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What do you need to know?


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#1 SanderO

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 04:43 AM

I was thinking about: What does one actually need to know to appreciate ballet? There is no doubt in my mind that the more one knows about a topic, the deeper one's appreciation, the more subtlety and nuance one is open to, the richer the experience. Whether we speak of Skiing, or sailing, or guitars or ballet we can enjoy these "things" with very little specific "technical" knowledge because of the big broad overarching qualities that reach almost anyone who has 5 senses.

Ballet Talk has been a learning lab for me, as I have no background in dance and came to it because of my initial curiosity and a general attraction to the arts and artists. The discussions here have informed me, drawn me into see things about ballet that I never would have, have given a more enjoyment and insight of what is going on. I am far, far, far away from an expert, as I have no practical experience as many on BT do (thanks so much to each and every one of them), but what are the steps or levels of knowledge of the art that "we", the general public, need to have, before we begin to really get what this wonderful art form is? Can this even be identified? How do John Q and Jane Q get this bump up in awareness?

I would like to hear the opinions of both those who have been involved professionally with ballet, and those who have never been in a studio or involved in a production.

#2 bart

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 12:27 PM

This is such an interesting set of questions. Llike you, SanderO, I've learned so much on Ballet Talk -- "things" that I had only dimly been aware of even after several decades of very frequent ballet attendance.

I hope you'll get many responses to your post. In my own case, the process of learning -- especially about technical matters -- was rather disorderly.

First came the fascination and the desire to see more. I can still visualize quite vividly certain passages, and remember the feelings that certain dancers evoked, from my earliest experiences as an audience member decades ago. I knew very little, except that it mesmerised and deeply satisfied me.

But at first I kept forgetting what I'd seen. So I had to learn how to PAY ATTENTION at performances. Researching a ballet before I go is helpful to set the context. Then: notice the steps or combinations that really thrill you, and how they fit into the ballet. These may not be the parts of the ballet that are most important to the experts. I found I had to start with what moved me personally.

As time went on, I began experiencing performances very differently. I wanted to know what these steps were called, how they were performed in isolation and in combination. I found myself turning to Gretchen Ward Warren's book Classical Ballet Technique, to Robert Greskovic's [rg's) book Ballet 101, and to the "Dictionary" section of the ABT website, which illustrates most terms with brief video clips.

"What do you need to know" includes DOING as well as thinking. One afternoon I found myself trying to duplicate a couple of of the simpler steps and combinations in front of a mirror. And then ... doing them WITHOUT the mirror, to get to know what they felt like.

This led me to a Beginners Class at the School of our local ballet company. I was by far the oldest beginner they'd ever seen, but they were kind. After a year or so, I realized I "knew" things in my body that I could never, and still can't, express in words. Sseeing performance is completely different as a result. And incredibly more interesting and rewarding.

So it's probably not WHAT you know, in the sense of content, as much as how you go about acquiring different kinds of knowledge. For me it's been a matter of:
(a) going to as many ballet performances as you can and paying attention,
(b) learning the terms and how to identify the steps and combinations,
and DOING your own version of ballet, making it a part of your non-cognitive thinking, including your muscle memory.

But, then ... everybody will probably have his or her own way of going about this. :wub:

#3 innopac

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Posted 26 January 2009 - 04:43 PM

Reading ballet histories and biographies is really helping me. Understanding more about the social context of the time and about the lives/personalities of dancers gives me great pleasure.

#4 whetherwax

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 02:48 PM

I came to ballet on a similar trajectory to that of Bart ( the lessons were abandoned after the knee joints gave out). I was seduced by Mia Slavenka hopping backwards on her toe in the film Ballet Russes. I think it important for newcomers to learn some of the steps so that you can reflect on different dancers abilities. The books Bart mentions have been invaluable to me and I agree totally with Innopac as to their value. I enjoy the music but have not had my pleasure lessened by the fact that I dont know much about it. The fact that the music for Manon doesnt feature that from the opera by Massenet is but a passing fact to note. A good collection of DVDs has been invaluable for me because I can replay them and I do value the fact that i have several of the same ballet by different companies. That for example allows me to enjoy Zakarova's dancing in Giselle but hate her acting, and indeed to MUCH prefer the overall presentation of the Australian ballet DVD of Giselle with Christine Walsh for it's overall emotion. Watch lots!!!


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