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Graham TechniqueOnly True Modern Dance Technique?


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#1 miliosr

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Posted 15 May 2009 - 04:16 PM

http://www.artsjourn..._of_atreus.html

In her recent review of the Graham company's performance of Clytemnestra, Tobi Tobias makes the rather bold claim that Graham technique, "is the only Western dance technique apart from classical ballet capable of training a dancer fully to professional capability." Is this really true? The techniques of Merce Cunningham, Lester Horton and Doris Humphrey-Jose Limon don't do this??

#2 Amy Reusch

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Posted 15 May 2009 - 07:33 PM

That's a bit much.

#3 Simon G

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 02:14 AM

I actually think that there's a great deal of truth in that statement.

#4 miliosr

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 05:16 AM

Um, anyone care to elaborate?

#5 sandik

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 01:06 PM

I remember this was a big topic of conversation in the late 70s and early 80s. It has to do (at least partially) with the original position that modern dance pioneers held, that they were diametrically opposed to ballet, and that their work owed nothing to that dance form except the inspiration to rebel against it (the fact that they were formed in reaction to something, thereby becoming a kind of polar opposite, didn't really come up)

One of the goals of modern dance was to create a whole cloth, to make a philosophy, a grammar, a vocabulary and a set of works that reflected and utilized all those elements. (Helen Tamiris was always considered a bit suspect, because she'd studied with Fokine alongside her other work.) I think at the beginning the work that Humphrey and Weidman did was as cleanly developed as Graham's, and indeed the philosophical and anatomical underpinnings were more comprehensive, but as Graham continued to make work long after Humphrey stopped the Graham technique became more widely known. Limon did continue to develop the materials he originally learned from Humphrey and Weidman, but didn't achieve quite the same level of fame/acclaim. Graham's potency as a dancer reinforced the sense of mission surrounding everything she did, as did her collaborations with other artists.

I can't really prove or disprove Tobias' assertion -- historically there were many dancers who became professionals through training in a single style without the addition of ballet, but that doesn't really apply in the contemporary world. I can't think of a single performer today who hasn't 'cross-trained' (in terms of dance styles), either in combining different modern disciplines or by including a large helping of ballet in their schooling.

(and this doesn't even touch on the current use of non-dance physical training like Alexander, Pilates, Gyrotonics, etc...)

The 'purity' element that I find more potent right now is that of performing itself -- how does the addition of these other practices influence the accuracy of the works they are dancing. Is Lamentation different today because the performer has been doing Pilates as well as Graham technique?

#6 miliosr

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 05:38 PM

Thank you for that reasoned response, sandik.

I chuckled at your reference to modern techniques being the polar opposites to classical ballet technique. I forget where I read it but there's a story of Antony Tudor observing one of Jose Limon's technique classes at Juilliard and at the end of it saying to Limon, "Jose, you took everything we tell ballet students not to do and made a technique out of it!" Apparently, Limon laughed and said, "You know -- you're right!"

I agree with you that Tobias is referring to a phenomenon (dancers training in only one technique) that is rare-to-non-existent, even among ballet dancers. Any dancer coming out of the Juilliard School, SUNY-Purchase or the Boston Conservatory will almost certainly have been exposed to Cunningham, Graham, Limon, ballet and who knows what else.

The "purity" issue is something Erick Hawkins complained about when Martha Hill instituted cross-disciplinary study at Juilliard and, more recently, Bruce Marks has suggested that maybe this trend has gone too far. From close observation of the Limon company over the last five years, I can say that they do look different in the way they move as compared to Limon and his original company members -- greater flexibility but, counterintuitively, less expressive (or Expressive) bodies.

#7 Arizona Native

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 06:18 PM

Yes, Sandik, seeing Natalia Magnicaballi last week week in Balanchine's "Violin Concerto," I thought -- "Martha Graham should see this!" Ms. Magnicaballi's contractions were worthy of Graham Company dancers. Ballet dancers are certainly no longer "complete" without significant modern study -- but *whose* modern? Recently, when my own children had a modern class added to their cirriculum, it was interesting that the studio attached no named method to it, which I thought rather odd. While there has been cross pollination, surely significant differences still exist. Or, perhaps it is like much ballet instruction, with the "American" style being a matter of combining aspects of different methodologies and stylistic elements, with a particular studio leaning towards one named style than another?

#8 Quiggin

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 08:44 PM

...seeing Natalia Magnicaballi last week week in Balanchine's "Violin Concerto," I thought -- "Martha Graham should see this!" Ms. Magnicaballi's contractions were worthy of Graham Company dancers.


Lynn Garafola told a story here in San Francisco--I hope I am getting it right--she got from a dancer she interviewed. The dancer was doing some Graham technique exercises when Balanchine walked in. Balanchine was curious about them and asked where she had learned them. The dancer said in a Graham class. They apparently became the basis--at least in part--of the birthing movements done by Leto in the long version of Apollo.

#9 Simon G

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 03:03 AM

...seeing Natalia Magnicaballi last week week in Balanchine's "Violin Concerto," I thought -- "Martha Graham should see this!" Ms. Magnicaballi's contractions were worthy of Graham Company dancers.


Lynn Garafola told a story here in San Francisco--I hope I am getting it right--she got from a dancer she interviewed. The dancer was doing some Graham technique exercises when Balanchine walked in. Balanchine was curious about them and asked where she had learned them. The dancer said in a Graham class. They apparently became the basis--at least in part--of the birthing movements done by Leto in the long version of Apollo.


Quiggin,

That does not sound right at all. The long version is the original version with Leto, the birth of Apollo and the ascendency up Mount Parnassus which premiered in Paris in 1928.

At that stage of her development Graham was very much in New York working with a select group of young women who had no training outside of modern, dalcroze or Denishawn in her own small studio in New York and giving sporadic concerts, the majority of which were small minutaie.

Balanchine was not known at that time was choreographer for the Ballets Russes and none of the ballerinas (Sophie Orlova danced Leto, BTW) or dancers had any interest in the completely unknown nascent contemporary dance, nor I dare say, would Diaghilev have allowed them to work with a total "novice" in a completely alien form, even if they had.

Yes, later on once Balanchine had become established within NY and the NYCB there was a cross pollination or rather tentative borrowing and studying between Graham and ballet and Balanchine and contemporary modernism, but in 1928, no.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 04:03 AM

One of the problems in the original article is the topic sentence containing a sweeping generality of a rather exclusive sort. One exception busts the validity of the statement. The topic sentence is built to be a "hook", in order to drag people into reading the rest of the article, but I can envision a whole host of the students of the students of Rudolf Laban, cocking their eyes and saying, "What do you mean by that?"

#11 Quiggin

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 10:15 AM

That does not sound right at all. The long version is the original version with Leto, the birth of Apollo and the ascendency up Mount Parnassus which premiered in Paris in 1928.


Simon,
My sense is that it was in constant rehab--and the Graham version may have been different than one done for the Ballet Russes. In an early review there is a description of Apollo being tossed on the feet of the muses just before a curtain falls--which may have been a parallel to the swimming lesson and even more difficult to bring off.

Apollo could have possibly have a been retuned when it was presented along with the first performances of Agon. That's when the New York Times critic, John Martin, who had for years thrown verbal darts at Apollo, finally saw all sorts of wonderfulness in it.

#12 Paul Parish

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 01:27 PM

Well, one hears different things, but there was a certain amount of crossover way back when. it's kinda big in Pilates lore that both Graham and Balanchine came into contact with Pilates quite early on and incorporated Pilates into their work The older style of Pilates was very contracted --

Balanchine and Graham did do a ballet together, too, and traded dancers. That's when Lincoln Kirstein started calling Paul Taylor "Geek" and kept trying to get him to switch companies.

And there's the famous story about Graham seeing Serenade, and when hte girls turned out to first position, tears sprang to her eyes.

#13 volcanohunter

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 05:14 PM

As sandik mentioned, it's very rare to find a modern dancer who hasn't been cross-trained. I'd taken years of ballet, character and jazz dance classes before I ever stepped into a modern class. When I was working as a modern dancer, I continued to take ballet class four times a week and supplemented my classes with Pilates. I don't think this is atypical.

I only encountered a preoccupation with purity from one ballet teacher who objected to non-dance training as unnecessary.


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