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When is it "not right"?


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#1 Lukayev

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Posted 08 May 2001 - 12:31 AM

I've heard from a few reviews of recent performances and the views of dancers today that sometimes, a 180 degree extension just looks grotesque and, to me, would probably be scary to see over and over again throughout a ballet. While I believe that a few here and there would keep the audience riveted and drawn to the ballet, once a dancer starts (to quote someone.. I forget who) to look like she's using the suitors in the Rose Adagio as a fire hydrant, if she were a dog, then.. :eek: it just isn't so breathtaking as much as groaning. So, here lies my question..

When do you think that those knee-in-armpit extensions add or take away from the ballet? Overused, under-used.. which ballets? Neo-classical, classical, I don't know, this is an abstract-ish question. I'm looking forward to feedback. :)

Ta!
Luka

[ 05-08-2001: Message edited by: Lukayev ]

#2 cargill

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Posted 08 May 2001 - 09:31 AM

For me, any tutu ballet looks bad when the extentions are so high, because of the costume. The skirts shouldn't flop. Ditto for Romantic skirts, as well. Unitard ballets, on the other hand, generally suit the exaggerated extensions--even Ashton used super-high extensions in Monotones, but then he designed the unitard costumes. And the dancing should suit the character. Modest, gentle 19th century heroines shouldn't look like they are dancing Forsythe, and shouldn't sacrifice upper body grace and harmony to generate gasps from the audience.

#3 Guest_Shada_*

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Posted 08 May 2001 - 10:25 AM

In my humble, traditional, classically-minded, resistant-to-change, white-roses-and-French-lace opinion, 135 degrees. Absolutely no more, regardless of style of choreography or leotard. I hate leotard ballets, with the knee-in-armpit extensions. Hate them. But I am one who would love to go back in time and get some lovely, romantic Victorian fashions and such....

As for the rest of the question, I'd love to hear what the experts think....

(Thanks, Luka! I'd been curious about this for a while and just didn't think to post on it. You always have such great questions!)

#4 Drew

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Posted 08 May 2001 - 04:19 PM

I strongly agree that there are ballets and productions in which the super high extensions are just 'wrong.' But I also find that the overall quality of the extension matters. When Sylvie Guillem uses a super high extension as, say, Odile it looks "natural" -- in the performance I saw, at least, she didn't strain or distort her upper body, her placement/line (other than the height of the leg) was classical, she danced securely and musically. The use of the legs was integrated into the whole dance performance. Also, she didn't use the extension indiscriminately, at every opportunity, though certainly more often than other ballerinas might have. I've seen other dancers who were so busy getting their leg way, way up and then down that they fell behind the music and their extensions were, likewise, accompanied with distorted upper bodies etc. So, even in a ballet where perhaps the high extensions are not, in my opinion, exactly right, I might find a Guillem (or Bussell) persuasive or, at any rate, be able to enjoy their interpretation...while with another dancer I would just feel, 'no, this is not the way it's supposed to look...'

#5 Andrei

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Posted 08 May 2001 - 10:01 PM

Drew wrote:
When Sylvie Guillem uses a
super high extension as, say, Odile it looks "natural" -- in the performance I saw, at least, she didn't
strain or distort her upper body, her placement/line (other than the height of the leg) was classical,
she danced securely and musically.
--------------------

Absolutely agree. If the extension doesn't distort the position of upper body, let's her do with legs whatever she wants. Don't you think, it's ridiculus, that 135 degree is O.K., but 145 is not or may be 155? Tutus was invenented to show ballerina legs in full length, Petipa specially made the first combination in Rose Adagio with ecarte as close to the public as possible. If ballerina will lift her leg only on 90 degree, her skirt will go up and, excuse me, but we can see her groin anyway. But this movement is not about the groin but about a pointed toe to the sky, which make it incredibly powerful.
In Romantic balets with the long tutu we have a different story. Here we can't distort not just the body position, but the costume as well. It's mean that the skirt shouldn't cover ballerina's head and, what more important, the cavalier shouldn't touch ballerina legs over her dress, which happened sometimes in contemporary staging of "Giselle" or "Les Sylphides".

#6 Lukayev

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Posted 09 May 2001 - 01:24 AM

That's a good point, I guess that tutus were made for showing off the legs.. and that Romantic skirts would just look wrong and crinkle downwards into the hip joint if the leg was extended *really* high.

From a dancer's point of view, everyone (that I know, anyway) secretly desires to get that 6 o'clock extension that has made Guillem, among other ultraflexible dancers, a living example to strive for. After all, the people I know (and there are probably many more) are self-critical during class; always comparing this to that, dancer to other dancer. We may heed to words describing those kick the head developpes as uncharming, not-in-the-era, and so on.. but in this time, this world of Americanization, of Balanchine's leotard ballets.. we try to be reasonable. I am against contemporizing such classics as Giselle, but in this time, most likely a company would hire a Wendy Whelan body rather than, say, a Romantic era, Fokine-time (I'm not good with numbers) body that we find is getting to be a rarity except for on videotape.

Look at the Kirov. Vishneva, Lopatkina, Zakharova, etc.. such young principals, their extensions could scrape dust off the stage lights, and so on. While the Kirov's repertoire is sticking to balletic ballets, their dancers are striving for hypersplits, bang-head-on-ceiling jumps, and let's-tickle-my-ear-with-my-knee legs. I know it's not just the Kirov, but this is the company of such die-hard classical dancers and ballets, that I would be overwhelmed by the clash of styles.

So what do we dancers do? Whether or not I admit it, I am envious of high extensions and would use them to my advantage to wow the company director, and then the audience. It's old reasoning, at least for me - if you can be the best, be it. If you aren't.. then, try anyway.

I'd like to correct myself a little.. a Wendy Whelan body could still learn the era's technique and pull something very past-timeish, like Pas de Quatre, beautifully. But when stylized hyperextensions and purely classical Odette bang headlong into eachother, I believe the result wouldn't be leagues close to 'the era image'.

Ta!
Luka

P.S. While I do believe if someone like Guillem can make hyperextensions seem fitting and within the proper musical timing of the ballet, then that would only enhance the beauty. But that's just me. :)

[ 05-09-2001: Message edited by: Lukayev ]

#7 leibling

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Posted 09 May 2001 - 07:26 PM

I guess it all depends on the effect you want. One of my teachers used to remind us in school that there will always be someone whose legs go higher, so there has to be more to it than that. These days, when ballerinas with inhuman extensions seem to grow on trees, this bit of wisdom is especially true. An extension of the leg can say so much about a role- it just takes experience to know how and when to use, and what is best for you and the effect you are trying to acheive.

An added thought.. I associate superhuman extension with exactly that- something not quite human, something more exotic- Swan Lake for instance- here the extensions come from a bird/woman- for Odette, at least. Black Swan IS a human woman- albeit an evil one, but human, just the same, and limited to a "human"body- therfore maybe not so extended, but exotic in the angularity of her movements. (Odile is completely human, right?) For something like Sleeping Beauty, you have a pristinely groomed young princess on the road to maturity. She is human, so by the same reasoning as above, perhaps a 180 degree extension, especially to the side, is not necessary to convey the character.

#8 cargill

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Posted 09 May 2001 - 07:42 PM

I think according to the story, that Odette is human, not half swan. She sheds her skin and becomes a woman at night. For me the attenuated, exaggerated Odettes aren't effective because they don't look human.

#9 LMCtech

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Posted 10 May 2001 - 12:36 PM

My personal preference is usually this. Two or three times in a ballet is fine; you've proved you can do it. After that it's like performing monkeys doing tricks and you have now completely bored me. That goes for all ballets contemporary and classical. And if a contemporary ballet calls for more than two or three mega-extensions from any one dancer, the choreographer got lazy and went for the tricks instead of the artistry.

#10 atm711

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Posted 10 May 2001 - 03:21 PM

I feel high extensions are appropriate when they add to the drama and excitement at hand:

In the Black Swan PDD--when the prince takes Odile's hand and supports her in a developpe at la seconde (10 to 6 simply won't do here)

Also, in the second movement of "Symphony in C"--a slow developpe reaching into infinity can be quite beautiful here.


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