancers, dks=Dancing Kids.

Edited by carbro

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2dds, you raise some interesting questions re comparing US and non-US trained dancers. I hope that those who are familiar with both sides of the ocean will be able to ansewr them.

I was also interested in this comment:

All this explains why a dancer would have to be so well trained to be well enough informed to even understand how and why they have the responsibility to make choices artistically. I've noticed some young dancers do not seem to realize they even have this responsibility, and exercise little or no reflection inside or outside the studio
I realize that your generalization was not intended to apply to everyone. But it got me thinking. I wonder whether, when we talk about the balancing of technique, artistry, "mastery", etc., we don't have to pay more attention to the personality and history that the young dancer brings TO the studio.

It seems to me that some young dancers start out with a greater predisposition to expand beyond the studio and beyond the physical movements -- even BEFORE they begin serious dance training. This predisposition may come from greater musical aptitude, more stimulating and demanding cultural backgrounds, a higher level of intellectual curiosity, a greater need to find meaning in things, and possibly even from their genes.

Maybe that's why so many of the greatest dancers have also been quite fascinating human beings, and have often continued to contribute in highly creative and disciplined ways after their dancing days have ended.

It raises a couple of questions: what kind of young people are pursuing serious ballet study today? and what are their motives?

I guess the old "nature" versus "nurture" dichotomy rears it's head again. :clapping:

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Thanks everyone for your comments.

Hi beck_hen. Your ideas about different viewers perceptions are very welcome. The idea of artistic input into the technical process seems like a very worthwhile topic to explore.

bart, interesting comments about children. Give me a soap box to stand on and I will give you my views on children. They are quite favorable. So you touched off the whole idea in my head about the incredibleness of spontaneous child behavior contrasted to the learned beauty that we are discussing here. Another time maybe.

2dds, thanks for your wide range of observations (also at the "Musicality" topic). Certainly a lot to think about. Your children sound very sensitive and intelligent.

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As far as American training goes, I think that would be extremely difficult to define. All kinds of training occurs in this country, much of it a conglomerate of what each teacher has learned. Even true Vaganova training only occurs at the Vaganova Academy, although students outside it may still be well trained and even look similar to Vaganova Academy graduates.

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I agree on the difficulty in defining "American" style, I was just trying to follow up on a distinction I detected in earlier postings making a contrast about the inclusion of artistry and other factors beyond the physical. My children's old studio was not pure Vagonova by any means, but the sensibility and most of the teachers were generally oriented toward Russian style. The director's most important affiliation was Ballet Russe (the American incarnation). Having said this, one of the most influential teachers was trained in China and at SAB. Another personal favorite of one of my children was a Cuban teacher. Most others were American trained; many were also alums of that studio who had professional careers.This was our family's earliest and longest affiliation, but both my kids have moved on many years ago.

I promised myself when joining this board, not to go into too many details about my dancers who I also (of course) believe to be intelligent, thoughtful, talented, and sensitive. They are still seeking the best dance fit and/or personal path for themselves. When this becomes more clear I will share more details, at this point, I'll just leave them their personal space. Thank you though for the compliments and support, and please forgive my reticence. Hopefully, I've shared enough relevant material to interpret my post.

I think many kinds of kids are pursuing ballet these days (with the proviso that it is too expensive for many without some sort of subsidy--another contrast with much training abroad, I think). The commitment required begins to sort these guys out after around age twelve I've found, when it's harder to sustain tutu fever because so much sacrifice is involved.

Nature/nurture???I don't know. This gets into questions of what is innately in a dancer or any artist and how much of their craft can be taught. This question is beyond me, but provides another important contrast with other training outside the US. My understanding is that access is more strictly limited in state-supported systems. I guess predictions about career potential rather than economic status more often limit the ability to receive elite training. Does this also have implications for the art of ballet as well as the patrons?

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Yes, I was deliberately sidestepping the "American style" issue as well. I think certain pedagogues may in effect be defining their own styles, such as Marcia Dale Weary at CPYB (who produced many NYCB dancers, including Ashley Bouder), or Hortensia Fonseca at Maryland Youth Ballet (who trained Julie Kent and Susan Jaffe). Or one could choose to say that Balanchine style is American style, and forms of it have certainly spread all over the country in the regional ballet movement. Or one could simply say that it is in general characterized by less structured training conditions and less epaulement than European schooling and leave it there.

It seems to me that this situation would make it more difficult to become a great dancer, but there may be compensations. I noticed recently that Maria Kowroski and Julie Kent were given bad reviews by Russian audiences for performances of Swan Lake in St. Petersburg. I wonder which American artists are taken seriously abroad, and why. Are they handicapped, because they aren't seen with the weight of a tradition behind them? I find it upsetting to think about, since American audiences have been eager to be thrilled by dancers of many nationalities.

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In my American training, technique was considered to be the mechanical aspects of movement only.

When I made this statement in my origninal post, I did mean MY American training, meaning I was not discussing a particular style or methodology. I was told I was taught Balanchine training, which in the 1960s was considered an American version of Vaganova, as far I can tell. When I began studying the teaching of Vaganova methodology in the US, prior to my studies in St. Petersburg, my childhood teacher asked me why I felt my studies were necessary since after all I had been trained as a student in the Vaganova method. My teacher was one of the "pioneers" of the Balanchine early years in the US.

As for an American style of training, as of yet this has not been established. There are noted teachers of children such as Marcia Dale Weary who have studied with various teachers of pedagogy to develop their own programs of study, however only time will tell if such programs produce lasting results that will enable choreography to develop into an American style.

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I found the original question quite intriguing as a non dancer and ballet attendee.

As my interest in ballet grows I am facing the task of looking inside of ballet to see how it is created... what makes it beautiful, what makes one dancer "better" than another... and so on. Obviously when you look more deeply than the surface (at anything) the mystery revealed is very rewarding.

My own naive concept of ballet is that it is composed of a series of "steps" and "positions" that the dancer's body assumes in the course of a ballet. Each of these isolated steps and positions has an ideal form. These are what I assume are taught in ballet classes. Students struggle to get their bodies to perform these as "perfectly" as possible. This is analogous to the standards in dog breeding... where some ideal exists and each breeder is attempting to create a dog which represents the standard to perfection.

But of course, a dance is also a series of transitions in time where the steps and positions and other "gestures" are blended into a continuous flow like a river. Technique would also involve timing and making these transitions... I would assume. Someone who has perfected ballet technique can blend the steps, positions and gestures into a seamless "event".

Learning how to do this is about teaching and training and i haven't a clue how this body knowledge of movement, timing and position is installed in the dancer. But once the body has assimilated ballet movement... there is still room for the elusive element of "artristry" which is the intangible element which makes one dancer different from another.

When one thinks of language (which ballet surely is) it is composed of words, and rules of syntax. Words have definitions which in fact change subtlely in context. A great author can string together words into sentences, paragraphs, ideas and so on. The words have meaning, the sentences may have a musical quality related to the sound of the words and their place in the whole collection of words. Poetry seems to extract more music from words than mere prose.

Technical perfection and how to acheive it and who has acheived it and so on are interesting... as is who hits the most home runs or throws the most strike outs etc... in baseball. It sure does help to be able to know HOW it is to be done so that when you see it done that way you recognize it. But this may not be as important to the viewer as much as the overall reaction they are left with. Technical prowess and virtuosity are definitely eye catching and jaw dropping.

But without the mysterious artistic expression a techinically perfect performance is lacking.

What intererests me more than what is technique in ballet, is what ELSE is there in ballet what belongs to the dancer? What part does the choreographer play in providing this mystery?

My impression of the ballet is not one of the brush strokes of a painting, or the sentences of a novel... but of the over arching emergent themes that the artists and the choreographer manage to extract... from the music via technique. Behold a great painting and it was one colors in a tube, but with the vision and technique of the artists it is laden with meaning, emotion and power.

The miracle of ballet is to use the technical vocabulary to take us away and bring us to a place of dreams right here on earth!

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I am enjoying this discussion which seems to me to have two distinct and worthy subtopics.

First, the potential split and/or relationship between technique and artistry. This has training and performance implications--both intriguing.

Second, the implications of distinctive styles or techniques (there is a thread somewhere discussing the difference between a style and a technique, but I can't find it again) and how this might characterize ballet here in the US and abroad.

I am learning a lot and enjoying others thoughts and expertise. Thanks for sharing.

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Thanks, 2dds, for extracting the main themes from this interesting discussion. I always find that very helpful as I read and re-read.

Each of these isolated steps and positions has an ideal form. These are what I assume are taught in ballet classes.

I really appreciate this image, as well as you analogy written/spoken language and the way that it, like the steps, must be expanded, transformed, stretched, inter-woven, etc., in reponse to the demands of higher-level communication.

I'd love to hear what our ballet teachers think of your quite UN-"naive concept."

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As far as I'm concerned, Def Jef, you pretty much have it exactly right!

Learning how to do this is about teaching and training and i haven't a clue how this body knowledge of movement, timing and position is installed in the dancer.

Years of very hard work and repetition, on the part of both the teacher and the dancer. :)

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This brings up the matter of dancers like (as if there are so many of them :rolleyes: ) Angel Corella. He has distorted choreography -- sometimes to unforgivable effect -- to avoid having to do pirouettes to the right. His pirouettes to the left are astonishing, but are they the result of real technique or just natural facility?

He can, and often does, spin out eight or nine revolutions to the left, so why, for example, is he the only one in Dolin's Variations for Four not going to the right -- even if only three rotations are called for? Most of us favor one side or another to some extent, but when a dancer at this level is unable (or thinks he's unable) to adapt a relatively simple step (given his proven abilities), how can it be technique? Or maybe the fault is with the balletmasters for failing to insist on keeping the stage picture harmonious.

This is one aspect of Angel's dancing that irks me no end. It isn't often an issue -- I don't mind when unison with other dancers isn't involved or choreographic flow isn't thrown askew -- but when it pops up, it drives me absolutely bonkers. :)

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Most people turn better to the right (I believe he's a right turner, too, isn't he?), and it's good to be reminded that even Angel is human. :) I don't think it's too uncommon for dancers to select the side they turn to, especially for solos. Choreographers and stagers often make changes to accommodate dancers' strengths, too. Last month, it was interesting to see on which side of the stage each Bluebird started his solo for the Royal Ballet performances of Sleeping Beauty.

--Andre

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Most people turn better to the right (I believe he's a right turner, too, isn't he?), and it's good to be reminded that even Angel is human. :) I don't think it's too uncommon for dancers to select the side they turn to, especially for solos. Choreographers and stagers often make changes to accommodate dancers' strengths, too. Last month, it was interesting to see on which side of the stage each Bluebird started his solo for the Royal Ballet performances of Sleeping Beauty.

--Andre

Andre, having taken tons of Figure Skating lessons I know that most figure skaters spin to the 'Left' (Counter-Clockwise). My instructor, a former high level Soviet pairs skater, always asks me, when I mention ballet, why dancers spin to the right (Clock-Wise). To the Left (Counter-Clockwise) seems more logical to me, (since most individuals are right-handed) following the rotation you would be creating by throwing a ball side-arm for instance.

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That's interesting, Buddy, because many dancers would tell you that they pirouette better to the right because they are right handed! However, experience has shown me that hand preference is no guarantee of the direction in which one prefers to turn.

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