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What's Up with NYCB's Dancers Port de bras?


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#1 Plisskin

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 11:30 AM

I've been trying to get into NYCB, but their port de bras really bothers me. It's very stiff and not fluid. Is this just their style and Balanchine wanted it this way, or is it something else?

#2 Jack Reed

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 03:25 PM

I'm assuming it's Peter Martins's NYCB you're watching; a lot changed there in the mid-80s, after Balanchine left us. Or are you looking at the recordings made under his supervision? That's where you'd see examples of what he wanted. We've a forum where we go into detail on some of those, but meanwhile the Nonesuch DVD 79838 is well shot, readily available, and so, recommendable for the purpose. 79839 was well produced originally, too (both in 1978 or 1979), but the recent DVD has a technical problem; the audio and video are out of synch! But we present a work-around you can use for that if you're willing to play it in a computer.

Other places you can see what Balanchine wanted but harder to get to see, there was also an excellent recording of Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze and a few others, discussed in that same thread; and there are fragments of film and video of what he wanted in the more readily-available documentaries "Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse" and "Balanchine".

Personally, since the mid-80s, watching NYCB does nothing for me, so I rarely have; from about 1970 until then, though, watching Balanchine's NYCB was something I had to have, otherwise I felt there was something missing from my life, and so I managed to see some 500 of their programs in those days. More to your question, some dancers had more expressive arms, some less. I hope this helps.

#3 Plisskin

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 06:18 PM

^ Thank you that actually does help. I'm not very familiar with NYCB pre Martins so I will definitely be checking that era out.

#4 vipa

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Posted 30 November 2012 - 06:47 PM

I'm a big fan of NYCB and know that I can't be particularly articulate in my response - but I'll try my best. I've been watching ballet for a long time. I'm in my mid 50's, was a ballet dancer, taught ballet, and have always been an avid audience member. I was around for Balanchine years and obviously post years. I thought NYCB lost it's way for some time but has been in a resurgence for a while time now.

The arms - people were complaining about the arms back in Balanchine's day - they are all different not together. During Balanchine's life Russians were saying - legs good, arms not.

To me it's the whole look. I don't separate out the arms - the speed, epaulemont (shoulder/head turn/facing) musicality, excitement that comes together with a NYCB dancer. It is not just this step is great or that step is dazzling, it's the whole effect, and the arms are part of it.


They don't dwell on the arms, it's just all of a piece. Maybe it's simple a matter of taste. I've never liked Russian companies and find ABT second rate.

#5 Plisskin

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Posted 01 December 2012 - 04:44 AM

^ Interesting. I'd love to hear your opinion on why you think ABT is second rate. And what to you think of what Peter Martins has done to NYCB?

#6 Jack Reed

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 12:46 PM

I've been helped in getting the whole effect more strongly by analyzing sometimes, for example when watching video with a dancer, so we're free to converse, unlike in the theater. Dancers have eagle eyes for everything - "See, she's late. Oh, she's not turned out." I respond to these details but I don't see them as such either, unless they're pointed out, and then I become more sensitized.

But, yes, it is the whole effect for me too, especially how the movement seems to be instructed by the music - the music's "meaning", if you will - not just the beat and the mood. Other choreographers never quite equaled Balanchine in this in my experience, and the effect was heightened for me by an air of immediacy, of freshness the dancers projected. They couldn't be improvising - improvisation could never be that good, certainly not for that long. And yet, it was as though they were listening and doing what the music told them to do.

My problem with NYCB today is that this immediacy is much less, replaced by a very accomplished but less involved and less involving way with it. (When there aren't substitute gestures or movements which don't embody the music at all, that is. That really puts me off.)

My own problem with ABT is that their performances don't have this integration of what you hear and see - not even when they dance Balanchine, not to the degree his company did in the old days - but you do see some phenomenal dancing there at times, though.

Anyway, I wanted to offer another good video of Balanchine's Balanchine, as I think of it, for whatever interest that may have. Here, from 1954, is Western Symphony, a slightly goofy ballet, maybe not just the one where you want to study the arms, but lots of fun:

http://www.ina.fr/vi...ymphony.fr.html

If you have a look at some of the old material I've mentioned, please feel free to let us know what you think, Plisskin.

#7 Michael

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 11:20 AM

When done right, it looks to me like the dancer is responding to the music throughout their entire body - the back, shoulders and arms look fluid - they are looser, less pulled up, less "posed," kept less "composed" than in Vaganova training and, removed one step still further, than in French schooling.

This is a personal take. I don't know what the pedagogues say officially.

MP

#8 Jack Reed

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 02:42 PM

That's an interesting idea. "Embody the music" is a phrase sometimes employed to talk about the effect of Balanchine dancing, aside from the technical bits. Ages ago I watched a detachment of Kirov, I think, dance Scotch Symphony, staged by Suzanne Farrell, no less, which seemed to be all "here we do this and then we go over here and do that", a series of held poses, while the music flowed. (In a short time, I suppose all Farrell could do was teach them the steps and gestures, not change their established way of doing them.) But a young French friend, who trained with French teachers, before a few years with Ballet Chicago, where they're very devoted to Balanchine's way, has always been exemplary in embodying the music better than most of her current company colleagues in Carolina Ballet (when I've had a chance to see them). This way of moving is the way I find most satisfying to watch.

#9 pherank

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 10:17 PM

That's an interesting idea. "Embody the music" is a phrase sometimes employed to talk about the effect of Balanchine dancing, aside from the technical bits. Ages ago I watched a detachment of Kirov, I think, dance Scotch Symphony, staged by Suzanne Farrell, no less, which seemed to be all "here we do this and then we go over here and do that", a series of held poses, while the music flowed. (In a short time, I suppose all Farrell could do was teach them the steps and gestures, not change their established way of doing them.) But a young French friend, who trained with French teachers, before a few years with Ballet Chicago, where they're very devoted to Balanchine's way, has always been exemplary in embodying the music better than most of her current company colleagues in Carolina Ballet (when I've had a chance to see them). This way of moving is the way I find most satisfying to watch.


I remember getting into a heated discussion of the arm movements of NYCB dancers, especially regarding the Corps de Ballet. I had recently rewatched the documentary, Bringing Balanchine Back in which the NYCB travels to the Mariinsky to perform for the Russians. And I felt there were too many shots of the Corps looking rather 'unkempt' (arms in all directions rather than synchronized to each other, and to the music).

I remember Farrell writing about the Scotch Symphony staging in her book, and it sounded like a nightmare, but she of course puts a positive spin on it - at least the Russians are dancing Balanchine! I've read other accounts of staging western dance in Russia, and generally it is difficult to get the proper amount of time with the principals, and especially hard to get most of the dancers to care about new techniques and approaches. There are a few exceptions, of course, but its rather surprising how many Russian dancers just want to shrug off the newer works as odd and uncomfortable filler.

RE: the older Balanchine dancers -

A glimpse of Tanaquil Le Clercq & Diana Adams in Concerto Barocco
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGcUVGO75F0

#10 mnmom

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 01:48 PM

This topic is interesting and my timing on finding it is uncanny. My daughter was just accepted to the School of American Ballet summer Intensive (feeder school to NYCB). An older, professional dancer in her company told her not to go there. Based on girls who had returned from the program the summer prior, she said it would ruin her port de bras! I never noticed before but now I'll pay attention.



#11 bart

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Posted 17 January 2014 - 06:19 PM

I'd be interested in hearing more about Balanchine's approach to (and relative interest) in port de bras.  Was he less interested in this than in other aspects of the body?  Did he give it less time in class?

 

My impression is that it was precisely with port de bras that you find the most individual variation at NYCB in the 50s and 60s, especially among his principal dancers.  Tallchief's upper body looked nothing like LeClercq's;  Hayden's nothing like Adams; etc.   

 

Looking at the many still photos from this period, it's impossible not to notice how much variation in port de bras there is in the corps.  Of course, this may partly be because they were were being snapped when they were at slightly different positions in a complex movement..  But I have a clear memory of how out of sync the arms/hands (and upper body generally) looked among the corps in numerous performances of Swan Lake (Acts II/IV.)  Certainly they look, in Michael's phrased, relatively uncomposed.  On the plus side, they look more spontaneous than Russian performance from the same era.

 

On the other hand, I recall early ffilm of the corps in the Waltz of the Flowers, and later inf Symphony in C, in which the arms seemed perfectly fine -- still varying a bit from individual to indivual, but not in a distracting way.



#12 Jayne

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Posted 18 January 2014 - 12:10 AM

Last weekend I watched my DVD of POB's 2004 "Jewels" and I was struck by how *careful* everything looked.  In Diamonds it works, and Emeralds too. But it really doesn't work at all for Rubies.  

 

It's a different aesthetic, and we should just accept it, the same way Alvin Ailey's troupe dances differently than NYCB.  Different species of beautiful flowers of dance.




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