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The Ten Best Dancers


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#16 papeetepatrick

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 09:46 AM

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).

#17 volcanohunter

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 10:17 AM

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H46uf5-Way0
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=MsXyDrf9HO0
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=wmw5eGh888Y
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=QPCYYdECJIs

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.

#18 dirac

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 11:55 AM

"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.

#19 dirac

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 12:00 PM

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." :)

#20 Jane Simpson

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 12:16 PM

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.

#21 papeetepatrick

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 12:25 PM

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:

#22 volcanohunter

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 12:32 PM

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:

#23 vipa

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 04:44 PM


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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H46uf5-Way0
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=MsXyDrf9HO0
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=wmw5eGh888Y
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=QPCYYdECJIs

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

#24 vipa

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 04:50 PM

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.

#25 dirac

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 09:20 AM

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.

#26 Nanarina

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 12:50 PM

:clapping: All Dancers actually seen live

Ruzimatov, Nureyev, Baryshnikov Vasiliev,Tanranda.

Fonteyn, Asylmuratova, Makarova,Dupont, Cojocaru.

#27 sandik

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 01:50 PM

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.


I thought it was an interesting choice as well -- I've seen nothing of his live, and really only the early stuff in any kind of depth on tape, but it was fascinating stuff. I'm afraid that his personal hullabaloo took attention away from the art at the time.

Any list like this is as much about the list maker as it is the artists listed -- some of the denizens here have posted their own, and I'm sure everyone else reading along could make one too. But it's great fun to think about other people's choices.

And I was thrilled for the link to N Pavlova footage. I'd read about her years ago, in Croce's enthusiastic, evocative prose, but hadn't ever seen her move -- what a treat to see her in action!

#28 sandik

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 02:01 PM

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.


I don't know that you'll have seen him, but I'd suggest Steve Paxton, one of the developers of Contact Improvisation. That performance practice has had an astonishing affect on the development of contemporary dance styles, both performance and choreography.

#29 leonid17

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 02:14 PM

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.


It is not often that I disagree with Mashinka comments on Russian dancers but I feel I have to Nadezhda Pavlova a dancer who had extraordinary talent as a teenager and who apparently experienced a very difficult time whilst with the Bolshoi Ballet.

Nadezhda Pavlova's potential for hyper-extension was a natural physical feature of this dancer which may have been was exploited by artistic directors.

Importantly she never used five to six penchee arabesques or in ala seconde poses went beyond the vertical, unlike some dancers of the present day Kirov or Bolshoi. See her at 16 years of age where every opportunity to hyper-extend exists, but is not attempted.


Where is any vulgar hyper extension four years later in a studio film seen here performing Aurora? http://www.youtube.c...?v=0vBkhrYjwEM.

As well as seeing her dance in London I saw her give an extraordinary performance of Giselle in Moscow in 1986 and of course there was the legendary performance she gave of this role at the Kirov with Yuri Soloviev also sans hyper extensions.

Pavlova was blessed with beautiful feet and leg line coupled with a strong back through which she certainly achieved high extensions but for me always without losing the aesthetics of academic classical ballet.

Pavlova’s seemingly fragile personality brought touching pathos to a number of her roles and was joyous in Grigorovich's Nutcracker and in my opinion second only to Yekaterina Maximova in the role of Masha.

As Jane Simpson points, the "ten best" of various subjects has been published in The Observer and so perhaps Mr Jennings was a hostage to the process. If thats the case, its a sad situation for a ballet critic to be in as the whole question of "ten best" is for me, something of a subjective and vainglorious exercise.

Dumbing down has quite clearly hit "The Observer" which was once a quality newspaper, but then high art practitioners and knowledgeable pundits alike, are quite clearly ready to eschew the standards of the past rather than support them.

PS

I will post a further example of Pavlova's dancing below as apparently only two media files can be used in a post as an illustrative example.

#30 leonid17

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 02:15 PM

Here in Swan Lake, where Guillem, Zakharova and Lopatkina offend with hyper extensions you see none with Pavlova.


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