Posted 07 February 2002 - 04:37 AM
Any theatrical art is open to the danger of becoming a circus. Not that there is anything wrong with the circus ! But, I say, let the circus be a circus, and let the theatre, be theatre !
Why has Guillemitis become a planetary plague, rather than a sordid little number being danced at a trading-post saloon up there in the Great Canadian North ? Because, owing to potentials of the electronic age, and the huge revenues generated by the media circus (now there's one circus for you), clever businessmen have decided to pass themselves off as artists of the ballet. Mlle. Guillem, to name but one name, is a clever businessman.
Someone, somewhere, has got to call a halt to this. Let these people make their fortune, and why not ? but not on the ballet stage, thank you. Just because a trend has become Big, and Powerful, in no way means that it is Right.
And this sort of aberration is not restricted to the ballet. If only it were ! A fortnight ago, with several friends, we saw an RSC production of "Hamlet" at the Barbican which was an insult to the intelligence of the audience, as gross as anything I have seen in the ballet. The audience filed out, not moved, not shaken, but profoundly depressed.
And that is how many thinking people leave the theatre, after watching most of what passes for "classical dance" today. It's just entertainment, of a lower sort.
Is that good enough ?
Posted 07 February 2002 - 05:46 AM
Posted 07 February 2002 - 09:16 AM
And hello to Paul Parish, to whom we owe this thread !
Classical dance, we would all agree I think, arises out of a scheme of proportions and relations, dictated by the structure of a NORMALLY-constituted human being.
To get the exact feeling in the body, I would ask you, for the moment, to think about the argument below on the flat-foot, rather than on the pointe or demi-pointe. And also, because it applies both to the man, and to the woman.
Now, the concept of a developpé, means "to develop out of something, into something". A développé develops out of a retiré. That is the concept. Otherwise, it is developing out of nowhere. Are we this far agreed ?
Good. Now, one can retiré to ankle height, to mid-calf-height, to knee height. Most dancers today - this was NOT the case fifty years ago - have ideal harmonic proportions (an exact 5/8 relation between the torso and legs), which means that from retiré at knee-height, their developpé will rise elegantly to 120-130 degrees, give or take ten degrees. Think calm, think strong, think stable.
Whereas, to haul that developpé up to Guillemitis, one is talking about a developpé virtually out from crotch level - the foot pawing the crotch and scraping out along the thigh ! How chic ! And one is talking about a developpé where the hips are no longer even remotely level, ergo, instability at the very core. The entire magnificent, stable classical edifice, is utterly skewed.
Anyone who doubts that, should briefly put aside their personal aesthetic choices, and take a hard look at still photography of someone suffering from acute Guillemitis - perhaps even the lady herself. Start drawing plumb lines through the centre of gravity, balancing out the hips, assessing the hyper-extension of the "supporting" (if that is the word) knee, and foot, and so forth.
This bizarre movement, alone and of itself, suffices to destabilise the entire scheme. It is thus irrational, and has no place in a classical art form. It's as though a theatre actor would shriek himself hoarse to convey strong emotion, rather than properly placing the voice, and only then, projecting it as loudly as he CARES to.
Were theatre actors to shriek, their careers would end somewhere about the age of 25. Does that remind us of anything ?
Posted 07 February 2002 - 09:45 AM
Posted 07 February 2002 - 10:11 AM
To me, the problem with extreme dancers (like a Guillem) isn't the dancer him/herself. There will be those who like them and those who don't, as with any dancer. It's that they become imitated -- which is not their fault. NYCB went through the same thing with Farrell, whose off-center, risky dancing and high extensions suited her perfectly but did not suit others and I've heard many stories of imitators trying to out-Farrell Farrell and coming to grief onstage -- and of Balanchine suggesting that maybe you shouldn't do that, dear; it doesn't suit you. I think this is another of the many examples of imitation looking at the externals -- what can be (relatively) easily imitated -- rather than deeper qualities. "New Star does 32 fouettes. If I learn how to do 32 fouettes, I'll get her part and be a star." It's not new.
I'd also second what has been said about dancers' careers being over by 25. This is a throwback, too. The Romantic era ballerinas were has beens by their mid-twenties, at least in Paris, although they had longer careers on the road. I think it happens in any period where there's an incessant demand for the new. And I agree that during the Romantic period there were teachers (who were also fine dancers and choreographers, like Bournonville and Blasis) who railed against high extensions -- which were not invented yesterday; there have always been extremely flexible people. There were American dancers who worked in vaudeville at the turn of the 20th century who could put the current crop to shame, and there were fairgrounds dancers and controtionists back to the middle ages who were also extremely flexible. (I don't mean that flexibility in itself is "wrong," just that it isn't new.)
Often, though not always (the Romantic era again being an exception) the emphasis on technique and extreme technique blooms during choreographic lulls. When new work that challenges and inspires artists and audiences isn't being created, I think the dancers need to feed off the technique itself, and the concentration goes there. Croce wrote about this, complaining about the Russian emphasis on technique as an end in itself (not complaining about too many tricks, but rather the pedantic emphasis on stylistic niceties and a certain dryness of delivery). I'm sorry I don't have time to look up the quote; later (nor do I have time to edit this post, which I'm sure is an example of rambling, top o' the head incoherence).
Posted 07 February 2002 - 10:45 AM
[ February 07, 2002: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]
Posted 07 February 2002 - 11:48 AM
To me, the problem with extreme dancers (like a Guillem) isn't the dancer him/herself. There will be those who like them and those who don't, as with any dancer. It's that they become imitated -- which is not their fault. NYCB went through the same thing with Farrell, whose off-center, risky dancing and high extensions suited her perfectly but did not suit others and I've heard many stories of imitators trying to out-Farrell Farrell and coming to grief onstage -- and of Balanchine suggesting that maybe you shouldn't do that, dear; it doesn't suit you.
Perhaps one of the problems now is that in many companies there's a lack of coaching, and the directors or ballet masters who should tell such dancers "it doesn't suit you" (or "it will hurt you and shorten your career") don't say anything (or worse, say "you should do the same as X" even though it isn't physically possible)?
About the initial article: I've seen too little of Lucia Lacarra to have an opinion about her (only a performance in a Roland Petit mixed bill long ago and a video excerpt), but was a bit shocked by the use of very negative terms like "perverse intelligence"...
Posted 07 February 2002 - 04:46 PM
i know i have a tendency to try to keep things light, but i couldn't resist in a way here either. the person that immediately came to mind was a very good actress, who was known for her high kicks and "eccentric dancing" in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s films, named charlotte greenwood, who in the films i remember seeing her, having been born in 1890, was well into maturity, shall we say. i'm not sure how she fits into this, but she did come to mind. anyone else remember her? (she was in oklahoma, to name one of her better-known films).
[ February 07, 2002: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]
I do. Hadn't thought about her in eons.
Posted 07 February 2002 - 05:14 PM
Just as Cervantes' hero, faced with a "modern" age he could not tolerate, longed for an age of chivalry which had never existed -- at least not the way he imagined it -- there are people today who, faced with what they perceive as crassness and bad taste on the ballet stage, long for an era of restraint and good taste which also never existed (at least not as they imagine it).
I too find much of what I see crass and in bad taste. But I can't help but wonder what I would see if the dictates for "good taste in ballet steps" set forth above in such specific terms were followed. I suspect that the "cold turkey diet" recommended above would be much worse than what I see today and that the audience would be much more impoverished than under the current chaos. Can you imagine living on cold turkey in an art form that depends so much on the fleeting perception of human beauty? Can't I have just a little Bordelaise sauce? I think I'll add an extra measure of applause for Lucia and for Svetlana Zacharova next Monday night, just on general principle.
[ February 07, 2002: Message edited by: Michael1 ]
Posted 07 February 2002 - 08:18 PM
Estelle, I agree (surprise smile.gif ) that it may be a lack of coaching or direction. If -- to take two dancers who've been mentioned here -- a Maurin is considered THE company's ballerina and gets all the new works and all the first nights, no matter what is said, her approach, her aesthetic, will dominate and other dancers will imitate her strengths. If a Lacarra gets all the first nights and the new ballets, then even if coaches and teachers spent all day saying "lower your leg!" (or whatever) I doubt it would matter. (I'm not trying to favor either Maurin or Lacarra, just saying that there's a difference.)
This thread has raised a lot of interesting topics. The idea that a ballerina MUST be able to carry a full-length ballet is one of them. (Like nearly all questions raised here, I could cheerfully argue for either, or both, sides of this.) Part of me agrees; it's what separates the girls from the women, if I can make such a non-PC statement. And the other part of me says that there have been ballerinas in Balanchine ballets who are sprints rather than long distance runners, if you will; and ballerinas in Fokine, Massine, Tudor ballets.
Posted 07 February 2002 - 09:28 PM
Posted 07 February 2002 - 10:33 PM
No one says that eras of relative good taste don't exist. It's Golden Ages that are mythical.
Even in the Hay Days you speak of I would bet there was tasteless dancing as well as tasteful dancing, dancers who were more emotional as opposed to pure, and penchees extending above the shoulder which did not constitute mortal aesthetic sins. The recipe for absolute restraint offered above would denature ballet. What would be permitted and what would it look like is not something I'd like to think too much about. What about Nureyev stamping that foot down in Beauty at the end of his tours -- The recommended "cold turkey" should extend to that too, hein? Ballet is an art which exists on the edge of the dramatically erotic (in the sense of Eros and not in the narrow tawdry sense of sex, I just can't think of a better word) and you simply can't edit that out. What is needed is a tasteful balance between that element and the more restrained classicism. The recipe offered by Ms. Kanter above goes much too far in the latter direction. You might as well lean over too far backwards as fall on your face.
I'm now prepared to take my whipping for these intemperate comments. It is the nature of one extreme argument to provoke another, I suppose, and I also suppose it's a good thing.
[ February 07, 2002: Message edited by: Michael1 ]
Posted 07 February 2002 - 11:47 PM
As for ballet and good old days and heydays, the idea that everyone who says that a ballet looked better 20 years ago, or standards have slipped, etc., is misguided and looking at life and ballet through rose-colored glasses -- and, by implication, pretty darned stupid (or are we just blind?) -- is, well, insulting. I'm sure there was never a time when every ballet performed every night in every corner of the world was perfect, but I don't think anyone has said that (in this or the many other discussions where this topic comes up.) Nor are there times when every dancer and every ballet is wretched and horrible -- in that sense, I think extremes don't serve much of a purpose. Or, Nevasayneva, remembering one of my favorite Trockadero ballerinas.
There are differences among companies and even among dancers within companies in every historical period; that doesn't deny there are overriding trends. La Trasherina can be giving encores of Giselle's Act II solos, with fouettes (an expression of her own irrepressible personality) the same year that La Sublimova is moving us to tears with a simple gesture and perfect classical placement, no more than two pirouettes allowed, in ring number 2 and La Extremova is scratching her nose with her knee while hopping on pointe in ring number 3 and La Dramqueenova will be acting up a storm (with some appropriately tortured backbends) in ring number 4 -- BUT one of those dancers will be reflecting the dominant trend and the others will be bucking it. Whichever ring you're watching determines your view but that doesn't mean that there aren't historical trends. There are times when extreme technique dominates, times when "don't dance so they notice" is the rule, times when the 90 degree arabesque is considered perfection and anything above or below it is just plain wrong, etc. Exceptions prove the rule. Unless they become critical mass, they don't disprove them. When they achieve critical mass, they become the new rule.
Putting on my Administrator's hat, a general comment, since I haven't had much time to post this week -- and this is not directed at any single person, but really is a general comment, not only on this thread, but for the board as a whole. Please take it as my Quarterly Let's Talk about What We Do Here post:
Opinions -- whether you think Lacarra is the greatest ballerina in the world, or an example of what you think a ballerina should not be -- are very welcome here. Discussing opinions is what we're supposed to be doing. Mocking those opinions or attacking people for holding them is not. I thought we'd gotten away from that, but this thread has taken a few nasty turns. Please, stop the personal references and anything that can be considered a flame -- and that includes mocking someone for holding an opinion. (Again, this is a general comment, not directed at any particular person.)
Another general comment that I raise about every three months: Dancers are people, not just objects to be discussed or used to make a point -- or dissected in embarrassingly minute anatomical detail. Yes, they are public figures, but that doesn't give us the right to be rude or cruel. The advice I got as a young critic -- to write about dancers as though their mother is reading over your shoulder -- can apply to internet posts as well. Any opinion can be expressed, but there are a variety of ways to express it.
Thank you. I now return to civil discourse as a civilian smile.gif
liebs, I think the "must a dancer dominate three acts to be a ballerina" is worthy of a thread of its own too. I'll post it tomorrow, if no one has done it before then.
[ February 08, 2002: Message edited by: alexandra ]
Posted 08 February 2002 - 04:23 AM
beginning of quote
"I would like to pick up on the point about the development of technique, dancers today commonly being able to do things that were rare feats of exceptional virtuosity years ago. I think this cuts both ways.
"Technique moves on and changes, but just as some things get better other things get lost. I am sure we have all seen performances by dancers which do not reach the technical as well as interpretative standards set by the originators of a particular role. As an example, I had to look at video of the same ballet in performances from the 60s, 70s and 90s. Technically the earliest performance was the finest in terms of precision, speed, ballon, agility and use of the torso.
"Ballet technique seems currently to be pursuing a particular line of athletic development which has a lot to do with certain types of body shape and line and extreme flexibility. This may be progress in one way but perhaps is retrograde in others. There are other types of dancer attribute arguably more important to the survival of the art form which are in danger of being overlooked if selection procedures continue to head down this narrow route."
end of quote
Miss Crow, whom I for one, have neither met, nor ever spoken with, has chosen to refer to the matter as one of "survival of the art form".
Could it not be useful for us to confront, head-on, the fact that these are not "business as usual" times for art ? Allow me to give one example from another field.
It so happens that Mark Rylance, the director of the newly-rebuilt "Shakespeare's Globe" Theatre, a man who certainly is not short of a penny, has only very recently "starred", if that is the word, in a film the contents of which cannot be described on a family Website. The opuscule is entitled "Intimacy", by one Patrice Chéreau, a French film-maker who has what I shall delicately call here, a "reputation". It was all over the Times and Telegraph. And, at a recent performance of As You Like at Rylance's Globe, the Rosalind had been directed to drop her trousers and display her ZZZZ in full view of the public.
If that goes on in "high art" spheres - and we might perhaps agree that our Will Sh. qualifies as "high art" - well, enough said.
[ February 08, 2002: Message edited by: katharine kanter ]
Posted 08 February 2002 - 11:17 AM
Another aspect of the swing of the pendulum to technique is that we're in an age of nondramatic ballets. During narrative periods, virtuoso technique has been less important -- there are exceptions there, too, of course, during the Lifts Period. That's a different kind of technique, an emphasis on strength rather than brilliance.
To return to the original topic of the thread, and Lacarra, I hadn't had the time to post thoroughly earlier and wanted to add one point. One of the things I like about Tomasson as a director is that he has a good eye for what his dancers can do, and acquires ballets that suit them. From the little I've seen, that's what he's been doing with Lacarra. I'm surprised that several people mentioned she didn't do well in "L'Arlsienne." I would have thought Petit would be well within her range and I'd be interested in seeing her in that ballet. I also have to say that a dancer that can stir such strong opinions is worth seeing smile.gif
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