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Leonid Jacobson


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#1 Andrei

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 05:12 AM

I never rehearsed directly with this genius, Leonid Jacobson, but I danced a lot of his choreography. My best friend was invited to dance with Jacobson's company when it was just formed, so I knew from the very beginning what happened there. Besides, I WAS in the room with Leonid Jacobson several times, which allows me now to pay my tribute to this incredible person.

The first time we met, I was still in the school and Jacobson was working on "Vestris" for Baryshnikov. Jacobson had an idea to recreate the time when Vestris was dancing and he asked our French teacher to send to the recording studio a few kids who had a good French pronunciation. I was one of them. Jacobson stormed into the room. He had a small, but strongly build body, bald patches and already grey hairs. He had a sharp voice and spoke very fast, sometimes unclear for me.
His eyes were always on the move, from object to object, from person to person, like he was searching for something or wanted to move us. Actually, with his appearance everybody started to move. He wanted to record the public reaction on Vestris’ dancing and asked us to cry, to laugh and to shout French words on musical cues. It was strange and uncomfortable for usually silent ballet dancers to produce anything, but Jacobson gave as a quick acting class and after several takes was happy with the result. Unfortunately, later he changed his mind and didn't include this sound track for Baryshnikov's performance.

The next meeting took place at the Vaganova Academy in 1971, where Jacobson held an audition for his own company. I didn't try out; I had another year of study. So I was standing at the door with my friends, criticizing everybody, of course. Jacobson was already 67 years old (!), when he finally received funds from the state and was allowed to form his "Choreographic Miniatures". The class was very short and the best dancer, in our student opinions, was the teacher - Nikolay Roumyantzev, a brilliant demi-character dancer, who amazed us by his arabesque lines and emotional presentation of the combinations. He was around 60 and he never taught me, so it was a surprise.

Jacobson didn't pick anybody after the class, but instead asked all of the auditioners to dance a little solo, whatever they want to show to him. If he liked it, then he asked them to come over to talk. We didn't understand his choices at all; he ignored the technically strongest dancers and invited to talk some who even didn't have the right proportions for ballet! One girl danced her own interpretation of "Dying Swan" with bad pointe technique; he took her. One men was dancing the Slave variation from "Le Corsaire" with a very strange first part. Instead of saut de basque en tournant from downstage corner he started from upper right corner and went downstage, doing grand assemblée with both legs bent in a turned out position, landing on one foot only and another then making a developpé in arabesque. Then, he brushed this foot in front attitude relevé and repeated the combination 3 times. The movement was too feminine for us and we began to laugh, but Jacobson invited him too! Now I regret that I didn't find out where that dancer learned this interpretation, may be it was Petipa's original?

My friends told me that Jacobson came to rehearsal absolutely prepared, perfectly knowing the music and the general idea of what he had to do. He invented movements in the studio, not at home, so the development of the piece could go any direction. He never counted the music, so dancers should listen and feel it. Actually, I think that is a general rule for all the Vaganova School's graduates; our teachers never counted; even combinations in the class, were shown with the music.

All the choreographers I worked with, I can divide in two groups. Some of them, like Eifman, Elizariev (from the Bolshoi Theater in Belarus), Brianzev (from the Moscow Stanislavsky), first have to put the dancer and themselves in the right emotional state of the piece and then produce some movements. If the piece is emotional, rehearsals can be very exhausting before they found the right move. Others started to weave a web of movements and will ask to include emotions later. Jacobson started with movements, but it never was movements for movements’ sake, they were made for this particular measure of the music. He never said: "Oh, that’s a good move, remember it, we are going to use it in another ballet." The same as he never choreographed without the music, the music was absolute ruler in his works.

His casting abilities were phenomenal. He was able to see and to take from the artist the things that were hidden before for others. His first cast was always the best and very difficult to compete with. Unfortunately, this caused a great problem for his legacy, when dancers retired the piece, eventually, retired too.
At the same time, he opened opportunities for every dancer in the company and all of them had to learn every piece he choreographed! They had to really work on it, sitting on the floor or even leaning on the barre during rehearsals was forbidden. He didn't change the choreography when it was done. The process itself could be long, but he never said on the next day: "I don't like it, let's start over." His choreography was difficult to learn, because it didn't have ordinary movements and had many little details, which you should not miss, but when you learned it, the dance became easy and rewarding. You really could invest your own personality and shine. As Jacobson liked to say about his company, "I don't have corps de ballet or soloists, all my dancers are stars!"

#2 vrsfanatic

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 07:54 AM

Thank you Andrei for this very touching account of Jacobson and Choreographic Miniatures. Although I was not fortunate enough to have seen the original company, I was able to see a few of his works while studying in St. Petersburg, performed by the "Makarov Co.". Although the pieces were not performed by the original casts, very emotional, artistic and musical work indeed.

It is an important lesson for many that not only the most physically gifted and technically developed dancers inspire beautiful art. We are fortunate to have your very inspirational and knowledgable contributions. :flowers:

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 09:07 AM

vrsfanatic - if there's anything you can add about watching Jacobson (or any of the choreographers we are discussing) teach or rehearse, please do!

#4 vrsfanatic

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Posted 16 November 2007 - 05:05 PM

Thank you for such an opportunity however I am perhaps of a different experience and educational generation than Andrei, et al.. I do not really fit into a category in this forum. I am an American who fell in love with the idea of organized schooling, many years prior to my "life" in Russia. Proudly I say, my focus in Russia was pedagogy which took me into a very different subject entirely. Although I went to the ballet as often as my schedule would allow, I was learning more than I could ever have imagined when I embarked on my journey. My personal experiences with performances were colored with my naivity about what I was seeing. Maybe someday I will be able to professionally "react" to what I saw on the stage however at this time, my knowledge is still developing. :thumbsup:

If I could go back with the knowledge I have now, see the same and more... :)

#5 Andrei

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 07:49 PM

I just bought DVD "Everything turns into dancing" on Amazon.com with excerpts of Jackobson's works. It was filmed in 1978, when Jackobson was already dead. The quality of DVD is awful, the sound, picture and camera's work are terrible, the selection and editing is very strange, but it has two very good pointes.
a) It gives you the feeling of the time with some street scenes in Leningrad in Christmas.
b) You still able to understand how good his choreography is.
Unfortunately, there are not only Jackobson's choreography and all credits in the end of DVD and it's in Russian, so it's not any help either :D So, I can tell you that you can stop watching after pas de trois on music by Rossini, it's nothing interesting left behind.

#6 vrsfanatic

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Posted 17 November 2007 - 09:20 PM

Thank you, I will look for it on Amazon. :D

#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 12:12 AM

It was a wonderful experience to see a company from St Petersburg here in San Francisco about 10 years ago do a whole program of Jakobson miniatures. Mme Jakobson was still living and teaching here then (she was by the way a VERY great asset to the SFBallet, both school and company), though I believe if I remember right she was out of town and did not see the show -- have no idea what she'd have thought. I took the modern dancer/choreographer Remy Charlip to the show -- he was like me extremely engaged by the dances. However much they may fallen from their original perfections, it was still a wonderful show. Remy, who's Jewish, felt extremely touched and simpatico and felt a kinship to Jakobsen in MANY dimensions, but especially in the overtly Jewish pieces. I'm NOT Jewish, but I felt the same way.

By the way, there's a YouTube clip of the fabulous Ninel Kurgapkina in Jakobsen's RAVISHING "Rosenkavalier Waltz" which will give SOME idea of how electrifyling the particulars of a dance can be, and how great performers can make something very difficult look spontaneous and carefree. They dance with a lot of props in this piece as if it were nothing. The cane, the fan, the costumes themselves dance. It will bear any amount of scrutiny and remains fabulous.


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