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Leigh Witchel

Technique or Personality?

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  1. 1. Technique or Personality?

    • technique
      30
    • personality
      64

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58 posts in this topic

What the heck - I thought I'd post this as a poll as well as a discussion. My longer, non-poll answer? I like technique, and definitely have a minimum cut-off for it, but that bar is at "reliable", not "virtuoso". But at the end of the day, I'm more interested in personality. Of course, give me a technician with personality and I'm a really happy balletgoer.

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Thanks for this poll. It made me realize that I have often said "i don't like dancer X, she's too cold" but never really said "I don't like Dancer Y, her technique is bad" -- unless Y's personality was such that it couldn't distract me from techinical problems. Even though if asked why I like particular dancers, I know part of my answer would be "perfect technique." An epiphany, if a minor one.

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I'm sure anyone could guess my vote: personality that catches my eye is what draws me to "love" a particular dancer...although I do appreciate what my eye sees as a high level of technique...granted my vision's not 20/20. :)

I hope this poll will get many, many votes cast and then perhaps you can publish it and send it off to various artistic directors and their money people!

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When thinking about it, I realize that sometimes making the distinction between technique and personality isn't so easy- especially as one's personality has quite an influence on the way one works and one displays one's technique... For example, I think the extremely clean and precise technique of Manuel Legris has some link with his gracious, modest stage personality- it's hard to know what I like most in all that!

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I think you're quite right Estelle. Sometimes, technique is personality - or at least a part or a reflection of it. Legris is a good example of this, too.

I think we're a little lopsided on this issue, though. Those of you who adore brilliant technicians - SPEAK UP!

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I prefer personality too, but I admit it: I adore brilliant technicians. Not adequate ones, mind you, but brilliant! The ones that, after watching them, leave you breathless and tingly, and make you glad to be alive.

Wait a minute, I think I just described a brilliant personality. In the immortal words of Emily Litella, "Never mind." :)

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wHOEVER EMILY LITELLA IS, THAT'S A GREAT LINE TO BE FAMOUS FOR.

What I love in a dancer is presence of mind -- sometimes that looks like personality, sometimes that looks like technical confidence. I've seen a dancer do double tours who i know can't do them, because he's really a modern dancer in a ballet company, whose training had developed presence and understanding of the function of posturing (ok, the guy I'm thinking of has had a lot of Graham, and he decided to treat a double tour as a kind of gesture, and DID it), so you might think of it as personality, moxie, he pulled it off --

but in fact he's a very good dancer in small ballet company without a lot of actual ballet training having to do ballet STEPS because that's what the choreographer made last year and there mustn't have been to rechoreopgraph the sections for hte new guy, even though the new guy was going to be carrying a great deal of the ballet, and blow me down if he didn't pull it off -- but it wasn't just his musicality, he actually used some OTHER technique to pull him through.

whew, that's a long sentence...... maybe start over.... what I love to see is bravery -- some dancers get courage/confidence because they've always had it, their mothers doted on them from the moment they were born, and they love to have an audience; sometimes that helps people pick up technique easily, "without having to work for it." SOme dancers get their confidence because it's an escape from life, they don't dare go to the door to pick up the paper without doing their make-up, but they find they can perfect their technique, they can do things and know they can do it and understand that that makes them presentable....... And they're right -- it does.... That's the American way. Merrill Ashley.

SOme get confidence bcause having the chance to play a role gives them a structure they "don't have in life"... many people said that Nijinsky ws like a nobody when he was himself, but when he was imitating somebody, or creating a character (onstage or off) -- he;d pretend to be, say, a drunken, lecherous old woman -- it was unbelievable, the depth of detail he could pack into the creation....

I recently saw a video of Violette Verdy 's great solo in Jewels, and some of the suspensions she held, hte dynamics she gave that part, the releve so fast, the suspension how breathtaking the way she held it out to the last possible moment. and hte luxurious softness in her shoulders! out of this world beautiful...

IT's both technique and personality, and what an ability to seize the moment and make it matter....

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I'm surprised at the lopsidedness of this poll too -- I think we have a lot to learn about polls :)

I couldn't come up with a better word than "personality" but this was hard for me to answer, too, because I saw Ballerina A, cold as steel, churning out fouettes, and Ballerina B, skipping across the stage without doing any real steps, but blowing kisses and looking absolutely adorable. (Of course, there are the ones who do fouettes AND blow kisses, but that's another story.) So I guess I read the differences as "robot" and "not a robot" -- which may not be fair. :)

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It is complex, for something that seems simple, isn't it?

There are plenty of technicians out there I've adored (Merrill Ashley, Miranda Weese, now Jennie Somogyi and Ashley Bouder coming up) - but it was their personalities I loved. Ashley's bravery, Weese's wit, Somogyi's avidity, Bouder's heroism. . .technique is essential to these qualities in them - they couldn't be who they were without it. But it's what's above the technique that I love.

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Ballet is so difficult -- the simplest things are hard, just going straight up and down is very difficult, if you're really going absolutely straight up an down -- that it reveals the deepest impulses towards movement, and thus who you are shows up uncommonly clearly, and is visible from far away... THe wonderful thing about Ahsley was how her godlike she looked, her shyness was still there even as she articulated and clarified transitions nobody'd ever been able to show.Her shyness was the other side of her fierce determination to make herself presentable....

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Thank you all so much for your posts - it really does help to hear your details. Since I am not that well versed in the ballet world, reading your descriptions of people (many of whom I have seen) really helps me clarify my own feelings, and I also think it will help me to look at the individual dancers differently... It would be great to see a performance with you all and then discuss it afterwards! :)

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You know what? I voted for technique! My first impulse was, of course, to choose personality, but then more I was thinkinig about it then more I understand that on the stage in BALLET performance I'd like to see the first of all a DECENT technique, which can't go lower of the certain level or the perfofmance will be spoiled. After this I will look for a) acting abilities B) interpretation of the role and only c) personality of the dancer, who can be beautiful or ugly, smart or stupid, honest or fibber.

All people have personalities, but not all of them can be dancers and just few of them have the rights to dance, let say, Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty". :)

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I am finding this discussion quite interesting, as I have been experiencing the mostly painful process of company auditions. It seems almost impossible to demonstrate your "personality" at the typical audition, when bar work and combinations are what the auditioners are looking at. That seems to be what gets you the initial acceptance into a company and then they work on personality. It seems as if much of this mystical "personality" comes from within the artist themselves, however, and it is a shame that they aren't hiring personality with the potential to improve technique (and I am speaking in terms of a high level of technique). I would much rather watch an "artist" with some technical flaws then a "technician" with artistic flaws. After all, isn't this what dance, and ballet in particular, is all about?

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You know I never even considered that side of this subject! Thanks for bringing this upbhough, and I hope that some others in the field will respond...I'm sure they will later on tonight.

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Originally posted by Paul Parish

wHOEVER EMILY LITELLA IS, THAT'S A GREAT LINE TO BE FAMOUS FOR.

Paul, Emily Litella was a character from Saturday Night live in the late 1970s, played by the lovely, talented, and hiccup-inducing Gilda Radner. This character would be called upon to provide commentaries for Weekend Update, the evening news parody, on topics like Soviet Jewry, violence on television, and making Puerto Rico a state. Being a bit scatterbrained, she would then deliver commentaries on Soviet jewelry, violins on television, and--my favorite--making Puerto Rico a steak. ["If you make Puerto Rico a steak, the next thing they'll want is a baked potato!"] :P When the anchor corrected her she'd say, in her characteristic high pitched voice, "Oh, that's different. Never mind," and give a little smile.

Yes, ladies and gents, it's true: I don't spend my whole life immersed in intellectual and meaningful pursuits. :)

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Indeed, interesting results in this poll. For me, one must have technique even to be able to watch the personality. I have seen too many bad dancers with no technique and only personality. Yes, of course, also lots of technique and no personality also is a bore, but at least I can go off into a world of being mystified by the work ethic! There can always be hope with someone who has technique, but without that ...oh my goodness ballet is another thing!:rolleyes:

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First of all, Ballet Nut, you have made my day....

That reminds me of the Lithuanian joke," A chicken is not a bird, and Poland is not a foreign country."

Ah yes, we need more wit onstage..... I've seen dancers at City Ballet for example who were so dull it was unbelievable -- soloists like the dreary Theresa R -- in Diamonds -- who couldn't do tombe pas de bourree pas de chat interestingly -- Diamonds has got a LOT of potentially deadly passages...

Think on the other hand of Stephanie Saland, who did not have a reliable cabriole (see the Bournonville Divertissements), and they had to drench the stage in Coca Cola, I'm told, to make it sticky enough for her to be presentable in the tours de fini without falling out of them at hte end of Western Symphony, but WHAT A WONDERFUL DANCER she was, in fact, she was a principal dancer, at New York City Ballet, no less, where technique is supposed to be all in all...... She had such feeling, and such style, and such line and musicality.... What a creature she was.... I didn't see her live much, but I'll never forget her at the end of Serenade, being borne offstage like she was entering into Paradise...

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Hey, Balletnut, the old Saturday Night Live was anintellectual and meaningful pursuit! However, it was your line about brilliancy that got me:

The ones that, after watching them, leave you breathless and tingly, and make you glad to be alive.  

That's what I go to the ballet for.:)

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There have been times when attending a performance in which all the dancers were at a very high level technically, yet still left one asking, "Is that all there is?"

After a dancer reaches a certain high level of proficiency, one looks for more than simply technique. Otherwise, they may as well be gymnast or athletes, not artists.

Obviously, having technique or personality to the exclusion of the other is not desirable. The brilliant dancer Erik Bruhn wrote a wonderful article, "Beyond Technique" (anyone know where to find it now?) that best describes the next level a dancer like himself would want to pursue for optimum artistic growth.

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Maybe in another era where abstract ballet was not so dominant, we might have seen the reverse of the results we have here; people might have been begging for more technicians and fewer actors in tights. I can't choose, really, but I'll plump for technique, because if someone doesn't have it I'm not going to be wildly interested in his personality.

Emily Litella was also hard of hearing. I recall in particular her performance of "I Will Follow Him," which she rendered as "I love him/I love him/I love him/And where he goes I'll swallow, I'll swallow, I'll swallow/I will swallow him...." at which point she was corrected by a grim Jane Curtin.

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"and where he goes I'll swallow,

I'll swallow, I'll swallow.."

Emily Litella, Emily Litella,

you SLAY me, you SLAY me, you SLAY me...............

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Something bhough said above rang a bell with me:

It seems as if much of this mystical "personality" comes from within the artist themselves, however, and it is a shame that they aren't hiring personality with the potential to improve technique (and I am speaking in terms of a high level of technique).

A teacher at a comparatively small company without a large talent pool on which to draw told me once: "We take people and make them dancers. Other companies take dancers and try to make them people."

--------------

I can't believe I've gone along these many years without ever hearing about Emily Litella!

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What's all this fuss I hear about conserving our natural racehorses???

An Emily Litella Fairy is suddenly coalescing in my mind - the one who rushes into the Prologue of Sleeping Beauty to do, full out and with conviction, Moyna or Zulma's part from Giselle or Gamzatti's variation. Until someone (The Jane Curtin Fairy?) tugs the hem of her tutu and says. "This is Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty. Not Giselle."

"Oh! Never mind. . ."

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Leigh's example would seem to be one of personality overriding a strong technique.

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