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Hypercriticism vs Enjoying the Art


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#16 dirac

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 01:23 PM

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.

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 01:41 PM

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?

#18 dirac

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 01:58 PM

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.



#19 Alexandra

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 02:06 PM

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.

#20 Helene

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 02:10 PM

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.

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 02:54 PM

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.

#22 Helene

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 03:04 PM

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

#23 Hans

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 03:24 PM

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.

#24 dirac

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 04:48 PM

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.

#25 Hans

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 07:33 PM

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

#26 dirac

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 08:03 PM

I think you already know the answer to that, Hans. However, centuries from now Balanchine's works will probably look somewhat different because times changes and dancers change with them. On the other hand we do have more sophisticated ways of recording how Balanchine's ballets were danced, which wasn't true for Petipa.

#27 Hans

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 08:54 PM

Taking your argument to its logical conclusion, the answer is yes. While I would theoretically love to alter some of Balanchine's choreography that I find particularly grating, in reality I would not do so because it is not mine to alter. Same with Petipa, Bournonville, Tudor, Ashton, &c, regardless of how reliably it's recorded. For a dancer to change choreography without the blessing of its creator is nothing more than self-indulgence, and it is a sign of a dancer who has not bothered to educate him- or herself about the style of the ballet s/he is dancing. Many dancers today could learn from the example of Carla Fracci, who danced modern ballets the modern way, and older ballets in the appropriate style, rather than taking a mindless, one-size-fits-all approach and applying a single aesthetic to every ballet.

#28 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 09:31 PM

I don't agree, but I think we're talking about two different things. You're talking about dancers regarding steps as optional, and I'm talking about staging. I think every stager has to accept the responsibility of standing in for the choreographer and changing steps when necessary to suit the current cast. It's not the first choice - it's what you do when the staging isn't working. The stager should be acting as advocate for the work, and that does include making tweaks to give the work the effect it was intended to have originally - which might not be possible as originally written.

#29 bart

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 05:39 AM

I think every stager has to accept the responsibility of standing in for the choreographer and changing steps when necessary to suit the current cast. It's not the first choice - it's what you do when the staging isn't working. The stager should be acting as advocate for the work, and that does include making tweaks to give the work the effect it was intended to have originally - which might not be possible as originally written.

This makes sense. But what if this revision is recorded and then becomes available to othes as a template for future performances? The danger, it seems to me, isn't so much that there will be occasional revisions for practical reasons, but that the revision will become a new gold standard for what others should do.

(I ask as someone who genuinely doesn't know the answer to these questions.)

#30 kfw

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 05:45 AM


I think every stager has to accept the responsibility of standing in for the choreographer and changing steps when necessary to suit the current cast. It's not the first choice - it's what you do when the staging isn't working. The stager should be acting as advocate for the work, and that does include making tweaks to give the work the effect it was intended to have originally - which might not be possible as originally written.

This makes sense. But what if this revision is recorded and then becomes available to othes as a template for future performances? The danger, it seems to me, isn't so much that there will be occasional revisions for practical reasons, but that the revision will become a new gold standard for what others should do.

That's what I'm wondering too. Or what if the dancer sets the role on another dancer later -- much later -- and simply forgets that changes were made, or doesn't remember the original steps? I guess what I'm wondering is whether there is evidence that this is happening.


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