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How important is it to be tall for a male dancer?


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#46 leonid17

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 12:43 PM

I think canbelto makes a good point. As observed earlier in the thread, people are getting taller over the decades (and centuries) and it's simply not possible or even desirable for companies to conform to such rigid standards. And although it may well distort the choreography as you say, leonid, it seems to that's inevitable to some extent - over the years bodies change, styles in attractiveness and physicality change, training changes. It's absolutely true that Pavlova was considered tall (and skinny) back in the day, but that only serves to highlight that things are very different today.


Surely the answer could equally be, that you only train and employ dancers for Romantic and Petipa ballets with the correct emploi. Since when does the fact that people are taller today become either an artistic or aesthetic consideration. We do not transpose up or down operatic scores for singers because of limited or peculiar abilities. Today we find authenticity an accepted approach in the restoration and performance of opera and music. Counter tenors up until 40 years ago were almost de trop. Today they are di rigueur in many vocal works.

Either academic Romantic/Classical ballet is a high art or its an entertainment wherein we can choose to change rules willy nilly. Where are we all coming from?

Either its ok to bastardize an art form or its not and as you can plainly see, I think not.

I have absolute no problem with tall dancers in modern classical or neo- classical ballets as long as the line, shape and tempo are not interfered with.

Let us truly respect, Bournonville, Perrot, Saint-Leon, Petipa, Ivanov et al and lets hear it for shorter dancers.

PS
I have had fun writing the above
but I am also serious in my
contention. We live in what appears
to be a vulgar age. Lets try to go back,
not to the inequalities of those early ballet
eras, but to truly respecting the
choreographers most of us admire.

#47 leonid17

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 12:45 PM

I agree with Leonid about the lines and tempi being changed by the height and mass of the dancer--at some point physics does enter into the picture. Small birds have different dynamics than large ones, and smaller dancers, such as Joaquin de Luz and Antoinio Carmena are very effective in the fast movements of Symphony in C, darting in and out, in ways that might be less exciting with tall dancers.


Great! Join my crusade.

#48 canbelto

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 01:04 PM

Surely the answer could equally be, that you only train and employ dancers for Romantic and Petipa ballets with the correct emploi. Since when does the fact that people are taller today become either an artistic or aesthetic consideration. We do not transpose up or down operatic scores for singers because of limited or peculiar abilities. Today we find authenticity an accepted approach in the restoration and performance of opera and music. Counter tenors up until 40 years ago were almost de trop. Today they are di rigueur in many vocal works.

Either academic Romantic/Classical ballet is a high art or its an entertainment wherein we can choose to change rules willy nilly. Where are we all coming from?

Either its ok to bastardize an art form or its not and as you can plainly see, I think not.


Well first of all, let's think of the practical problems if you require all classical ballet dancers to be within your rather rigid confines. Suppose you were, say, Elisabeth Platel or Altynai Asylmuratova, who both run large ballet schools that are deeply steeped in tradition. They accept a certain number of students every year, and those students are generally around 9-10 in age. While they vigorously check out things like proportion and body shape, they CANNOT, in this day and age, predict that all the dancers they accept will be under 5'6" for boys and 5'2" for girls. In Petipa's age they could, because, as people have pointed out, people were shorter then. So suppose in the Vaganova school a talented girl gets accepted and grows up and only grows in talent and technique. But oops! She's 5'5"! As a teacher, what would you do? Tell the girl "Sorry, you will never dance anything by Petipa because you are too tall? So buh-bye?"

Let's not forget that the grand master Petipa himself was not always pleased with the casts he had for his ballets. He had to cast with the dancers he had.

I'm not saying to throw out things like emploi, and I agree with Quiggin that some choreography simply looks wrong on extremely tall dancers. That includes, for instance, the main duo in "Rubies" (by Balanchine, a neo-classical choreographer). It's been tradition to cast the ballet with two short dynamo allegro dancers. Uliana Lopatkina dancing "Rubies" would look terribly wrong, MUCH more distorted than, say, a medium height dancer dancing Aurora.

For me, I often think the *way* a dancer dances the choreography is much more important than how the dancer actually looks. Viktoria Tereshkina, for instance, is a rather tall, leggy dancer who is extremely talented at executing very fast allegro footwork that usually one associates with shorter dancers.

#49 leonid17

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 01:36 PM

While they vigorously check out things like proportion and body shape, they CANNOT, in this day and age, predict that all the dancers they accept will be under 5'6" for boys and 5'2" for girls. In Petipa's age they could, because, as people have pointed out, people were shorter then. So suppose in the Vaganova school a talented girl gets accepted and grows up and only grows in talent and technique. But oops! She's 5'5"! As a teacher, what would you do? Tell the girl "Sorry, you will never dance anything by Petipa because you are too tall? So buh-bye?"

Let's not forget that the grand master Petipa himself was not always pleased with the casts he had for his ballets. He had to cast with the dancers he had.

I'm not saying to throw out things like emploi, and I agree with Quiggin that some choreography simply looks wrong on extremely tall dancers. That includes, for instance, the main duo in "Rubies" (by Balanchine, a neo-classical choreographer). It's been tradition to cast the ballet with two short dynamo allegro dancers. Uliana Lopatkina dancing "Rubies" would look terribly wrong, MUCH more distorted than, say, a medium height dancer dancing Aurora.


It is a grave error to suppose that all people in Russia or England were shorter in the Petipa era. You only have to look the number of guards regiments with their height restrictions.
Even(forgive the expression) the peasant class produced tall off spring.

As short people have been always with us so have the tall.

The average height of American females age 20 plus is 5'3.8", the average height of White American female 20 plus is 5'4.9", in Russia the average height is 5'3", in the UK 5.4.3", in France at 20 plus is 5'4.3"
But to reach those averages, there must be a huge number around only 5' tall.

I think you will find today there are many classical dancers that exceed the above heights and I am not sure what the attraction is for very leggy dancers. Is it aesthetic?

Petipa, in general had excellent casts for his ballet and I am pretty sure that small dancers in 19th century ballet were chosen for very particular reasons.

#50 richard53dog

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 01:45 PM

. Since when does the fact that people are taller today become either an artistic or aesthetic consideration. We do not transpose up or down operatic scores for singers because of limited or peculiar abilities.

.......


Today we find authenticity an accepted approach in the restoration and performance of opera and music. Counter tenors up until 40 years ago were almost de trop. Today they are di rigueur in many vocal works.


But transposition is relatively common on the operatic stage. Both for particular performers such as Sutherland, Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, and Villazon as well as certain sections of often performed works like La Boheme and Il trovatore. The last Met revival of Don Carlo included transposed sections.

Your counter tenor comment is puzzling. Certainly counter tenors are not an authentic solution to fill in the vacancy left by castrati. They are accepted today as a compromise, possibly the best one available, so that Baroque music can be performed. If we were to take a real , purist point of view we would say
that Rinaldo or Rodelinda could not be performed as there are no castrati available . After all, that's the voice type that Handel composed many of his roles for.

These are very complex problems, whether we are speaking of singer's voice categories or dancer's physical attributes. And there are no perfect solutions and compromise of some sort or another is usually employed ("emploi-d"???? :helpsmilie: )

#51 canbelto

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 02:24 PM

I think you will find today there are many classical dancers that exceed the above heights and I am not sure what the attraction is for very leggy dancers. Is it aesthetic?
Petipa, in general had excellent casts for his ballet and I am pretty sure that small dancers in 19th century ballet were chosen for very particular reasons.


The attraction for leggy dancers, regardless of actual height, has been around since Camargo shortened her skirts (considered by many at that time to vulgar) to show off her legs. Pavlova, Spessivtseva, Danilova, were all dancers praised for their "legginess" although I'm not sure how tall they actually were.

I'm not arguing with you that having an extremely tall dancer in a role like, say, Coppelia, would just be wrong. I'm saying that in this day and age there are simply different norms about height. For instance I'm 5'3". In high school I was considered very very short. When I went back to Taiwan I towered over many of the girls and was considered definitely average height, maybe even on the tall side. The reason is that Asian diets, to this day, tend to be weak on calcium and protein. That plus genes.

Maybe you would enjoy ballet more if you were able to focus on what dancers DID with their bodies, instead of whether they conformed to your rigid standards about height and emploi. Many of the best dancers have always managed to overcome weaknesses in physique with talent.

Also, to imply that anything post-Petipa doesn't require similar care in casting is wrong-headed. If anything, many of the pure-dance roles that Balanchine created I think are more height-specific. I mentioned Rubies, but another obvious case would be the Candy Cane variation in Balanchine's Nutcracker. That variation is designed for a short dynamo dancer like, say, Edward Villela. In recent years I've seen many a taller dancer at the NYCB come to grief with the hoops. The Marzipan sheperdesses are supposed to look cute and girlish, and thus often given to the more petite members of the company. The grand pas de deux has a series of shoulder jump lifts that seem more spontaneous and effortles if the SPF is not extremely tall. And this is all just in ONE ballet.

As for Petipa, he created the ballets, and had a choice of dancers he had in mind when he was choreographing. The "first generation" choreographers all had that luxury -- Balanchine, Ashton, et al. A director casting Swan Lake today does not.

#52 dirac

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 02:41 PM

As short people have been always with us so have the tall.


Surely no one said otherwise, leonid – the central point was not that tall people did not exist prior to the mid-twentieth century, but that with changes in nutrition and other environmental factors people in the aggregate are becoming taller and norms in height – what people consider to be “tall” – are changing. Nor was I disputing that the height of the dancer doesn’t make a difference in the rendering of the choreography, which is a factor in contemporary dance as well – recall Suzanne Farrell’s remarks about the adjustments she and Peter Martins had to make when performing “Other Dances,” roles made on two much smaller dancers, Makarova and Baryshnikov.

Maybe you would enjoy ballet more if you were able to focus on what dancers DID with their bodies, instead of whether they conformed to your rigid standards about height and emploi. Many of the best dancers have always managed to overcome weaknesses in physique with talent.


Well, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, apologies for the hoary cliche. Emploi is at the heart of the art form. Some very great dancers can transcend the categories (although not always), but the categories are there for good reason.

Thanks for making those useful points regarding opera, richard53dog.

#53 dirac

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 02:46 PM

Even(forgive the expression) the peasant class produced tall off spring.


Going off topic to note that no forgiveness is needed, leonid. The peasant class was the peasant class, after all.

#54 canbelto

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 02:49 PM

Well, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, apologies for the hoary cliche. Emploi is at the heart of the art form. Some very great dancers can transcend the categories (although not always), but the categories are there for good reason.


Not saying emploi isn't important. Just that having cutoff heights for classical ballet like 5'6" for men and 5'2" for women isn't realistic nor is it, in my opinion, desirable.

#55 leonid17

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 03:24 PM

[

Maybe you would enjoy ballet more if you were able to focus on what dancers DID with their bodies, instead of whether they conformed to your rigid standards about height and emploi.


Ouch! I took that on the chin but I don't think you really meant to be insulting in that statement as I read it.

I think you will find that I have referred enthusiastically in my posts dancers of the recent past and the current enthusiastically including the seemingly tall and I always watch performance from an objective point of view because I live in the real world and not the imagined world I would like to live in. You may remember that I enthusiastically reviewed the seemingly tall Veronika Part.

Balanchine is a "neo-classical" choreographer and I have been referring to ballets of the Academical Classical Ballet School genre.

"As for Petipa, he created the ballets, and had a choice of dancers he had in mind when he was choreographing. The "first generation" choreographers all had that luxury -- Balanchine, Ashton, et al. A director casting Swan Lake today does not."
" Nutrition back in the days of the Imperial Ballet was not what it is now -- children in many developed countries are simply taller."

While nutrition may be a feature of smaller children, I think you will find it is genes that determine height and when you look at large groups that are generally shorter, it is an inherent individual ethnic typology at work.

I am sure you have read of the rigours of the examination of pupils for the Imperial Theatre School. Pupils were chosen for the aesthetic (short)and Petipa along with former ballerina's sat on the board that made decisions. Measurements were taken, flexibility, turn out and feet were checked as were teeth and doctors took part in the examination. I would think there is very little difference in this process in academies attached to companies across the world today. The Imperial Theatres being a huge organisation for those that did not make any kind of career there was generally a place of employment found for them.

#56 leonid17

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 04:23 PM

Your counter tenor comment is puzzling. Certainly counter tenors are not an authentic solution to fill in the vacancy left by castrati. They are accepted today as a compromise, possibly the best one available, so that Baroque music can be performed. If we were to take a real , purist point of view we would say that Rinaldo or Rodelinda could not be performed as there are no castrati available . After all, that's the voice type that Handel composed many of his roles for.


When I said, "We do not transpose up or down operatic scores for singers because of limited or peculiar abilities. Today we find authenticity an accepted approach in the restoration and performance of opera and music. Counter tenors up until 40 years ago were almost de trop. Today they are di rigueur in many vocal works." I was really dealing with three seperate aspects and I did not make myself quite clear. I was thinking of counter tenors not exactly related to authenticity as he was earlier than current trends.

I can remember the shock as a child hearing Alfred Deller on the radio singing Purcell and I apparently said, "My brother and I can sing as high as that, but we don't sound so soppy." I did grow to love Deller.s voice later.

Some years ago researching something else I did find that there was a Dutch orchestra attempting authenticity in the 1880'or 1890's.

Ps
I forgive your pun.

#57 bart

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 04:23 PM

This is fascinating. Earlier, leonid wrote:

I think you will find today there are many classical dancers that exceed the above heights and I am not sure what the attraction is for very leggy dancers. Is it aesthetic?

This expands the question of height into a question about the dancer's proportions.

The illusion of long legs is usually enhanced by having a short torso. So is the current favored body type short torso/ long legs?

Let's say that you have two female ballet dancers, each 5'8" or 5'9 -- "tall" by most standards even today. One dancer has a short torso and very long legs and arms. The other has proportions more typical of the dancers on whom Petipa set his dances. How would these differences be reflected in how well (and how musically) they can dance the Petipa ballerina roles?

#58 leonid17

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 05:33 PM

This is fascinating. Earlier, leonid wrote:

I think you will find today there are many classical dancers that exceed the above heights and I am not sure what the attraction is for very leggy dancers. Is it aesthetic?

This expands the question of height into a question about the dancer's proportions.

The illusion of long legs is usually enhanced by having a short torso. So is the current favored body type short torso/ long legs?

Let's say that you have two female ballet dancers, each 5'8" or 5'9 -- "tall" by most standards even today. One dancer has a short torso and very long legs and arms. The other has proportions more typical of the dancers on whom Petipa set his dances. How would these differences be reflected in how well (and how musically) they can dance the Petipa ballerina roles?



Regarding what you ask about the current favoured body type. How would you categorise, Ananiashvilli, Vishneva, Cojocaru, Nunez, Osipova or Rojo? I don't think of them as particularly short torso/long legged on stage,

All I have proposed is that the fairly unified proportion of dancers in a company is to me more pleasing and that Petipa and the ballet choreographers of the 19th century deliberately chose only short dancers with a balanced figure. I know Taglioni was apparently of an elongated physique, but there has only been one Taglioni.

I can confess that the very tall Deanne Bergsma as the Lilac Fairy remains after Zubkovskaya my favourite in this role due to the expansive yet embracing quality of her performance and of course her superb mimetic ability. So yes, tall dancers can be successful in some Petipa roles if they are artist enough and the have balanced proportions. The Royal Ballet is yet to produce another Bergsma.

You have asked quite a wide question in asking me to compare and contrast two body types when there are other considerations to be taken into account not mentioned. I think, it would depend on the strength of their technique in allegro passages which may be a problem for a long legged dancer as can virtuoso steps. When I see a tall or long legged dancer perform a gargouillade, I shudder. It just look plain wrong, like spiders legs.

Where there is the inequality in the proportions you describe in your first type, balanced Petipa shapes cannot in my opinion be achieved. Musicality is always a problem when you consider those dancers that perform steps precisely to the music and those that inhabit or become the music and body shape then, does not enter the reckoning.

I think having possibly grown up with the RB, Festival Ballet and the Kirov of 1961, a preference and a rightness of proportions seemed established for me and later historical study reinforced that.

Supreme artists overcome any of the short comings of torso or leg length, like Ulanova, but they are in my opinion quite rare and if not of the first rank, spoil for me the inherent perfection of balance, of the experience of Petipa's choreography.

#59 SanderO

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Posted 04 August 2009 - 02:43 AM

The basic mechanics and physics, irregardless of aesthetics means that different sized bodies wiill have different limitations in movement. Smaller bodies can move more rapidly, but can't jump as far, for example. Notice how short gymnasts are.

Since choreography is "set", especially for allegro work, the shorter body will have an easier go at it. Assuming that the proportion are scaled the taller person will NOT have proportionately scaled muscle strength. Look to nature to see this at work. Larger animals are slower and stronger but in proportion to their size they are weak and clumsy.

It certainly makes sense that a choreographer creates a dance which is better suited to smaller dancers than taller ones and assuming that two companies have dancers of the same body types/proportions - tall company and short company, the dance will look very different.

Since dancers may have been historically much shorter when a piece of choreography was created it makes sense that today's tall dancers would not be as well suited to these roles. The difference may be subtle, but it can be noticeable. Perhaps the choreographers even had specific dansers and companies in mind (their own?) when they created a work?

#60 canbelto

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Posted 04 August 2009 - 12:56 PM

Regarding what you ask about the current favoured body type. How would you categorise, Ananiashvilli, Vishneva, Cojocaru, Nunez, Osipova or Rojo? I don't think of them as particularly short torso/long legged on stage,


I think of the dancers you mentioned, only Rojo and Osipova have the short, compact body shape you are insisting is the only acceptable shape for "academic classical ballet." And with their terre a terre technique they might be the closest thing we will find to a Kschessinskaya, Preobrajenska
or Legnani.
The rest of the dancers you mentioned are not tall, but they certainly have a more "modern" physique.


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