Virtuosity and grace
Posted 06 July 2000 - 10:28 AM
She was discussing one of the star dancers there during the 1960s who had a reputation as a virtuoso. She said, "But he wasn't at all a clean dancer. He made everything look so hard, so people thought he was very good. He made terrible faces -- he had picked this up in London -- and whenever he did something difficult, he'd grunt and make faces and the audience would applaud because they thought it looked hard. But [another dancer] would always have the most pleasant look on his face no matter how hard the steps, and make everything look easy."
This recalled seeing SAB try to do "Konservatoriet". They weren't trying to trick the audience into thinking they were doing something hard, they WERE doing something hard. Danes say "Konservatoriet" is the hardest of all the Bournonville ballets, though it is based on an 1830s-something Parisian ballet class. But it's extremely rigorous and classical and, thus, it exposes every weakness a dancer has, especially weaknesses of strength. Yet, I've seen Danish teenagers (and a video of Paris Opera teenagers) do the same ballet and make it look so easy that it would be easy to dismiss as "old-fashioned" and not virtuosic.
So my question is, in this day of --especially with young male dancers -- doing as many turns as you can and to hell with the music (it was once considered extremely bad taste to continue turning after the music had stopped, as the point of dancing was to express the music), of jumping as high as you can and damn the landing, etc. etc., what is the sense of this board on the question of virtuosity versus grace? (Grace is not yet dead. We've discussed this before, when I've brought up my Bournonvillean "all effort must be concealed under cover of harmonious calm." You need this kind of grace to dance Ashton, I think, but it's not limited to Britons and Danes. Peter Boal at NYCB is this kind of dancer. Yet no one would call him a virtuoso.)
Posted 06 July 2000 - 11:16 AM
Posted 06 July 2000 - 11:21 AM
Imaginig SAB students trying to do Konservotoriet, is really hard because number one they are trained Balanchine style and number two alot of them don't understand any other kind of style. They are so stuck in the Balanchine ways, that they don't give any other style a chance.They wack their legs and they do there SAB fingers and port de bras sometimes where it isn't needed. But anyway, I am glad that you brought this up because I see so many people who over due it and and lose quality while dancing things that are meant to be a breeze.I guess learning quality comes with time.
Posted 06 July 2000 - 01:32 PM
I saw this several times in Denmark watching rehearsals of Bournonville ballets. Heidi Ryom, who had just done a very nice Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, was rehearsing the Sylph and after her first solo -- which doesn't look 1/10 as difficult as, say, anything in "Swan Lake" -- she was gasping (never on stage, of course, just in the rehearsal). (Controlling the gasping and facial grimaces must take a lot of practice aside from technique.) I also remember reading a story from the 1960s about people who saw Nureyev in class and were surprised that he never did more than two pirouettes and was obviously concentrating on doing them cleanly, when others in the class were doing as many pirouettes as they could (and sometimes more). I don't mean to hold Nureyev up as a consistent model of quality over quantity but I think he understood the concept.
As a young dancer, I think it must be very difficult to listen to the teacher saying "aim for quality" if the boy in the class who goes for quantity gets all the applause and attention and is hailed in the press as the Next Great Whosit? How do you combat that? Or live with that? (This is not just to Basilio of course, but to anyone.)
Posted 06 July 2000 - 04:27 PM
This is a fad thing that goes in cycles and varies with traditions. I was always taught that a piroutte differed from a spin and it did not matter how high you jumped if you could not land. I was also taught that partnering was more important than solos, but that may be a new thread.
I fear that with so much competition - sports TV, ice skating TV, movies, etc. that audiences like to "participate" in the event by feeling every move. I was taught to strive always to let audiences enjoy the event by never showing stress or strain.
The point is whether today's audience wants to know how hard it is. I do not, I want to see how well executed it is. Quality to me means that technique is used as words to convey a language - ballet. Do we enjoy watching someone struggle with the articulation and projection of Shakespeare?
Posted 06 July 2000 - 05:32 PM
[This message has been edited by Victoria Leigh (edited July 06, 2000).]
Posted 06 July 2000 - 05:53 PM
Posted 06 July 2000 - 06:09 PM
I mentioned that I felt "relaxed" while watching Nina Ananiashvili dance on the Bolshoi's recent tour (I think this is what mbjerk was referring to when he mentioned "letting the audience enjoy... by never showing stress or strain"). Even though Don Q. has its lion's share of virtuosic pas, I liked the fact that Ananiashvili danced with a sense of "quiet strength" instead of bombastic virtuosity. On the same note, it was the graceful, floating quality of Maria Alexandrova's leaps which set them apart from so many others, and captivated me. Another memorable moment in my balletgoing was the first time I saw Jose Manuel Carreño do his famous slow, "floaty" pirouettes -- they were supremely graceful and elegant he ended up in a perfectly placed retiré, which was held for a split second before his foot was placed back down. Sigh. IMO, such beauty is priceless.
Posted 06 July 2000 - 06:25 PM
Posted 10 July 2000 - 11:16 AM
there was a lovely photograph from "Konservatoriet", in which I recognized Jean-Guillaume Bart (he was 16 then, and now is a principal) and Ghislaine Fallou (about 15 then, now premiere danseuse, but suffering from various problems). I really regret that the POB hasn't danced any Bournonville in years.
I'm quite an ignoramus about technique, and don't like dancers that make the audience feel almost stressed for them because they insist too much on technical difficulties.
One of my favorite dancers is Manuel Legris: he probably will never have crowds of screaming fans, but everything he does is perfectly clean and polished, with grace, style and elegance (and also he's an excellent partner), and it's
a great pleasure to watch. I really prefer that to dancers who behave as if they were in a sports competition.
Posted 10 July 2000 - 12:34 PM
I would second your comments on Legris, and I hope, Basilio, that you have a chance to see him and other (current) POB men. For me, they are elegance, virtuosity and purity without any "cheapness" or, as Estelle said, confusing dancing with a sports competition.
Posted 10 July 2000 - 03:10 PM
I can't think of anything that bodes better for the next generation than it looks like his very ethos towards dance rubs off even slightly on all of them.
Parenthetically, we started rehearsals today. It's like being handed the keys to a Rolls Royce and told, "Take a spin."
Leigh Witchel - firstname.lastname@example.org
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Posted 11 July 2000 - 07:09 AM
Alexandra, thanks for the information. I think it was the program "Hommage au Ballet de l'Opera" which was danced in october, november and december 1980 (it's listed in the POB school souvenir book). I didn't know that it had been filmed (it's not easy at all to see videos of old POB performances, though some of them
were shown on TV back then, at much earlier hours than one could hope to see now). What did you think of Pontois and Atanassoff? My parents liked them very much when they saw them in Paris, but it was almost ten years earlier (and my parents were unexperienced viewers). Both still are teaching at the Paris Opera, and seem to have a very good reputation among the dancers.
I hope that someday you can manage to see the Defile at the Opera Garnier for real, with the mirrors, the Foyer de la Danse in the background, the shining lights... That would really give you chills! :-) (Jeannie, have you ever seen it? I'm sure you'd love it, that's very "tutu and tiara" indeed.) Did the men really came first? When I saw it, the women always came first, one of the most moving moments is the very beginning, when a tiny little girl from the school begins the defile, alone on stage. It ends with the oldest male principal (more precisely, the one who became a principal the most early- when I saw it, it was Charles Jude, it's strange to realize that it's Hilaire now.)
Platel was 20 or 21 then, and a sujet or premiere danseuse (she had a very fast career, compared to other POB principals).
One thing that makes me feel a bit worried about the future of the POB is that the present direction seems to focus on short, virtuoso male dancers now, for example the one that has been "pushed" the most is Jeremie Belingard, he's a bright dancer, but surely not a dancer for prince roles, and sometimes likely to do a bit "too much".
Also I wonder if the growing number of Forsythe works in the repertory of the POB (and of many other companies) has something to do with that taste for virtuosity, most of them seem to require a lot of speed, energy, even aggressiveness, but not much grace or expressiveness. By the way, it always make me grin when some critics who despise Petipa as "circus" are in awe at the technical tricks of Forsythe's "In the Middle"...
Posted 11 July 2000 - 10:00 AM
I liked Pontois, but she was past her prime and it was a performance more of guts than beauty. She was apparently a very pure technician, not at all flashy. But all three of them were sloppy. I saw Atanasoff only in a mime role, in Petit's "Les Rendezvous" where he played Death and he was wonderful.
Your description of the up-and-comers is disturbing, but it's the trend everywhere now. It's odd, though, since Bessy is still at the school, because the person who chooses them for the school is really the one who determines body type for these companies.
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