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What is an "adult quality" in ballet?another provocative thought from Macaulay


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#16 kfw

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Posted 16 February 2010 - 06:15 PM

And dancers using Twitter may well be doing so for professional as well as personal reasons.

I expect some do, but I had a specific case in mind.

#17 atm711

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Posted 17 February 2010 - 04:19 AM

I would substitute 'adult' for 'mature'; that is, artistically mature--and not necessarily in years. It is a quality I miss most in today's performers. I do not see it at NYCB and it's the main reason I go to so few performances.

#18 bart

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Posted 17 February 2010 - 06:16 AM

The term "mature" has a big advantage over "adult," which does tend to make one think in terms of chronological age first of all.

The idea of "mature" artistry seems to apply, for example, to what papeetepatrick finds in the chronolgically quite young Sarah Mearns. It also seems to relate to liebs's point (citing Michael Popkin): "not just dancing [a] part well but taking responsibility for the whole performance and lifting it to a higher level."

atm711, can you give a specific example or two of the maturity -- or lack of it -- that you are thinking of?

#19 atm711

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Posted 17 February 2010 - 11:11 AM

atm711, can you give a specific example or two of the maturity -- or lack of it -- that you are thinking of?



I have very often wondered what today's ballet-goers would have thought of seeing Danilova, Markova or Dolin perform near the end of their careers. I had some inkling when reading some caustic comments about Darci Kistler on Ballettalk. I haven't seen her perform live in a few years so perhaps her technique is far from what it once was---but didn't anyone see anything else? A maturity, perhaps? And this 'maturity' is not a question of age---Nora Kaye had it in her 20's. I also see this quality today in Michelle Wiles and I don't only look upon her as a whiz-bang technician, which she surely is.

#20 bart

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 04:27 AM

So ... is "adult" something culturally-based (the environment in which you grow up; the behavioral expectations you learn from those around you?) My suspicion is that this plays a strong part. The dancers of the 1930s-60s were trained in a tough world were you had to "grow up" quickly. You can say the same todayof many of the brilliant and amazingly mature artists coming out of difficult circumstances in Brazil, Cuba, the former Soviet Union, parts of Eastern Europe, etc.

I mean no disrespect, but maybe young dancers growing up in prosperous societies -- in which studios, scholarship possibilities, and so many kinds of physical and mental support are such that earlier dancers could not even have dreamed of them -- lack strong incentives to grow up inside.

Which raises the question of temperament. I don't mean just HAVING temperament and being able to DISPLAY it, but knowing how to control and use it. I keep thinking of mature people as those who possess ALL the classical temperaments -- sanguinic, melancholic, choleric, and even phlegmatic, though an excess of that might be a disadvantage to a ballet dancer. They can access each -- or re-balance them, within limits -- as the performance requires. As Suzanne Farrell one said in an interview, the dancer is a "servant of the choreographer and the composer, but I am also me."

In that interview, Farrell also said: "I'm a a big card player, you know. And whatever the hand I'm dealt, I play for blood." This was well into her career. But I suspect that the feeling was already there very early on.

Wanting to be the star is common among the young nowadays. Knowing all the things you have to do in order to BECOME a star is less so.

A final thought (with apologies for rambling) -- Earlier in this thead, papeetepatrick praised the maturity NYCB dancer Sara Mearns. In today's NY Times, Alistair Macaulay, who hates and apparently avoids Peter Martins' production of Swan Lake as much as possible, writes that

Ms. Mearns's performance of the famous double role [Odette/Odile] is the finest I have seen in about 20 years (since the Kirov ballerina Altynai Asylmuratova).

It's a detailed review, but I was struck by the following statement, which seems quite relevant to our topic.

Her Odette is a woman ...



#21 papeetepatrick

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 09:05 AM

Thanks for posting that observation of Macaulay's, bart. Yes, and Sara Mearns is always a woman, and always (to me) a very feminine one. Whether or not his emphasis is a little more on Odette than Odile (as mine is) I don't know, of course. With Odile I want to see sometning like the idea of 'the devil is a woman', or a temptress as self-serving as the Siren in 'The Prodigal Son' (how different are Odile and the Siren character-wise? I don't think they are at all). I always go for these 'wicked women' types, whether Jezebel in the Old Testament and in Racine, as remembered by her daughter 'Athalie'. and I probably have specific kinds of sharpness I look for in their chracterization. It's probably more impressive to make Odette really moving (as Mearns does) than it is to make Odile All the Playgirls You Ever Dreamed of But Knew You'd Better Not Meet... still, I love Odile, and have learned to live with what many BT'ers think is my bad taste in Galina Mezentzeva's Odile. Oh my god, she is so vicious--but that very mannerism that some complain about in her exaggerated movements is part of what makes a great Odile: The 'mannered' is part of what being 'false' is. But that may be a lesser component to add to her range--her Odette is glorious, and ti could be that 'playing down Odile' (whether or not consciously) is also an effective way of presenting it (although the delights of a truly vicious Odile I'd probably always miss.)

But delighted to find Macaulay giving praise in the form of 'the finest in 20 years': this is wonderful to see, and Ms. Mearns is rapidly becoming a truly great artist (which always means 'maturity', 'adult' in some aspect of the definition, and 'serious', which she was even as the light Dewdrop when I saw it back in 2006. Just by way of comment on the 'mannered' part of the range, Farrell was also always thought to be serious and a dancer of great integrity, but could be very mannered when the part called for it, as in 'La Vales' (I believe reading in Arlene Croce that she also had sometimes been a bit mannered in the big-star years pre-Bejart, but I only saw her once then, and knew nothing at all then.) This is never the foundation of the 'seriousness' and 'integrity', but can be part of it, especially with a dancer who is given everything as Farrell was. Martins in 'Far from Denmark' wrote that Balanchine 'pampered her, gave her what she needed'. Since Farrell was totally focussed on her work, this made her able to be extravagant without being 'spoiled'; she made a lot go a long way. Mearns may do the same, although she doesn't have a Balanchine to make masterpieces for her. But someone may come along, and she has already proven to be able to shine brilliantly in the Remains of Petipa. I like it that Macaulay would go that far--as I'm sure there have been many brilliant Swan Lakes in the last 20 years.


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