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How important is cultural education in ballet training?


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21 replies to this topic

#16 SanderO

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 06:29 AM

Geez, I'm not a dancer nor an ex one but I do think that as far as being an artist or performance artist one needs to have as broad and as deep an understanding of culture and history as possible. This knowledge informs you in your work. Ballet, especially which is a classical form of art is steep in history, both in the "stories" that make up many ballets and the history associated with the movements themselves.

It seems inconceivable to me that a great artists could lack a deep understanding of culture aside from their creating something "great" by accident. Even the most modernist art cannot escape the cultural context of what came before.

Performance artists, dancers, actors and musicians acheive their expression as an artist in interpretation of the piece, role etc. To acheive this they need to understand the context, the history and so forth. Absent that they are being robotic. And as wonderful as robots may be, I don't expect them to be artists. hahahaha

#17 fendrock

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:31 AM

The OP quoted a Bolshoi dancer who lived "behind the Iron Curtain;" for those who were geographically confined, art was a means of escape. Theater, museums, dance all provided a means of expression for those who were politically oppressed.

In a market driven economy, entertainment wins out over personal expression. Consumers seek external engagement, rather than being forced to engage inwardly. Cultural education becomes less important and loses out.

As a parent, I believe ballet has enabled my daughter to be more engaged with listening to music, both classical and world, than otherwise. We have also taken her to the theater and ballet. She has never had much use for museums.

Artists need to be engaged culturally, and so will seek out cultural stimulation. But, as with most disciplines, not all who are exposed to culture will take to it, especially in a society that does not value it.

#18 Ray

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 09:54 AM

It seems inconceivable to me that a great artists could lack a deep understanding of culture aside from their creating something "great" by accident. Even the most modernist art cannot escape the cultural context of what came before.


Well, it's true, sadly.

#19 bart

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 10:36 AM

There's so much interesting stuff here. I wish we could get together for a weekend seminar and bat things back and forth.



A few points that made me pause and think, among many:

1) Paul's point that Nature -- as well as culture -- can be rich sources of inspiration and creativity. Dancesmith (see below) makes a similar point.

2)

I think I've seen enough "clueless" dancers blindly doing the steps to not think exposure to art should be optional. "Don't think, just do" doesn't mean "don't perceive" "don't sense"... one doesn't have to be intellectually rigorous and verbal to absorb the influence of art and have it inform one's own expression.

I agree 100%, Amy. Balanchine's various statements to the effect "don't think" have been seriously misinterpreted and taken too literally by some.

3)

The true sources of inspiration for anyone may be very personal and is often a very deep process. Inspiration may be found in the beauty of nature, in the humanity of family and friends, in the mystery of the spiritual, or in a thousand other of those personal and individual ways.

So is a cultural education necessary? Perhaps not essential, but it still seems that to be exposed to as many possible sources of inspiration would certainly be highly desirable, particularly sources that have existed and survived based on their inspirational qualities.

As an older white male, I am too prone to think -- with Lavrosky -- of the need to know the canonical works of Western Civ before one can be considered "cultured." Thanks, dancesmith, for reminding us that this is just a part of the story.
4)

It seems inconceivable to me that a great artists could lack a deep understanding of culture aside from their creating something "great" by accident. Even the most modernist art cannot escape the cultural context of what came before.

SanderO, you put into succinct words something that was sloshing around in my own thoughts. Accidents do happen, I suppose -- rather llike dropping rubber into a pot of sulpher. And there are, I suppose, some real cases of idiot savant and noble savage. But we all rely on cultural context. The more superficial and limited the culture, the more superficial and limited the art it produces. the same probably holds true for rigid traditional cultures -- or very heterogenous, flexible cultures that are accepting and possibly overaccepting of many trends -- or, as fendrock says below, highly commercialized cultures in which knowledge, imagery, and "meaning" are treated by many as commodities to be bought and sold.
5)

The OP quoted a Bolshoi dancer who lived "behind the Iron Curtain;" for those who were geographically confined, art was a means of escape. Theater, museums, dance all provided a means of expression for those who were politically oppressed.

In a market driven economy, entertainment wins out over personal expression. Consumers seek external engagement, rather than being forced to engage inwardly. Cultural education becomes less important and loses out.

Fendrock, thanks for putting this into a political/sociological context as well.

6) And Ray:

I guess I had the fantasy that some Diaghilev would lead me around New York.

You too? :( :dry:

#20 Ray

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 02:04 PM

I think I've seen enough "clueless" dancers blindly doing the steps to not think exposure to art should be optional. "Don't think, just do" doesn't mean "don't perceive" "don't sense"... one doesn't have to be intellectually rigorous and verbal to absorb the influence of art and have it inform one's own expression.

I agree 100%, Amy. Balanchine's various statements to the effect "don't think" have been seriously misinterpreted and taken too literally by some.


Yeah, unfortunately some who are closest to the Balanchine legacy!

#21 MJ

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 06:35 PM

Do painters learn to waltz? Do photographers learn to sing opera? Maybe.

Dancers learn dance, and perhaps some music.

I would recommend training dancers in a wide variety of dance, ballet modern jazz ballroom ethnic aboriginal "Country and Western".

#22 Ray

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 09:08 AM

Do painters learn to waltz? Do photographers learn to sing opera? Maybe.


I think the life experiences of visual artists are, on the whole, far more varied that that of dancers/choreographers. As we've discussed, there are some practical, time-based reasons for this. But conventions of the profession also limit what a dancer- or choreographer-in-training are encouraged to seek out.


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