innopac

Nureyev and Demi-Pointe

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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?

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Nureyev was far from the first man to dance à 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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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/search?q=cache:3GDUTF...;cd=1&gl=au

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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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You're absolutely right, leonid. On reflection, I see that my post does not belong on this thread. The original question is so interesting, it should remain at the center.

A propos: I would love to hear more about the "folk dance" aspects of the 3/4 pointe position for men (raised by innopec in the original post). Was this a source for Nureyev, as he began to expand the way he carried out conventional movements and positions?

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Bart, I don't know, but I'd hazard a guess it had as much to do wiith his (and his teacher, Pushkin's) knowledge of classical ballet and art, especially the statue to which Leonid referred in the thread on classical line (quoting Leonid): "the Flemish mannerist sculptor Giambologna’s (1529-1608) "The Flying Mercury" created in 1564 as it beautifies the harmonic line in a pose of the god who flies through the air." (and is on high demi-pointe, part of the illusion of flight). As I've written above, this wasn't a new invention, but was known in classical ballet at least as early as the 18th century. There are many references in the literature to it. It may have been new to that generation, or group of young balletgoers who were watching Nureyev and wrote about it, but he didn't invent it.

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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/search?q=cache:3GDUTF...;cd=1&gl=au

With regard to the high extensions, Nureyev himself told me that when he was young he could shoulder his leg: "but then it all went into jump". As to the high demi pointe, he was aware that his legs were short so it could be that he wanted to give the impression that they were longer than in fact they were.

[Edited to Add: a branch of the discussion about Nureyev's proportions and beautifully proportioned males dancers can be found here.]

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

No, it was Nijinsky who had the big thighs.

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Nureyev was far from the first man to dance à 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.

Thanks for pointing that out... have watched again -- more carefully this time -- and see what you are saying... amazing!

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... 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.

A friend just emailed me about Alexandra's comment:

"That was the difference I saw between Thibault and the two other men in

Emeralds. [dvd] His lines were so clean, so beautiful..."

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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/search?q=cache:3GDUTF...;cd=1&gl=au

I have started to read the above study but as at first sight it appeared to lack academic rigour in some small things, which irritated me. I will have to return to it later.

Men who employed high demi-pointe poses include: Mikhail Mordkin in Bacchanale if not elsewhere, Nijinsky in Chopiniana, Spectre, Carnaval, Petrushka, Les Orientale. Chabukiani in Don Q and probably elsewhere. Knowledge of the above repertoire and photographic evidence confirms this. Did Nureyevev really have a more stretched and higher arabesque than Soloviev or Vasiliev? I think not!

PS As Alexandra mentioned men en demi-pointe was a feature of 18th century ballet. I would be interesting to know if Danseur Noble used this technique to add grandeur and an extra nobilty to their stature in the Ballet de la Cour.

ED: to add 3 words

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PS As Alexandra mentioned men en demi-pointe was a feature of 18th century ballet. I would be interesting to know if Danseur Noble used this technique to add grandeur and an extra nobilty to their stature in the Ballet de la Cour.

I think it came from the idea of the necessity of verticality, of reaching for the Heavens as a metaphor for ballet as an idealistic (rather than realistic) art form, and it was mostly danseur noble (based on the "18th Century Dance Styles" book; this isn't my period, but the author quotes widely from contemporary sources, mostly descriptions of dancers.) It was a male grotesque dancer, Malgri, who claims, in his own writings, to be the first man on pointe. He did it as a trick, and it didn't much interest him.

My conversations about this with dancers were among Danish dancers and very provincial :) The Danes had been so isolated in the 20th century that they had missed quite a few technical advances, including spotting. Some dancers "got out" in the 1930s and brought back some steps, but then there was the war, and they were really locked in. Several Danish men (Bruhn, Stanley Williams, Flindt among them) went to London as soon as they could get there after the War and came back with lots of new knowledge, but I heard no mention of Gilpin or Blair's dancing on high demi-pointe. Not saying they didn't, just that it didn't make a dent. It was when Nureyev came there to take class with Volkova that Bruhn started using it and it became de rigeur. And then there were two men who said Bruhn had always danced on high demi-pointe.)

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PS As Alexandra mentioned men en demi-pointe was a feature of 18th century ballet. I would be interesting to know if Danseur Noble used this technique to add grandeur and an extra nobilty to their stature in the Ballet de la Cour.
Could this have developed as a way of keeping elevation when dancers abandoned court shoes (a la Louis XIV) with heels? In other words -- to retrain the effect of high heels without the actual heels?

:off topic: Alexandra mentions, as an aside:

The Danes had been so isolated in the 20th century that they had missed quite a few technical advances, including spotting.
No spotting! How did they accomplish that? The walls are spinning just from thinking about it!

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bart, re the high heels, I thought about that when I was reading (and, truth to tell, skimming, because there are a lot of quotations that say more or less the same thing). This was the time that Camargo ripped off the heels of her shoes; I'm sure men followed suit, and that would have thrown the line off, in the same way that women going on pointe in the mid-19th century caused some adjustments to be made in the height of the arabesque when dancing roles created in the earlier part of the century. But I don't know :off topic: I've never read mention of it, though serious, detailed research in this era is still in its infancy, and we may learn more.

Re the spotting -- one of the mysteries of life. It's probably why Bournonville had trouble with pirouettes! the Danish story is that Hans Brenaa went to Paris in the 30s and studied with Egorova and brought back the Trick of Spotting. Bruhn said that he always spotted naturally. (A maximum of two pirouettes in Bournonville remained an article of faith in Copenhagen well into the 1950s; it was considered part of his aesthetic.)

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