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Nureyev and Demi-Pointe

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For other public stations in the U.S. -- those that bother to show it -- consult, as they say, your local listings.

Start tangential rant

Don't get me started -- my local PBS station (KCTS, for those who live in the area) did not show the Morris/Mozart Live from Lincoln Center program, and when I called to ask when they might be broadcasting it, was told that they would not. This in Mark Morris' home town.

end rant

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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!

I think leonid is correct about the issue of the high, trois-quart, demi-pointe in male dancing.

My recollection brings to mind John Gilpin.

It seems to me, that, the innovation that Nureyev introduced to the 'west' after his defection,

is the very high retire position of the working leg in pirouettes en dehors.

[i'll be interested to see his pirouettes in the PBS Russian Years.]

I can't recall any male (at least non-Soviet) dancers placing the working leg around the knee area for

pirouettes before Nureyev's defection.

Nureyev's innovation spred rapidly.

Edited to add last sentence.

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I think leonid is correct about the issue of the high, trois-quart, demi-pointe in male dancing.

My recollection brings to mind John Gilpin.

It seems to me, that, the innovation that Nureyev introduced to the 'west' after his defection,

is the very high retire position of the working leg in pirouettes en dehors.

[i'll be interested to see his pirouettes in the PBS Russian Years.]

I can't recall any male (at least non-Soviet) dancers placing the working leg around the knee area for

pirouettes before Nureyev's defection.

Nureyev's innovation spread rapidly.

Going back almost half a century I cannot quite remember if people like David Blair and John Gilpin

used a high retire in pirouette's before Nureyev arrived in London, but methinks they did.

I can remember some soviet dancers especially of the older generation who did not, which was confirmed recently in a showing of BBC archive films at London's National Film Theatre.

Of course you are correct about Gilpin's "high, trois-quart, demi-pointe" he was an extraordinary dancer, partner and prince par excellence.

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I'm finding this discussion so fascinating. Mostly because I must plead ignorance about anything other than garden variety demi-pointe for the male dancer. I had never known about high demi-point or the 3/4. I was under the impression that the male foot simply didn't have the flexibility of the female foot and thus the inability to rise to a fully stretched demi point position. If I'm understanding correctly, it's more of a stylistic issue. Or does the cart go before the horse? I was recently re-watching a video of the Royal Ballet's Romeo & Juliet from the mid-1980s with A. Ferri and Wayne Eagling. Now I've always loved Eagling but I have to say that having recently come out of the ABT Spring Season and watching the simply amazing footwork of David Hallberg, it was nothing short of glaring to see Eagling's pirouettes done on a very very low demi point. I sort of assumed Hallberg is blessed with a naturally high instep that most men don't possess - lucky for us in the audience that love to watch him. Can't wait to watch the Nureyev documentary tonight and see if I can notice the high demi. BTW, this is my first post but I've been reading for a few months now. This is a wonderful repository of ballet news and information and I feel so lucky to have found it. Thanks to its creators!

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Welcome to Ballet Talk, Barbara. We're glad you found us, and we thank you for the compliment.

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I have to say that having recently come out of the ABT Spring Season and watching the simply amazing footwork of David Hallberg, it was nothing short of glaring to see Eagling's pirouettes done on a very very low demi point. I sort of assumed Hallberg is blessed with a naturally high instep that most men don't possess - lucky for us in the audience that love to watch him.

Well not that this negates your greater point, but Hallberg *does* indeed have extraordinary feet.

So many male dancers (especially historically, but still true I think today) do not have feet that are nearly as good as their female counterparts.

Hallberg has feet most female dancers can envy.

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The simple explanation is that women have to have a certain amount of flexibility in the feet and ankles to be able to dance en pointe.

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I sort of assumed Hallberg is blessed with a naturally high instep that most men don't possess - lucky for us in the audience that love to watch him.
Less to do with the instep, actually, than the flexibility around the ball of the foot -- allowing the toes to flex back against the floor -- and also the ankle, to adjust for the realignment.

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Hallberg's feet were not always wonderful. If you flash back to his corps days you will see how hard he has worked on the foot/ankle area, in addition to every other element of his dancing.

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Mr. Hallberg has always had incredible physical facility, including his feet. Did he need time to gain strength as a professional performer and gain strength technically, definitely! He was/is an extraordinary American talent who has had an advantage of meticulous training. Experience can only make a talented and well trained dancer better. :bow:

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Hallberg's feet were not always wonderful. If you flash back to his corps days you will see how hard he has worked on the foot/ankle area, in addition to every other element of his dancing.

I'm both of a mind to agree and disagree.

One of the things I like and admire about Hallberg is how serious and dedicated and hard working he is. He is always working on improving himself and its wonderful to watch.

That said, while he may not have been WORKING his feet as well in his earlier days (and thus they were not "wonderful"), as someone born with mediocre feet who was never able, no matter how hard I worked to improve them to any appreciable extent, you don't get feet like that from work--the articulation? yes. The facility? no.

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...you don't get feet like that from work--the articulation? yes. The facility? no.

Exactly.

I also think there is a tendency in ballet to focus more on the use of beautiful feet. Some teachers and directors will pay a great deal of attention to dancers with lovely arches and insteps, constantly teaching and encouraging them to use their feet better, and I think that some dancers think to themselves, however unconsciously, "well, my feet aren't that great so it doesn't really matter that much how I use them," or "my arches are high, so everyone's going to be looking at my feet--I'd better use them really well." Everyone needs to use his/her feet well, as it enhances the beauty of the naturally beautiful foot and makes mediocre feet shine.

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Fascinating discussion. How does Nureyev fit into the quality spectrum on feet? I'm not thinking so much of his releve, which we've discussed, but his use of feet in retire, whilel jumping, etc. One aspect of his dancing that was very noticeable in the PBS documentary was the great improvement in this area from 1958 (when he had been at the Kirov school ... what? only 2-3 years?) to his stage performances in Paris in 1961.

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Back to David Hallberg -- he began as a tap dancer and was pursuaded to take ballet. In addition to lovely basic anatomy, the tap very likely helped with the flexibility. In fact, the reason given for not wanting serious ballet students to continue with tap is that it makes the ankles "too flexible." There used to be a photo of Mr. Hallberg on the website of this high school, Arizona School for the Arts: in it, one foot is gloriously pointed. It is not clear from looking at the photo whether he was still a student, at that point, or whether the photo was from his early professional days.

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The problem with tap is not that it makes the ankles flexible, but that it can habituate the student to use the flexibility but not the strength to point the feet fully, especially in petit allegro.

Nureyev's feet showed that he had worked and worked them in order to make them into the devices that they became. His basic foot was a good foot, but nothing exceptional. What he made them WAS what was exceptional. From the information on the recent PBS broadcast, I'd have to say that Bruhn came first in the three-quarter pointe use, then Nureyev followed his lead.

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