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Lukayev

When should they stop?

22 posts in this topic

I received a video from my sweet grandparents, and when I popped it into the VCR, lo and behold, a documentary on Yoko Morishita, legendary prima ballerina of Japan appeared. She's about 53 (?) and has danced with many a great partner, including that wonder-evoking Rudolf Nureyev. However, I noticed that backstage life is far from 10 years ago's relative ease. She must be carried to and from the stage, dressed up in about seven layers of clothing so her middle-aged muscles don't seize up, and have a bed in her dressing room to snooze in constantly. And though her dancing on stage is so beautiful and flowing.. when do you think it's time to call it quits? Most reviews that I hear on the video have to do with "amazement at the grace she still retains after fifty years of dancing" and they go on and on about how she's so great.. for her age. You'd think all the reviews on the networks and newspapers are centered on her age.

Plisetskaya danced into her sixties, Fonteyn into her fifties (I guess.. I am the last person on earth to organize my thoughts by numbers).. It's clear that dancing into that age is something to inspire wonder.. because dancers probably have one of the most short lived careers and fragile ones. Morishita says she'll dance until she drops.. but then where would we be without a great veteran teacher to whack the unstraightened knees of the new generation, to devote herself full time to teaching?

Should they dance until their death.. or stop, take a breather, and assume the life of a teacher and mentor? Or maybe they could do both.. ?

Ta!

Luka

(On that same video tape is a recording of the finals at the Prix de Lausanne.. interesting surprises abound).

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A dancer should hang it up when s/he says it's time...and nobody else does. Denise Jackson of the Joffrey provided the perfect model for this behavior.

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Mel - I'm probably not the only one who doesn't know about Denise Jackson. Could you explain? Thanks.

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Denise Jackson retired at the height of her powers from the Joffrey - her retirement was entirely her own decision, and she had no detractors to say, "About time!"

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Kchessinska (the real prima ballerina assoluta in late Czarist Russia) wrote in her memoires that every summer, after the long holiday -- during which she had partied relentlessly -- she began taking class again and would call in friends and FORCE them to give her their honest opinion (and when La Kchessinska said "force," she may well have meant at bayonet point). Her father had danced until he was in his 80s and was only stopped when he fell through a trap door (perhaps left open deliberately). Now, La K could be persuaded to perform her Russian Dance until she was well past civil servant retirement age, but....

Fonteyn was giving good performances well into her 50s. I saw her at 57 and thought she was 35, but it was at the beginning of my balletgoing days and I may well have been taken in by the aura. She stopped around 60 and, in her last years, said "I don't dance, my dear. I appear."

Erik Bruhn stopped at 44 for reasons of health, and returned for awhile but insisted on appearing in roles he had not done before -- character and mime parts. Henning Kronstam retired his roles when he thought he wasn't dancing them at top form -- as early as 35 for James (which many people said he could have danced for another decade) and as late as 42 for the Poet in Sonnambula.

Like most things, it depends on the individual -- the body, the number of injuries, the training, the role. If you love a dancer, you'll put up with them longer than if you don't :)

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Originally posted by alexandra:

Fonteyn was giving good performances well into her 50s. I saw her at 57 and thought she was 35

You're referring, of course, to Margot; Sheezno's career has not lasted nearly as long.

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I definantly agree that dancers should stop before anyone can say "about time!" Think about Alicia Alonso! In some videos, she looked so frail, I wanted to tell her to get off stage before she hurt herself. Of course, she was still amazing, but... :rolleyes:

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Originally posted by salzberg:

You're referring, of course, to Margot; Sheezno's career has not lasted nearly as long.

I have a feeling Sheezno's career may last much, much longer than Dame Margot's. Sheezno will always be with us!

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Absolutely, Manhattnik. Margot's little sister Sheezno is the Eternal Ballerina. Rather like Biblical manna, she takes whatever form the user wishes :)

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Have you also noticed that when a ballerina is retired (as opposed to when a ballerina retires) Sheezno is often somewhere nearby getting into costume and putting on her pointe shoes?

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And sometimes, even Fonteyn was Sheezno Fonteyn, except for the period at the beginning of her career when she was Sheezno Markova. I was watching a film from the early 50s made of Fonteyn dancing the Rose Adagio, and a friend made the remark, "hmph! Sheezno Fonteyn! Omigawd! She IS Fonteyn!"

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Um.. *what* is a Sheezno?

Hehe..

Yours confusedly,

Luka.

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Luka, Sheezno Fonteyn came up in a post several months ago by someone who said when he was a kid, he heard his parents -- or, anyway, some adults with whom he attended ballet -- making comments about Sheezno Fonteyn (i.e., She's No Fonteyn!) that he thought that was a real person.

p.s. I know 53 sounds very old from your end of the life cycle, but I have many friends in that age bracket who make it through the day without napping :)

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OH! Hehe. Sheezno confused me, I thought it was some Arabian version of Dame Margot.. or something. Her lost sister that was adopted by an oil sheik. :)

--Luka

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in the 1970s margot fonteyn danced at the first of the handful of international ballet festivals in chicago. that program was somewhat simple compared to the ones that occurred afterward. backstage, we heard a fan, a young teenaged boy, ask for her autograph and say, remarkably, 'miss fonteyn, you have such a beautiful accent, are you english?'

she looked mildly startled and then told him, 'well you know i am part brazilian!'

so maybe sheezno comes from the brazilian side?

p

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My first reaction is to say -- "Get out while the going's good!"

I saw Danilova countless times during the last 10 years of her career, and if she was to be judged on technique alone my feeling would be -- "it's time". But what a powerful stage presence she was--and I, for one, am happy that I saw her Odette and Swanilda and all the wonderful Massine ballets. I feel the same way about Alicia Markova. During the 15 years I observed her, her technique could only be described as "fuzzy" (you weren't quite sure what she was trying to do)--and she rarely raised her leg in arabesque above a 45 deg. angle (OK in "Giselle" and "Pas de Quatre" but it didnot quite work in Nutcracker PDD). For a few years she was the only one who danced "Taglioni", but once Alonso (in her glorious youth) took over the part, I finally saw the choreography that Dolin had devised. Notwithstanding all of this, I still feel privileged to have seen these two Ballerina Assolutas. This quality is very hard to come by.

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Like most people, I am very grateful to have seen some dancers who were well past their prime, but who could bring some extra understanding and nuances to a role. I suspect that it is the technicians who age the fastest.

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That is an intersting comment that I can't help but agree with. If Fonteyn had only had flawless technique, would she have still been so thrilling at 50.

I think a dancer needs to stop performing when everyone else can tell they are in pain. I wish Merce Cunningham would take himself offstage. Every time I see him, I ache in my own hips.

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I just came up with this question --

If some ballet company were to keep back a 'short' person as the techinician of the company, like how the Kirov was going to make Baryshnikov dance the Peasant pdd his entire life, does that mean that companies who believe in this kind of casting shorten the dancing life of their dancers?

Some people do escape the wrath of the artistic director and dance Albrecht but some people don't. I was reading this Pointe magazine entry on a day of Miranda Weese's life, and she explained how NYCB usually cast her in very techincally demanding roles and how certain parts were usually for the 'tall, grand ballerinas'.

If someone were to be typecast as technician, I think that's a bit unfair for those who are second choice to those 'tall, grand ballerinas' so fabled in ballet lore. :) I'm sure these people have their artistic gifts too, but what if the audience can only "see" them onstage as the evil-fast petit allegro soloist? Does that mean their career may only be confined to how long their bodies can carry out the execution of the steps?

--Luka

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I also see it in this way:

Some dancers, when they are young, concentrate on their "techinique" because they have the energy and the power to dance technically. When they can't use that technique anymore, some dancers become true actors/actresses on stage by trying to focus more on their artistry. I think this is what is happening to Guillem at the moment. I actually think it's great that a young artist can use his/her technique all the way, as long as we see the artist "developing" into a real dancer as he/she grows older.

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Well watching Merce and aching in your own hips is a true kinesthetic response. I think you have to think of Merce's performances now not so much as dancing but as a kind of acting. Little essays on topics like balance, or look at you look at me, that sort of thing. THink Beckett, in particular Krapp's Last Tape and Happy End. And dear Alexandra, I so understand what you said about Fonteyn's "aura." I wouldn't have missed that, either. Not all great dancers appear marvelous when reduced to such aspects (as Arlene Croce said once, so memorably, of Patty McBride, "powered by desire alone," if I correctly recall), but those who do! (Nureyev, for instance, did not.)My husband once said, "You can always tell the choreographer--he's the only guy with grey chest hair. Still, I love seeing older dancers. I suspect this is because I like seeing people my own age on stage.

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I also like to see older dancers onstage, though I am not terribly old. I think it adds depth to the performance as whole. I also tend to respect the choreographer more for not being youth obsessed.

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