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Definition of BalletHow does Ballet differ from other dance?


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#46 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 01:32 PM



The ballet line is composed of proportions and geometry, and a particularly elegant carriage of the upper body. It is about triangles created in various poses--check out those triangles--as well as the maintenance of turnout and pointed feet (yes, sometimes the choreographer can make alterations but these do not carry throughout an entire ballet). If you watch the videos of the Vaganova Academy students, for example, you can see even in the barre exercises where the dancers are not on pointe, the particular line that distinguishes ballet.

I had a male ballet teacher some time ago who only had to stand in fifth position (no pointe shoes) and you felt you were at the ballet, so perfect were the proportions, the turnout, the upper body carriage, the shape created by the muscles of the thighs and calves. I may admire the line to the horizon of a set of railroad tracks, but that is different from a ballet line.


The ballet line for me is something I feel I can see and understand but can't clearly articulate in words, so thanks for your comments, Angelica. Line can be described as proper alignment as defined by the particular school or syllabus, perhaps? You can definitely see it at the barre when a well-trained dancer is taking class,


Yes, you're exactly right, AlbanyGirl. It is, indeed, a matter of alignment, not a matter of opinion. My point has been that I have never seen a satisfactory definition of ballet line. So even though you and I are getting close to the thing, and we definitely know it when we see it, I would love to find a satisfying definition that is not tautological. By that I mean something that goes beyond "ballet line is the particular alignment of the body that is characterized by ballet."

Well, I'm going to be off this board for a week while I try not to break a leg skiing in Colorado. So I won't be hammering this point(e) (haha). But we're getting close, AlbanyGirl, and maybe sometime we can nail it. Thanks so much for responding. Sometimes one thinks one's posts are going into a black hole and it's so reassuring to know that they have clicked with someone out there.


Well, have a great time, Angelica, please don't break a leg and enjoying your wonderful skiing. Also, thanks for your feedback because I, too, sometimes feel like no one is listening or doesn't care to respond. Certainly not at all with this particular thread as it has been a pleasure today and very rewarding.

#47 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 01:34 PM


P.S. Re: the importance of pointe shoes and their relation to ballet line: Pointe shoes are important, but not in and of themselves; rather, because they elongate the leg to its maximum, thus extending and enhancing the line, whereas demi-pointe, in ballet slippers, cuts off the line.


I agree.


It could be then that at this point i'm not interested in seeing women dancing "ballet sans pointes".

#48 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 01:36 PM

" Also, thanks for your feedback because I, too, sometimes feel like no one is listening or doesn't care to respond. Certainly not at all with this particular thread as it has been a pleasure today and very rewarding."

I also know that we are all very busy, so this comment (in italics) is offered kindly.

#49 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 01:52 PM



P.S. Re: the importance of pointe shoes and their relation to ballet line: Pointe shoes are important, but not in and of themselves; rather, because they elongate the leg to its maximum, thus extending and enhancing the line, whereas demi-pointe, in ballet slippers, cuts off the line.


I agree.


It could be then that at this point i'm not interested in seeing women dancing "ballet sans pointes".


Cristian, I feel that dancing en pointe is so much a part of the ballet experience, that when I see a ballet danced without pointe shoes or with just soft slippers, I feel a bit disappointed, as if I've only seen 1/2 a ballet. An anecdote: when Suzanne Farrell went to dance with Maurice Bejart's Ballet Fin de XX Siecle in Belgium (I think that's how it's name goes), apparently his dancers danced a lot without their pointes, and there was something about a very limited number of pairs of pointe shoes she'd be given, per the contract. However, Suzanne was adamant about dancing en pointe and having the requisite numbers of pairs that she needed and he conceded and she got all that she wanted. This anecdote comes from her autobiography 'Holding on to the Air'. In the book, I think Suzanne said she'd go through 12-15 pairs a week. My book is way upstairs and I'm wrapping by hubby's birthday presents right now, otherwise, I'd check for sure. Anyway, she LOVED dancing en pointe.

#50 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 03:17 PM




P.S. Re: the importance of pointe shoes and their relation to ballet line: Pointe shoes are important, but not in and of themselves; rather, because they elongate the leg to its maximum, thus extending and enhancing the line, whereas demi-pointe, in ballet slippers, cuts off the line.


I agree.


It could be then that at this point i'm not interested in seeing women dancing "ballet sans pointes".


Cristian, I feel that dancing en pointe is so much a part of the ballet experience, that when I see a ballet danced without pointe shoes or with just soft slippers, I feel a bit disappointed, as if I've only seen 1/2 a ballet. An anecdote: when Suzanne Farrell went to dance with Maurice Bejart's Ballet Fin de XX Siecle in Belgium (I think that's how it's name goes), apparently his dancers danced a lot without their pointes, and there was something about a very limited number of pairs of pointe shoes she'd be given, per the contract. However, Suzanne was adamant about dancing en pointe and having the requisite numbers of pairs that she needed and he conceded and she got all that she wanted. This anecdote comes from her autobiography 'Holding on to the Air'. In the book, I think Suzanne said she'd go through 12-15 pairs a week. My book is way upstairs and I'm wrapping by hubby's birthday presents right now, otherwise, I'd check for sure. Anyway, she LOVED dancing en pointe.


Oh, I do remember that, and also something about doing the barre on pointe vs. her peers, who were not. When someone told her something, she responded something along the lines of "Thanks, but I like to be up here..."

#51 Amy Reusch

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 07:52 PM

Ok, so what makes the difference between a male ballet dancer and other types of male dancers? Or is there none?

#52 Quiggin

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 08:02 PM

[font=Times New Roman][size=3][font=comic sans ms,cursive][size=4]When I looked at the picture you linked to (from 1653) the dancer seems to have a certain care and delinquency of “touch,” the way the hands are held as if lightly and carefully touching something and the way ...[/size][/font][/size][/font]


Yes, there is a way of touching the imaginary in ballet. And I think if you limit ballet to ballet en point, you leave these other balletic ways of moving, more laterally than up – not to mention two or three centuries of ballet history beginning with Louis the XIV, the original Apollo, as well as the Diaghilev ballets, including the 1927 Apollo.

Interesting that the initial development of the ballet coincided with the invention of mirrors, at least mirrors in large sizes. According to the Wikipedia entry, the Saint-Gobain works in France, founded in 1665, was able to produce mirrors over 40 inches in length for the first time.

So perhaps seeing yourself moving in space – the feedback the mirror provided – had something to do with the progress of ballet. (Of course Balanchine (in Maiorano/Brooks Mozartiana) warned dancers against looking in the mirror so much. The mirror, he said, is like your best friend – it never tells the truth about yourself.)

#53 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 09:34 PM

Ok, so what makes the difference between a male ballet dancer and other types of male dancers? Or is there none?


There are many, as you and me well know, starting with their training, the type of repertoire they're capable to do, the turnout and many other details. Now, a dancer can switch from one genre to another, as it has been the case-(usually from ballet to so and so, not too much the other way around, at least as adults), which in that case we could wonder.."Mr. X is or was a ballet dancer?". Tricky question indeed. Now, the question could go as "what identifies a male ballet dancer?", which in that case I would say, out of my mouth and right away..."his ability to do Albrecht". You can definitely stage a modified Giselle to be danced by a street b-boy, but you will notice RIGHT AWAY that there are key elements missing in his dancing. If pointes are esential to a female to assure that she can do ballet, then I would say that demi-pointe is its male counterpart.

#54 Amy Reusch

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 09:39 PM

I think it might mostly be in his leap. What other form of dance features that floating leap? (not that all danseurs quite accomplish it). But honestly, a grand jeté is so naturally human that one finds a versuon if it in so many art forms... But rarely does it have that floating quality that a top ballet dancer can give it.

Though in keeping with Albrecht, maybe a ballet dancer is also better at portraying a Eurpoean folktale styled prince?

#55 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 09:42 PM

Though maybe a ballet dancer is also better at portraying a Eurpoean folktale styled prince?


The demeanor, yes...definitely.

#56 elena

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 06:29 AM

Interesting thread, I have enjoyed reading it. Personally when I think of the definition of ballet I too think of line, placement, turn out, the equilibrium of the body, a specific codified vocabulary. This to me is the foundation that unifies all ballet - be it classical ballet, neoclassical or contemporary. The more a choreographer "plays with" or "breaks" these rules, the more they separate the piece from what ballet is; though at what point it stops being ballet and turns into something else is difficult to pinpoint and that is the grey area that causes difficulty when trying to form a strict definition.

#57 Amy Reusch

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 06:59 AM

I wonder if 19th century choreographers would recognize most 20th century ballet performance as ballet performance... even performances of their own work... The aethestic aim is so different... And 21st century even less
Ikely... But we see our history and provenance in what evidence exists of theirs.

My question for Mark is to ask how having a definition could help him enjoy a performance more?

#58 Tom47

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 08:18 AM

[size=4][font=comic sans ms,cursive]Elena, I like your statement that “Personally when I think of the definition of ballet I too think of line, placement, turn out, the equilibrium of the body, a specific codified vocabulary.” Even before starting this thread I kind of felt that way although I couldn’t talk clearly about them. I feel that the answer to my original query is complex and involves many different qualities of ballet. After reading all of these replies, which I appreciate, I feel even stronger that the answer to my original query would have to be complex.[/font]
[font=comic sans ms,cursive]Tom,[/font][/size]

#59 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 09:53 AM

My answer was aimed at the most common case scenario when someone without previous experience is in the position of facing a night at the theater in which a mixed repertoire is being danced by a ballet company-(typical case of MCB). Usually they do lots of Balanchine, some Morris and Tharp and a sporadic Petipa. I have had neophyte companions who, just as boldly as Tom did, had turned to me before, during or after the performances to ask me if what they will see, are seeing or saw is ballet or danza, and how do they know which is which. Although it would be wonderful to start engaging in a conversation about placement, lines, past centuries, touching the imaginary and codified vocabulary, usually there's not enough time to do so in such situations and also the person in question sometimes does not want to go that far, wanting just a simple, valid formula that can help them separate the two types of dancing at first sight. I have given the "whatever you see danced in pointes tonight is ballet, and the barefoot stuff is not" has worked 100 % for me so far.

#60 Amy Reusch

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 08:41 PM

"Ballet is a constantly evolving art form... The artistic director saw everything on stage tonight as 'ballet'... Isn't it interesting?" Would be my answer... Showcase performances combining several different companies offerings would pose more of a problem, but then perhaps there the question would not come up?


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