dirac

The Ten Best Dancers

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Luke Jennings offers his nominees.

Born in 1890, Nijinsky trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg, where his amazing virtuosity swiftly became apparent. As the star of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes,his intense characterisations in new-wave ballets like Scheherazade, Carnaval and Petrouchka won him a huge European following. "Nijinsky never once touched the ground, but laughed at our sorrows and passions in mid-air," wrote one spectator. His reputation grew with the choreography of several modernist works, but by his mid-20s he was displaying signs of the schizophrenia which, with brutal prematurity, would end his career.

The merits of such lists are debatable and certainly the merit of this one is, but I do give Jennings credit for sticking his neck out to make and defend his choices. Comments? (And don't be too hard on him unless you're willing to put forth a few suggestions of your own. :))

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The problem is that you really have had to see them, preferably in a variety of works. I would certainly vote for:

-- Astaire (based on films in which he maintained artistic control);

-- Soloviev (based on video), and

-- Kirkland (based on video snippets and many live performances, but counting only her good nights).

But that's only 3 out of 10. :helpsmilie:

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I couldn't possibly compile such a list. Like bart, I only agree with a few of Jennings' choices. Fred Astaire? Definitely! MIchael Clark as the sole representative of modern dance? He must be joking.

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>Luke Jennings

utter nonsense.

The correct choices are:

--Yoshida (...goddess at last)

--Kumakawa (virtuosity)

--Kuranaga (I wonder why she stays in a small company like Boston. She can immediately fill the vacancy resulting from Yoshida's retirement and naturally surpasses Cojocaru and Nunez.)

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Interesting to think about. I'm not ready to name names, but I have a bit of a problem with the idea of naming someone you've never seen. Nijinsky, Josephine Baker - how does one know?

I love the topic because it has made me think about the dancers I've seen and who I would select. We are not talking about a single great moment or moments but selecting one of the greatest dancers. That is different. Many, many years ago I watched Milton Myers coach the Joyce Tristler Co. He stood up and did a segment of the Tristler version of 4T's with such beauty and musicality that it is still etched in my mind. I wouldn't call him one of the 10 greatest dancers of all time, but for me that is one of the 10 greatest dance moments that I've witnessed.

Or maybe I'll looking at it totally wrong. Love this topic!

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There's such a thing as a correct choice for a list like this? :wink: Any top ten list is going to be a function of time and geography. I don't see much of Acosta except when I get to London; what I've seen wouldn't displace other dancers for me.

I saw more of Kistler and saw her when - she's on my list.

Like Jennings though, I would take Cojocaru over Guillem every time - almost. Not in Forsythe.

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>Luke Jennings

utter nonsense.

The correct choices are:

--Yoshida (...goddess at last)

--Kumakawa (virtuosity)

--Kuranaga (I wonder why she stays in a small company like Boston. She can immediately fill the vacancy resulting from Yoshida's retirement and naturally surpasses Cojocaru and Nunez.)

Great response, made my day. Never heard of any of your faves, though.

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Interesting to think about. I'm not ready to name names, but I have a bit of a problem with the idea of naming someone you've never seen. Nijinsky, Josephine Baker - how does one know?

You can't be sure, but you can take an educated guess. We know that enough knowledgeable people acknowledged Nijinsky as a great dancer and a genius to grant him that status and include him on such a list, in the same way you might include Edmund Kean on a list of greatest actors. Had Jennings wanted to include Pavlova (or even a later dancer like Fonteyn, who doesn't gain much on a lot of the video we do have), that would have been fair. It is sad that we have no film, but even if we did that film might be deceptive, because we wouldn't see Nijinsky as audiences saw him then.

There's such a thing as a correct choice for a list like this? :wink: Any top ten list is going to be a function of time and geography.

No, there's no "correct" list. I would say by making a choice and justifying it you are describing your own tastes as well as dancers and what you think is most important in a dancer. There may be some dancers around whom a consensus gathers but not many. Jennings doesn't go into time and geography but I don't think he looked far beyond the early 20th century.

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When I saw this thread, I put together a list of who I was expecting to be on it -- Jennings' list, not mine:

Nijinski

Pavlova

Markova

Alonso

Fonteyn

Nureyev

Baryshnikov

Bruhn

Guillem

I didn't come up with a tenth.

Boy, was I wrong :lol:

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It's interesting that Jennings lists Michael Clark (in Alston's Soda Lake), whose own choreography hardly gets any mention in the States. His work, though on a very small chamber scale, seems to be some of the most visually arresting post-Balanchine, post-Diaghilev stuff. It's contrapunctal, painterly and works every part of the stage canvas. He's a distant, hyperactive cousin of Apollo.

When I saw this thread, I put together a list of who I was expecting to be on it -- Jennings' list, not mine

This is close to Maynard Keynes' classic Beauty Contest definition of how rational agents work in a market economy! And Jennings list itself is like a multi-temporal economy that mixes Euros, pesetas, and old francs.

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This is close to Maynard Keynes' classic Beauty Contest definition of how rational agents work in a market economy! And Jennings list itself is like a multi-temporal economy that mixes Euros, pesetas, and old francs.

I love the analogy. But there is a positive side to it as well. List making like this can be like those bags of mixed-currency coins that I have gathered over the years. Small-denomination, mostly gone from circulation, some shiny, some faded to the point of unrecognizability -- not really useful, but fun to look at when I come across them ... and impossible to throw away.

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The inclusion of Michael Clark is very odd, a good dancer and interesting choreographer to be sure, but I suspect only Jennings would put him on a best list. Amazed also at the inclusion of Nadezhda Pavlova, she invented the hyper-extension and would therefore only get on my list of ten worst.

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There's no Balanchine dancers on this list, therefore I find it suspect.

A top ten list is too limiting anyway. You've got to have at least a top twenty.

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Dirac wrote,

No, there's no "correct" list. I would say by making a choice and justifying it you are describing your own tastes as well as dancers and what you think is most important in a dancer. There may be some dancers around whom a consensus gathers but not many. Jennings doesn't go into time and geography but I don't think he looked far beyond the early 20th century.
What's the saying? "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Obviously, it's a matter of personal preference; and what we're looking at is Jenning's personal and subjective opinion. IMO, if you're going to make "greatest" lists, I say choose specific dancers in specific ballets, choreographies, categories, genres, eras, and emploi then narrow it down.

*(What Mashinka said too).

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Two questions:

Is "Best Dancers" a useful category? Or is it like those Book Review lists of "Best Novels of the Year," which attempt to include something for everyone's taste? Why not focus on Ballet Dancers, on Ballet Talk at least?

Also -- Would it be useful to create a separate category for something like the Top 10 Historically Important Dancers? That is, those dancers who changed the way informed audiences think and feel about the art and who even set new standards for what we look for in performance?

This would certainly be a place to include Nijinski, Pavlova, and others whom none of us has actually seen, except in brief studio clips.

More recent dancers, those many of us have seen and whose performances can be examined on video, could fit into this category as well. I'd certainly add Nureyev and Farrell to such a list.

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Is "Best Dancers" a useful category? Or is it like those Book Review lists of "Best Novels of the Year," which attempt to include something for everyone's taste? Why not focus on Ballet Dancers, on Ballet Talk at least?

I don't think it's useful at all, but I think you need 'Ten Best Novels Ever Written' to be analogous. 'Best Novels of the Year' is vapid enough, but is at least based on a reasonable delimitation, just like '10 Best Films' by Village Voice critic or NYTimes critic, etc., is just not making any bones that it's other than just mostly subjective, but at least about something they can really put their hands on, and admit it's just opinions. And even, say, just take the VVoice, they'll usually put 6 or 7 critics deciding what the 'best films of the year' are and even an 'honourable mention' category. I don't think '10 Best Ballet Dancers' is much better, even for Ballet Talk. 'Favourite Dancers' is enough, isn't it? And we've got all sorts of versions of that. '10 Favourite Ballet Dancers' may not be an elevated exercise either, but it's playful and honest and 'people like it', etc.,

Also -- Would it be useful to create a separate category for something like the Top 10 Historically Important Dancers? That is, those dancers who changed the way informed audiences think and feel about the art and who even set new standards for what we look for in performance?

Yes, that would be the right way to do it, as I see it, and what Jennings's should have been. But would that make a good Feature for the Guardian in the way '10 Best Dancers' does? That's for a general public more than knowledgeable balletgoers, I'd suppose, so maybe it's a 'bringing ballet to the people' thing done somewhat indirectly. Even within the shabby format, it's sort of surprising he didn't call it '10 Greatest Dancers' though. And if he had, and did it with a subtitle going along with what you say about 'Historically Important Dancers', that would have been a good little piece. As it is, he's chosen dancers he's never seen in person in some cases, or some he saw do one (or a few) performances that moved him personally very much and decided that that meant 'best dancer'. It's like Helene's signature on her posts (have to go look that up), and while I have very treasured actors, for example, that doesn't always mesh with who would objectively be called the best. The Garbo thread is therefore nice, because that's one case where I like one who is always considered one of the best. But I like all sorts of obscure ones that I would never call 'best' just because they mean something to me that I consider especially meaningful.

Yes, here's Helene's sig., which seems to me to apply here:

"Critical awareness involves the ability to distinguish between personal taste and artistic merit." -- James Calvert

That's why I think the Japanese I never heard of are just as legit as what jennings wrote. Some of it is based on historical weight of legitimacy, some of them are just 'what he has liked'. He was 'moved by Gelsey's Juliet' and this Pavlova youngster i'd never heard of (made me wonder if he wanted to put a Pavlova on there who wasn't the one we all know about).

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I have a bit of a problem with the idea of naming someone you've never seen. Nijinsky, Josephine Baker - how does one know?

Just as an aside, there are brief, often fuzzy film clips of Baker dancing, for example:

Also -- Would it be useful to create a separate category for something like the Top 10 Historically Important Dancers? That is, those dancers who changed the way informed audiences think and feel about the art and who even set new standards for what we look for in performance?

Sure, in which case Jennings' inclusion of Nijinsky, Baker and Astaire are perfectly legitimate, perhaps even Nadezhda Pavlova, for all the wrong reasons, as Mashinka mentioned. But I don't really see how Carlos Acosta, Altynai Asylmuratova or Alina Cojocaru could be considered revolutionary dancers.

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"Best Dancers" could incorporate many of those subcategories. It's clear, for example, that Jennings is using historical importance as one of his measures of a "best" dancer for some, not all, of his choices. It's like the Top Ten lists that critics in various fields produce at the end of every year. In a way it doesn't make sense to have one "Ten Best Movies" category but it serves a purpose in that it forces the maker of the list to make his choices and rankings and defend them.

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There's no Balanchine dancers on this list, therefore I find it suspect.

A top ten list is too limiting anyway. You've got to have at least a top twenty.

True, perky, but I rather like the arbitrariness of "ten." :)

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Maybe it's worth pointing out that this was something like #23 in a series of 'Ten Best'which has been running for the last 6 months, so it's not something Luke Jennings suddenly decided he'd do - and he's coming along after 'Ten Best Screen Draculas', 'Ten Best World Cup Characters', 'Ten Best accounts of being Marooned in literature' and so on. Also, there's now a long comments section at the end of the article, where he replies to a lot of criticism and explains a bit more about his criteria.

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Maybe it's worth pointing out that this was something like #23 in a series of 'Ten Best'which has been running for the last 6 months, so it's not something Luke Jennings suddenly decided he'd do - and he's coming along after 'Ten Best Screen Draculas', 'Ten Best World Cup Characters', 'Ten Best accounts of being Marooned in literature' and so on. Also, there's now a long comments section at the end of the article, where he replies to a lot of criticism and explains a bit more about his criteria.

It certainly was worth pointing out, he had to come up with something even if he didn't want to. Love it. I think it's funny that 'Ten Best Dancers' could be considered as delimited and specific as 'Ten Best...Marooned in Lit.' I hope that next week we get 'Ten Best Energy Bars in 100 Years of Health Food History', so that that will include nut cutlets from the WWI years.

Take your word for everything in the comments section. Thank you for the yeomanry :tiphat:

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I hope that next week we get 'Ten Best Energy Bars in 100 Years of Health Food History', so that that will include nut cutlets from the WWI years.

:rofl:

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I have a bit of a problem with the idea of naming someone you've never seen. Nijinsky, Josephine Baker - how does one know?

Just as an aside, there are brief, often fuzzy film clips of Baker dancing, for example:

Also -- Would it be useful to create a separate category for something like the Top 10 Historically Important Dancers? That is, those dancers who changed the way informed audiences think and feel about the art and who even set new standards for what we look for in performance?

Sure, in which case Jennings' inclusion of Nijinsky, Baker and Astaire are perfectly legitimate, perhaps even Nadezhda Pavlova, for all the wrong reasons, as Mashinka mentioned. But I don't really see how Carlos Acosta, Altynai Asylmuratova or Alina Cojocaru could be considered revolutionary dancers.

Thank you for the clips - they are eye opening

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So many interesting comments.

I've come up with my tentative list of 10 greatest:

Fonteyn, Fracci, Farrell, Allegra Kent, Alina Cojocaru

Fred Astaire, Nureyev, Bruhn, Baryshnikov, Gary Chryst

I think each of these were game changers, transcendent performers and/or had a major influence on those who came after.

I'm trying to come up with a male performer who is still dancing.

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Allegra Kent is an interesting choice, vipa. (Not necessarily disagreeing.)

Sylvie Guillem certainly qualifies as a game changer. Osipova may end up in that category as well.

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