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Perfect classical lineWhat, and who?


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#16 Ray

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 09:49 AM

I understand this gets into the area of prejudice and exclusion, but at the same time, form, line and shape in choreography are meaning. Dancers who cannot sustain a line because of their proportions don't have the same impact in adagio - dancers who can't move quickly because of extended limbs have a similar problem in allegro. Another example from choreography - Aria I in Stravinsky Violin Concerto doesn't look the same on a dancer with "proper" classical proportions - it was built on Karin von Aroldingen, who had a very long back and Balanchine used it in a series of backbends.

Yes, it's wrong to be closed minded and exclusionary but there is also a difference between how Herman Cornejo and Marcelo Gomes look in a role. They don't look the same. It doesn't mean the same thing when they dance. They aren't appropriate for the same parts.



I don't disagree. What I object to is critics taking refuge in "standards" that they don't do enough work to articulate or contextualize. Your brief comment above, Leigh, said reams more than most critics do, including Gray: you gave reasons why a certain dancer's proportions matter without recoursing to uncritical, "timeless" notions of "purity" or "perfection."

#17 SanderO

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 10:20 AM

Can some provide a good definition of "line".... please. I can't find it... but I have seen the word used here and have gathered the meaning from context. This is clearly a word with a very specific meaning in ballet. no?

#18 kfw

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 10:59 AM

but at the same time, form, line and shape in choreography are meaning.

Thanks for stating so succinctly something I'm sure we all agree on. Meaning and "the perfect line" change over time in an organic process, I suppose. Balanchine absorbing America meant something else in Agon than he had in Symphonie Concertante. A young person new to ballet at the Vail Festival would find a somewhat dissimilar meaning in Wheeldon's Polyphonia (itself influenced by "Agon," of course) than an experienced viewer, and if Wheeldon succeeds in his vision, he may change the ideal of perfect line as he pours his own experience into it.

#19 bart

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 11:06 AM

SanderO, I identify with your confusion. This made me turn to Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101 (pp. 151-52), where I found a wonderful discussion of the topic.

Here are a few of the highlights (I'm skipping around just a bit, in the interests of answering a few questions, and with apologies to Mr. Greskovic.)

What it's not:

Many observers, professional journalists among them, erroneously or glibly think dancers with long, lean, willowy limbs produce "long line." They don't, automatically. Such physical details simply mean that such a dancer's body can more readily or easily display longer lines of limb in space. But incidental lines are not the same thing as ballet's esssential line."


So what IS essential line?

At heart, line is central to all front-rank ballet dancing. It's an internal dimension, a sublime inner connection of all the physical aspects that make up the dancer's physique. Line emanates from an artful alignment of parts and expresses itself as something far greater than a mathematical whole ... If dancers were sculpture, line would be the defining armature around which the clay of their forms gets centered and directed.

[ ... ] Line is able to ground external surfaces with an inner understanding. Great dancers with impeccable line behave as if they're able to see themselves from our vantage point, all the while showing themselves to us in a supremely internalized, unending harmony.


How to look for it:

[ ... ]Probably the best place to discern and admire line, or lack thereeof, is to watch a dancer perform from some distance .... If he has impeccable line, you'll see it; no position he takes will fail to emanate from a strong center, where it will endlessly open out and reach well beyond itself. If his line is imperfect, you'll see that, too. It will look snagged or smudged or stunted. It will stop, or at least disturb , your eye. It will draw your viewing pleasure up short."



#20 SanderO

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 11:44 AM

Bart,

Thanks, but I must say that that is really a whole lot of words that do not provide a definition. I don't know who that author is but I think he might find a better editor.

Sorry, now in one paragraph, Line is:

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:06 PM

Here are a few concrete elements to line most balletomanes look for.

Turnout

Feet -
Feet point, toes are agile and nimble.
Ankles work as well as toes.

Straight knees. Speaking of trends in line, hyperextension goes into and out of fashion.

Arms and hands - what people look for has a lot to do with their training. As a stereotype, Balanchine involves a hand with the fingers spread and is "wristy." The fingerss at the RB are held more closely together, the wrists are much softer producing a full soft curve to the arm rather than a break at the wrist.

Extension.

Proportion. The stereotype - longer limbs, shorter torso, small head.

-----

One hopes a discussion of line doesn't happen in a vacuum. Certainly just because two dancers are different in type it does not follow that they have no overlapping roles. Part of the job of the artistic director is to advocate for a ballet - this starts by understanding it. To understand "Agon" or "Giselle" as a director is to know what it means and how it needs to look to project its meaning. Casting should flow from that. The ballet ought to come first.

#22 4mrdncr

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:07 PM

Ah what a wonderful description by Mr. Greskovic. Here is a similar explanation by the NYTimes' Gia Kourlas...(maybe paraphrasing Greskovic?) I once sent it in appreciation to a dancer who has exquisite line and uses that internal & external ability both in solo and in partnering to beautiful effect.

"Classical dancers are commonly judged on their execution of steps, but what matters most is the whole package, specifically the hard-won combination of musicality and line, a slippery concept that connects a dancer's movement to his or her core. It means that every muscle and bone--from the toe to the fingertips--is working in exquisite harmony.
Proportion, highly arched feet, and long, straight legs figure into the equation, but the dancer with the extra-special something is able to radiate that internal power without thinking about how to do it. Dancing is not a mindless activity, but it is about watching the body, not the mind, solve problems under extreme circumstances."

SO TRUE.


Forgot to add:
RE: Cornejo and Gomes, I disagree with Mr. Witchel. Both Cornejo and Gomes are proportioned well enough, and talented enough to project beautiful line, and so, are BOTH able to perform ALL roles. I don't think "line" is the deciding aesthetic in casting choices, but rather height differentials in partnering. I saw Herman Cornejo do Prince Desire in Costa Mesa, and given an excellent partner in proportion with him (which he had in Sarah Lane) there were no problems that I saw in his technical, dramatic, or aesthetic abilities to project line.

#23 Figurante

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:12 PM

Just simply defining "line" is quite difficult. Putting it in the simplest of terms from a technical standpoint, in my opinion, "line" is a specific position a dancer makes that is found aesthetically pleasing to the eye, no matter what length of legs you have, how beautiful your feet are, or what kind of choreography you are dancing.
Than again, that is the simplest of terms in my opinion.

Going back to the original question you asked about classical lines.
Obviously, we all know that certain famous dancers are well known for their beautiful bodies (Sylvie Guillem, Svetlana Zahkarova, Polina, etc.). These are very classical dancers in my opinion (which is not to say they can or cannot dance neo-classically or contemporary, etc.)... and I'm sure if you were to search for pictures of them on the web, you would (in my opinion) see what a classical line is. They have "ideal" bodies for ballet.

There are also neoclassical lines, which are very different from classical lines, and are also hard to achieve as most of them are off-balance.

#24 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:52 PM

I'd argue that both Guillem and Zakharova have neo-classical rather than classical lines. A dancer using a classical line wouldn't push her extension as far as either did.

A classical line emphasizes harmony and proportion, a neoclassical line length and sweep.

Classical lines - Fonteyn, Platel
Neoclassical - Farrell, Guillem

I'm hoping Alexandra will jump in here and correct me if she has a better definition (I'm not the one who studied it)

#25 SanderO

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 01:06 PM

Hyper extension is not classical because?

Is this the result of extreme athleticism?

What's the deal with hyper extensions? Is it virtuosity.

If line involves musicality, then one cannot see it in a still photo... no? What would be the word to describe such a perfect "pose/position" revealed in a photo?

Sorry for all the dumb questions... but this is my learning lab and you geniuses are the best teachers.

#26 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 01:18 PM

Forgot to add:
RE: Cornejo and Gomes, I disagree with Mr. Witchel. Both Cornejo and Gomes are proportioned well enough, and talented enough to project beautiful line, and so, are BOTH able to perform ALL roles. I don't think "line" is the deciding aesthetic in casting choices, but rather height differentials in partnering. I saw Herman Cornejo do Prince Desire in Costa Mesa, and given an excellent partner in proportion with him (which he had in Sarah Lane) there were no problems that I saw in his technical, dramatic, or aesthetic abilities to project line.


Gomes in Brian Shaw's part in Symphonic Variations.
Cornejo in Michael Somes'

Gomes as Oberon in Balanchine's Midsummer
Cornejo as Oberon in Ashton's

It's a real stretch to say that a great dancer is great in any role. Interesting, yes. Great, no. A service to the ballet, only maybe. You may want to see dancers you like in every role. I sure do. But at some point casting should be decided by neither line nor partnership (that's how we've gotten the Mutt and Jeff Mozartiana when the role was made on two men of equal build - yet another case where type matters) but by the ballet. What does the ballet require?

#27 carbro

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 01:21 PM

Hyper extension is not classical because?

Is this the result of extreme athleticism?

Well, it depends on which hyperextensions you're referring to. Hyperextended knees (where the knee locks behind the leg's plumb line) is one clear distortion. Six o'clock-ish extensions in second position require displacement of the pelvis, throwing off the nose-to-heel (on pointe) plumbline. These days, that imagined line is usually displaced at least a little, and each dancer must find that level where her/his leg is high enough but one can still sense the continuous energy flow uninterrupted from the center through and beyond the extremities.

What's the deal with hyper extensions? Is it virtuosity.

Just because you can, doesn't mean you must.

You can find clips on the web of Cojocaru rehearsing Giselle. She has very high extensions. In this context, using her full range of movement distorts the choreography, drawing attention away from the smaller, aerial steps which, IMO, define Giselle, especially in Act II. It ruins the proportionality of the phrase. A shame, because she has within her the makings of an amazing Giselle, if only she'd lower that leg a bit.

#28 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 01:42 PM

Hyperextension is anatomical, not classical. Some very fine classical dancers have had it, and done perfectly well. As explained above by carbro, hyperextension refers to any joint which, at full travel, locks "in back of" straight. It's what kids used to call "double-jointed", especially when seen in the arms.

In line with the discussion going on about Wheeldon's neological pronunciation of "morphosis/es", perhaps we should be careful against applying an anatomical name for "sticking the leg way the :) up there in the air."

#29 Hans

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 02:18 PM

According to Gail Grant, line is, "the outline presented by a dancer while executing steps and poses. A dancer is said to have a good or bad sense of line according to the arrangement of head, body, legs and arms in a pose or movement. A good line is absolutely indispensable to the classical dancer."

If line involves musicality, then one cannot see it in a still photo... no? What would be the word to describe such a perfect "pose/position" revealed in a photo?

I don't think line really has anything to do with musicality, except in the sense that to be a ballet dancer, one must have both--a beautiful line moving harmoniously with the music, expressing whatever the characterization requires.

Somewhere around here Alexandra wrote a definition of various types of emploi in relation to dancers' proportion and the shapes they make. I'll try to find it.

#30 SanderO

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 02:37 PM

Hans,

That was excellent. I am starting to understand how this term is used. Of course it appears to be more than JUST the arrangement of the body, because it has to also deal with.... I think... with the dancer's body... shape, proportion and even musculature.

I would think a dancer with a great body, well proportioned who was able to arrange their parts into a perfect form would them have a perfect line... and classical line would... be represented by formal classical steps, positions etc. I suppose to achieve this requires a complete awareness of the body in space and how to make it appear thus beginning from the skeleton right out to the skin from toe to finger tips.


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