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Contemporary ballet/ballet moderne


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 21 February 1999 - 11:48 PM

Question: what do people feel about so-called "contemporary ballet," "modern ballet," "ballet moderne," "crossover dance," etc.? Nobody's come up with a good name for it, but I'm thinking of either works created by modern dance choreographers for ballet companies OR the hybrid ballets, those that are part ballet technique, but also modern dance. E.G., anything that isn't "classical" or "neoclassical" (Petipa, Ashton, Balanchine, Fokine, Bournonville, etc.)

People usually have strong opinions about this, either loving, or at least generally enjoying the ballets and seeing this as the way ballet will be in the future OR disliking them, or at least not liking them as well as "classical" ballets and worried that this is the way ballet will be in the future. There are, of course, middle grounds.

What say you?

#2 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 22 February 1999 - 09:35 PM

Alexandra, just returned from a trip and much too tired tonight to think straight, but the first thing that came to mind on this is that I am very tired of unitard ballets, and one-act works that are all alike. I have seen so many "contemporary ballets" in recent years that are so much alike that I don't remember any of them.

I know that there have to be some that are really good, but right now I can't think of any except some of the work I saw several years ago by Eddy Toussaint.

#3 Paul W

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Posted 23 February 1999 - 07:35 AM

[Edited by A.T. March 2002: libby made a comment that had to be deleted; we had another new person register called Libby, and the new software can't distinguish between capitals and small letters; the software changed the name on each of libby's posts to Libby. As libby, regrettably, has not posted in more than 2 years, I deleted her user name, and this deleted all her posts.]

I like Libby's response to this question. Though I have the opportunity to see more and more contemporary dance, I still prefer the classical story ballets, especially the romantic ones like Giselle. However I do like some of the contemporary dance I've seen. The performances of Ballet British Columbia which I saw recently seem to fall in Alexandra's category definition. I loved this company's work. Mark Godden's "Conversation Piece" really impressed me.

On the other hand I don't usually connect emotionally with most contemporary dance, many times because I can't see how the dance movements connect with the music. I also dislike the "angst" that seems to be a prerequisite of much modern dance. I just saw the Doug Elkins Dance Company do a set of pieces. Dancing may have been skillful, it was much further from classical style than other contemporary dance I've seen, but again the music seemed to clash with the movement in most pieces. An example, "Center My Heart" was danced to Nusral Fateh Ali Khan, but I couldn't make it make sense to me. After many years in Asia, my automatic reaction to this great music is a completely different dance movement than what I saw with the contemporary company.

Still, the dancers with contemporary dance companies are most amazing in how they control their bodies. When I see a piece of this nature with music that hits chords in my soul then I really enjoy it.

#4 Giannina

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Posted 23 February 1999 - 10:10 AM

I've been thinking about this question for 2 days, wondering why my love of ballet revolves around point work and the dancing rules of classical ballet. The answer is because that's what I was taught (in my ballet classes) and that's what I understand; I even know what it feels like to dance ballet. I know nothing about modern dance and therefore cannot tell if what I'm seeing is good or bad. The only not-on-point ballets I can think of that I like are "Fancy Free" and "Green Table". I don't like Tharp or Forsythe even though their ballets are on point; they break too many "rules". I know this attitude severely limits me but I'm stuck with it.

Giannina

#5 cargill

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Posted 23 February 1999 - 02:25 PM

Basically, of course, there are two kinds of ballet--good and bad. And I hope I have the taste and experience to like the good--though as one who came very late to Balanchine, after several years of really trying, I know my judgement isn't infallible. In a sense, the fact that "ballet moderne" brings up a fairly specific image--unitards, extensions, blank or sullen expressions, dark surroundings, and usually Mahleresque or minimalistic music, means to my mind that not much new is really happening. The thing that mostly bothers me about those types of ballets is the limited technique--no upper body, no petit allegro, no characterization. All that movement means dancers don't have to learn to hold the audience's attention just by standing on the stage. But of course, tutus and stories aren't automatically the answer--one of the worst ballets of all time is The Snow Maiden.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 24 February 1999 - 08:51 PM

Welcome, Libby, and thanks all -- lots of good answers and interesting points.

I wholeheartedly second Mary's answer. There are some ballet moderne works that I've enjoyed while I was watching them, though I, like Victoria, don't remember them very clearly, Mary points out a lot of the reasons why. I'd add that, for the most part, there are few, sometimes no, steps in them. Just jump, jump, turn, turn, roll on the floor, up and extend. Over and over and over. I can't think of a single work in this category that I'd judge great, and if I read one more promotional blurb about a company whose repertory "goes to the cutting edge, standing classicism on its ear" I will scream. I think what I resent about most of the choreographers of this genre is that they pose as avant-gardists. A suspicion I'd long harbored -- that ballet moderne was much easier to choreograph than works requiring a classical vocabulary -- was confirmed when, in a discussion with a young choreographer who was appalled at the notion that he choreograph a classical ballet because he was "contemporary," the young man mumbled, "Well, classical ballet is harder to do." Aha!
I think anyone who loves classical or neoclassical ballet would kill for a 21st century "Swan Lake" and can't wait for the next Balanchine; it isn't a fear of the new and a clinging to the old.

Libby, you're right. I, too, read all the time statements by company directors that say they don't want their companies to be a museum and to me, that's one of the things that sounds good until you examine it. Can you imagine the Louvre throwing out all their masterpieces to make room for new work? And then judging that work as preferable simply because it's new? I agree, though, that ballet has to be renewed and everyone, dancers and audience, need new works. I just worry when "new" is beginning to be defined as "modern dance" or, in some cases, anti-classical.

Paul, I think your point about the music is a key. Anyone who is sensitive to music will like or dislike ballets depending on whether we like or dislike the music AND how well, or ill, a choreographer uses that music. It also depends on what you've seen. I remember I once liked Glen Tetley's "Voluntaries" Why do they always pick on this one? I'd ask. And then, after watching Balanchine for ten years, I saw "Voluntaries" again and could hardly stand to watch it. When the organ swells, he has them do lifts. That's the extent of the musicality.

Giannina, we do like what we're used to and know something about. I'd add that one of the things people who dislike ballet moderne -- or, at least, a predominance of ballet moderne in a ballet company's repertory -- is that it can cause the dancers' classical technique to become sloppy. One of the "avant garde" cliches is that rules are there to be broken. Good Lord if you want to be modern, you can't have rules, now, can you! I've watched rehearsals where a dancer is scolded for being "too classical." "You're not in the classroom any more, dear," said the producer, wanting the dancer to do two fast pirouettes and hell with the form.

Libby, this issue probably isn't a big deal to most people in the audience, because you'll either like it or you won't, but for those who really like classical ballet, it's worrisome that these works have stopped being novelties, supplementing the classics, and are becoming, in some repertories, the main dish.

Alexandra - who offers these comments to keep the discussion going, please!

#7 Paul W

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Posted 24 February 1999 - 10:44 PM

Two things that came up in comments above; lifts and sur-les-pointes. Much of modern dance, even if it has some elements of classical style, seems to be pre-occupied with so many repeated lifts and paired movements. The dance is more of a gymnastic exercise and involves more movement like what we see in pairs figure-skating, without the swift motion that ice allows. This doesn't give much opportunity for watching an individual dancer's body movements in isolation. I guess I do prefer seeing a female dancer on point, because it creates an impression (for me) of the dancer being more than a mere mortal, floating and ethereal. The classical jumps of male dancers are also ethereal and graceful; there doesn't seem to be much use of this type of powerful grace in modern works. I miss that.

Lugo, I'd like to hear a little more detail about what you would envision for combining jazz/modern/ballet in a classical style in longer length story ballet presentations. Sounds interesting.

#8 Guest_Lugo_*

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Posted 01 March 1999 - 05:58 PM

Hi Paul - i didn't want you to think i was ignoring your post - but the ideas i have are quite specific re: storylines based on legends, myths, etc. and i really want to keep them private for now....*S*

Just that i would love to see the old format of a 2-3 act ballet - but combine the movements of modern and jazz with ballet on pointe - Twyla has done this to some extent, and i believe Nikolai Kabaniev with the Diablo ballet is doing these "mixed" movements on pointe - but with a limited
number of dancers to work with.. also, joffrey and other companies do this "mixed" choreogrphy but most are done in limited modern format - shorter works etc. So,
just hoping we can see some full length works
sometime in the near future with the "story-telling" in a classical format. ok....nuff said....ALoha

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 01 March 1999 - 07:03 PM

I'll chime in on this one. I don't think "classical form" can be divorced from "classical technique" or "classical style," and so, while mixing jazz, etc., to produce a two or three-act dance piece could certainly be done, it would not be a ballet.

I also don't think that you need jazz, or popular dance styles, to be contemporary.

alexandra

#10 Guest_Lugo_*

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Posted 01 March 1999 - 07:46 PM

I agree alexandra - I meant classical format - not form - I just think that ballet en pointe with the classical technique and training - should be the emphasis - however, i love some of the movements in modern and jazz and can "see" how it could be combined into a beautiful form of contemporary dance - I term it "ballet" - because the dancers would be ballet dancers en pointe - not modern or jazz dancers with limited ballet technique. But, yes it would be contemporary dance. However, modern dance is really what i think of as contemporary dance - and i haven't seen very many modern companies - with the exception of Paul Taylor and maybe one or two others - that i really enjoy. However I love seeing more contemporary work combining movements of jazz/etc. on a ballet company such as ABT or Joffrey, etc.
just to clarify what i am 'picturing" in my minds eye, so to speak. *S* (i beleive Petipa and many choreographers combined different "styles" of dance - (e.g. Le Corsaire Act I scene 2 at the slave market... Nureyev also combined quite a bit of Theatre dance into his work...Ashton and MacMillan also used inovative choreography which were ahead of their time).
Aloha


[This message has been edited by Lugo (edited 03-01-99).]

#11 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 March 1999 - 01:59 AM

Alexandra -

I recall some trenchant observations you made on the subject once before on a.a.b. where you said that works from someone with a classical background tended to look classical no matter where they wandered, while works frm someone with an "eclectic" background tended to look eclectic no matter how hard they tried. I'm sure there are exceptions, but it's also often quite true.

However, in defense of ballet moderne, there are things I'd love to see ballet learn from contemporary choreographers; most especially a more thoughtful process of choreography. We can't go on much longer just putting steps together and calling it abstract. There's got to be some intellectual force behind it. What I'd rather we didn't borrow is the sort of heated up sensation that modern ballet seems to subsist on nowadays. I really prefer not to see another violent vision of the apocalypse in toe shoes.

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 1999 - 11:40 AM

Of course quality matters most, and I honor choreographers like Graham and Taylor; I don't want them to be ballet.

And no one I know who loves ballet wants a new choreographer to produce something that looks like Petipa, Balanchine or Ashton. That's one of the things that's always thrown out by defenders of ballet moderne as true ballet, and I find it a bit upsetting, because it's knocking down a straw man; we never say we want imitations. In fact, we say over and over and over that we don't want imitations. I don't think those [ballet modern, i.e., Tetley, Forsythe, et al. vs. Sons of Balanchine] are the only two choices.

If the Forsythe dancers "reject" the notion that what they do is not ballet, too bad. As someone wrote on alt.arts.ballet when this subject was discussed a few months ago, you can make roller skates and call them ear muffs if you want, but they won't keep your ears warm.

I would argue quite passionately that Forsythe and the many, many choreographers like him are not making ballet. Every modern dance company's dancers (at least, those in America) I know of takes ballet class now. That does not make their companies ballet companies. Ballet is a vocabulary, but it is also an aesthetic. Putting the women on pointe and using a few ballet steps here or there does not make something a ballet.

Does what something is called matter? I think yes, because without distinctions established and maintained, ballet will be subsumed into some general mishmash called dance. It may be interesting and exciting to watch and it may be fine as a novelty, but when it becomes the main dish, then what we think of as ballet will no longer be so.

What I've never understood is why the avant-gardist choreographers, who practically spit on ballet in everything they say (I'm not bound by rules, I go beyond classicism, etc.), are is anxious to be considered ballet choreographers?

What's interesting to me about this argument is that it happens only in dance. Skat singers don't go around saying they do opera. Opera and musical comedy remain distinct genres, even in America. Classical theater, Broadway and off-Broadway have specific connotations; the kind of fare offered is instantly understood when so categorized. But in dance, we're supposed to be above categories; they don't matter. And that I don't understand.

Anybody have any theories, pro or con?

alexandra

#13 Giannina

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Posted 02 March 1999 - 11:53 AM

Alexandra...that was a wonderful post!

Giannina

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 1999 - 07:41 PM

Thanks, Giannina, for your kind words, but I'd also like your opinions!

Actually, since this issue is, I think, one of the central ones in ballet right now and because there are so many side of the argument -- and because I don't have a pressing deadline tonight -- I'm going to post about several aspects of the issue. Hope people will join in --

This thread has gotten too long; it loads very slowly. So please post replies on the new threads that I'm about to post.

Thanks, all.

alexandra


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