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Nureyev and Demi-Pointe


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#1 innopac

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 02:47 PM

Last night I watched the silent film October 1917 by Sergei Eisenstein. In that there was a short clip of wild celebrations with older men breaking into folk dancing. It struck me that much of the time they were very high on the balls of their feet. And I wondered in what ways Nureyev's early folk dancing training influenced him in terms of dancing ballet later in his life. For example he is said to be the first man to dance on high demi-pointe. Could this have come from his folk dancing training?

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 03:31 PM

Nureyev was far from the first man to dance ŕ trois quarts (on three-quarter pointe). And if I recall the same sequence you're mentioning, take a look at those guys again. They're not on demi-pointe, they're on Russian folk dance full pointe, done by dancing on the knuckles of the toes - ow! What seem to be toes forward of the instep is really just the soft leather of the boot, puddling down as the toes are curled under.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 03:55 PM

I'm reading a book called "18th Century Dance Styles" and there are several drawings of men on three-quarter pointe. It existed in folk dance and the fairgrounds performers and the noble style of dancing. Nureyev may well have been the one to bring high three-quarter pointe BACK, though. I've read that, too, and know from talking with dancers of the '60s that it was an issue, in the West, after his defection. (Also the extended, pointed foot; you can see this in photos.)

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 04:46 PM

There were David Blair, and John Gilpin, and Vladimir Skouratoff, and quite a few others before Nureyev, and those are just the twentieth century. Blair's very high relevé was thought to have contributed to his facility in pirouettes.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 05:35 PM

In Gennady Smakov's "The Great Russian Dancers," he says that Nureyev's going on high three-quarter point caused impassioned discussions among the balletomanes. In Denmark, there was a question of whether it was Nureyev or Bruhn who brought in the high three-quarter pointe. Haven't read anything about Nijinsky :) Point being that this has been around since the beginnings of ballet, and has come in and out of fashion.

#6 innopac

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 06:48 PM

Here is the source for the claim that Nureyev was the first man to dance on high demi-pointe. Perhaps Solway was misquoted - maybe Solway meant the first Kirov dancer. I don't have the book on hand to check the quote.

"On the other hand, Nureyev was eager to express himself and refused to be enclosed in a mould. He 'didn’t fit the Kirov mold ... He was the first man to dance on high demi-pointe and the first to extend his leg high in the air.' (Solway, 1998)."

from:
"Making Sense of Nureyev’s Career Through Career Theories" by Elodie Tran Tat in Otago Management Graduate Review Volume 3 2005
http://72.14.253.104...F...;cd=1&gl=au

#7 bart

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 08:00 PM

Nureyev seems to have been praised for or accused of any number of innovations.

In the Aug 27 New Yorker, Joan Acocella has a brief note about the upcoming PBS Great Performances film Nureyev: the Russian Years.

... we can see the beginnings of his very individual style, notable the hyperstretched torso. (This was considered effeminate when he introduced it. Now it is standard.

What's hyperstretching, and why might it appear effeminate? What did men do with their torsos before Nureyev?

Alexandra (several posts above above) suggests that his use of the "extended, pointed foot" was controversial. Why controvesial? Did it appear exagerrated? Affected? Or even -- horrors! :) -- "effeminate"? What was the norm in foot-pointing before Nureyev?

P.S. The Nureyev film is scheduled for August 29 in New York City. For other public stations in the U.S. -- those that bother to show it -- consult, as they say, your local listings.

#8 volcanohunter

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 08:03 PM

They're not on demi-pointe, they're on Russian folk dance full pointe, done by dancing on the knuckles of the toes - ow! What seem to be toes forward of the instep is really just the soft leather of the boot, puddling down as the toes are curled under.

Actually, that's Georgian folk dancing, though you'll also find similar dancing among other peoples of the Caucausus, such as the Chechens, for example. Performances by Georgian dance troupes inevitably includes a male dancer hopping across the stage on the knuckle of one foot a la Giselle.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 08:08 PM

Circassians, too. The Soviet Army Band, Chorus and Dancers used to have package show where everybody did some specialty on pointe.

Now as for "hyperstretched torso", I have no idea what that means.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 24 August 2007 - 08:10 PM

bart, I think it was considered effeminate, at least in the West. (real men don't point their feet, I guess.) I'm speaking specifically when the man is standing with both feet on the ground, partnering (think of the fish dives in Western productions of "The Sleeping Beauty") and one foot is extended -- and planted on the floor, rather than arched. I think anything that looks "refined" is considered "effeminatei" in some circles -- and in some companies today, I'm seeing less stretched line, less tautness of line, in male dancing, as though the dancer is "just one of the guys". It's a line that's fine in modern dance, but looks odd, to me, in classical ballet. Point of that being that, like most things, the pointed foot goes in and out of fashion according to time and country.

innopac, I've read what you quoted, too. It could be that Nureyev was simply doing something different from what had been done in recent memory in St. Petersburg.

#11 leonid17

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Posted 25 August 2007 - 02:59 AM

bart, I think it was considered effeminate, at least in the West. (real men don't point their feet, I guess.) I'm speaking specifically when the man is standing with both feet on the ground, partnering (think of the fish dives in Western productions of "The Sleeping Beauty")



I remember Nureyev's first appearance in London and very many of his subsequent appearances in the next seven years. I do not recall any mention of his performances being referred to in any aspect as "effeminate" by critics or audiences.
He was a whirlwind in which ballet audience’s and critics alike wanted to get caught up in. I remember complaints of his noisy landings (which he cured) and changes made to choreography but effeminate, never.
His so called mannerisms to me, were central to his conception of a role and they seemed to me to be a stylised approach that had the elegance that one imagined echoed the grace of "Le ballet de la Cour."
Nureyev's approach was undoubtedly more physical than for instance the exemplary noble prince Vladilen Semenov who seemed to epitomise "Le ballet de la Cour" whose poses with "outstretched foot", were the same. I think Konstantin Sergeyev can be found in photographs with the same pose and same stylistic approach indicating a tradition. Is it my imagination that Helpmann, Somes and Blair used the pose referred to in the 'fish dives'?.
I agree with Alexandra she says, " I think anything that looks "refined" is considered "effeminate" in some circles -- and in some companies today, I'm seeing less stretched line, less tautness of line, in male dancing, as though the dancer is "just one of the guys". It's a line that's fine in modern dance, but looks odd, to me, in classical ballet. "
Academic classical ballet is not about naturalistic or "method acting", instead, it should be what is "natural" to the genre.
When a male dancer in a classical ballet goes on to demi-pointe in an arabasque with the front arm extended out, it not only creates an elongated line, it also implies a sense of reaching towards or yearning which for me is touching and old-fashionedly moving.

Ed. to add last sentence.

#12 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 25 August 2007 - 04:24 AM

In Gennady Smakov's "The Great Russian Dancers," he says that Nureyev's going on high three-quarter point caused impassioned discussions among the balletomanes. In Denmark, there was a question of whether it was Nureyev or Bruhn who brought in the high three-quarter pointe. Haven't read anything about Nijinsky :) Point being that this has been around since the beginnings of ballet, and has come in and out of fashion.


I am not sure of the source, although it might have been Bronislava Nijinska's "Early Years," but I remember reading that Nijinsky developed his own series of strengthening excersizes so that he could go on pointe. His technique was also the source of his overly developed thighs, (the book also mentioned that he had his trousers especially tailored to minimize this fact).

The impact of Nureyev's stylization is one of the things discussed in an article by Lewis Segal in the LA Times about the upcoming documentary and the upcoming biography, "Nureyev: The Life," Julie Kavanagh's which is coming in early October.

#13 Hans

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Posted 25 August 2007 - 05:53 AM

I've never seen a picture of Nureyev with overdeveloped thighs. Was this rather late in his career?

#14 bart

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Posted 25 August 2007 - 06:21 AM

Thanks, ViolinConcerto, for the link to the Segal piece on Nureyev's career. Nureyev a sociopath? Talk about slash-and-burn! :)

Segal gives a highly personal (and no doubt exagerrated) hint of the kind of icon-breaking that will be part of Julie Kavanagh's new biography -- Nureyev: The Life -- coming out on Oct. 2. About the issue of "feminization", he writes:

Kavanagh presents all the evidence but never connects the dots: how Nureyev studied and adopted ballerina technique (including demi-point, or raising onto half-toe) and how the makeup and hair he chose deliberately feminized him.

Segal also refers to what he calls Nureyev's

rejection of the potent style of cavalier made indelible by such Soviet dancers as the Kirov's supremely elegant Yuri Soloviev and the Bolshoi's great-hearted Vladimir Vasiliev (each as fine a dancer as Nureyev at his best).

I suppose that we all know that there was a powerful element of self-invention in Nureyev's life story. Reports of his sad decline as a performer and (Segal claims) con man are also well known.

It certainly can't hurt to have this reminder that the documentary must be watched with a healthy dose of critical judgment.

P.S. The Kavanagh book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Click the Amazon box above and a portion of your purchase price goes to Ballet Talk. :D

#15 leonid17

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Posted 25 August 2007 - 09:05 AM

Thanks, ViolinConcerto, for the link to the Segal piece on Nureyev's career. Nureyev a sociopath? Talk about slash-and-burn! :)

Segal gives a highly personal (and no doubt exagerrated) hint of the kind of icon-breaking that will be part of Julie Kavanagh's new biography -- Nureyev: The Life -- coming out on Oct. 2. About the issue of "feminization", he writes:

Kavanagh presents all the evidence but never connects the dots: how Nureyev studied and adopted ballerina technique (including demi-point, or raising onto half-toe) and how the makeup and hair he chose deliberately feminized him.

Segal also refers to what he calls Nureyev's

rejection of the potent style of cavalier made indelible by such Soviet dancers as the Kirov's supremely elegant Yuri Soloviev and the Bolshoi's great-hearted Vladimir Vasiliev (each as fine a dancer as Nureyev at his best).

I suppose that we all know that there was a powerful element of self-invention in Nureyev's life story. Reports of his sad decline as a performer and (Segal claims) con man are also well known.

It certainly can't hurt to have this reminder that the documentary must be watched with a healthy dose of critical judgment.

P.S. The Kavanagh book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Click the Amazon box above and a portion of your purchase price goes to Ballet Talk. :D


I have just read Segal's article and found the article appalling in tone and much of what he reported
that others have said or written unbelievable.
No one wants a hagiography, but historical accuracy must prevail and judgement of someones truth
or otherwise when telling a story needs to be applied.
As to KGB files we already know the lies that were spread about Nureyev and others who chose to leave Russia.

AddedL
PS what has this got to do with pointed feet, demi-pointe or other comments on Nureyev's dancing or performance manner.

[Edited by Helene to add: The discussion of the Kavanaugh biograpy can be found on this thread.]


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