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"Good Feet" The Who's, What's and Why's


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#31 carbro

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Posted 26 June 2009 - 08:09 PM

And yet, and yet ...

Someone (I forget who, sorry) wrote about Ananiashvili's Les Sylphides last week that she had the ability to make you look at what she wanted you to see. I wasn't there, but I do remember seeing Makarova in '76 in Covent Garden. Her planned partner was replaced at the last minute, and she herself was in less than top form, but her feet! Her feet were magnificent! She made me watch them as the rest of her technique was somewhat hit-or-miss (for her). Something was wrong for sure, but the lusciousness of her foot as she rose and descended from pointe, all the work of those feet against the floor, was unforgettable (as I'm writing this over 30 years after the fact).

Just because iczerman hasn't replied doesn't mean s/he hasn't checked in. :wink: I hope that if some of this is too insidery, s/he will not hesitate to request clarification.

#32 vipa

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Posted 26 June 2009 - 08:11 PM

If I walk away from a performance thinking about the arch or beauty of a dancer's foot, I think there is a problem.

But if you walk away thinking about the absence of beauty in a dancer's foot, then the problem gets worse, don't you think...? :wink:


Not for me. If I walk away thinking "what beautiful feet" or "what a lack of instep" the performance is a failure.

#33 Simon G

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 02:37 AM

I'm sorry Carbro, Ami everyone if I seemed tetchy, I wasn't meaning to come off as attack or pre empting you. I just got worried when I saw that this thread was evolving into a rather informed discussion about aesthetics vs functionality, the kind that leaves new comers to ballet baffled and underwhelmed.

Yes, I do agree with all the different tangents this topic took as to feet. There is no one answer. Two of the great ballerinas of the past reknowned for the strength of their feet and what that strength allowed them to do technically, Nerina & Dudinskaya had really no arch to speak of - then feet were something you danced on. Both ballerinas careers were over long before I was born actually, but I've seen films of them.

The thing regarding feet is that the aesthetics have become increasingly prevalant to the point of being a fetish over the past 20 odd years; CubanMiamiBoy mentioned arch enhancers, this ideal for fetishistic perfection leading dancers to surgery, does it enhance the art? Not at all, as you mentioned if a performance rests or falls on the lovliness of an instep then either the performance or the criteria by which one judges it has failed.

But it's why I included Guillem in my "potted" history of ballet/ballerinas and feet. Love her or loathe her she is without doubt the most controversial figure in the history of ballerinas in the last 25 years - not least because the aesthetic ideal her natural physique inspired has arguably become the prototype to which ballerinas aspire to and now try to surpass.

I think the thing to bear in mind when answering questions about feet is that a novice has no idea how important feet are to a dancer (rather banal wording, as if one could dance footless); and to ballerinas especially whose feet through the pointe shoe are daily put through a ritual of pain and rigour unlike any other group of women on earth.

Books, papers, theses, articles, conferences have all been constructed/written about the ballerina and the pointe shoe - from every perspective. Training/gender studies/aesthetics. I remember once reading in a French newspaper an article about Guillem, but it wasn't about her per se, it was an appreciation of her legs and feet; not an appreciation really more of an elegy. Foot strength and technique aside the image of the ballerina's foot in a pointe shoe is an incredibly erotic one -and the greater the arch, the curve, the instep the greater the visceral buzz of pleasure on viewing it as an object of beauty alone. (Sorry have I gone a bit pervy here?)

The thing is if you've ever had a friend who's an ardent feminist who you've tried to convince of the wonderfulness of ballet, the thing she brings up is the "perceived" barbarity of the pointe shoe - this has happened to me twice with friends and in both cases the old chestnut of foot binding in the Orient came up. Of course they are the antithesis of one another - foot binding designed to render a woman immobile, subservient to her husband, a possession; whereas the strength required for pointe work is super human. But in these cases I find it's not helpful when I splutter indignantly about the rubbishness of drawing such a parallel; ignoring the question of feet what my friends are talking about is the perceived generic image of a ballerina being sexless, subservient, a man toy.

Whatever the criteria it can't be denied that beautiful, articulate, high arched feet really are something which can add another level to a ballerina's performance. As superficial as this sounds, the fact remains that debate aside ballet is most definitely an art of aesthetics - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, at all.

#34 bart

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 03:14 AM

It's precisely in the matter of

asthetics vs. use

that non-specialists (like me and many others reading, I'll bet) benefit from such discussions.

Watching Stephanie Saland go from fifth to sur la coup de pied in the "Divertimento No. 15" Dance in America performance is my favorite moment of that DVD. Her placement was so precise -- so classical -- and so different from most NYCB ballerinas.

Will re-watch the video today. Thanks, Helene, for the tip.

If I walk away from a performance thinking about the arch or beauty of a dancer's foot, I think there is a problem.

But if you walk away thinking about the absence of beauty in a dancer's foot, then the problem gets worse, don't you think...? :wink:

Both are true, as the posters suggest. I think that those of us who have a long history as watchers, but are not knowledgeable about the physiology or training aspects, tend to notice "bad" feet but not really appreciate "good" feet. As I mentioned before, people like me -- and there are many of us -- really benefit from this kind of education. I can't wait for the live-performance season to return this fall so that I can pay closer attention.

I hope we have many more such topics. I thank you, icezerman .... wherever you are this morning. :wink:

#35 Simon G

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 06:19 AM

I think that those of us who have a long history as watchers, but are not knowledgeable about the physiology or training aspects, tend to notice "bad" feet but not really appreciate "good" feet. As I mentioned before, people like me -- and there are many of us -- really benefit from this kind of education.




This is the thing Bart, I think that every dancer developes a peculiar and singular relationship with their feet, throughout the course of their training and into professional life.

I had a full training but in my second to last year it hit me that I didn't want to be a dancer, so I left when my training was over, made up for the education I missed and then went to university.

At the start when you're assessed as a child it is on the arch, as purely an aesthetic construct. It also seems that a good arch comes with some degree of hyperextension in the leg and while these qualities are most definitely prized they begin to throw up problems which you have to find ways to counter that straight-legged un-arched feet don't.

Pulling up on the leg is harder, the construction of the leg and and foot constantly want to throw you off balance, likewise it's harder to turn a great deal of the time, feet are uneven surfaces at the best of times and most damagingly the 3/4 pointe which is essential for ballet starts to put a great deal of pressure on the achilles tendon - leading to that bane of dancers spurs.

When I was 16 I started to get pain in my achilles an x-ray confirmed that I had spurs in my ankle (bone growths at the back of the ankle shaped into sharp points) an over arched foot just going through the motions of a tendu places far greater stress on the back of the leg and ankle, just because of the extremity of movement in an arched foot. Also rising to pointe, 3/4 or full also takes the stress on the lower leg to a greater extreme than the straight pull up.

With spurs there are three options, suffer in silence till it's chronic; find a new way to work the foot - hard as ballet is a technique of extremes or surgery which requires nine months of total post op rest. I stopped altogether eventually, not because of the spurs but it was a factor knowing that it was a chronic condition which would only get worse.

For a layman the beautiful arch of a foot is lovely, it's something beautiful to look at to be sure. The mechanics of technique and how it effects the foot and the stress that places on the whole frame is something dancers live with constantly.

#36 bart

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 07:29 AM

Thanks, Simon. That kind of information helps bridge the gap between those who have serious ballet training and those who have not. I have read about the physical assessments of children at the start of their ballet training, but I did not realize how much attention was paid to the arch per se.

At the start when you're assessed as a child it is on the arch, as purely an aesthetic construct. It also seems that a good arch comes with some degree of hyperextension in the leg and while these qualities are most definitely prized they begin to throw up problems which you have to find ways to counter that straight-legged un-arched feet don't.

Pulling up on the leg is harder, the construction of the leg and and foot constantly want to throw you off balance, likewise it's harder to turn a great deal of the time, feet are uneven surfaces at the best of times and most damagingly the 3/4 pointe which is essential for ballet starts to put a great deal of pressure on the achilles tendon - leading to that bane of dancers spurs.

Here we have the elements of "aesthetics" but also of "use." it's interesting and rather sad that the same physiological characteristics that make for a truly classical look may also make the dancer more prone to pain, weakness, and/or injury. Most people in the audience, I would think, haven't the slightest idea about such matters.

As for arches, I love them when the dancers are bare-foot or in ballet slippers. I am more ambivalent about recent trends in extreme arches in pointe shows. "Banana foot" has always seemed to me a perejorative term and one I associate with clunky ballet shoes and arch-enhancers.

I wonder: Are we seeing more and more of this as a result of audience demand (eg: "I LOVE those arches! More! More!") or is this a matter of changing fashions within the dancer community itself (eg: "If I can just push my toes a LITTLE bit further down, I'll be beautiful")?

P.S. Simon, I'm delighted you recognized when enough was enough and that you were able to go on to university and find that there's life beyond ballet school. The time you spent training, and what you learned, is a valuable resource. Thank you for sharing it here.

#37 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 09:38 AM

When I started watching ballet, I didn't quite understand all the buzz about the "banana feet". I also recall that the first time I realized about this was when looking at some younger ballerinas of the Cuban company, for which the usual trend among the older members was the straight instep/leg, and not the S shaped one that now seems to be the norm. If noticed, all the ballerinas that I excerpted in the "Cuban Stars of the 60's, 70's and 80's" threads don't have what it is now considered a "good feet", starting with Mme. Alonso. When I discovered the old Taglioni lithographs, I even came to understood and like more the beauty of the vertical line vs. the curved one, as it resumed the idea of the weightless/suprahuman body who could stand effortlessly on top of a flower
http://www.vandaprin...in/6/313317.jpg
http://fr.wikivisual...ie_Taglioni.jpg
Anyway, one of the things that I enjoy the most in ballerinas-(and I know this can be highly controversial)-is their ability to sustain strong balances with that effortless up straight line, especially if in romantic poses-(Giselle act II, Grand Pas de Quatre, etc...). When a ballerina has mastered this-(and Alonso and her older girls did it to great extent), that's when I enjoy the most the beauty of the whole feet/leg/body. There's nothing that annoys me more than uncontrolled hyper-extended/banana WEAK feet, a la Somova.

In any case, I certainly prefer this...

http://images.google...img...sa=N&um=1

over this...

http://www.ballet.co...rafanov_491.jpg

#38 bart

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 10:19 AM

Monica Mason had great feet, they were so witty, they licked the floor. It's that ACTION that makes feet good.


Monica Mason:

:wink: Mme. Hermine. Unfortunately, MacMillan, the costumer, and the cameraman seem to be more interested in "witty derriere" in this particular video. Perhaps the topic for another thread? :wink:

#39 Hans

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 10:31 AM

Cristian, I am with you re: your last two links. I find Fonteyn's line impeccable.

There is one misconception that I'd like to clear up: a highly arched foot is not always naturally weak. Some are, some are not. An example of a well-arched, strong foot is Alla Sizova.

It is always important for the dancer to perpetually lengthen the leg and foot, a detail that I fear is too often ignored in the modern quest for extremely curved lines.

And finally, when an academy such as RBS or POBS, &c., evaluates a child for admission, the arch is one of many factors considered. Also important are proportions, face, how tall the child is likely to grow, the depth of the pliť, musicality, and coordination.

#40 ami1436

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 10:40 AM

There is one misconception that I'd like to clear up: a highly arched foot is not always naturally weak. Some are, some are not. An example of a well-arched, strong foot is Alla Sizova.


Thanks Hans -- this is what I was trying to say with regard to Rojo, but you are much more articulate here!

#41 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 11:08 AM

Monica Mason had great feet, they were so witty, they licked the floor. It's that ACTION that makes feet good.


Monica Mason:

:wink: Mme. Hermine. Unfortunately, MacMillan, the costumer, and the cameraman seem to be more interested in "witty derriere" in this particular video. Perhaps the topic for another thread? :wink:


:o

alas, though, not many videos of her dancing to be had.

how about this?

http://www.youtube.c...k...FA&index=92

#42 Hans

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 11:58 AM

Thank you for that, Mme. Hermine--I had forgotten Mason was Myrtha in that production. Quite a jump! She is one of the ones who almost makes me forget she is wearing pointe shoes.

Evdokimova's unbelievable footwork (as well as her many other extraordinary qualities) can be seen to advantage here: http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

and here: http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

as well as in several other videos on youtube. She is another one, like Sizova and Rojo, with a very strong, beautiful arch.

#43 bart

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 12:09 PM

Watching Stephanie Saland go from fifth to sur la coup de pied in the "Divertimento No. 15" Dance in America performance is my favorite moment of that DVD.

Helene, is Saland part of the 3rd couple, with Robert Weiss?

I was trying to focus only on the feet, which turns out to be difficult, especially when you are also trying to identify dancers with identical hairsyles and costumes, whom you haven't seen in a long, long time

There's a point in the third section where the ballerina -- who has the fine features I associate with Saland -- is on pointe in fifth and slowly raises her right foot to coup de pied before extending outward leg into developpe a la seconde. I never would have noticed this if you had not called our attention to it. The foot caresses her ankle as it slides -- senusually! truly! -- along on the way to developpe. You and vipa must have extraordinary eyes to have caught this and paid so much attention to it. But, once you see it, it is indeed wonderful.

Note this dancer's feet at the end, too, when the five women are in a line facing the 3 men, one foot extended beautifully, before she pivots and leaves the stage. The way she presents the foot is subtly different from the others on the stage.

By the way, can anyone help with the identification of the women in this piece. I'm guessing (1) Calegari, (2) Pillarre, (3) Saland, (4) Spohn, and (5) Ashley (no guess on that one). But I'm usually wrong in these things. So I would be grateful for correction or confirmation from those who knew these dancers best.

#44 Helene

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 03:21 PM

There's a point in the third section where the ballerina -- who has the fine features I associate with Saland -- is on pointe in fifth and slowly raises her right foot to coup de pied before extending outward leg into developpe a la seconde.

That's it! I should have described it as sur la coup de pied from soussus, not fifth :tiphat:

Note this dancer's feet at the end, too, when the five women are in a line facing the 3 men, one foot extended beautifully, before she pivots and leaves the stage. The way she presents the foot is subtly different from the others on the stage.

She was the most finished dancer I remember in the Company when she danced.

By the way, can anyone help with the identification of the women in this piece. I'm guessing (1) Calegari, (2) Pillarre, (3) Saland, (4) Spohn, and (5) Ashley (no guess on that one). But I'm usually wrong in these things. So I would be grateful for correction or confirmation from those who knew these dancers best.

Unfortunately my DVD is in storage. Perhaps someone with it on hand can confirm, but I think you are right:

Calegari: Kent role. She's a redhead, and I believe the only light-haired dancer among the women.
Pilarre: Hayden role. She was also in the "Emeralds" pas de trois (with Heather Watts and Daniel Duell) in the "Dance in America" series.
Saland: Adams role.
Spohn: Leclerq role. She also dances the First Theme in "4 T's" on the same DVD.
Ashley: Wilde role.

It's also one of the few videos of the late Victor Castelli, one of my favorite NYCB men, who is one of the two male demis.

#45 bart

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 03:32 PM

:tiphat: Thanks, Helene. Calegari hair does show some auburn when the lights hit, but most of the time -- on my video, at least -- it seems as dark as the others'. I like Castellli very much in this. There's a third male in the piece: Tracy Bennett.

Sorry for taking this thread off-track. Any other examples of -- or stories about, or tributes too -- memorably "good feet"? :yahoo:


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