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Showings of 1965 Performance Film of Balanchine's "Don Quixotin 2007 restoration by New York Public Library


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#46 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 07:31 AM

Sigh. I think we're over breeding dancers today and they aren't as well rounded because it takes so much time in the studio. I'd trade a little less facility for more mental depth - but now that Pandora's Box has been opened I don't think it can be shut.

#47 EAW

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 07:47 AM

Leigh, I still don't think we're talking about the same thing. Of course people today won't dance - or speak, or write - as they did generations ago. But it's unfortunately possible - and evident - that things can not only change, due to all the cultural forces you mention, but worsen. I bring up "Raymonda Variations" because this ballet is nothing but classical dancing, as exposed and, in a sense, as timeless as can be. Recent casts haven't just performed it "differently," because they grew up listening to different music and eating different foods; they execute the steps more weakly and coarsely and with less assurance than previous dancers did. Balanchine famously said that "art is technique" - a remark that has often been misinterpreted and used against him. But when technique deteriorates in front of our eyes, it's painfully clear that no amount of extra-theatrical anything can truly compensate.

#48 Ray

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 08:15 AM

I bring up "Raymonda Variations" because this ballet is nothing but classical dancing, as exposed and, in a sense, as timeless as can be. Recent casts haven't just performed it "differently," because they grew up listening to different music and eating different foods; they execute the steps more weakly and coarsely and with less assurance than previous dancers did.


RV is a good example of a ballet that seems more of a chore than a challenge for dancers these days (at NYCB and elsewhere). YET a heightened level of "technique" in many areas has never been more, as Leigh implies, expected of both male and female dancers. So can we account for this?

#49 sz

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 08:16 AM

>....for example, a ballet such as "Raymonda Variations." Watching that used to be like walking through some fantastic >garden - each of those beautiful, brilliant solos a different flower given full color and perfume by casts that seemed to >understand as well as dance the choreography. Lately, except for one or two exceptions, most of the dancers can barely >get through the steps...
>.....NYCB dancers in the 50s-70s really understood what they were doing

Dancers in the 50s-70s were developed and nutured by Balanchine and other artists who lived solely for their art. I caught the tail end of that era. I can only imagine what fine dancers Suzanne and Marnie, Mimi and even Gelsey (to name a few) would have created if given the opportunity to live well/work with the large pools of talent at SAB, NYCB. If Velella, Ludlow, Blum, Clifford, etc., were also living well/teaching/coaching at SAB/NYCB.

Yes, when they danced, it was a very different time in ballet's history -- not only within NYCB/SAB but in NYC. NYCB was in full bloom with people who didn't want to be any where else (ditto other fine artists in NYC). To be a dancer and a part of NYCB was then a great dream come true. Working with Balanchine on a daily basis... and all the many other great artists involved. And a dancer at NYCB in those days could afford one's own apt, etc., in NYC while still putting some savings away.

In the last 10-20 years, many other opportunities / smaller USA companies with some Balanchine rep have opened doors. Pros and cons of that situation, less concentration of talent, dilutes the biggest USA companies. Then there's the realistic truth of the ridiculous costs of living well enough... for example NYC and SF/CA, and mentors drilling dancers to take college courses seriously even more so than dancers' careers...so dancers can afford a future... All of this has created dancers who have far less commitment and desire to work as hard at their dance careers (personality and technically)... to produce the quality once seen in the 50s-70s.

#50 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 08:16 AM

Speaking directly your points EAW - I again just don't agree.

Technique has not deteriorated; it's changed in emphasis. Dancers can't do older repertory (Les Sylphides is a very good example) because there isn't the same emphasis on strength - older dancers wouldn't be able to do newer choreography because they can't make the same shapes. And again that's primarily in the classroom - I agree with you, but pointe shoes have changed in composition (you wouldn't believe how much that changes choreography until you ask some strong dancers to roll through their feet and they can't because their shoes don't roll) and I only cite that as one of the little things outside a studio that mirror or influence what happens on the inside.

I'm not arguing this because I think that dancing has improved - I'm with you that I want those ballets danced as they were intended. I just think the causes are complicated and that changing training may not be enough to get that back - at least not for a decade at minimum.

Quickly adding to what sz said, I don't think anything can substitute for the fact that Balanchine was there, at NYCB, making those dances directly on those dancers. We're not going to have truly great dancing again until someone is making truly great choreography directly on the bodies that will dance it :)

#51 papeetepatrick

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 08:30 AM

But when technique deteriorates in front of our eyes, it's painfully clear that no amount of extra-theatrical anything can truly compensate.


But the 'extra-theatrical anything' can be part of what makes some aspects of technique deteriorate in front of our eyes. Anyway, even if you think 'Raymonda' is rarely danced as finely as it once was, other things we've been talking about in the other threads prove that dazzling technique, even if not always imbued with all the 'extra-theatrical' things, can remain extant in athletic form (I haven't heard of ballet use of steroids and other drugs as in the Olympics, baseball and Tour de France, but it's bound to exist already or will exist--and without even quite the stigma, because it's less a matter of one competition after another and against another specific competitor in ballet and other dance). EAW, do you possibly mean that certain aspects of technique are emphasized at the expense of others? Because for the most part, but with much less experience and expertise, I agree with Leigh's last comment on the 'over breeding', and that the Pandora's box, both here and elsewhere, is not going to be closed. Along those lines is the near-impossibility in such an environment of realistically expecting another Balanchine to all of a sudden appear. He was still very much an extension of the 19th century, and that's just not going to be available.

It just occurred to me that the 'Dance don't think' is just the more imperative version of what really means 'Think with the dancing' or 'Dance the thinking' or 'Make the dancing think itself' or, more simply, 'Think through the dancing.' One hears these short quotations of Balanchine like this and 'art is technique', and realizes that they are not to be taken purely literally, because they can be proved to be both true and false due to being oversimplified (probably to make a momentary point, that moment in time in which the quote was made having been entirely lost) and therefore taken in any number of ways. While art is technique, it obviously isn't only technique, and Balanchine would not have been able to demonstrate Apollo to Edward Villella in the way he is documented to have been able to do if this sort of thing were always to literally obtain.

#52 deanofdance

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 05:10 PM

Watching Mimi Paul in her ACT 3 solo variation brought a smile to my face. I did not know who she was until after the film and I was able to read the program. After she was done, I wish we could have rewound the film to see her dancing one more time. I've come to take pleasure in seeing dancers who have the ability to communicate something beyond the steps -- as if they want to tell us something about themselves and their lives.
I remember seeing Jenny Somoygi for the first time some years ago and my eyes were drawn to her and she seemed to be the best dancer cast at articulating the dance to us, in being able to say something. And it helped me in my learning to appreciate dance, in understanding that dancing was, of course the steps and technique, but also, much more.
Even though the film was made more 42 years ago, Mimi Paul and her dancing looked like freshly cut flowers.

#53 vipa

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 05:32 PM

Watching Mimi Paul in her ACT 3 solo variation brought a smile to my face. I did not know who she was until after the film and I was able to read the program. After she was done, I wish we could have rewound the film to see her dancing one more time. I've come to take pleasure in seeing dancers who have the ability to communicate something beyond the steps -- as if they want to tell us something about themselves and their lives.
I remember seeing Jenny Somoygi for the first time some years ago and my eyes were drawn to her and she seemed to be the best dancer cast at articulating the dance to us, in being able to say something. And it helped me in my learning to appreciate dance, in understanding that dancing was, of course the steps and technique, but also, much more.
Even though the film was made more 42 years ago, Mimi Paul and her dancing looked like freshly cut flowers.


I agree about Mimi Paul in the film. I believe she left and joined ABT because of some Suzanne resentment. Iwas a young super on stage when she did Swan Lake for ABT. I believe it was considered something of a disaster, particularly her Black Swan. This brings me to an idea that back then there was more of a distiction between NYCB technique and ABT technique.

Feel free to shoot me down if disagree


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