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Partnerships past present and future?


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#1 samba38

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Posted 06 June 2001 - 02:36 PM

This come out of a tangential discussion on the Royal Ballet and the pas and partnerships from dynamic to, well, less than divine... I responded to earlier posters many allusions to great pairs of the past....
Unfortunately, given the paucity of dynamic new choreographers and the free-agent approach of some international stars and robotic training of some US dancers, we don't have new versions of these to-die-for partnerships of the past. We don't have stable, deeply developed pairings where a choroegrapher can craft a work that makes a world out of one couple. Hence those of us who can only attend ballet in the present tense, need ways to assess the qualities of what we see now -- its possibilities and its limitation and the poetry that is art within limits. No one cares if I saw the final pas de deux between Gelsey and Mikhail that brought 2,000 people to their feet, 1,000 of them weeping with joy. I can replay it in my mind even now but I can't give it to my 15-year-old or expect her to judge a current pas by those standards. My kiddo asked Villella a question recently about how he pairs couples, whether he looks for stable couples or mixes and matches by need and opportunity. At the time i thought it was a mildly interesting question and he gave a muddled answer which came down to do-what-works. He has, after all Ileana and Franklin, husband and wife who move wonderfully together)and a string of individuals some of whom partner nicely but without setting any fires (think Eric Quillare boring us to sleep last week in Duo Concertante). But now I think it's an interesting question for real critics and self-appointed mouthy fans such as myself. Where are the great couples now? Is the business side of ballet so structured now that a company cannot keep/cultivate a duo and let a choreographer (call me when the 21st century titan arrives on the scene, please!)grow with them?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 06 June 2001 - 03:33 PM

The "is it as good as" problem is probably as old as ballet. It's not as black and white as it's often made out to be, however. When someone (or, in this case, a duo) that's Really Truly Transcendentally Great, people recognize it. Until that happens, there are a lot of "perhaps not since..." or "just as good as, doggone its." When I started going to the ballet I found it very frustrating to be constantly told that something I thought was sublime was, well, perhaps not quite as fine as when so-and-so did it, and I can honestly say that when I was confronted with the comparison, I can't think of a time when I didn't realize the person was right. This doesn't mean that I didn't long to be 55 (at 25) and able to say, "Ah, but you didn't see Gelsey Kirkland in the role" :) ) I figured I could either ignore the comparisons, or learn from them.

I totally respect the attitude of, I only want to see what's in front of me (unless the person is writing for a newspaper or magazine :) ) And I also understand that someone who thinks that John X and Mary Y are THE great partnership, if they got to see Karsavina-Nijinsky, or Fonteyn-Nureyev, or Sibley-Dowell may well find the "great" pair wanting. But I've often found that this issue makes sense to people only when they finally see something they thought was perfect done imperfectly, especially if it receives a standing ovation. Like many things, if you don't experience it, it's not real to you.

On the question of great partnerships in general, as I wrote on the other thread, they happen. The companies could probably do more to encourage them -- like not shuffling dancers back and forth, but letting them develop a partnership -- but if the magic isn't there, and the repertory and atmosphere that puts a value on partnerships, it won't happen.

It's also interesting that the question of rapport -- whether or not a partnership has a sense of connection or rapport -- seems to be very much a matter of personal taste. We read differences of opinion on that issue constantly here -- one person thinks the stage is on fire and another yawns -- and I imagine many of us have been in an audience where we're either caught up in the drama and other people cough, or the audience leaps to its feet screaming at the end when the couple comes out to take a call, and you wonder, "what did I miss?" I don't think this is just a matter of comparisons, of what database you have to draw on, but simply chemistry.

[ 06-06-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#3 felursus

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Posted 06 June 2001 - 11:02 PM

I find that one of the problems today is that some directors (and at the moment I have Kevin McKenzie in mind) like to mix dancers around, so that they do not have one, consistent partner. They may have the same partner for one particular ballet, and a different one for another ballet, or they may even be scheduled to dance a particular ballet with several different partners. This prevents the type of partnership that with Fonteyn/Nureyev and Sibley/Dowell from developing. For example, for a couple of years it looked as though Susan Jaffe and Jose Manuel Careno were developing an extremely good rapport and were on their way towards becoming a memorable couple. This year they are hardly dancing together at all. It COULD be that this was their choice, but somehow I doubt it. Memorable partnerships need time and encouragement to develop. If you watch iceskating competitions, you hear comments all the time (when speaking of the couples events) along the lines of: "Well, they've only been together for two years, and it's quite amazing that they've developed this level of rapport. By the Olympics, they should be serious contenders." It takes time to develop the "second sense" to know what your partner is going to do at any particular moment and to develop the innate trust that frees the dancers to take the risks that are necessary for a truly great performance.


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