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How do dancers keep their spatial alignment?


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18 replies to this topic

#1 innopac

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 11:59 PM

How do dancers keep their spatial alignment when they are in rows on either side of the stage and then they approach and continue through the other rank without the dancers bumping into one another? Are there any aids and visual cues to help them that the audience is not aware of?

Probably one of the most spectacular example of this is when the men with the spears go full out through the other row of dancers in the dvd of Pharaoh's Daughter. They don't seem to look or position themselves beforehand.

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 04:38 AM

That's actually an old trick, drawn from military reviews where a regiment would draw itself up into two opposed battalions and they would charge one another with fixed bayonets. They would pass one another by the soldiers facing half-right as they ran and met, passing through the scant intervals created thereby.

There's a rule in stagecraft: If you are crossing from stage left to stage right, you pass in front of an oncoming person moving in the opposite direction, unless directed otherwise.

#3 vrsfanatic

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 08:00 AM

Spacial awareness begins in early schooling. Children are set up in symetrical lines and taught the basic positions of the body . These positions of the body will enable them to move maintaining their personal line and lines in a ballet for the rest of their life as dancers. Spacial awareness is taught at first without traveling and then with traveling added. Each traveling movement in ballet has a "spacial awareness". Students are trained to move in groups and recognize early on that if they do not keep their spacing, they may not fit within the given space. Later, when learning corps de ballet work/repetoire the students are taught about spacing. Generally the width of the space is divided into 1/4s but sometimes 1/8s. They are taught to move sideways according to the spacial markings. When onstage, the legs of the wings and lighting booms are used as depth markings, but in a room, students must use a clock, a line on a door, a bracket to a barre or a thermostat for example to figure out the depth. Flooring depth is also a big help. Much spacing is done according to marley width. Students are also taught that they must see, feel, hear and smell the dancers around them. They learn to use their senses when moving not just their bodies. Eventually bits and pieces of scenery can become reference points as well. Eventually it becomes second nature, but learning the ropes as a student is a tremendous amount of work for the student and the teachers alike.

#4 innopac

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:31 AM

Thanks to you both.

I still can't get over how wonderful ballettalk is... you are all so generous with your time and knowledge...

#5 bart

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:34 AM

Fascinating question, and interesting answers to far. More, please!!!

I've observed a number of rehearsals over the years which amounted to "blocking rehearsals." There was much talk of "diagonals" and "red"-or-"green" bits of tape. Not to mention the parallel lines on the floor which I think is what vrsfanatic was talking about when she mentioned "marley width."

However, it seemed to me that this could not be enough when complicated maneurvers involving lines crossing through one another, etc., were required. Also, spacing in circle dances. There, it seemed to boil down to practice, practice, practice.

#6 vrsfanatic

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 12:47 PM

Actually bart, having staged Giselle (I refer to Giselle because of your post on the partnering thread), Bayadere, Paquita, and most of the classical repertoire on students and on a professional company, the stage markings should help tremendously in crossing of lines in any direction. As for circles they are also set according to logical geometric patterns with numbers of people dividing the space. If the rules of symmetry are not being observed, it could boil down to the person running the rehearsal not paying enough attention to getting it done. It is always possible in classical work and in contemporary work, well it depends what the choreographer wants. Some like symmetry and some do not. :off topic:

#7 bart

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 02:06 PM

Thanks for that explanation, vrsfanatic. You've helped me to understand what I saw, but was unable to understand.

I do remember being astonished when I realized, during the Dance of the Snowflakes, that the process had actually WORKED. :off topic:

#8 LiLing

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 10:40 PM

I think the hardest thing new company members struggle with is spacing in relation to others, that is keeping the correct distance between themselves and the body in front, or beside them while traveling. This gets easier with experience. Experienced dancers can usually handle going into an unfamiliar spot, or the adjustments to stages of different sizes and proportions on tour easily, and can make instant adjustments when something goes wrong. According to Gardner's theory on spatial intelligence, this could be considered a component of dance talent.

#9 Paul Parish

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 12:20 AM

Of course it is a VERY difficult thing, how corps members keep their spacing -- it is even hard for principals, it there is a lot of tape on the floor. A Princioal at San Francisco Ballet told me that it was VERY hard in Yuri Possokhov's "reflections," to do the slides on toe across the stage because of the tape markers -- the move requires the dancer to slide on pointe a lot like Gene Kelly slid would slide, in plie across a stage that had many many markings in diffferent colors of tape, which were all there for spatial reference for the whole company. The slides required clear sailing, but the tapes were there for good and were sticky and protuberant enough to catch the dancer's pointe-shoe box and knock the dancer off-pointe..

Which makes me think of a VERY fundamental issue -- namely, that spatial awareness is taught at an even more fundamental level than vrsfanatic mentioned -- those who begin ballet as adults (as I did) are IMMEDIATELY struck by the clarifying effect of working "en croix."

Ballet training itself beginning at the barre sets one up to know where front side and back ARE -- with both heels down, feet in first position, your own body is divided exactly in half, with nose, chin breast bone, pubic bone, and spine in the middle and everything else symmetrically disposed bilaterally. Same thing in Second -- from there it gets more complicated, but the GREAT miracle of fifth position is that with one foot in front of the otherheel to toe, heel to toe, when you start tto tendu you know from deep inside where front is, where back is -- and if you get vague on it, your teacher will correct you -- "tendu in front of your nose, and behind your bun." Same thing with grand battements. Teachers really do say that all the time.

It's Cartesian geometry with a person surrounding it -- you've got an x-axis and a y-axis on the ground, and a z-axis coming from your feet up to your head. Many years of training develop the inner awareness of this geometry and its ramifications -- and not in a vacuum, for even as the inner awareness is being cultivated the external awareness must also, so you can see where everyone is and "feel their bubbles" and don't broadcast bad vibes or move too big for the neighbors (or too small).

The geometry of travelling is an extension of that -- for one thing, you trust that other people will know where THEY are and where they are going, so even if everybody is making an about-face at the same time, that you'll all sitll know where you are, and that you'll all be able to do it on the beat (i.e., at the same time) and keep going in a measured orderly way.

.....................
On a separate note, has anybody else noticed how the Bolshoi video of Paquita shows an immaculately clean floor? no tape strips, NO spiking lines, it's a glorious caramel-colored expanse of CLEAN FLOOR and the dancers look like tea-cups moving around on it.... HOW do those dancers know where they are?

#10 Gina Ness

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 02:45 AM

The marley flooring has to be taped together. It usually doesn't present that much of a problem for sliding unless the tape is old and worn. There are usually only center, quarter, and maybe eighth markings on the stage. The center marking may be from downstage to upstage, but the quarter and eighth markings are usually just at the front of the stage. Dancers become accustomed to rehearsing using these symmetrical guidelines. When they arrive on the stage, there are "tech" rehearsals to work out the spacing according to these guidelines and the information given by Mel and vrsfanatic. It takes a lot of rehearsal and experience to keep this spatial alignment. As a teacher now, a couple of weeks before our student performances, I turn the rehearsal around and make the dancers face the opposite wall (with no mirror!). Usually, the kids have a little trouble the first run through (especially the younger ones). It is important for the students to not be always looking in the mirror. They take visual spacial and choreographic cues from the mirror! They won't have that mirror during performance...

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 04:41 AM

Right, experienced dancers coming onto a new stage are a lot like professional surveyors coming onto a new lot. They can eyeball the place and come up with a pretty fair idea of what the spacing is for which part of the show. This skill is called "coup d'oeil".

#12 vrsfanatic

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 05:14 AM

I am not aware of spacing for the Bolshoi stage, but in Vaganova Academy they do not use stage markings at all. There may be a member who can discuss the Mariinsky stage from first hand experience, my information is second hand only. The Vaganova method is very specific about spacing and movement in the classroom and since the children are doing stage work from the age of 10 they develop what is known as "stage sense" at very young ages.

The largest studio in the Academy, known as Rep Zal, is where they do much of the rehearsing for stage work. The room is easily divided without making the floor. Students may use mirrors, barres, windows as division markers, for keeping lines, however the students all move in the same way from a very young age. They all use the same directions and lines. Each step they do is done is the same way. Spacing is considered part of the technique of ballet.

Just a guess, but I would think it is similar in all Russian ballet schools and companies.

#13 MJ

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Posted 20 January 2009 - 06:12 PM

!st thing, lots and lots of rehearsals burn into your mind where you should be.

I was recently in the fight scene in Romeo, I could tell how close a dancer was behind me by peripheral vision and hear the swords behind me.

#14 diane

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 03:28 AM

None of the stages I have danced on had markings on them, either. We used to use the conductor as "downstage-centre", and took it from there. (oh, now that I think back, I _think_ that sometimes there was a tiny, white "x" in the very centre of the stage...)

It is so true that one has to start early with this in teaching spatial awareness!
The whole concept of where one's body is in the space around takes time to internalise.

-d-

#15 bart

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 06:33 AM

Diane writes:

The whole concept of where one's body is in the space around takes time to inernalise.


That makes sense. But I would imagine that this was a kind of specialized skill. You can certainly observe this in operation in places like a major underground metro or subway system, or all sorts of complex urban crowd situations. Some do it brilliantly, weaving in and out, moving quickly and efficiently, never bumping, always going with the flow. I'm one of these, thank goodness. Others -- including several friends -- never seem to manage to adapt to it even after decades of having to try.

I can visualize (perhaps erroneously) student dancers who are technically tremendously gifted but who have great difficulty in placing themselves, while moving, in relation to others. Conversely, I can visualize student dancers who are great at this kind of placement -- and have a good sense of context and relation to others -- but are not as technically proficient in other aspects of dance.

Another way of looking at this might be to ask: Are there some people who are natural ensemble dancers -- and others who are not?

Edited to add: Innopac's initial post mentioned spear-carriers in Pharoah's Daughter. It's not only a matter of where they stand; it's the angle at which they carry their spears. The Russians on stage are particularly good at this kind of thing with armaments, etc. Americans and Brits seem to be particularly lackadaisical.


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