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Technique

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A few disjointed thoughts,

I've read books and articles that have said that corps dancers tend to be grouped into "rights" and "lefts" for ballet after ballet. It may have been in Toni Bentley's book Winter Season in that there was a statement that it's easier to learn a last-minute corps part to one's "natural" side.

In Merrill Ashley's memoir, she wrote about how Balanchine would choreograph or change to her stronger side most of the time. An example she gave in which he didn't was in Ballo Della Regina, in which he replaced pique turns, which didn't film well, for the Dance in America taping, to fouettes that were difficult for her, and then left them in the stage version.

Skaters in general spin and turn to one side only. It's a very big deal when a competitive skater does turns to both sides, and there's a special rule under the New Judging System for this, so that the double-sided spin is not counted as two individual spins. Ilia Klimkin is known for his camel spins to both sides. Jeff Buttle has done them, and I think Kwan had early in her career.

John Curry insisted that members of his skating companies be able to spin to both sides, although I don't think he required this of guest stars, like Dorothy Hamill.

It is a rare skater who spots jumps, because spotting slows down the rotation. Kevin van der Perren did spot, at least until last season. (I haven't seen any of his 2006 performances.) I'm guessing that the same thing is true of spins. It would be impossible to spot a layback spin.

Suzanne Farrell had a corner from which she made most of her Balanchine entrances. It would have looked odd if she had entered from the other side.

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And perhaps this is why ships go left to right on stage???

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I have started a new thread, which I've titled "Going Right and Going Left: Symmetry and Assymetry in Choreography".

We've taken a big, but very interesting, digression from the theme of this discussion. We'll continue to pursue features of technique here, but let's take on the choreographic issues (and I realize that there's a blurry area) on the other thread.

Thanks, folks! :yahoo:

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Thanks, carbro. Now we have TWO interesting threads. :yahoo:

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Let me add my thanks carbro and continue on with the more general technique discussion. I was getting dizzy and lost in all the turns right and left, although I agree that symmetry and assymetry are interesting elements of design (and choreography).

One of the things I'd like to discuss more has to do with what are our priorities for technique (purely physical and mechanical) among dancers. I've seen technique favored over all else both in training and in performing. I often wonder how valid this is in either case. What do audiences want, and how do we train dancers to attend to what audiences want? Does it make a difference what is popular among audiences or is this pandering? What about selling tickets and remaining economically viable? How is pleasing audiences related to educating and increasing audiences? Do we rely primarily on patronage and ignore the often inadequate revenues generated by ticket sales?

I have heard some in the ballet community (teachers, fans, dancers, critics, students) say--and I heartily agree--ballet is primarily illusion. Once we accept and embrace this IMHO we get to the magic of ballet. For ex., I know that people cannot actually fly, but one of my favorite things about ballet is that it produces vivid and convincing evidence that people really do soar elegantly, effortlessly, and regularly. Ballet dancers and their admirers need not succumb to or believe in gravity, and I enjoy being part of this liberated crowd! This particular illusion demands formidable technique, but in the end has less to do with technique than other things--artistry, presence, etc. I will happily continue to testify to the fact that people really can and do fly. I've seen it myself.

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From today's Links and an interview by Toni Tobias with Julie Kent reprinted in ArtsJournal:

A classical dancer nearing the age of 40 can expect some deterioration in her technique. Kent agrees that eventually a dancer must learn ``how to say more with less.'' But, she emphasizes, ``I was never a brilliant technician, and it's not in my nature to show off my technique just for itself. I use technique in order to express something.''

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2dds raises several important questions, one of them is something every ballet company in the world must find itself addressing during the course of a season:

What do audiences want, and how do we train dancers to attend to what audiences want? Does it make a difference what is popular among audiences or is this pandering? What about selling tickets and remaining economically viable? How is pleasing audiences related to educating and increasing audiences? Do we rely primarily on patronage and ignore the often inadequate revenues generated by ticket sales?

I also found myself thinking a lot about this:

Ballet dancers and their admirers need not succumb to or believe in gravity, and I enjoy being part of this liberated crowd! This particular illusion demands formidable technique, but in the end has less to do with technique than other things--artistry, presence, etc. I will happily continue to testify to the fact that people really can and do fly. I've seen it myself.

I've seen it too. Just last week, in a ballet class, one of the professional dancers was asked to perform a big jete. (I subsequently looked this up in Gretchen Ward Warren's book and found the that jump was a "grand jete develope en avant -- also called pas de chat jete). He did a good job.

Then the teacher asked him to do the jump again, this time adding an element of "tailbone down/ stacking the torso to attain greater sense of height" that had been practiced at the barre.

He did so -- and remained, apparently, suspended in mid-air for a split second. It was an entirely different sensation for the viewer -- and very thrilling to watch.

Is it possible that such simple technical corrections can yield such dramatic and apparently magical results?

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I've seen it too. Just last week, in a ballet class, one of the professional dancers was asked to perform a big jete. (I subsequently looked this up in Gretchen Ward Warren's book and found the that jump was a "grand jete develope en avant -- also called pas de chat jete). He did a good job.

Then the teacher asked him to do the jump again, this time adding an element of "tailbone down/ stacking the torso to attain greater sense of height" that had been practiced at the barre.

He did so -- and remained, apparently, suspended in mid-air for a split second. It was an entirely different sensation for the viewer -- and very thrilling to watch.

Is it possible that such simple technical corrections can yield such dramatic and apparently magical results?

Fantastic. I had no idea, of course, and that must be what (or part of what) I am seeing in Nureyev in 'Le Corsaire' and Baryshnikov recently in the old 'Carmen' video with Zizi Jeanmaire. [Added later: I think I must have seen Baryshnikov do his mid-air suspension in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux on Balachine tape with McBride. Don't think it could have been in 'Carmen,' but I saw them close together.]

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Then the teacher asked him to do the jump again, this time adding an element of "tailbone down/ stacking the torso to attain greater sense of height" that had been practiced at the barre.

He did so -- and remained, apparently, suspended in mid-air for a split second. It was an entirely different sensation for the viewer -- and very thrilling to watch.

Is it possible that such simple technical corrections can yield such dramatic and apparently magical results?

I wish I'd seen that, Bart.

From Bernard Taper's "Balanchine": "The dancers [in company class] went on to leaps, and he reminded them of how upflung arms pull the body into the air, and of the composition they must make in space at the top of their leap, and of the crucial importance of coming down softly. . . . He called [Violete Verdy] back and had her try [this] again, telling her that she must push forward on the glide, not rest on it. Miss Verdy, who was dressed in a bright blue sweater and black tights, with her golden hair in a shining topknot, nodded eagerly as she listened. As she went through it again, Balanchine cried at the start of her second leap, 'Stay up in the air' and, incredibly, she seemed to obey this command, hovering momentarily in space like a hummingbird."

As a side note, anyone who has seen the documentary "Violette et Mr. B" can easily picture Verdy's eager nod, which sounds very much in character. And early in that film we watch Verdy's delight as the Taper passage is read to her.

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Is it possible that such simple technical corrections can yield such dramatic and apparently magical results?

Absolutely! :D Some of the best and most important corrections are often the simplest. The tricky part is getting the students to actually do it that way consistently... :rolleyes:

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Interesting nuts and bolts discussion of the link between technique and magic during training. I think similar corrections (especially "stacking") happen with turns. As a parent I have watched lots of class and noted how students try to get from A to B. I also enjoy talking to so-called natural jumpers after class. They all say you just jump up and hold it there as long as you can. Note the "just"--a give away to the "natural" jumper. I think the same goes for the "natural" turners. As an observer I see dancers who steel themselves before jumps or turns with looks of determination, naked fear, concentration, etc. As well as some who jump (or turn) for joy with blazing smiles on their faces and looks of relief now that their favorite part of class has finally arrived.

It is also very interesting to me to observe the choices dancers make in execution and phrasing as well as in the transitions. Dancers "feel" it differently, and execute their steps differently. Also important, dancers may be more or less consistent and responsive to corrections as Hans notes so pertinently. Ironically, some of the "naturals" are the hardest to correct. #1 their unadorned ability is often considerable and when attention more often goes to the squeaky wheel, the naturals are left with no or less attention. #2 their "natural" approach may disincline them to leave their comfort zone and make changes/corrections

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Very astute observations, 2dds, and of wide prevalence.

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Another gem mined from Striking a Balance by Barbara Newman, this time in the words of Desmond Kelly:

I have coached Prodigal, and it doesn't make any difference to my own feelings or interpretation of the role. But giving class and teaching other dancers teaches you an incredible amount. Dancing actually becomes easier. Because you translate it into words for somebody else, those words go back into your own brain. They've been there subconsciously all the time, but not obviously. By telling other people, "For God's sake, use your head, use the rhythm," you do it yourself automatically. I've never been a great turner, but when I was recently showing what the steps were going to be in class, one boy said to me, "God, you turn well." I nearly passed out. It was only because I was doing what I wanted them to do. It was easy, obvious. Why didn't I think of that before?

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