Lucy Johns

Did William Forsythe Invent The Modern Ballerina?

41 posts in this topic

To assist readers in recalling Lucy's original topic, here is the relevant Q&A from Sulcas's interview. I've added the bold type.:

RS: In a recent interview that I did with [New York City Ballet principal dancer] Wendy Whelan, she commented that you had invented the modern ballerina. Do you think that’s true?

WF: I think Balanchine did that, but it’s true that in my work, both the man and the woman have equal say in the dynamics or contributions to a pas de deux or any action that they shared. In In the Middle, for example, they are testing the limits of their cooperation as much as anything. It’s not just about support; it’s about enabling something that couldn’t happen alone. Those off-balance moves of the pas de deux couldn’t be sustained without the entirety of their physique – it’s a complex physical construction.

Exactly how "modern" -- in the sense of innovative -- IS this?

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bart, I thought Mel had brought us back to the original question, which is, "Did William Forsythe Invent the Modern Ballerina?" and offered another candidate :o

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You're right about Mel bringing us back. But, to be honest, I discovered that I had forgotten the original text :o , so I thought it might help to have it repeated. It's an intriguing question, because it makes us think about what "modern" means in this context, both as to choreography and as to individual dancers.

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Or do we define "modern ballerina" very narrowly to mean a female wearing minimal clothing and stretching and twisting the limbs? (There are some choreographers who do se "Agon" as the beginning of contemporary ballet and toss out everything else.

While I don't believe that everything that Balanchine choreographed after "Agon" was a crowd-pleaser -- he did choreograph "Episodes" later, after all :o -- to me "Agon" is the clean geometry of Diana Adams' performance in the kinescope, and I don't think the bendy-twisty interpretations that came afterwards extended the modern ballerina any more than I think today's 180 degree extensions have extended the classical ballerina.

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My belief still rests firmly with Nijinska. From her acrobatic interpolations into Sleeping Beauty pas de deux to her material for the Bride in "Les Noces" to the material for the Hostess and the "Garçonne" in "Les Biches" and on into more minor ballets like "Constantia", she brought the off-kilter, but still classically-based to female leads in ballet.

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As Ray noted earlier in the thread, 'Did William Forsythe Invent the Modern Ballerina' was the title given the interview, not a very helpful one, as Ray also noted. The interview does bring up a variety of aesthetic questions, worth exploring. (Lucy Johns may well have intended to ask the question as she gave the same title to the topic, but it's hard to say.)

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I wondered where Lucy had gone -- this was her first post, and it's just a link to an article. If you're around, Lucy, please give us your take on it!

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If Forsythe really is the creator of the modern ballerina, wouldn't that make Sylvie Guillem the most modern ballerina. Guillem radically updated the ballerina's image, in my opinion, more so then any other dancer before, so much so that even now we can see her legacy on the stage: Bussell, Zakharova, Letestu, Gillot, Kowroski, Lacarra, and the latest, Somova, all seem to be offshoots of the Guillem tree. An increased attention to hyper flexibility and extensions, the super perfect arches and hyperextended knees, the height, the super thinness, the almost exaggeratedly perfect technique, these were all started by Guillem.

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If Forsythe really is the creator of the modern ballerina, wouldn't that make Sylvie Guillem the most modern ballerina. Guillem radically updated the ballerina's image, in my opinion, more so then any other dancer before, so much so that even now we can see her legacy on the stage: Bussell, Zakharova, Letestu, Gillot, Kowroski, Lacarra, and the latest, Somova, all seem to be offshoots of the Guillem tree. An increased attention to hyper flexibility and extensions, the super perfect arches and hyperextended knees, the height, the super thinness, the almost exaggeratedly perfect technique, these were all started by Guillem.
This makes great sense to me, Canary.

It would be fascinating to hear people's thoughts about HOW Guillem became so influential. Was it mostly her success with audiences? Was it a version of the "idea whose time has come"? And a related question: how much did this new body-type ideal influence choreographers like Forsythe?

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Great post, Canary. There is no doubt Guillem and her style were highly influential.

She's been a topic of some debate on BT as you may have noted - I hope our thread does not go off on such a volatile tangent.:)

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She's been a topic of some debate on BT as you may have noted - I hope our thread does not go off on such a volatile tangent.:)
Thanks for reminding us of that earlier discussion, dirac. And for the caution.

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Though Forsythe certainly made great use of Guillem, I don't think we should forget that it was Nureyev who spotted her and promoted her to etoile in 1984 - In the Middle was made three years later. She was already a name when Forsythe worked with her.

When the POB came to NYC in '88, as I recall, the buzz wasn't to see Guillem in In the Middle - I'm sure there was some, but there was more to see her in Nureyev's Swan Lake.

Guillem was very much a trend though. I can't find the cite, but did anyone else recall reading interviews with Igor Belsky of the Mariinsky School where he said that Guillem's body type was the model for what they were looking for?

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It's true Nureyev discovered Guillem, but the image of Guillem that has remained in the public's mind is of her in that green tutu in In the Middle, with the hairstyle she currently had, a short bob and bangs, which later became part of the ballerina's costume in In the Middle, other ballerinas who now dance Guillem's part wear a wig. I remember reading that Asylmuratova, when she took over the Vaganova Academy said she wanted the girls to have the same feet and streamlined appearance as the Paris Opera girls, but I feel that what she really had in mind was Guillem, who has become associated with The Paris Opera look. It is true that the Paris style emphasizes high extensions and high arches but the real French school was different then the image that Guillem created.

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It depends on whom you ask. The reason I went to see Paris Opera Ballet at the Met in 1986 is because it was well publicized at the time that George Balanchine had been impressed with Guillem when she was a teenager still in the school. I saw her in the Second Movement of "Le palais de cristal", and was underwhelmed. (I did love Elisabeth Platel the next day in the same role.)

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The ladies of the Paris Opera Ballet do not always have unusually high extensions, but they do generally have extremely fast, tidy footwork and clean lines. The current ladies of the Mariinsky have consistently high extensions, but unfortunately their footwork and lines generally leave something to be desired, to the point where I wonder what is going on at the Vaganova Academy.

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Hans, exactly what you said is what I think, and I believe it is because of the huge influence Sylvie Guillem left in the ballet. It really was her that introduced hyper extension and super flexibility over everything else. What was unique about her was the fact that although she was hyper extended she was also very strong, she was a gymnast before being a ballerina, and what happened was that everyone like her physique and way of dancing and decided to copy it.

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