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Small steps (or other movements) that make a lasting impression


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#1 bart

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 04:12 PM

Sometimes, talking with people during intermissions, you get the feeling that ballet makes the strongest impression when it turns out big jumps, unbelievable turns, dramatic power-lifts.

What about the little things in ballet? I think I fell in love with ballet when, as a child, I saw Swan Lake from a fairly close up seat. A lady in white, with a smooth white feathered headdress and a crown, was standing on the point of one foot, slowly turning in a circle with the support of a prince. As she glided, the other foot foot, pointed and slightly raised from the floor, fluttered in and out, making me think of a bird hovering at her nest..

I now know this as petit battement sur le cou de pied. It was over almost as soon as I noticed it, but in a real way this small step changed my life. (Or at least the arts-loving part of it.) I still love this detail -- and the music that it is married to -- though I confess I've never found a subsequent performance to be as "good" as that first one, which I saw at age 9 or 10 or so.

Any other "small steps" that have made a lasting mpression on you? Do you still feel the same way?

#2 Helene

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 04:23 PM

I was already in love with ballet by the time I saw this the first time, but every time I watch the "Dance in America" adagio segment of "Divertimento No. 15," and Stephanie Saland moves her foot into sur le cou de pied on her way to arabesque, it takes my breath away.

I also love the "bump" of Suzanne Farrell hitting fifth position for a brief second after a swivel turn in the pas de deux from "Apollo," and the rond de jambe to pointe from a kneeling position that the women in Aria II from "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" does towards the end of that pas de deux.

I have spent and will spend more hours and hours watching Thomas Lund in the Bournonville Schools. Pure joy.

#3 Parma

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 04:41 PM

I don't really know much about ballet and have only been able to see it on tv, youtube, dvds, etc, but "I know what I like", and I like the old-fashioned style (excuse lack of knowledge here) best. My favorite ballerinas so far are Olga Spessivtseva and Olga Lepeshinskaya (though I suppose she wouldn't neccesarily be considered especially "old style", she's "Soviet bravura style" or something, is that correct?) Both entrance me with both their movement and their storytelling. From the little I know of the different-styles? schools? I like the Bournonville best, and the attack-dog style of Lepeshinskaya, and the introverted yet charming style of Spessivtseva. I never get tired of being fascinated with the charm of it. In fact I'd say that "charm" is what my favorites all have in common, in very different ways. This won't be a very popular thing to say, I think, but I don't even feel my lack of ability to be able to see live ballet (very much, I know I would like to if it were easier for me) because I do know that the styles I love aren't what's happening right now. Actually I'd need a time machine to see the ballet I love best. It's really not just because that's not how it's danced anymore, it's also because women (and men) just aren't like that now, charming in that way. Oh well.


#4 polyphonyfan

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 05:04 PM

The first ballet piece I really fell in love with was the Arabian dance from the Bolshoi Ballet's 1989 (I think) production of the Nutcracker, the one that they show on Ovation Tv. I realize now how different and subtle and somewhat folk-inspired that interpretation of the Arabian dance ( or the "Dance of the Indian Dolls" as they style it) is compared to the showy Balanchine-influenced ones you see in the U.S. There isn't anything showy about the Bolshoi version, it is the little things like smoothness of the choreography and the beauty of the sculptured poses that are entrancing.

#5 sandik

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 07:25 PM

I don't know that this really qualifies as small steps, but I've always loved the opening sequence of Balanchine's Theme and Variations. It's simple enough that you can teach it to an intermediate ballet class, but it's so crisp and musical that I get a great deal of satisfaction from it whenever I see it (or even just think about it -- I'm smiling right now)

#6 bart

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 07:16 AM

I don't know that this really qualifies as small steps, but I've always loved the opening sequence of Balanchine's Theme and Variations. It's simple enough that you can teach it to an intermediate ballet class, but it's so crisp and musical that I get a great deal of satisfaction from it whenever I see it (or even just think about it -- I'm smiling right now)

I know what you mean, sandik. I just checked with the Baryshnikov-Kirkland ABT performance available on YouTube. The elegance and simplicity (elements of what Parma would call "charm") get extra energy by the mirroring of the two lead dancers, and (paradoxically) the contrast with perfectly posed corps standing behind them.
J
Possibly that term "big impression" in my sub-title was a mistake. I've edited it to read "lasting impression." Helene's examples fall into this category, definitely. So does polyphonyfan's preference for the understated Bolshoi version of the Arabian Dance.

Yesterday afternoon, at a chamber music program of including some unfamiliar (to me) early 20th century works, I was struck by the way some members of the audience chuckled with appreciation at points when there were subtle, fleeting musical surprises. Many in the audience are regulars at chamber music performances in our area.

I've been wondering whether this pleasure in noticing and savouring small things is universal. Is it something that some have a predisposition for while others don't? Does it require special knowledge of the art form? If there is a disposition, I think I've had it since childhood. I recall noticing things like foot placement and small changes in epaulement long before I knew anything about ballet technique, history or terminology.

#7 sandik

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 10:42 PM

I've been wondering whether this pleasure in noticing and savouring small things is universal. Is it something that some have a predisposition for while others don't? Does it require special knowledge of the art form? If there is a disposition, I think I've had it since childhood. I recall noticing things like foot placement and small changes in epaulement long before I knew anything about ballet technique, history or terminology.


There are several different versions of "noticing" but they all seem to have something to do with special skills or knowledge. A musician will often recognize skills or deficits in other musicians that the rest of us are deaf to -- they understand what they're hearing in a different way that many others in the audience do. Someone who is the equivalent of "well read" in a particular art form will often see connections between a work being performed and its antecedents, whether they are intentional quotations or inadvertent borrowings. And choreographers who have worked hard to develop their own skills as creators will often appreciate the intricacies of structure in someone else's work, just as a carpenter will notice a particularly artful job done by another woodworker.

#8 Stage Right

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Posted 24 July 2012 - 01:38 PM

Well here's something so small that I don't even think you can call it a 'step': The first ballet I ever saw was The Sleeping Beauty when I was four years old. I'm not even sure who the company was that I saw (this is more than 50 years ago!). My mother says that I sat still, entranced throughout the production (and I later became a ballet dancer and teacher). But what I remember being impressed by in the production was how the lead dancer could stay so still during the scene where she goes to sleep--I, as an active four-year-old, couldn't imagine that! I'm sure that dancer could not have imagined any audience member being impressed with her immobility after all the hard work she'd put into her dancing.

#9 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 July 2012 - 12:35 PM

I have a vague memory of being in awe of a ballerina crossing the back of the stage with a veil on as if she was on wheels-(must have been Myrtha).

#10 bart

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 06:42 AM

These examples are fascinating. I identify with almost every one.

The ability to perform stillness is a great skill, and one which can create a powerful effect -- just as silence in the midst of noise. Stage Right, children do notice and think about such things, thank god. I have to confess that, even as an adult, I rarely see Aurora sleeping or Juliet in her false death without wondering what the performers are thinking/feeling and how they are accomplishing the effect. Is it a natural skill, to do this well -- i.e., in a manner that holds the audience's attention? Can the skill be learned?

Complete stillness breaks the man pattern of the piece. It defies our expectations, and so calls attention to itself. The same may be true of the particular bourrees that cubanmiamiboy mentions.. Does anyone see this step without wondering, at least briefly, "How do they do it?" Also, there's a marked disconnect between what the feet are doing (fast, tiny, almost invisible movements) and the placidity (tense and powerful in the case of Myrthe) of the rest of the body.

#11 Stage Right

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 02:52 PM

Thanks, bart, that was a really nice video clip! It gave me a thought: maybe sometimes when ballet performances have those "pre-show" lecture-demos, they should include a segment that explains and decodes some of the mime that may be coming up in the following performance. Help educate the audience to appreciate and understand that aspect.

#12 cargill

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Posted 27 July 2012 - 10:44 AM

There are so many little moments I remember, but I think the one that I love the most is Fonteyn in Swan Lake. I saw her very late in her career (including the last one she did at Covent Garden), and before I saw her, a friend told me to be sure and watch the moment in the second act when she goes to the side of the stage and crosses her arms, right before the traditional mime scene. I had seen that many times before, and it was always someone crossing her arms, so I couldn't imagine what was so special, but I did watch, and honestly, for a moment, I really did see wings. I have never seen anything to match that in terms of pure theatrical magic,.

#13 duffster

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Posted 27 July 2012 - 06:39 PM

One performance of the Royal Ballet still remains with me to this day. It was Symphonic Variations, not about the dancing(brilliant as it was) but the complete stillness each artist was able to achieve holding the opening position as the curtain rose and also many times during the different sections of the piece. To hold a position on stage for some time is very difficult . The cast that I saw was Dowell, Sibley,Penney, Jenner,Coleman and I think but not sure David Wall. It was extraordinary.

#14 Helene

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Posted 27 July 2012 - 07:25 PM

About stillness, I've never seen "Watermill," but for me, the queen of stillness and attention was Beatriz Rodriguez's The Chosen One in the Hodson/Archer reconstruction for the Joffrey Ballet:



She doesn't move from 8'44" of this video until 4'25" in part 3.

#15 canbelto

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Posted 27 July 2012 - 09:22 PM

There's that moment in Fokines Firebird when the Firebird is facing the Prince, and she does that cambre while rustling her arms and head. It's like a bird rustling when captured but I remember the first time I saw the Fonteyn video there was also something erotic about it. That quick quiver she does with her entire body, like she's enthralled and scared at the same time.


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