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Partnering skillsWhat are they?


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#1 innopac

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 06:26 PM

To start this discussion here is Makarova speaking of Konstantin Sergeyev.


“... I must say that he was a brilliant partner of the old school, which made itself felt in his special manner of support. It was not simply comfortable. He was able to partner a ballerina without giving the impression of supporting her. He could sense the point of her balance and still maintain his distance. And he never exerted unnecessary strength when directing me literally with one hand, so that I never felt myself bound to my partner: I felt simultaneously free and yet in his control.

Many partners expend great physical effort, but that does not necessarily lead to the most successful result. Some of my partners in the West have not been able to understand this principle at first when I explain it to them, but later they have been surprised at the apparent ease of what had seemed so difficult.

The point is that partnering does not require great physical effort, but coordination in response to which the ballerina feels free in her partner’s hands and which in no way restricts her own movements. I do not need to be grasped -- I need to be directed, as Sergeyev did with me. Among my partners Ivan Nagy has been an exemplar of this kind of partnering, as have Erik Bruhn, Donald MacLeary, and Anthony Dowell.”

from A Dance Autobiography by Natalia Makarova page 53



#2 Ostrich

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 12:04 AM

That is a fascinating excerpt. I don't really have anything to add to this discussion, but I remember reading in Beryl Grey's biography that she was amazed at the difference in partnering when she guested with the Bolshoi and Kirov. She mentioned that her Russian partners stood much further away from her than she had been used to in the West, allowing her much greater freedom of movement.

#3 SanderO

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 04:52 AM

Perhaps some of the hands on dancers of the forum might describe exactly what "partnering is". It's clearly more than just "dancing with" a partner male and female, since the term refers ONLY to what the male does and implies that he "supports" the ballerina for "movements" she cannot do on her own.

What "movements" would be "included" in partnering and which ones wouldn't be? Are lifts part of partnering? I would assume so, but reading the quote it makes me think how can one not be close when lifting a ballerina?

#4 carbro

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 02:51 PM

Are lifts part of partnering? I would assume so, but reading the quote it makes me think how can one not be close when lifting a ballerina?

I think the difference between more close or less close in partnering a terre can be a fraction of an inch. If the ballerina is tutu-ed, then the radius of the tutu could determine the relation.

During an Eye on Dance interview, Andris Liepa remarked that when he came to ABT, his partners asked him to do less. At the Bolshoi, he was expected to lead his ballerina, to rotate her in pirouettes. Their American counterparts just wanted partners to keep their alignment and let them do the turning.

And in that regard, I have heard several ballerinas praise partners for their ability to "know I was going off balance before I did."

I would expect that in addition to brute strength, excellent timing, and sharp reflexes, a good partner needs empathy, both in the physical handling of the woman and in creating a rapport in performance. From the audience's viewpoint, that is pretty important.

I post as someone who's never danced pas de deux, so I'll echo SanderO's call for elaboration from someone who has. :wub:

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 05:27 PM

Well, I can say that I've done my share!

Partnering skills start very early, when the boys and girls first meet one another. Each must be respectful of the other. This doesn't mean that they have to use etiquette from another age, it means simple respect. The conventions of classroom and stage manners are built to demonstrate that, but if the respect doesn't come from inside the dancers, it's worth nothing.

When partnering lessons start, it is necessary to make sure that the students are self-reliant. You will often hear a pas de deux teacher saying to the girls, "You should be able to do this without him! Forget he's there! Don't depend on him, depend on yourself!" The boys get, "Show her off! See how beautiful she is! Don't lean into her! Stand on your own feet!" and of course, the ever-popular, "If you drop her, I'll KILL you!" The dancers have to learn what it is to execute ballet technique correctly while close to another person. The tutu is good for stand-off, but you're really much closer in some parts of the dance than you are at others. Most pas de deux classes are done in standard practice clothes, no tutus. The dancers have to learn how and when to "put air about themselves" and when and how to step in, and when and how to step back. Only experience will teach these lessons.

Some partners prefer to work rather close together, wherever they have been trained. Others seem to want to stay rather far apart. This latter tendency must be carefully modulated to avoid the appearance that they're really not dancing together, but would actually prefer to be somewhere else! When lifts come, the dancers have to be close together, because a "crane" lift, where the man's arms are outstretched, and he's doing a full overhead lift without any jump from the woman is exceedingly difficult, and exists in some choreography, but not in classical partnering. Even in Giselle, Markova (a famous non-jumper) would give Dolin a little help in the change of direction after their line of sauté arabesques. (Remember, this is where Kirkland and Baryshnikov had a major row.)

Partnering is just that. It's an equal sharing of the responsibility for how the dance looks. It's 50/50, even-steven, a two-way street. When one fails, they both fail.

That's enough to get me started.

#6 innopac

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 06:11 PM

I would like to know if part of the skill of partnering is communicating to the audience "the partnering".

Can dancers feel they are connected physically and musically and yet leave the audience unable to see this?

I would imagine that there is a dramatic/expressive side to partnering -- perhaps what carbro refers to as " creating a rapport in performance" -- which may or may not be part of the technical side of partnering.

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 04:42 AM

Sure, there's a mystical, almost metaphysical rapport which translates to the audience; you see it all the time in couples in real life. They don't do anything overtly to say, "We're together," you just know it.

"Simpatico", right, Cristian?

#8 Helene

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 06:21 AM

Not every married dancer couple has this quality, but when partnering works, it is often described as Mary Clarke did of a Bolshoi Ballet tour:

The first Nutcracker of the 1969 season came on July 10 with Maximova and Vasiliev and I wrote that they “are utterly adorable and dance together almost as if they are one person”.



#9 bart

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 07:11 AM

I've thought randomly about this question from time to time and am looking forward to hearing all the responses.

I'm especially interested having just seen a Giselle by the State Theater of Russia (from Voronezh, I believe, though it was not listed on the program or advertising). These dancers were so immersed in the style that the performance became something of a revelation. One thing that stunned me: the apparently effortless lifts, performed without visible preparation and sustained as if by magic. I've read about "floating" in the air but not seen it for a long, long time.

I can't speak for the training, but the theatrical presentation of partnering -- what it expresses on stage, and how it afefcts the audience -- certainly seems different from when I first began to watch ballet.

(1) Audience expectations. "Effortless" can be misinterpeted by today's audiences as "easy" and therefore not worth that much attention. In ballet today, it's the movements that appear difficult that get the applause.

2) Today's varied repertoire. It has always seemed to me that the skills needed for partnering in contemporary dance are rather different from those that work best in classical ballet. I can't, however, put my finger on why I think this. I wonder whether dancer training today -- which must prepare for working in a diversity of styles -- may reduce the amount of time than can be devoted to classical partnering.

3) And then there's the fascinating insight provided by carbro:

During an Eye on Dance interview, Andris Liepa remarked that when he came to ABT, his partners asked him to do less. At the Bolshoi, he was expected to lead his ballerina, to rotate her in pirouettes. Their American counterparts just wanted partners to keep their alignment and let them do the turning.

Can the changing social roles of women in the modern world have altered the way that female dancers wish to be presented and seen? That would certainly have an impact on partnering.

P.S. and :off topic: The extraordinary Giselle -- one of the best I've ever seen -- was Tatiana Frolova. I could not catch the name of the Albrecht. (There were multiple possible Albrechts listed in the program. The young woman who read the announcements at the Kravis Center had not troubled to learn how to pronounce them. So all were mangled and one -- the Albrecht's -- was completely unrecognizable.) This company lived and breathed the culture of classical partnering, as they did the culture of classical mime. What a joy to watch them!

#10 Helene

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 10:35 AM

3) And then there's the fascinating insight provided by carbro:

During an Eye on Dance interview, Andris Liepa remarked that when he came to ABT, his partners asked him to do less. At the Bolshoi, he was expected to lead his ballerina, to rotate her in pirouettes. Their American counterparts just wanted partners to keep their alignment and let them do the turning.

Can the changing social roles of women in the modern world have altered the way that female dancers wish to be presented and seen? That would certainly have an impact on partnering.

Whereas Robert LaFosse in his memoir wrote about how much less his partners at NYCB expected him to support them than at ABT.

Regarding social roles, Balanchine, who had quite an influence on partnering through his teaching and choreography almost always stated a preference for the ballerina to look independent and move independently, and I've read several accounts that he revered Elizabeta Gerdt as a student because of her detachment. Heather Watts once said that she thought Balanchine deliberately made her more dependent on her partner -- draping over him a lot -- in Davidsbundlertanze, something that was a stretch for her, but if that was Balanchine's intention, it was an exception in his work.

#11 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:15 AM

It depends on the dancer and it isn't always mirrored by culture. Some very liberated dancers I knew preferred a partner who was very hands-on. Others needed someone to let them do the work and then just come in at the end. Mostly, it depends on how the woman dances. The biggest secret a great female partner has is knowing how to allow the man to do his job. (Trickier than it sounds!)

#12 Helene

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:40 AM

The biggest secret a great female partner has is knowing how to allow the man to do his job. (Trickier than it sounds!)

Joseph Mazo gave an example of this in his book "Dance Is a Contact Sport". In a rehearsal of "Cortege Hongrois", Melissa Hayden's retirement ballet, she and Jacques d'Amboise were attempting a shoulder lift, it wasn't working, and d'Amboise had to ask her to stop "helping" him. Once she stopped, Mazo describes how she sailed right onto his shoulder.

#13 Hans

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:46 AM

That's what I always found--that it depended on the partner rather than the school or company. And Leigh is entirely correct about allowing the man to do his job. Communication is extremely important, which is why pas de deux classes and rehearsals can often get rather chatty--it's necessary to say, "Do you need to be more forward here?" or "Is it easier if I hold your hand like this?" &c.

#14 spiritfire

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 01:52 PM

Major Mel,
When I read this post it brought back wonderful memories of my son's first partnering classes (nicknamed "baby partnering"at CPYB) with Ken Laws, Physics Professor at Dickinson College and author of The Physics of Dance. I think he was 8 or 9 years old. Ken invited the parents in for the final partnering class after the 5 week summer intensive.
I almost bust a gut trying not to laugh out loud!

I was seated next to a stage mom, whose daughter was one of the girls my son was partnering. She made it seem as if they were destined to get married. After I edged my chair away from her, I observed what Mel described as the beginnings of any partnering class - manners and respect. These little ones thought that members of the opposite sex where "yucky". One of the things the partners were to demonstrate was walking with one's partner and presenting her. Many of the young ladies just stormed acrossed the stage not wanting to be anywhere near their partners, some of the young gents were overly serious about their role, trying to corral their partners, ovethers looked clearly bowled over!

I had barely recovered from this exercise when Ken had the class in lines with their partners, girls in front. The girls were instructed to go on releve and the boys were to place their hands on their partner's waist. At this I was almost crying - on releve, many of the girls were taller than their partners - and all you could see was hands on waist! Ken told the girls to "trust their partners" - as they were swaying in the breeze. (One could just see the girls saying to themselves, "Trust HIM! - Ha!"). One was grateful that this is an artform without words.

And now, looking back 10 years later, having seen some of the member of that class grow up, it is wonderful to see that those basic lessons of respect, trust, communication, deportment, are well ingrained.

Thank you for brining to mind some wonderful memories!


Well, I can say that I've done my share!

Partnering skills start very early, when the boys and girls first meet one another. Each must be respectful of the other. This doesn't mean that they have to use etiquette from another age, it means simple respect. The conventions of classroom and stage manners are built to demonstrate that, but if the respect doesn't come from inside the dancers, it's worth nothing.

When partnering lessons start, it is necessary to make sure that the students are self-reliant. You will often hear a pas de deux teacher saying to the girls, "You should be able to do this without him! Forget he's there! Don't depend on him, depend on yourself!" The boys get, "Show her off! See how beautiful she is! Don't lean into her! Stand on your own feet!" and of course, the ever-popular, "If you drop her, I'll KILL you!" The dancers have to learn what it is to execute ballet technique correctly while close to another person. The tutu is good for stand-off, but you're really much closer in some parts of the dance than you are at others. Most pas de deux classes are done in standard practice clothes, no tutus. The dancers have to learn how and when to "put air about themselves" and when and how to step in, and when and how to step back. Only experience will teach these lessons.



#15 carbro

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 02:12 PM

Not every married dancer couple has this quality. . .

I'll second that. With some couples you almost sense they draw a curtain of privacy so as not to draw the audience into their relationship. On the other hand, I had friends who used to track the temperature of the relationship by what they could infer by one couple's on-stage behavior.

And the reverse can be true. I remember one erotically charged performance by a pair of ballet partners who were not an off-stage couple, remarking to a friend that it was hard to imagine them each getting dressed after the performance and going home to their respective spouses.

Heather Watts once said that she thought Balanchine deliberately made her more dependent on her partner -- draping over him a lot -- in Davidsbundlertanze, something that was a stretch for her, but if that was Balanchine's intention, it was an exception in his work.

:off topic: Since Balanchine created roles to expand his dancers' versatility, it is easy to conclude that he wanted Heather to find her submissive side. :flowers:

In a rehearsal of "Cortege Hongrois", Melissa Hayden's retirement ballet, she and Jacques d'Amboise were attempting a shoulder lift, it wasn't working, and d'Amboise had to ask her to stop "helping" him. Once she stopped, Mazo describes how she sailed right onto his shoulder.

This is exactly what happened in a coaching session of Stravinsky Violin Concerto at a Works In Process Program. Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici(?) were having trouble with a particular supported turn. Peter Martins suggested Janie do nothing, and on the next try, it went perfectly!


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