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Doing versus watching ballet


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#1 innopac

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 10:45 PM

Helena Wulff makes the statement in her book:

A central dichotomy in the ballet world is the one separating the act of doing ballet from watching ballet: 'You have to do it in order to understand what it's like.' It seems primarily to be the physical exertion of dancing that makes dancers distinguish themselves from the audience in general, and from critics in particular.

Somehow, I can't imagine a musician saying this and I was wondering what others think.

#2 Farrell Fan

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 11:25 AM

Helena Wulff makes the statement in her book:
[indent=1]A central dichotomy in the ballet world is the one separating the act of doing ballet from watching ballet:


In a way, this statement is exemplified by this board, which some years ago, split itself into Ballet Talk and Ballet Talk for Dancers. I'm sorry that ever happened, because I think performers and audience have much to learn from each other. The ballet community ought to be just that -- a community.

#3 dirac

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 06:45 PM

I'm not so sure, Farrell Fan. In the words of Miss Farrell, while she was still dancing, "I am not a spectator." I'm sure dancers do feel that doing is distinct from watching, and I would understand that.

'You have to do it in order to understand what it's like.'


That's probably true, to some extent, of almost any form of endeavor, and I would not agree that understanding is not possible without direct experience of dancing and performing, although such experience can enrich the perspective.

#4 vipa

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 07:15 PM

Helena Wulff makes the statement in her book:

A central dichotomy in the ballet world is the one separating the act of doing ballet from watching ballet: 'You have to do it in order to understand what it's like.' It seems primarily to be the physical exertion of dancing that makes dancers distinguish themselves from the audience in general, and from critics in particular.

Somehow, I can't imagine a musician saying this and I was wondering what others think.


Musician, painter, playwright, athlete etc. Ballet doesn't separate the act of doing from watching any more than any other art or sport. In any endeavor I suppose studying can give one some knowledge of what it is like to do it, but even that is questionable. I play tennis but I don't really understand what it feels like to do what Roger Federer does. At best studying a discipline can inform your viewing to some degree.

#5 BalletFanandMom

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 07:15 AM

I've enjoyed watching dance for as long as I can remember, even though my experience in "doing" is limited. I think you can watch and appreciate greatly without ever doing. I can also say, however, that learning more about the technique envolved and what everything is "supposed" to look like (from a dancers perspective) has really heighted that enjoyment. Since my daughter began dancing and I've learned all the "lingo" and just how everything is supposed to be executed I can much more appreciate the details of the "lines" and the "extensions" and the placement of the body.

The professional dancers tend to make everything look so effortless. Which is good, if they didn't the dance would not be enjoyable to watch. But knowing the difficulty level behind each movement, knowing the effort and training that is trully behind the seemingly effortless movement, somehow heightens the enjoyment factor for me. I think this may be what Helena Wulff was referring to in that statement. Would you ever hear a musician, or an athelete or anyone who performs any type of act for a viewing public make this statement? Probably not. But I would say that it's just as true for them as it is for anyone. When you know first hand what is envolved you can better appreciate watching.

:)

#6 Quiggin

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 11:25 AM

In the nineteenth century audiences knew how to play some of the music they were listening to -- Schubert lived off royalties from sheet music, not recordings, and many people in ballet audiences have taken ballet lessons at some point. Even regarding the dance illiterate Edwin Denby asks how many people must be in their small kitchens after ballet performances trying to retrace all the wonderful steps they've just seen.

But it is true dancers know the music in their bones -- and audience members only in their eyes. I try to look at dance as a painter would or as architecture, but most of the contemporary choreography seems to aim only at clothing the dancer in a series of interesting movements (the subject for another whole thread) and less about the overall architecture and abstract narrative. The unruly Michael Clark Company is sort of an exception.

In the fifties Balanchine had a cross-over audience of writers and artists who were keenly interested in his visual intelligence and wit and visual puns -- "seeing genius unfold" according to Edmund White -- and somehow that dance grammar (following Petipa's) helps your body feel out what the eyes are seeing -- and provides the non-dancer with something of map to try out parts of steps discreetly at the bus stop or in the kitchen.

#7 papeetepatrick

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 11:43 AM

Yes and no. The spectator can enter into the work (there's Roland Barthes's whole 'reading and writing' melding), but he'd also be dancing or choreographing or writing or composing instead of the one who is if he could.

I think a good way of looking at it is that, even if a dancer says 'I'm not a spectator', that's not quite true either. To some degree, if s/he is not also the choreographer, s/he doesn't quite own everything about the work first before presenting it to others to be communicated and seen and sometimes understood (and even very well.) A Balanchine dancer knows more in some basic ways by a long shot than anyone watching it, otherwise the physicality wouldn't count; but s/he does not know more than the choreographer until some new creation is brought to the performance that even the choreographer hadn't thought about, and that did happen with Suzanne Farrell, and was meant to. But Martha Graham was even more in ownership of the pieces of hers she danced, even though she was not as technically accomplished a dancer as a prima ballerina. Same with music, to go back innopac's remark of 'not being able to imagine a musician saying this'. But yes, they do. Mozart sounds so simple when you listen to it or even play, yet neither performer nor listener has any clue whatsoever to writing that 'simple-sounding music' (I'm mainly referring to the happier sounding Mozart for purposes of illustration.) I think this is pretty obvious, really, but do agree with dirac that it is applicable to 'all forms of endeavour': You're not inside it all the way as a spectator. Quiggin is right about 'in their bones' (and muscles, of course, as well), but this is equally true of all performers. They do all know something that the audience doesn't know (and they will also know things the choreographer or composer doesn't know if s/he can't dance it ouf fully). I'm a big fan of Suzaane Farrell, but that line 'I'm not a spectator' is pretty much throwaway, because everybody is also a spectator, and especially those who have performed and become teachers and also do watch performances themselves. Of course, she may have been referring to when she was dancing, and in that case, of course she's not a spectator, there's no time to be doing that as well while you're performing, which itself is way beyond rehearsing. It wouldn't even be presented to spectator/audiences if it weren't meant to be appreciated and understood up to the maximum level, which can sometimes stimulate great inspiration and illumination, in one's own art and life. But the ones closest to the art obviously know something about the works no one else does.

The thing I least understand that is discussed here is that it would be any different with a ballet dancer from any other kind of performer. Actors know they have the job because they can do it, but while they want their audience to enjoy it, they also know they have secrets to their art that the audience can never know, not because they'd go out and become stars themselves and be competitive (of course this does happen literally, but that's another matter), but because they can't know these secrets. A pianist or opera singer is the same: They are more imbued with the work (if they are inspired and really good) than the most avid one of their listeners--but less than the creators of the work, unless they happen to be the same artist. To think otherwise is not to give them their due, and this sort of thing is not about democracy. The spectators and audience are generally quite grateful enough to just be able to enjoy the works and enter into them as deeply as they can (which can be considerably deep, of course.)

It goes without saying that, if the performers don't know and experience something more deeply than their audience, the audience wouldn't even be there.


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