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Effect of earlier career on Choreographers


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#16 Paul Parish

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 10:00 PM

Judging from the little footage I've seen of Ashton dancing, I'd say he was a PHENOMENAL dancer -- unbelievable lightness and rapidity in entrachats-sixes and sissonnes, like Manuel Legris. It's true he started late, and it's also true, he envied Balanchine the training he'd had at the Imperial Ballet School.

On another note, I've heard an interview with Lar Lubovitch in which the point was brought out that he was a painter before he became a choreographer. The questions were subtle and the whole conversation was fascinating. I wish I could remember it, but the discussion was not simple. Not sure of his biography -- I think he had studied dance, but his concentration was in the visual arts......

And on yet another note, while what Mel says is true about Balanchine in some ways -- he was a character dancer in his early career, not a premier, and his career was almost ended when he got some lung disease -- TB? -- which left him with only on lung; nevertheless there are MANY accounts from the dancers that he was a superb dancer -- his gestures were wonderful, and he could do the most difficult things perfectly -- not sure what, but something like a double tour landing in arabesque in his street clothes with moccasins on his feet. And Tallchief among others has said that Balanchine knew how a woman was going to feel in her pointe shoes.... He'd ask dancers 'which was are you falling" and incorporated that knowledge into hte next phrase, so the movement had a natural feel to it. Dancers have often said that solos made for them seemed tailor-made, they were comfortable to dance.

[They've also often said he did NOT take into account -- or only rarely -- the dancers' need to take a break, get offstage, and catch their breath. That's another matter.]

#17 variated

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 04:21 AM

I think understanding how a ballet feels to a dancer and how it looks to the audience are not quite the same thing, and perhaps the latter is ultimately more important; it is after all for the dancer to rise to the steps rather than the steps to make life easier for the dancer. I know that composers who were pianists like Liszt write pieces that "fall under the hands" naturally , but can still be fiendishly difficult in terms of speed and other virtuous tricks. Whereas Beethoven, not a great pianist, writes beautiful piano music but it is much more "effortful" and less natural for the performer. Of course you have to know the technical limitations of the dancer's body/the instrument (I have worked on an ensemble piece by a young composer which made literally lno allowance for brass players to breathe for 5 whole minutes) but within those boundaries I don't think it makes much difference from the audience's perspective - although perhaps moving the dancers out of their natural comfort zone can make for an ultimately more powerful performance.

#18 Mashinka

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 06:24 AM

I imagine the classic example of a non-dancing choreographer of today would be Wayne MacGregor.

#19 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 02:18 PM

When I was just starting to choreograph, I was sitting in on the rehearsals of an older, more experienced choreographer who had been with several major companies.

He was working on tailoring portions of the male variation from Grand Pas Classique for a young professional dancer who was quite good, but everything he was trying was just too intricate.

"Can I try something?" I asked, and showed him a simpler variation of a tour jete. "Of course, that's perfect. Why didn't I think of that?"

"Do you really want to know?" I asked. He looked at me.

"Because you can dance and I can't." I said.

Natural dancers can have a harder time with choreography because every idea works in their bodies - they didn't have to figure things out. They have to work harder to learn which ideas are good and which aren't worth the audience looking at.

#20 dirac

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 03:48 PM

I do vaguely remember an ice show (perhaps one organized by John Curry?) in which major choreographers designed skating sequences. Tharp and Martins are two I remember, but there were others. None of them had any experience with ice skating themselves, so it's interesting they had the courage to try working with skaters.



Kenneth MacMillan and Ronald Hynd did pieces for Curry, as well. The results tended to be mixed. On the one hand the dance choreographers came to the ice without preconceptions and so came up with novel ideas that might not have immediately occurred to a choreographer with a background in skating, but by the same token the material produced was often constrained by their not having a real understanding of the technique, and the stuff Curry and other ice choreographers came up with on his/their own was as good if not better. The assessments of Curry’s troupe by dance critics were sometimes similarly limited, for that matter; they knew dance and movement, of course, but not necessarily a great deal about skating or the skating world, and it could show.

Returning to the question raised in the original post, I don’t know offhand of any choreographers, distinguished or otherwise, with no dance training or background. It’s hard to see how such choreographers would develop outside the dance world. It’s true that there were/are choreographers who come to ballet from the world of modern dance and Broadway, but that doesn’t sound like what you meant, johnno.

#21 Quiggin

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 06:58 PM

Oskar Schlemmer. "Dances that only a painter could have choreographed": Jack Anderson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rEGTsW-Qgg&feature=related

Reconstructions in 1984

... The avant-garde legacy of Schlemmer and his Stage Workshop students would eventually influence the performance theory and work of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, the Judson Dance Theater, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, amongst others.


Bauhaus Dances

#22 dirac

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 09:50 AM

Thanks, Quiggin. I didn't know that.

#23 bart

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 02:24 PM

I loved this and would have enjoyed seeing and listening to it without the background noise. Made me think of the strangeness of Pierre Lunaire -- and also, because of the slow motion and the puppet-figures, of the clip from Maguy Marin's Cinderella, posted on another thread recently.

http://balletalert.i...__1#entry290604

#24 johnno

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 09:23 AM

Thanks for your replies.

I wasn't thinking of anyone in particular when I posted the question. I'm new to the study of ballet and in reading around the subject simply gained an impression that some choreos had not been dancers. California's observation that some choreos were not known for their dancing is probably the best answer to my question: it's not that they weren't dancers, more the case that they're known for their choreography.

#25 bart

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 10:06 AM

When I was just starting to choreograph, I was sitting in on the rehearsals of an older, more experienced choreographer who had been with several major companies.

He was working on tailoring portions of the male variation from Grand Pas Classique for a young professional dancer who was quite good, but everything he was trying was just too intricate.

"Can I try something?" I asked, and showed him a simpler variation of a tour jete. "Of course, that's perfect. Why didn't I think of that?"

"Do you really want to know?" I asked. He looked at me.

"Because you can dance and I can't." I said.

Natural dancers can have a harder time with choreography because every idea works in their bodies - they didn't have to figure things out. They have to work harder to learn which ideas are good and which aren't worth the audience looking at.

A marvelous story, Leigh. I was wondering how would you fit Balanchine into this?

Evidence suggests that Balanchine was by any definition a "natural dancer" despite his physical limitations. But he had an enormous facility for tailoring movements to the needs of individual dancers. And for scrapping his original ideas if they weren't working out in rehearsal. Granted, his dancers were, for the most part, superlative instruments, usually chosen by him for the work he was creating. As time went on, he was able to develop a new generation of dancers in ways he wanted, through the School and then company class.

#26 Amy Reusch

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 07:08 PM

A phenomenon like Balanchine would throw off any data curve...

#27 Paul Parish

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 09:42 PM

Welcome to Ballet Alert, Variated. I agree with most of your thoughtful response, except that I'd like to point out that the audience has a kinesthetic response to the dance as well as a pictorial response -- and that the quality of tje movement is as important as the plastique. There are many different qualities a choreographer could want -- sometimes a jagged, stumbling action is called for, sometimes precarious footwork is the POINT. Though generally speaking in ballet, awkwardness is an effect, while well-coordinated seamless transitions are the norm. To the degree that the sweep of the phrase matters more than hte articulation of each particular step, making the dance comfortable for the dancer also makes the dance comfortable for hte audience -- since by and large, phrasing is the MOST important conveyor of meaning.

I think understanding how a ballet feels to a dancer and how it looks to the audience are not quite the same thing, and perhaps the latter is ultimately more important; it is after all for the dancer to rise to the steps rather than the steps to make life easier for the dancer. I know that composers who were pianists like Liszt write pieces that "fall under the hands" naturally , but can still be fiendishly difficult in terms of speed and other virtuous tricks. Whereas Beethoven, not a great pianist, writes beautiful piano music but it is much more "effortful" and less natural for the performer. Of course you have to know the technical limitations of the dancer's body/the instrument (I have worked on an ensemble piece by a young composer which made literally no allowance for brass players to breathe for 5 whole minutes) but within those boundaries I don't think it makes much difference from the audience's perspective - although perhaps moving the dancers out of their natural comfort zone can make for an ultimately more powerful performance.



#28 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 01:53 AM

Oskar Schlemmer. "Dances that only a painter could have choreographed": Jack Anderson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rEGTsW-Qgg&feature=related

Reconstructions in 1984

... The avant-garde legacy of Schlemmer and his Stage Workshop students would eventually influence the performance theory and work of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, the Judson Dance Theater, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, amongst others.


Bauhaus Dances


I saw films of the original production, I believe, at the IBM center in NYC BEFORE the reconstruction, perhaps in the 1980's. I am pretty sure that this is what Bette Midler used to incorporate reproductions of sequences and scenes from these dances in her video of "Art or Bust." It was an excellent and unusual tribute.

#29 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 04:31 AM

Oskar Schlemmer. "Dances that only a painter could have choreographed": Jack Anderson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rEGTsW-Qgg&feature=related

Reconstructions in 1984

... The avant-garde legacy of Schlemmer and his Stage Workshop students would eventually influence the performance theory and work of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, the Judson Dance Theater, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne, amongst others.


Bauhaus Dances


Also, Robert Wilson. No, not ballet, and yes, most of his work is in theater or opera, but he did try his hand at choreography in "Snow on the Mesa" for the Martha Graham Company. He does gorgeous moving pictures, but he doesn't do movement. His imagination is pictoral rather than kinetic. "Snow on the Mesa" emulated the way Graham looks, but not how it "feels" in your own passive body while you watch it. Here's a clip -- it actually comes off better in a little tiny YouTube window than it does on stage:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBlm5AsOsaI

To be fair to Wilson (who's done stuff I really like) I've seen worse choreography perpetrated by one-time dancers -- but their failures are different in kind.

Edited to add: I really do think think that there's some sort of tension and release secret sauce that only people who are experienced in expressing things with their bodies have ready access to.

And ... one cup of coffee later, Quiggin, I see Wilson was on your original list -- don't know how missed it ... I was thinking "Nikolais, yeah ..."

#30 Ray

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 05:59 AM

Perhaps this has been discussed in an earlier thread: the issue of how ballet choreographers get trained. Mostly--in my opinion, anyway--is that they don't, and I wonder why? I mean, most modern-dance choreographers have been through some course of training, while ballet dancers seem to have to pick it up on the fly, as it were, or participate in workshops like the Carlisle Project (does that even exist anymore?). It's a funny thing: as dancers, the training is so rigorous, while choreography is supposed to issue out of people as if by magic. Does the field still hold on to Romantic ideas of Creative Genius?

I am NOT saying that choreographic training will guarantee good choreographers. I will assert, however, that I've seen the bad results of no training many, many times in my relatively short career as a dancer.

In the other arts, training in composition is rigorous, too, even if creators end up jettisoning what they've learned.

Again, apologies in advance for repetition.


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