Jayne

Hypercriticism vs Enjoying the Art

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I saw this post attached to a YT video of Margot Fonteyn, regarding criticisms of her technique:

the focus of ballet is far too great on technique. look at her she is beautiful! so much carisma, expression, true dance quality. and yet i sit here judging technique, like everyone else watcing this video, in my head critisising turnout etc, as we have all be trained to do as dancers. I hate the way i percieve ballet as a result of those around me, and only wish i was older so i could have lived through a generation where artistry came before technique.

I've been mulling over this comment, because I think it can be applied to so many other areas. As a figure skating fan, I've been trained by the fan culture to look for the "perfect" performance, unmarred by a step out of a jump landing, or traveling on a spin. Fortunately the new scoring system rewards the positives of performance in total, instead of awarding medals based on lack of mistakes.

Somehow we've got to reclaim the original appreciation part of Art.

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I saw this post attached to a YT video of Margot Fonteyn, regarding criticisms of her technique:
the focus of ballet is far too great on technique. look at her she is beautiful! so much carisma, expression, true dance quality. and yet i sit here judging technique, like everyone else watcing this video, in my head critisising turnout etc, as we have all be trained to do as dancers. I hate the way i percieve ballet as a result of those around me, and only wish i was older so i could have lived through a generation where artistry came before technique.

I've been mulling over this comment, because I think it can be applied to so many other areas. As a figure skating fan, I've been trained by the fan culture to look for the "perfect" performance, unmarred by a step out of a jump landing, or traveling on a spin. Fortunately the new scoring system rewards the positives of performance in total, instead of awarding medals based on lack of mistakes.

Somehow we've got to reclaim the original appreciation part of Art.

I'm not sure if you're asking a question here, though, or making a statement; I think it's the latter. If so, who is the "we" here? I feel perfectly capable myself of appreciating "Art" and analyzing its technical aspects. I'm more than willing to give a pass to less technically accomplished dancers if there's something I like about their performance. What do you think the problem is with this in ballet, and how do you see it manifesting itself? Audience reactions? Critics? The decisions dance companies make?

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New and more advanced technique is inevitable in every endeavour, whether artistic or not. I used to think there was a greater sensitivity in times past, but it all seems a lot more relative now--some things are better and new arts are evolving. The 'new scoring' awarding positives is a good sign, though, I wouldn't have thought they'd do that in sports. I have a more general perception of technique than I used to, if the performance comes across, I tend to think the technique must have had to have been there, and it always has: Of course, there can always be travelling in fouettes, and not-lengthy-enough balances in the Rose Adagio, but there aren't that many 'specialty moments' that still stick out that much, are there?

Somehow we've got to reclaim the original appreciation part of Art.

If I thought that were the problem, I'd be probably thinking only of how to do it myself. Like Ray, I know I have none, but if I started thinking in terms of others and large populations, I would surely say that 'it's too late' and agree that everything will go robotic.

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I think these things go in waves, or circles, or whatever cyclical metaphor one prefers. My take on it is that in during periods of high creativity, the choreographers say, "You're not in the classroom. you're on stage. Do something exciting. Make magic." Dancers who " only" do multiple pirouettes are not as favored as those who make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

Then when the great choreographers are off playing golf -- or whatever they've been doing -- for a decade or three, someone has to take over, and it's the pedagogues and technicians. I think this is necessary. Technique can get pretty sloppy during the creative periods. It needs to be cleaned. That's good for about a decade, and then the Extreme Technicians step in and push everything else to the background, and we get fascinated with how high is the extension, how many are the turns. And then it stops, because the advances become so minute that they're not measurable, and people get sick of counting.

That's my take on it :)

Edited to correct typos, and to add: to complete the cycle, the choreographers move to the fore again, we keep some of the technical advances, but go back to caring about musicality, poetry, acting, richness of gesture, etc.

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I hate the way i percieve ballet as a result of those around me, and only wish i was older so i could have lived through a generation where artistry came before technique.

Such an age never existed, did it? As technique has advanced and dancers have become stronger, surely there has always been the temptation to evaluate technique and lose wider picture, lose the ballet. Fortunately the larger part of the art is the technique. The technique itself is beautiful, and part of learning to appreciate the art form, or appreciate it more fully, is learning to clearly see the steps -- to see the difficult feats, no pun intended, the artist is attempting, and to experience their successful accomplishment as beautiful and exhilarating. Pardon me if that's completely obvious, which is it, but it doesn't seem to be to the YT poster.

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And then it stops, because the advances become so minute that they're not measurable, and people get sick of counting.

That is very cool, wouldn't have thought about it in this 'life history' kind of way, finally there is no possible evolution in that hyper-technical realm in and of itself. And what Jayne said about the new scoring system is very reveletory indeed, because if this 'counting' even stops in nearly pure-technical activity, a more artistic endeavour is bound to relax and get back to where it belongs. I guess we have to wait a while longer, but maybe since Osipova can apparently do everything magical and the multiple pirouettes too, we might have a problem. Of course, she might also just be some incredible biological sport, and the tipping point could only be reached by a few dancers who found that ease with the hyper-extensions, while not letting them stick out so (and hers seem natural.)

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Very insightful Alexandra......

("The more things change, the more they stay the same.")

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I think there have been many eras where artistry was more valued than technique. Of course there have always been star dancers, and Taglioni caused a revolution in technique with her pointework, but she was admired for her lightness, the way she embodied the sylph, and she came after a couple of decades of pirouette competitions. Great technicians have often been artists. But in ages of extreme technique, there's an attitude of "if you can do the step you get the role." I see that a lot today.

I'd also note that there was very bad dancing in the ages where nontechnical values came to the fore. There's a lovely old movie in which Fonteyn makes a guest appearance (One of the many "Ballerinas", I think) and one of the girls in the school, who thinks she is a prima ballerina, is absolutely awful (deliberately so), a simpering mess of limply flailing limbs.

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When I mentioned appreciation of the art, I was responding to the dancer's comment that she is so hyper trained to look for flaws in modern day expectations of technique, that she struggles to simply enjoy watching Margot Fonteyn's artistry. It is so difficult to turn off that "critical voice" in her head that judges so harshly based on 21st century standards of turn out, good feet, posture, etc.

If you grew up in the last 10 years, you might think that "good" ice skating means triple axels and the ability to pull your leg over your head in pretzel positions on raggedy Biellman spins. The "critical voice" in your head - educated by modern day TV commentators and the scoring system - would program you to look at Peggy Fleming's performances as lacking in jumps and Somova-style extensions. You would not have the education to appreciate Ms. Fleming's extraordinary edges, the centering on her spins or her lovely posture and gorgeous layback positions, because they are so rarely performed today.

Ballet styles are a box of Godiva truffles, each one) is perfect in its own way (Bourbonville, Vaganova, Royal, etc). You wouldn't want to have the exact same chocolate every day. Variety is far more interesting to our tastebuds, but of course we prefer some chocolates over others. The same holds true for dancers, we're really not so interested in watching clones perform each night, we want to see variety and choices. It is pretty exciting when you think about it - tremendous athletes who dance beautifully and when the occasion calls for it - act in character, with classically trained musicians serenading them, all for our enjoyment.

I depart for Peru next week and will try to post an update with the Lima Muncipal Ballet's "Coppelia" in mid-late July depending on ticket availability. I'm hoping for a caramel truffle. :)

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When I mentioned appreciation of the art, I was responding to the dancer's comment that she is so hyper trained to look for flaws in modern day expectations of technique, that she struggles to simply enjoy watching Margot Fonteyn's artistry. It is so difficult to turn off that "critical voice" in her head that judges so harshly based on 21st century standards of turn out, good feet, posture, etc.

It sounds to me as if this dancer has been trained to look at ballet as a series of textbook pictures and not as movement. Dancers trained this way are typically robotic and boring in performance, and unfortunately I am seeing more and more people dance this way.

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I hate the way i percieve ballet as a result of those around me, and only wish i was older so i could have lived through a generation where artistry came before technique.

Such an age never existed, did it?

Yes. there was a time when it did exist. I guess you could classify it as the 'age of choreographers'---Balanchine, Tudor, DeMille in full swing and Robbins and Petit starting out. As Alexandra so aptly said --'there was musicality, poetry, acting and richness of gesture.' I have often wondered what BT'ers of today would have thought of Alicia Markova, Alexandra Danilova and Anton Dolin. When I saw them they were 35, 41 and 40 years old. Markova, the youngest, was never famous for her technique and Danilova and Dolin had seen better days--but what they had in abundance were the four attributes stated by Alexandra. Most importantly there was no condescension on the part of the audience to these artists. We were fortunate to have seen them. (I did see some of that condescension on BT about Carreno's performances this season) It's true, the technique is stronger today--what with rock solid balances an ear lobe extensions (not such great batterie, though), but there were strong technicians then--Alonso and Kaye spring to mind. Balanchine created Theme & Variations for Alonso; a ballet calling for a formidable technique. However when I compare Alonso's performance with Gelsey Kirkland's there is something missing in Kirkland's performance---the poetry. No other ballerina I have seen in 'Pillar of Fire' meets the technical and acting demands as well as Nora Kaye.

The appreciation of artistry can also exist today but it is up to the audience to nurture it.

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Yes. there was a time when it did exist. I guess you could classify it as the 'age of choreographers'---Balanchine, Tudor, DeMille in full swing and Robbins and Petit starting out.

Wonderful post, atm711. Thank you.

It may be that during periods when creativity is not at a peak, technique comes more to the fore.

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It may be that during periods when creativity is not at a peak, technique comes more to the fore.

This is a fascinating thought. It seems borne out by our experience today. I'd love to hear what others think.

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To repeat my post from above:

I think these things go in waves, or circles, or whatever cyclical metaphor one prefers. My take on it is that in during periods of high creativity, the choreographers say, "You're not in the classroom. you're on stage. Do something exciting. Make magic." Dancers who " only" do multiple pirouettes are not as favored as those who make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

Then when the great choreographers are off playing golf -- or whatever they've been doing -- for a decade or three, someone has to take over, and it's the pedagogues and technicians. I think this is necessary. Technique can get pretty sloppy during the creative periods. It needs to be cleaned. That's good for about a decade, and then the Extreme Technicians step in and push everything else to the background, and we get fascinated with how high is the extension, how many are the turns. And then it stops, because the advances become so minute that they're not measurable, and people get sick of counting.

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Yes. there was a time when it did exist. I guess you could classify it as the 'age of choreographers'---Balanchine, Tudor, DeMille in full swing and Robbins and Petit starting out.

Wonderful post, atm711. Thank you.

Yes, thanks for setting me straight, atm711. I love your last, hopeful line:

The appreciation of artistry can also exist today but it is up to the audience to nurture it.

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To repeat my post from above:

I think these things go in waves, or circles, or whatever cyclical metaphor one prefers. My take on it is that in during periods of high creativity, the choreographers say, "You're not in the classroom. you're on stage. Do something exciting. Make magic." Dancers who " only" do multiple pirouettes are not as favored as those who make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

Then when the great choreographers are off playing golf -- or whatever they've been doing -- for a decade or three, someone has to take over, and it's the pedagogues and technicians. I think this is necessary. Technique can get pretty sloppy during the creative periods. It needs to be cleaned. That's good for about a decade, and then the Extreme Technicians step in and push everything else to the background, and we get fascinated with how high is the extension, how many are the turns. And then it stops, because the advances become so minute that they're not measurable, and people get sick of counting.

Now that I think about it, Arlene Croce said more or less the same thing decades ago when discussing the effect that the sundering of the apostolic succession of choreographers in Russia with the departure of Fokine and Balanchine had upon the course of ballet in that country. With the best choreographers gone missing, the teachers took over.

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I think a lot of people have said similar things. Fokine was rather impatient with teachers :) I remember Ctoce talking about the influence of teachers on dancers in Makarova's short-lived company, comparing her dancers with those of the past. That might be the one you're thinking of, dirac?

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You're absolutely right, Alexandra. As it comes back to me, she was comparing two Paquitas - one that Danilova had set on the students for the SAB workshop performance and the one that Makarova had presented, which was embellished with fancy steps and attendant busywork.

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YES! That's it.

I was thinking about how we've had these hypertechnical eras -- at the end of the 18th century, again at the end of the 19th centuryl, and now (maybe it's part of fin de siecle malaise), and then there's a creative peirod. I'll add this goes to extremes, too -- removing dancing form the ballets (a la Fokine, and some of the serious pantomimes that Bournonville did, to name two) and then the technicians get restless and push forward again. Hard to find a balance.

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You're absolutely right, Alexandra. As it comes back to me, she was comparing two Paquitas - one that Danilova had set on the students for the SAB workshop performance and the one that Makarova had presented, which was embellished with fancy steps and attendant busywork.

At a seminar on "Coppelia" organized and presented by Doug Fullington, we were able to see an in-progress reconstruction of the Spinner variation from notation (with the caveat about incompleteness) compared to the Balanchine version. There was discussion in the Q&A's in which the majority opinion, including Peter Boal's, was that the Balanchine version was better. I was fascinated by Petipa's use of space, especially the diagonal, and while it looked "plainer" in steps, it also looked wicked hard to do right.

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I remember seeing this in action when I was studying in the mid-80s. My teacher (Gabriella Darvash) would generally add to the difficulty of variations in the traditional ballets she set. The viewpoint was "we can do more, so we should do more." It sounded logical, and it takes a lot of historical knowledge to realize that sometimes we could do more, sometimes we couldn't, but more than anything, we just did things differently. It's fascinating to be old enough to notice a difference between how dancers dance now and how they danced a quarter century ago.

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There's also the strategy that if you can't win by the rules, change the game.

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There's also the strategy that if you can't win by the rules, change the game.

In this vein, it's been my experience that dancers who embellish variations typically pay less attention to how they do the steps, with the result that the variation loses its particular quality and is reduced to a competition piece. There are exceptions, of course, but it is the rare artist who is able to use his/her embroidery of the steps to enhance the poetry of the variation.

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I'm sure dancers were embellishing even in Petipa's own day, however. In principle there's nothing wrong with that Leigh's teacher did as long as you know what you're doing, adjusting enough to keep the ballet from ossifying and challenging dancers while keeping to the spirit and design. That isn't "changing the rules of the game" - it's acknowledging that the game is different for every generation.

more than anything, we just did things differently.

That's key, I think.

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So, Trust notwithstanding, it's ok to embellish Balanchine variations?

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