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Balanchine outside of New York


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 30 January 2001 - 05:32 PM

We have such a large and vocal New York contingent here, that I thought it might be interesting to have a discussion about Balanchine among people who do NOT live in New York. This is sparked by comments mod-squad made on the Balanchine, the Movie thread. ("Outside New York" includes England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Australia and Russia Posted Image )

Pro or con, what do you think of Balanchine? How much of his work do you see where you live? Would you like to see more, less? How do you think he has affected ballet -- in his lifetime, but also as a continuing influence? Too much? Too little? Just right?

#2 Yvonne

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Posted 30 January 2001 - 11:04 PM

Even though I really like ABT's current roster of dancers - for choreography, it's Balanchine for me. His work even looks good on video tape, which is about all that poor souls like me get to see!

I've seen the 4 T's live (Ballet West) and will be seeing "Who Cares?" in February, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Theme and Variations" later in the Spring. Although I complain a lot about the lack of classical ballet in Utah, I suppose I should at least be happy that Ballet West consistantly includes Balanchine in their rep.

I would LOVE to see them do Apollo, Symphony in C and Jewels!!

I can't really give an in-depth answer as to WHY his ballets appeal to me - they just do! I think for me, it's just all that BEAUTIFUL music and the splendid way he used the choreography to make the music "come alive".

#3 Guest_Jonathan Group_*

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Posted 30 January 2001 - 11:35 PM

I grew up in NY, but have lived longer elsewhere, so I think that qualifies me for this forum. I am however, NOT qualified by long or deep experience of ballet going (in other words: I don’t know very much).

Where I live, in Boston, we get Balanchine’s ballet’s pretty frequently, from the Boston Ballet and from the Massachusetts Youth Ballet, which is a “Balanchine” school. I would like to see more, here, because it isn’t always that easy (or cheap) to get down to NY. I’m hoping the level of Balanchine work and the frequency of Balanchine ballets given at Boston Ballet will at least be maintained by Boston Ballet’s new AO.

The works of Balanchine I love (particularly Apollo, 4 Temperaments, Serenade – seen only once) so closely track the essence of their music (also great) that they seem simply a corporalization of feeling – music made into flesh. Watching these ballets (when done well) is a complete esthetic experience. No ballets have words, but Balanchine touches something pre-verbal and fundamental (not simply non-verbal) and yet we are seeing that “something” from the vantage of a full life’s experience. The ballets represent to me the highest ideals of human action and human connection.

On one of the other fora, someone expressed the view that Balanchine personally had become essentially corrupted by his position at NYC Ballet. The responses to his views were mostly apologies of one kind or another and that was a little disappointing. I’ve read many stories about Balanchine’s negative influence on his dancer’s health, physical and mental. In Toni Bentley’s otherwise quite knowing book, written during Balanchine’s time at NYC, she expressed her preference for the excesses of the anorexic “girls” who “burned” from within somehow, preferred those excesses to the excesses of the girls who plumped up on chocolates. Her thinking on these matters was skewed (to put it mildly) and she didn’t even guess it. This kind of thing lends credence to Balanchine’s critics.

I don’t, however, see anything in Balanchine’s choreography that is linked to these excesses. It’s the choreography that must be the model and inspiration – not the physical appearance of his favorite dancers.

That doesn’t mean we should forget what happened to those dancers, forget the effect that the environment in which they worked had on them or blame them for succumbing to it, as though these are all individual failings or forget that it is still happening. When we see or hear of choreographers and artistic directors doing the same thing we should forthrightly condemn it. When we see a culture that encourages this view of women and their bodies, we should work to change it.

#4 mbjerk

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 08:23 AM

Balanchine educates dancers, audiences and musicians. I cannot imagine a company not wanting more Balanchine in its repertoire, unless expense or skill is a constraint.

As an audience member, I enjoy one Balanchine work on a mixed bill. I know I will see a work with wonderful phrases, delicious musicality and intellectual challenges. Repeat viewings of one ballet allow me to explore further the choreography, an enjoyable exercise.

Yet, a full evening of any one choreographer leaves me somewhat unsatisfied - save the full lengths.

#5 Sonja

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 10:29 AM

Funny enough, I finally got to watch a snippet from an interview with John Neumeier (Chieko, this is for you!) who was asked if he was greatly influenced by Balanchine. Neumeier said, while he admired Balanchine's choreographies, his work did not really touch him - who really touched him was Anthony Tudor! (Sorry, have no idea when this interview was made...)

Here in Munich we are lucky that we get to see some on Balanchine's works, and they produce a bit mixed feelings in me - depending in what mood I come to watch the ballet. Many of his ballets are so pure, I need to be fully awake to fully enjoy them. Please don't get me wrong - I consider his style as unique and many of his works as masterpieces (we don't get the unknown ones here, anyway). It's just that after a day of work, it's easier for me to follow a story telling ballet that an abstract one.
When in Edinburgh last summer, I learnt from the programme that he was influenced a lot by the glamourous Broadway girls, and this note helped me understand that "Balanchine type of dancer" a bit better. However, I prefer companies whose dancers get a chance to do a great variety of ballets and styles - although they are probably not as "perfect" in Balanchine as they "ought" to be.
Only recently I saw "Who Cares" - and this one I really fell in love with! And I would love to see "Jewels" sometime.

#6 CygneDanois

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 11:22 AM

As a former dancer of the Balanchine style, I feel qualified to comment mainly on the technical aspects of this style, which is fabulous from a choreographic standpoint, but which often has adverse effects on the dancers' bodies (if you are trained in the style; obviously, dancing a few Balanchine ballets a season won't give you shin splints).

Now, I do not know what SAB/NYCB were like while Balanchine was alive. I don't know how much the style has been distorted over the years, or if it has been kept the same, technically. One thing I notice a great deal is that Balanchine dancers tend to have incredibly tense arms and hands. From my experience, I believe that this is a result of excessive emphasis on speedy leg- and foot-work and a certain amount of neglect of the upper body. As far as I know, Balanchine did want the hands to be placed in that rounded claw position, with fingers poking out every which way, and I do understand that he wanted a more informal port de bras. I have always found it interesting, though, when someone comments that Balanchine hated mannerisms, because Balanchine dancers have the most mannered port de bras I have ever seen. The flowery use of the wrists is especially offensive, aesthetically.

In addition to having almost incorrigible mannerisms in the arms, I find that dancers of this style also tend to have poor posture, caused by excessive emphasis on having the weight too far forward. Never, in all my years at SAB, did I ever once hear a teacher say, "Shoulders back." The result? Dancers with rounded shoulders and heads that jut forward, staring out into the audience blankly.

Now for the legs and feet. Balanchine was said to have liked the look of winged feet, so at SAB, everyone dances on feet that are so pronated as to be injurious. This gave me--and many others--injuries in the ankles, knees, hips, and even back. The physical therapist's room at SAB is filled to the brim with dancers needing help for their lower legs. This is aggravated by jumping, or in fact doing any sort of plie with the heels off the floor. Yes, it allows for a deeper plie, but there is such a tiny amount of the foot on the floor that the plie is hardly worth anything at all. To jump well, it is necessary to push off from the heels--not by placing weight solely on the heels, of course, but by using them to help push off for the jump. If one plies with ones heels down, there is more area of the foot on the ground to contribute to the force necessary for a high jump. Without the heel one the ground, one is essentially jumping from ones toes.

Plies without heels on the floor have consequences besides that of a smaller jump. The achilles tendon can tighten and even snap because it is not being stretched of fully used. This causes tendonitis. And because jumping with no heels on the floor places an enormous amount of strain on the tiny muscles along the shin, shin splints often result, as well.

Returning to the upper body, so many Balanchine-style dancers hold an amazing amoung of tension in the backs of their necks. With the shoulders, upper back and arms carrying tension, and the head simply staring straight ahead, pressure is focused on the back of the neck. I think that this, too, can be the result of having the weight so far forward: the body is leaning so far to the front that the upper-back and neck muscles try their utmost to pull back to keep the dancer from toppling over.

Well, I could go on forever on this topic, but I don't want to put the board to sleep with in-depth technical analyses of every step in the Balanchine book Posted Image.

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#7 Estelle

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 11:34 AM

There are not many opportunities to see Balanchine works in Marseille, where I live: the Ballet de Marseille only danced "Who Cares" two seasons ago, and is going to dance "Tzigane" and "Rubies" next May, and that's all (in general, there are no tours of ballet companies in Marseille).

However, I often go to Paris, and the POB has quite a large Balanchine repertory, even though it has not performed much of it in recent years (this season "Jewels" and "Apollo", last season only "Rubies", two seasons ago "Apollo" and "Concerto Barocco"...) Also I try to catch any opportunity to see Balanchine works performed (such opportunities being unfortunately rare), so since 1993 I saw some works of his performed by the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Ballet du Rhin, the Ballet de Nancy, the San Francisco Ballet, the POB school, the Conservatoire of Lyon and the Conservatoire of Paris- also last summer I went to Edinburgh only to see the NYCB during the festival. Also my videos of "Serenade" and
the Balanchine Celebration probably are starting to fade after being viewed too often.

A diet of Balanchine-only would be a bit narrow for me, but I definitely would like to see more of his works.

#8 BalletNut

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 09:41 PM

Even though Balanchine died a year after I was born, and I haven't ever seen NYCB, I am a big fan of his ballets, judging from their performances by SFB and on video. I think he was a genius, and his contributions to the world of dance and ballet cannot be denied. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the Bay Area seem to hold very negative views of him, especially in light of the Keefer ordeal, which I am sick of ranting about. Many columnists and feminists particularly(note: I consider myself to be a feminist, and I am anti-Keefer, so no flames please) seem to blame the prevalence of eating disorders in dancers on him, and this is generally the consensus on him among people who are familiar with him only in passing, and who most likely have never seen any of his ballets (or anybody's for that matter.) Posted Image Again, as an audience member I have a very high opinion of Balanchine's ballets, and of him as an artist, regardless of any accusations that the "politically correct" may level against him and his dancers.



[This message has been edited by BalletNut (edited February 01, 2001).]

#9 CygneDanois

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 10:00 PM

I don't think eating disorders can be blamed solely on Balanchine. He liked a slimmer look; that doesn't mean everyone has to stop eating. From what I read, there were times in the eighties when a sort of national slim-down occurred (this was also the time of ballerinas retiring at 30) and eating disorders were rampant, but I believe that artistic directors are seeing that although dancers do need to be slim, they also need to be healthy or (gasp!) they won't be able to dance.

I think that I should also state that I have a great deal of respect for Balanchine as a choreographer. Even though I don't enjoy watching all of his ballets, many were the balletic equivalent of revolutionary in their days, and his choreographic invention seems to have known no limits.

In addition, after re-reading my post above, I just want to say that I don't think it's impossible for anyone to be trained in the Balanchine style and have a career. Obviously, this is not the case--NYCB is flourishing. Not everyone gets the injuries I listed, even though they are the predominant types of injuries of what are currently called Balanchine-style dancers. I was simply pointing out certain negative aspects of Balanchine training that I experienced; I can point out positive ones easily.

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#10 leibling

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Posted 31 January 2001 - 11:21 PM

I think it is important to note that the "Balanchine" training HAS changed over the years. When SAB first opened, ( and correct me if I am wrong), the teachers were russian- ( I apologize in advance for spelling)- Doubrovska, Tumkovsky, Danilova- if not these teachers exactly, then other russians. Anyway, they taught basic russian technique to the students. It is only when the dancers entered the company that they took Balanchine's two hour class. This, I presume, is where the style was taught. In these classes, pirouettes were executed with a straight back knee, legs were lifted, wrists overcrossed, speed emphasized, all those traits indicative of the Balanchine style. But these dancers had already learned a basic, solid ballet technique. Today, it seems, all of those embellishments are being taught AS technique. The dancer who has a solid training before attending SAB for a year or two is much better off than the one who has spent his or her entire lifetime at that school.

Balanchine did have a tremendous range in his ballets- from the romantic Emeralds to the grandness of Theme and Variations, to the inventive "narratives" of Apollo and Prodigal Son. And able to choreograph so quickly. Throughout his repetoire, I find so much wit- wry comments on the music, a style, or maybe even ballet itself. And sometimes, I find so much of it the same. After years of learning his ballets, I begin to feel that there is a formula to learning them. Someone once told me that his works are easy to learn- they always follow a certain logic. This is the truth. It's not a bad thing- it probably happens to anybody who spends so much time immersed in the choreography of one person.

I admit that I have sometime wondered if Balanchine was just a man with great charisma who knew how to keep people around him happy. While I have no doubt that he was a genius choreographer, leaving behind many great ballets, he was also just plain lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

#11 Sonja

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Posted 01 February 2001 - 05:16 AM

CygneDanois, thanks for those very interesting "insight views"! I have never got that far in dancing to even approach a Balanchine ballet, but I have often wondered if that focus on extremely speedy footwork and "powerful" movements of the legs had no effect on the body...

#12 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 01 February 2001 - 10:55 AM

Originally posted by leibling:
It is only when the dancers entered the company that they took Balanchine's two hour class. This, I presume, is where the style was taught. In these classes, pirouettes were executed with a straight back knee, legs were lifted, wrists overcrossed, speed emphasized, all those traits indicative of the Balanchine style. But these dancers had already learned a basic, solid ballet technique.


Liebling, you have hit the nail on the head about this, IMO. Balanchine was a choreographer. He taught dancers who were already trained, and he taught them his style. He did not teach children, nor develop a syllabus, and I don't believe he ever set out to establish a "technique". I have enormous respect for his genius as a choreographer, especially his musicality, and I loved dancing his ballets. I don't always enjoy watching them, but often that is because I don't care for the style of the dancers, not because I don't like the ballet itself. I tend to prefer his work danced by other companies more than by NYCB in many cases. But that is a personal preference, and I know puts me in a great minority on this board.

As a teacher, I feel that training students in "Balanchine" (I will not say technique here, but perhaps what has come to be considered Balanchine technique) is not the safest way to train them. There are injuries in every method, of course, but more than the injuries, I don't care for the idea of students learning only one way to do something and becoming extremely stylized while in the training process. A particular style of movement can be learned after there is a clean, pure basic technique established, hopefully without mannerisms.

#13 CygneDanois

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Posted 01 February 2001 - 10:36 PM

In Suki Schorer's book, she writes about how Balanchine asked her to teach children. I doubt that she taught them pure classical ballet. She also writes that he did think about the training of children--right down to the way they held their hands to develop that rounded look. I would guess that it probably was his intention to have dancers trained in his style, eventually, although no one can know that for sure.

So many aspects of the Balanchine style were created in order to guard against certain aspects of "classical" ballet, such as the overcrossed 5ieme position, overcrossed wrists, clawed hands (to compensate for certain dancers' tendencies to hold all the fingers together), permanent pointe work (to build strength, but it also has the effect of dulling the articulation of the feet and damaging the dancer's sense of her "center"), straight back leg in 4ieme (a wonderful idea, but only in theory, unfortunately), fast adagios, fast ronds de jambe, and fast everything else (this only leads to a lack of control because the dancer merely jerks and twitches instead of controlling his/her movements).

Funny thing, liebling; it's rare to see a dancer begin his/her training at SAB and still have a career in ballet. 95% of the dancers who get in to NYCB were only at SAB a few years--just long enough to pick up the mannerisms, but not enough to really damage their techniques.

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#14 leibling

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Posted 01 February 2001 - 11:14 PM

CygneDanois- I agree. SAB has very few students that progressed through the entire school and continued on to professional careers- though there are a few I have met. You know- you made an interesting point ( no pun intended) about the permanent pointe work. I had never thought to associate a loss of articulation with the constant pointe work, but that makes perfect sense. If you don't work through the joints in your foot regularly, you can loose some of the range of motion there. Also, I find that for myself, I need to work in flat shoes to understand the muscles in my legs, and how they aid me to releve. Being on pointe is easier for me than to work on demi, so the flat shoes force me to use the muscles on the back of my leg. From there, pointe becomes an extension of the toes.

ABT is coming next week to Miami. I can't wait to see Theme and Variations- to see if I notice a big difference in the way it is performed there, as opposed to a more Balanchine company (such as Miami City Ballet- I haven't seen NYCB in several years).

#15 CygneDanois

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Posted 02 February 2001 - 05:16 PM

Strange, isn't it? Because the dancers roll through their feet going onto and off of pointe, it seems as though their articulation wouldn't be too bad, but 1) as you probably already know, when standing en pointe, the toes must be kept straight, and 2) the way the dancers work their feet at the barre contributes to the problem because they don't use all the muscles in their feet when doing tendus, degages, etc.

I hope you have a good time at ABT--their T&V should be quite spectacular.

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