rg started a most interesting thread on the early 20th century Russian character dancer -- and filmaker -- Alexander Sheraev. I was interested to learn that Vaganova asked Sheraev to systematize the character dance movements for her syllabus at the Kirov school. (Thank you, chiapuris, for that information.) I assume that most companies have some sort of character dance training today, however minimal.
This got me thinking about the many pleasant but bland and generally unconvincing Russian, Spanish, Gypsy, Neapolitan etc. etc. dances I've seen over the years. The impression of simplistic, un-nuanced caricature seems to be increasing in recent years.
What is the state of character dancing in ballet today? And of character dance training? Which companies do it best? Which need a little help? Specific examples, including ballets on video and links to YouTube, would be GREAT ... and very helpful.
In case you missed it, the original thread on Sheraev is here:
I am so glad you are responding to this thread on character dance and Alexander Sheraev. I have done character dancing all my life and teach it as well. My first character teacher was Yurek Lazovsky at Ballet Theater school.
I was interest in Sheraev of the old Maryinsky and found his book at NY Public Library (not at all easy to get) and had a copy made, then I translated it. It was not easy to translate for me because it is printed in the OLD Russian (pre Soviet) style. It is true that he systemized the training. Beautiful illustrations. Joan Lawson translated some and published it but not entire book. Lopukov was co-author.
But I am so surprised that not anyone has mentioned Igor Moiseyev, the leading figure in ALL Folk/Character dance. I went to Russia to study some with him and even assisted him when he came to NYC to stage one of his pieces for the Harkness Ballet. After he died, at age 101, I invited his successor, Irina Scherbakova to teach an open class and she brought 2 young Moiseyev dancers along to demonstrate, plus a bayanist for accompanyment. It was of course completely new to the local dancers who came but they all were fascinated that such a dance form even exists.
It is true that character dance (it's based on folk dance, but balleticized) must be taught by someone who really knows and understands it, and not only the steps but the culture that goes along with it. This is very important. When I taught it in University, I brought in costumes to show, had singers perform fok music, even made cuisine of the country we were studying for the taste of the country. This all goes along with a true study of character dance, not just learning some character-like steps. Character dance uses the same rules as classical ballet really. Apart from more relaxed legs, characteristic arm movements, stomps, etc. the barre work is basically the same.
I've found that modern dancers learn character much more easily than classic ballet dancers. THe latter sometimes feel they might be ruining their knees, which is of course untrue. Regarding Jazz dance. I believe Jazz is the American character dance, just as csardas is Hungarian, Mazurka, Polish, etc.
In my opinion, the best character dancers are European, and mostly with Bolshoi or Kirov training. It's not only the best training available but is basically part of their culture and heritage.
During ABTs golden age when Baryshnikov, Makarova, Alexander Mintz, George de la Pena were dancing, the character dancing was more authentic than now, as mentioned in another posting.