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What is Ballet, and what is not Ballet?Youtube Clip of Great Chinese State Circus - Swan Lake


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#1 avesraggiana

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Posted 15 March 2011 - 10:22 PM

I've come in for quite a beating from the other posters on this video clip. The video shows a truly impressive acrobatic, circus, contortionist performance, set to Act Four music from Swan Lake. It's astounding, actually, what these acrobats can do, particularly the lead female, performing in a white unitard and pointe shoes, and turning and balancing on her partner's head! The point I made and for which I've been getting criticism is that, for all its impressiveness, this was still not ballet. I was accused of being elitist, snobby, and arrogant for determining what was art and what was not, and what was ballet and what was not.

Finally, someone directly challenged me and asked me to "define" ballet, and to explain why this particular circus performance, as mightily impressive as it was, did not qualify.

I have yet to reply to this challenge. Does anyone have any ideas on how to answer the question, "define ballet"? All I can say is that I know it, when I see it. If you take the trouble to view this video clip, just search for it the way I've typed it in the Topic Description, you might come to the same or different conclusion. Inspite of the misshapen tutus worn by the "corps de ballet", inspite of the use of ballet technique and pointe shoes, the whole performance was STILL not ballet to me.

Can anyone tell me why, or why not?

Thanks.

#2 diane

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 02:36 AM

I also feel the way you do, I think.

No one has asked me to "define ballet", though. :o

It will be interesting to read what others have to say! Thank you for mentioning this. :)

I would reply that ballet (as I know it) has more to do with the conveyance of emotion - however abstract that can be - and less with acrobatic and sensationalism than does circus.
For me, ballet does not try primarily to "wow" and cause audiences to "gasp", but to move them in other ways.

That said, there are many other "types" of ballet - and how it has changed over the years - which I would define as having really become something else. :)

-d-

#3 Simon G

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 05:28 AM

I've come in for quite a beating from the other posters on this video clip. The video shows a truly impressive acrobatic, circus, contortionist performance, set to Act Four music from Swan Lake. It's astounding, actually, what these acrobats can do, particularly the lead female, performing in a white unitard and pointe shoes, and turning and balancing on her partner's head! The point I made and for which I've been getting criticism is that, for all its impressiveness, this was still not ballet. I was accused of being elitist, snobby, and arrogant for determining what was art and what was not, and what was ballet and what was not.

Finally, someone directly challenged me and asked me to "define" ballet, and to explain why this particular circus performance, as mightily impressive as it was, did not qualify.

I have yet to reply to this challenge. Does anyone have any ideas on how to answer the question, "define ballet"? All I can say is that I know it, when I see it. If you take the trouble to view this video clip, just search for it the way I've typed it in the Topic Description, you might come to the same or different conclusion. Inspite of the misshapen tutus worn by the "corps de ballet", inspite of the use of ballet technique and pointe shoes, the whole performance was STILL not ballet to me.

Can anyone tell me why, or why not?

Thanks.



Avesraggiana

My first instinct would be for you to tell those who attack you with the same old chestnut of being "elitist" etc when you make a perfectly reasonable statement to just sod off, nothing you say will convince them otherwise, just like there are millions out there who won't be told that Natalie Portman isn't a ballerina.

I suppose the best way of dealing with internet shenanigans is to toss them a bone, then hit them with your smarts. I've seen that clip and you could start by waxing lyrical over the accomplishment and technique etc and say that what this is is an acrobatic act that takes as its inspiration & starting point the classical ballet, also that the female acrobat has a ballet training as she works on pointe.

The first most obvious thing I suppose is that it isn't ballet because they aren't dancing. It's totally static as it has to be to try and ensure that she doesn't break her neck, ditto him, which is another thing, dance or pas de deux between man & woman is equal here all the man is is a plinth. Indeed she could easily have done this by herself on a fixed pole as many acrobats do, but they added a man and the ACT 4 Swan Lake music for frills and prettiness.

Also she isn't actually doing any steps, what she is doing is taking the extreme extensions of certain ballet types not and extending it to its absolute limit. People don't understand that ballet is a language made from steps, that without those steps it's not classical ballet. That a classical ballet has a structure which makes it so, or that much contemporary ballet isn't classical ballet but a ballet using the classical lexicon. But then nor would they understand the distinctions of someone like Forsythe making classical works pushing the extremities of classical form. And sadly most people just don't care. Which is why for your own sanity I'd advise not to bother with arguing your point.

In my experience you always, always get into trouble when discussing art/emotions etc with people who don't know what ballet is - it's sad, galling but true that the moment you talk about art many people's brains go into attack mode and you're accused of elitism, snobbism or the worst internet insult of all " A Jealous Hater " ( I especially love it when they spell it as "Jelus Haterz ".

But if you want to illustrate it, why not post the acrobat video and link it with an actual video of several actual PDD from legitimate Classical productions of Swan Lake & you could also link a vid of a William Forsythe piece (Sylvie Guillem in In The Middle is rather schizztastic) about how contemporary ballet choreographers actually push the classical form in a way that acrobatics doesn't.

Maybe videos are the best way to argue your point.

#4 avesraggiana

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 05:42 AM

I also feel the way you do, I think.

No one has asked me to "define ballet", though. :o

It will be interesting to read what others have to say! Thank you for mentioning this. :)

I would reply that ballet (as I know it) has more to do with the conveyance of emotion - however abstract that can be - and less with acrobatic and sensationalism than does circus.
For me, ballet does not try primarily to "wow" and cause audiences to "gasp", but to move them in other ways.

That said, there are many other "types" of ballet - and how it has changed over the years - which I would define as having really become something else. :)

-d-


Thanks, Diane. I was coming around to the same conclusion as yourself. Ballet is more about the emphasis, than the technique. If the point of the performance is to tell a story or evoke a mood or emotion, and the body is being used to convey it in the most beautiful and expressive way possible, then itís ballet. If the point of the performance is astound us with physical daring and hold us breathless with acrobatic stunts as you put it, then itís not. Of course the elements of suspense and thrill are present in both, and this is where it gets tricky. How many of us have held our breath, white knuckling it in our seats, wondering if the eveningís Aurora will make it through all four attitude balances? or been left bug eyed and slack-jawed when Odile/Kitri/Gamzattii/etc caps off a string of double and triple fouettes with a sextuple fouette ending in sous-sus?! However when the bravura performance becomes more about, ďLook Ma, No Hands!Ē instead of ďIím trying to physically express something in the most beautiful way possibleĒ, then it becomes circus acrobatics, or gymnastics.

How many gymnasts have we seen break form on the balance beam and still earn near perfect 10s, or ignore pages and pages of music before barreling through her final tumbling pass?

Okay, Iíve ranted enough. Thanks for your input, Diane.

A.N.

#5 Simon G

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 06:03 AM

The essential thing is though, that you can't get angry with someone just because they don't share one's knowledge or appreciation of an art form, or rather you can but it's at that point that an allegation of snobism holds weight.

The technique of ballet has evolved over the past twenty years to the point where gymnastic ability has overtaken artistry in many cases precisely because to attract new audiences spectacle is demanded. It's a hotly debated topic on these boards about the loss of artistry in ballet for gymnastic pay off.

The problem with preaching to the unconverted is the central question of why do you want to convert them? Yes, they're wrong the head balance to Tchaikovsky isn't ballet, but you'll never convince them of this if they don't wish to be convinced, or have no inclination to discover what the art form is all about. If you want to try and make them aware of what ballet means to you, and this is the issue really, then it's mandatory that you take a softly, softly approach and come from it from there point of view. You really don't break a butterfly with a wheel.

I love ballet and the art of ballet, but I know that if I want to talk about it with like minded people who come to it from a similar point of view I'll come and chat here. But if you want to talk about it from a standpoint which is the antithesis of yours then it's vital that one sympathises with the opposing view point, to acknowledge what the acrobatic act means to those posters on other boards. Launching into an argument about the nature of art never works well, I've learnt that to my detriment and above all not to lose one's rag with people who don't have your appreciation or knowledge.

My own feeling is to pick one's battles wisely, I know from experience it's often not worth the brain damage incurred in enterting the internet message boards fray, people fundamentally don't like changing or revising their views on any topic, never mind ballet, just take a softly softly approach. It really does pay dividends.

#6 Barbara

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 11:11 AM

I've had several friends send me the link to this performance because I'm "the one that likes ballet". I have thanked them and agreed that the circus acrobats in question were indeed amazing. And then in a few cases I've invited them to attend a real ballet. So far my guests have seemed to enjoy the evening but were in no hurry to return. Ah well, and this is why I love this board because my passions are reciprocated. Thank goodness for Ballet Alert!

#7 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 06:08 PM

I've had several friends send me the link to this performance because I'm "the one that likes ballet". I have thanked them and agreed that the circus acrobats in question were indeed amazing. And then in a few cases I've invited them to attend a real ballet. So far my guests have seemed to enjoy the evening but were in no hurry to return. Ah well, and this is why I love this board because my passions are reciprocated. Thank goodness for Ballet Alert!


Yes, I've had the same experience of people thinking I would LOVE that clip because it looks (to them) like ballet. (Haven't been able to invite them to ballet because they live elsewhere.) I don't want to offend them, so I just say it's amazing, which it is.... BUT , first of all it is not ballet, second of all they look like they are being tortured! For some reason, when I watch that film, I feel as if the acrobats have been forced to do what they are doing! There is no love or joy -- or, for that matter, true beauty -- in what they do.

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 07:35 PM

Ballet choreography=Pointe work/toe shoes-(yes...bad ballet is still ballet).

"And what about Scheherezade...?"

Oh well, who knows...I don't have all the answers, you know... :huh:

About claiming total orthodoxy, that's another matters, for which there's always enough room for a little bit of parody/comedy as with Les Trocks, a little bit of the circus/gymnastic dosage a la the Great Chinese State troupe clip referred by the OP or even for some Somova, as we all know...

#9 avesraggiana

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 10:08 PM

The essential thing is though, that you can't get angry with someone just because they don't share one's knowledge or appreciation of an art form, or rather you can but it's at that point that an allegation of snobism holds weight.

The technique of ballet has evolved over the past twenty years to the point where gymnastic ability has overtaken artistry in many cases precisely because to attract new audiences spectacle is demanded. It's a hotly debated topic on these boards about the loss of artistry in ballet for gymnastic pay off.

The problem with preaching to the unconverted is the central question of why do you want to convert them? Yes, they're wrong the head balance to Tchaikovsky isn't ballet, but you'll never convince them of this if they don't wish to be convinced, or have no inclination to discover what the art form is all about. If you want to try and make them aware of what ballet means to you, and this is the issue really, then it's mandatory that you take a softly, softly approach and come from it from there point of view. You really don't break a butterfly with a wheel.

I love ballet and the art of ballet, but I know that if I want to talk about it with like minded people who come to it from a similar point of view I'll come and chat here. But if you want to talk about it from a standpoint which is the antithesis of yours then it's vital that one sympathises with the opposing view point, to acknowledge what the acrobatic act means to those posters on other boards. Launching into an argument about the nature of art never works well, I've learnt that to my detriment and above all not to lose one's rag with people who don't have your appreciation or knowledge.

My own feeling is to pick one's battles wisely, I know from experience it's often not worth the brain damage incurred in enterting the internet message boards fray, people fundamentally don't like changing or revising their views on any topic, never mind ballet, just take a softly softly approach. It really does pay dividends.


Simon,

Thanks for your reply, all your points are very well taken. Iíve decided that trying to explain the difference in what I see in that video clip, to people who do not know the difference, and who donít care, is trying to convert them and Iím simply not about to expend any energy doing that. Itís probably why Iíve not responded to that question. I donít think I could articulate my thoughts in such a way that would not seem confrontational, intellectually arrogant or snobby. Until I do, Iíll stay out of the fray.

Arnel

#10 JMcN

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 05:33 AM

I personally wouldn't describe this prodution as ballet. The whole piece was performed in the UK a couple of years ago as "The Chinese Acrobatic Swan Lake" and I was fortunate to see a performance at the Lowry (it was also shown at ROH!).

It may not be ballet but it is fantastic entertainment and I was on my feet yelling and cheering at the end with the rest of the audience. It's on again in the UK this year.


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