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"Prototypical" American Dancer


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#16 CygneDanois

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 10:55 AM

Once you're used to seeing it, those who don't have it seem to be... well... constipated... or if you prefer, muscle-bound... or perhaps just a little dazed.

Sorry, but isn't that rather offensive to anyone who does not dance the Balanchine style?

When I started watching the Kirov, it was heavenly--they were all so calm, beautiful, and restrained. No twitching, every movement perfectly controlled. And I never minded seeing a preparation, because the preparations in themselves were beautiful, and by watching them, I was able to anticipate the perfect pirouette or gravity-defying jump to follow, and really see it, instead of some random flashy thing that dazzled for a moment, but never really left an impression. I can say with certainty that I would always rather see one slow, perfectly clear battement tendu than twelve or sixteen blurs (however long the pointed foot is held out there) done in the same amount of time. And by the way, the Kirov can move pretty fast when it wants to. Not to mention Paris Opéra, Royal Danish, Royal Ballet, all of whom are well-known for having quick, immaculate footwork.

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[This message has been edited by CygneDanois (edited March 29, 2001).]

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 01:06 PM

Thanks for making that point, CygneDanois. It's hard to strike the balance between thinking the "home team" is the best in the world and denigrating other styles when doing so. I once went to a performance of the Kirov (on their first trip to the States in forever) dancing La Bayadere, Kingdom of the Shades with a French friend who revered Paris Opera above all other styles. I asked him what he thought of Shades (which I loved) and he sniffed and said, "Peasants taught to dance." Unfortunately, we were sitting in front of teachers and older dancers of the Kirov who all understood English beautifully. (I hadn't noticed them before I asked.) He had meant, I learned in further conversations in a safe house, that he felt what many people think of as a beautiful, flexible back is an addition from folk dance that the aristocratic French would never consider doing. And, in fact, when POB brought its Bayadere a few seasons later, many complained that they were stiff -- much of this is what your eye gets used to.

Back to the prototypical American dancer, though, if you were on the board of some imaginary organization that gave Dancer of the Year awards, not necessarily for great achievement, but for who, that year, was the Poster Girl or Boy for American dance, who would you pick? (Pick a year, any year, and the matching dancer. Be generous. Pick three, four, five or more years, or simplify it and choose a decade.)

There would be many modern dancers, of course, who could be Poster Children too, but in the Ballet division, I think Cynthia Gregory (ABT), Lisa Bradley (Joffrey), Suzanne Farrell (NYCB), Maria Tallchief (NYCB), Edward Villella and Jacques D'Amboise (NYCB) would all have been recognizable enough as the embodiment of American ballet to qualify. Others?

#18 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 01:07 PM

I think people are always going to fight over style and pedagogy! I think POB is wonderful, but I happen not to prefer their style in Balanchine to NYCB's, even though it's more immaculate. It doesn't feel right to me, and I don't think it serves the choreography in works like Concerto Barocco. Someone else will.

I also think that there is Balanchine style and there is Balanchine style, and then there's Balanchine style. . .Who's the Balanchine dancer, Suzanne Farrell or Melissa Hayden or Patty MacBride or Heather Watts or Allegra Kent or Darci Kistler or Wendy Whelan or Margaret Tracey or. . .Even if we're talking about a Balanchine style rather than an American one, we have to paint with a very broad brush. One of the things Balanchine wanted from dancers was that they look most like themselves. I think we'll find an American style lies in approach and viewpoint, rather than pedagogy.

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#19 Natalia

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 01:19 PM

Well, I'll have to eat my hat. At last night's Washington Ballet performance of Tudor's PILLAR OF FIRE, Amanda McKerrow totally blew my "Americans Aren't Dramatic" theory out of the water. She was FANTASTIC! More later...last night's program was 'only' a preview so I don't wan't to spoil things for tonight's official 'premiere' of the WB's spring season at the Kennedy Center. But, in general terms, I'm doing my "Happy Dance" for Washington Ballet right now!!!! Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

#20 Amy Reusch

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Posted 30 March 2001 - 12:35 AM

[quote]Originally posted by CygneDanois:
[QUOTE]Once you're used to seeing it, those who don't have it seem to be... well... constipated... or if you prefer, muscle-bound... or perhaps just a little dazed.
[/quote] [quote]Sorry, but isn't that rather offensive to anyone who does not dance the Balanchine style?
[/quote]

My apologies... perhaps any way of presenting a non-balanchine style in a negative light would be offensive... what I would like to have done would be to persuade those schooled in the classical style (I don't agree with Balanchine that NYCB was the home of "classical" ballet), who have difficulty seeing the result of their technique as anything but the epitomy of grace, realize that others can see it differently.

I used to feel the rather same way perhaps as you do, about the Balanchine style... insect-like, sloppy... neurotic tension... I also had a hard time seeing beauty and grace in many of the modern dance techniques...but after learning more about the technique I've come to see it differently.

I do think, though, that different techniques are better for different styles of choreography. I have no desire to see a Balanchine style dancer perform 19th century classics... but I also think classically trained dancers often don't look good doing Balanchine... interestingly enough, the men seem to fare better than the women... Nor do I think most ballet dancers dance modern dance properly...

Alas, I've only seen the Kirov live once, in the 1980s in NYC on their first return to that city in decades... It was almost impossible to get tickets until they opened.. and then seats in the sold-out houses became easy to get... I was terribly disappointed... I'd never seen dancers look so bored on stage in my life, when they performed Chopiniana... they only came to life doing "modern" choreography... (the choreography, I forget what & who by, but remember that I thought it was pretty poor)

Oh... and I'd agree with you about the tendu, but not about frappes... My point was about dynamics... the execution of the tendue should always be subject to the dynamics of the music not independent of it subject only to a model of training.

[This message has been edited by Amy Reusch (edited March 30, 2001).]

#21 Amy Reusch

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Posted 30 March 2001 - 12:42 AM

Originally posted by alexandra:
It's hard to strike the balance between thinking the "home team" is the best in the world and denigrating other styles when doing so.


Well, actually, I've never thought of NYCB as my hometown company. I think perhaps the old Joffrey was my favorite. And my current favorite dancer is not a NYCB dancer, but Julie Kent, of ABT... and I suppose Baryshnikov is still my favorite male dancer... but I try to understand things from various perspectives... I think you're always richer "getting" what there is to get from art even if that means for that instant you have to throw out your old lens and look at it from a different perspective than is familiar.

#22 CygneDanois

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Posted 30 March 2001 - 11:16 PM

Funny, I thought the Balanchine style was the best in the world until I learned more about it. But it's okay to see things differently Posted Image. At any rate,

I don't agree with Balanchine that NYCB was the home of "classical" ballet

I agree with you there...

I do think, though, that different techniques are better for different styles of choreography.

...and there...

Nor do I think most ballet dancers dance modern dance properly

...and there.

I try to understand things from various perspectives... I think you're always richer "getting" what there is to get from art even if that means for that instant you have to throw out your old lens and look at it from a different perspective than is familiar.

And I'll agree with you there, too Posted Image.

About frappé, we'd probably better continue that one somewhere else.

I guess that Kirov experience would tend to make one rather prejudiced against it. I understand.

And yes, I do think that describing the dancers of an entire style of ballet as "constipated" or "dazed" would be offensive under any circumstances.

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[This message has been edited by CygneDanois (edited March 30, 2001).]

#23 Amy Reusch

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Posted 31 March 2001 - 03:35 PM

One more thing I wanted to add... To judge a technique's weaknesses, I don't think one should look at principal or international star level dancers but rather at the average dancer turned out by that school. (Although, if you want a good example of it's strengths, perhaps the reverse is true).

#24 Andrei

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Posted 31 March 2001 - 05:14 PM

Sorry, Amy, I'm not with you on the last one. It's not technique for the star and technique for corps de ballet people. It's one technique for everybody and all movements have to be executed properly. The classical ballet has the same arms and legs positions for NYCB, Mariinsky or Grand Opera dancers. If they fell form pointe, late with timing, can't finish pirrouette in the clear visual position they have a week techique, doesn't matter were they are dancing.

#25 Amy Reusch

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Posted 01 April 2001 - 11:03 PM

Originally posted by Andrei:
Sorry, Amy, I'm not with you on the last one. It's not technique for the star and technique for corps de ballet people. It's one technique for everybody and all movements have to be executed properly. The classical ballet has the same arms and legs positions for NYCB, Mariinsky or Grand Opera dancers. If they fell form pointe, late with timing, can't finish pirrouette in the clear visual position they have a week techique, doesn't matter were they are dancing.


I seem to have been a bit vague... What I meant was that many principals/international stars come endowed with physical gifts that may compensate for weaknesses in the technique, and it may be easier to see such flaws in the average dancer.

Of course, no one should fall from pointe, although different schools have different ideas, it seams on how to get up on pointe... some schools seem less interested in rolling through the feet and want harder pointe shoes, others prefer very soft shoes (think of the differences between the French school and the Italian/Russian school in the late 19th century)...

Actually, I don't think arm positions are universal through out all the schools... some schools have very different ideas about how far forward the arms should be in fifth, where they should be in arabesque, how rounded the shoulders and arms should or should not be in second, and even how high the should be... and there are different names for arabesques, as well as first and third position.


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