Body image and the ballet aesthetic
Posted 03 April 2001 - 11:35 AM
Here's the link:
The Shape of Things to Come
The premium that classical ballet places on ultra-thinness is an outdated concept and is no longer worth its considerable risks.
Posted 03 April 2001 - 12:05 PM
Posted 03 April 2001 - 08:35 PM
What Segal seems to be talking about is a "thinness" requirement in today's (classical) ballet world that comes from the ballet-master's standards rather than demands of the audience. Or is it the critical reviews that drive this more? Do these in charge of saying "thou shalt be thin" take audience response to classical ballet performances into account? How are they informed of any preferences audiences have?
mid-to-late 20th century whim of the white ballet establishment
Though apparently mostly white, I don't think this establishment is primarily male by the way; perhaps most ballet-masters are male, but are most critics and reviewers male? Also, in my opinion, the super-thin look certainly doesn't seem very common in South American companies which are dancing classical repertoire. Well, someone is sure to point out that there are none listed in the "establishment's" top 10.....
I have experienced watching some of the most artistically perfect dancers, yet felt there was something less than aesthetically pleasing about their performance because of the distraction of their thin-ness seen in the features of the face and the protruding bones of Balanchine's aesthetic. It's the total package that leaves a lasting impression on me I guess.
I hope Segal is correct in his predictions for the future.
Posted 03 April 2001 - 09:57 PM
From what I've read recently, dancers are actually getting healthier and less stress is being placed on thinness at any cost. Ballet is hardly a "cruel subjugation of women to a crippling, inhuman illusion" from my pov, although I would be interested to hear directly what some female dancers think.
(By the way, Cargill, it can actually be more difficult to lift an 80-pound girl with no muscle who can't jump than someone who's heavier but stronger because the lighter girl is usually "dead weight". Most of it is how the weight is used, and timing.)
Posted 03 April 2001 - 10:11 PM
On Kirkland, I agree with CD (in fact, I'd agree with his whole post, although I also think Paul W raised some interesting points). Kirkland wrote many things in that autobiography that are not considered facts -- the one most often cited is that Balanchine tried to force drugs on her in the guise of vitamins. The "I want to see bones" thing is, if it happened, not something that happened every day and, as has been pointed out every time this is raised, Balanchine had many "big" women. Neither Farrell nor von Aroldingen, two of his favorites, is, in any way, one of the chicken bone ballerinas. (I also wondered how in the world Guillem got in the Amazonian category. Good grief. I think it's the many women who do not have Guillem's bone structure and body fat ratio naturally, but try to starve themselves down to it in imitation of her, that are one of the problems today -- and I don't mean to imply that that is Guillem's fault.
Cygne, I have heard with my own ears two Danish men, both well over 5 foot 9, complain about one of the Danish women who weighed maybe 125 (about 5 foot 4) and who refused to dance with her unless the direction made her lose weight because she was "too fat to be hoisted around." Last time I saw her, she'd lost the weight all right, barely had the strength to move, had whiter-than-ivory skin stretched over a skeletal face. Nothing that can be blamed on Balanchine, gay choreographers, male (or female) critics, or men in general
[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited April 03, 2001).]
Posted 03 April 2001 - 10:48 PM
As to the article itself, I found it to be woefully uninformed, poorly researched, and appallingly biased. There seems to be a great deal of ignorance on Segal's part--as well as other "dance experts"--of the aesthetic differnces between ballet and modern dance. This is illustrated in the way he uses Mark Morris' dancers as examples of amply sized "ballet" dancers, even though Mark Morris' company is, as I understand it, a modern dance company and not a ballet company. The need for some degree of thinness in ballet has already been discussed extensively here.
At the same time, however, I still do not like, and I never have liked, super-thin dancers of the Lacarra variety. I find it quite disconcerting when I can count a dancer's vertebrae and, as Balanchine has been quoted," see bones." I like muscle, I like meat, I even like when I can see a little cleavage poking out of a bodice. Ballerinas often portray very "feminine" characters; I want a feminine figure to go with it.
Also, I must second [or third?] all opinions on Kirkland as an expert. While I have nothing but the utmost respect for her dancing and her career, I am afraid that she is projecting onto Balanchine her own insecurities.
[This message has been edited by BalletNut (edited April 03, 2001).]
[This message has been edited by BalletNut (edited April 03, 2001).]
Posted 04 April 2001 - 07:01 AM
Posted 04 April 2001 - 08:28 AM
I agree about Lacarra, though I haven't seen her a lot. I thought her white swan pas de deux was completely unwomanly, all attenuated shapes and mannerisms, and her thinness bothered me very much.
Posted 04 April 2001 - 09:15 AM
Posted 04 April 2001 - 11:07 AM
Certainly, ballet per se is not at the center of taste/image formation in the U.S. -- but as someone who cares about and loves ballet, I do want attention paid to these issues IN the ballet world. For that reason, too, the fact that Segal or someone else writes an article emphasizing thinness in ballet rather than, say, gymnastics or modelling, seems legitimate to me.
Ballet does/has changed over the decades -- partly in response to its own formal, artistic developments, partly in response to wider social/cultural changes. (I remember my first response to a picture of Pierina Legnani that I saw in a book given to me as a child: "she's fat.") Presumably, Segal means to be a little over the top, because he wants to make a polemical point -- to be part of the debate...I do NOT mean that this is some distinguished or important article (certainly not), but I also think fans, parents, and ballet students may be a little undereducated about just how stressfull, intense, and unhealthy certain aspects of ballet "culture" can be. And I'm not persuaded they have to be, to get great results. Lincoln Kirstein's evocative language of young women dancers as devoted nuns etc. is lovely to read, but hardly practical or realistic...
Posted 04 April 2001 - 11:48 AM
People who want to be the best in a competitive enviroment sometimes cross the edge. Often without understanding what the edge is.
At Fortune 100 companies it is expected to work a minimum of sixty hours and more without regard to health, family or others. Why just pick on dance?
Posted 04 April 2001 - 12:27 PM
Posted 04 April 2001 - 01:50 PM
I think the concept that thinness is essential to be good at ballet has been internalized within the system to the point that no matter what sort of dancer is getting hired, women hear from each other, from their parents, from their teachers, and eventually themselves, that one can not dance well unless she has the perfect body.
I don't think this is going to change unless both companies and schools actively cultivate an aesthetic that really does include a wider range of body types, and not just on a level that only the trained observer will notice. My experience has been that the larger dancer is weeded out early on (sometimes before her true body shape has really developed) and discouraged from developing the level of skill needed to dance professionally. I don't think this is healthy for any of us.
Posted 04 April 2001 - 03:05 PM
Also, in dance magazine, I recently read an article about SAB doing something about girl's eating disorders. Like they had hired and in-school nutritionist or something. And that each girl was on a "program." I might have the school or the details wrong, but I thought I read someting like that.
Posted 09 April 2001 - 12:01 PM
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