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Repetition as a (pleasing?) choreographic deviceThe appeal of repeated steps or phrases


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#1 Ray

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Posted 29 April 2007 - 06:17 PM

IF this topic has been raised and discussed elsewhere, my apologies (I did search for it and didn't find it): Why and in what contexts do we find repetition in ballet pleasing or cloying? "Kingdom of the Shades" is probably the most famililar example of repetition that pleases; the audience clapping at a kickline or the echappes in four little swans the most annoying. Most are probably more complex: we like the 32 fouettes, but only if they're done well; and Balanchine's use of repetition (sometimes of phrases that weave through music that changes) is also very pleasing to most of us, while others find it boring. What do you think about this? Does it also seem to you, as it does to me, that contemporary choreographers are afraid of using repetition (it's a sign of a lack of originality)?

#2 artist

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Posted 29 April 2007 - 09:28 PM

Maybe sometimes it satisfies the audience to repeat phrases with the same parts of music like how one goes back to the chorus in a song. It becomes easier for them to recognize it and become more familiar. When they see a phrase once, they just 'see' it. When they see it twice, they recognize it. More, and they can capture it.

Or sometimes repetition is visible as part of the theme of the dance. Always going back to one step to tie in the movements together.

#3 Ray

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Posted 30 April 2007 - 04:26 AM

Maybe sometimes it satisfies the audience to repeat phrases with the same parts of music like how one goes back to the chorus in a song. It becomes easier for them to recognize it and become more familiar. When they see a phrase once, they just 'see' it. When they see it twice, they recognize it. More, and they can capture it.

Or sometimes repetition is visible as part of the theme of the dance. Always going back to one step to tie in the movements together.



True enough; I guess what I'm really interested in is why it pleases us, or why it annoys us--where's the boundary? And I'm really interested in first-person accounts: does it satisfy you, artist, for the reasons you describe? And in any work in particular?

#4 scherzo

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Posted 30 April 2007 - 09:40 AM

I find repetition en masse generally more exciting than individuals repeating the same step (like the fouettes). I like kicklines because having the movements synchronised makes the overall impact more powerful and exhilarating. I like the entrance of the Shades partly because I like arabesques and also because it gives a nicely fantastical, never-ending feeling - you almost can't believe your eyes.

#5 diane

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 01:19 AM

I have often thought about this. I agree with what has been said so far, really.

Personally, I enjoy some repitition because then I often can more appreciate what I have seen.

In many modern pieces I am always "on edge" because I have not been able to "digest" what I have been shown well enough to really enjoy it before it changes again.
It is tiring and - sadly - even tiresome at times, to be bombarded with so many diverse and seemingly unrelated movements. (especially if they are not even aesthetically pleasing to watch, but that is a different subject)

Also, it satisfies my desire to see the music danced. (if the music repeats something, for example; or if not, then it helps me to find something in the music to hang on to)

I _do_ like it even better if each repitition has a small variation to it. (not always just carbon-copies of the movement/s)
That is why, for example, the 32 fouettes are not always that pleasing - for me - to watch. (more similar to circus..)

-d-

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 03:11 AM

A lot has to do with what the music does, which is often related to the genre of the work, whether Louis Horst "pre-classic", Anacreontic, Romantic, Imperial/Classic, and a host of other compositional styles and methods, including all the Neo-s and Modern.

Edwin Denby once noted that in "Episodes", when the musical theme inverts, the ballerina is turned upside-down by her partner. No such carrying-on in "Concerto Barocco" when the same thing happens musically. Likewise, in the Shades scene from Bayadere, there is a slight crescendo throughout the first phrase of the second shade's variation. Her cabriole-tombé-pas de bourrée gets higher with each repetition. Some ballets point up the mechanical nature of repetition. The unison and repetition of the Wilis' steps and floor patterns suggests one mind, many bodies. Even silence has its own sort of pulse, as Jerome Robbins demonstrated in "Moves", and certain phrases and steps are repeated. Just diddy-bopping for the sake of diddy-bopping tends not to work by itself, but can work beautifully as a sort of "left-hand figure" when a soloist is doing something else in front of the diddy-boppers. Too much variety can be a bad thing to watch, too, as many a choreographer has demonstrated when trying to choreograph a fugue.

#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 02 May 2007 - 09:21 PM

I agree... it is interesting... why is repetition a gimmick in some pieces and a meditation in others? Is it just a matter of overall structure of the piece? When does the fascination stale? Is it a mental resting point when it occurs as a motif? I have to confess I've never liked the little swans, perhaps more because of the head movements than anything else... and the fouettes, well.... if you like to count, I guess... but after the first 10 viewings, it's hard to stay hypnotized. Could someone suggest an individual repitition that holds up? (Aside from legitimate whirling dervishes... who actually are meditating).

#8 dirac

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 03:39 PM

Maybe sometimes it satisfies the audience to repeat phrases with the same parts of music like how one goes back to the chorus in a song. It becomes easier for them to recognize it and become more familiar. When they see a phrase once, they just 'see' it. When they see it twice, they recognize it. More, and they can capture it.

Or sometimes repetition is visible as part of the theme of the dance. Always going back to one step to tie in the movements together.



True enough; I guess what I'm really interested in is why it pleases us, or why it annoys us--where's the boundary? And I'm really interested in first-person accounts: does it satisfy you, artist, for the reasons you describe? And in any work in particular?


Interesting topic, Ray, and thank you for raising it. I couldn't tell you why repetition pleases us (which it does for the most part; it's why popular music relies so heavily on it and although most if not all music contains some repetition, the higher the repetition quotient the more likely it is that the work is popular in form), but it does. As artist notes, familiarity pleases us too, and repetition is an element in that. Repetition can become annoying when it is too insistent, but such insistence can also increase pleasure and intensity. (Amy mentions that dervishes are meditating. I have been in discos and dance clubs where some of the dancers seem to be in a kind of trance when the music is really getting to them; that, too, is the power of repetition.)

I think of the motif of flexed feet in "The Four Temperaments" where although there is no specific 'meaning' implied, there is a sense of continuity and connection.


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