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BalletNut

High extensions

   98 members have voted

  1. 1. High extensions

    • YES!! The higher, the better.
      16
    • In some ballets, but not in others.
      130
    • Don't care one way or the other.
      3
    • UGH!! Ballet is *not* for contortionists.
      29

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99 posts in this topic

And as Aurora, she modulates her extensions with very good taste. If she lets the leg go way up in he step-up develloppes, well, ok, that's climactic, it's OK there (and Sizova let her leg go way high there, too) -- what matters more is the way she stepped backwards into arabesque after arabesque as if it were nothing, and even more, the simplicity of her diagonal to the violin solo -- the reach out through the arms, the gentle corkscrewing of the wrists, a la Russe, the delicate feel for Russian character dancing that enlivens her entire upper body.... The things she WANTS to do fascinate me, as much as the fact that she can do them -- and in her case, high legs are way in hte background of her performances.
Wonderful insights, Paul. Thank you.

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And as Aurora, she modulates her extensions with very good taste. If she lets the leg go way up in he step-up develloppes, well, ok, that's climactic, it's OK there (and Sizova let her leg go way high there, too) --
Wonderful insights, Paul. Thank you.

Paul--for what it's worth, I haven't seen Guillem's Aurora, but I did watch the movie with Sizova and the video of 'Cinderella' without knowing what this kind of high extension was--I mean, it's hard for you to imagine this, but I more or less 'hadn't heard of them', as it were. But I noticed one after the other in 'Cinderella'--they stuck out, every one of them--but I didn't notice anything that seemed somewhat unharmonious in Sizova's Aurora, which I watched twice. So you think it was Nureyev who wanted to see these 180 degree extensions all the way through--and drawing attention to themselves as such--which is how it came across to me? I just bring this up because it also occurs to me that one is a very modernist, one might say, kind of dancer, and this dissonance may even be what one ought to want to see more of, and the other--even if the leg 'went way up'--seemed to be to always be in a style that was smooth and, probably, I was attracted to that softness that Sizova brings; whereas I can't get around memories of razor-sharpness in that Guillem, which is okay, since I haven't ever seen anybody I liked as well as Sizova in it anyway, although that's not so many (but again, I'll look up the other pieces.) I'd like to see her Aurora, is it on DVD?

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I realize that all this is in the eye of the beholder, but to me there is a big difference between high extensions (Suzanne Farrell, e.g. or, for her time, Sizova) and facile, loose-jointed opening of the legs in every direction (e.g. Guillem). Guillem can flaunt some very impressive physical feats, but does she have true ballerina line - that overall, shifting but centered harmony of movement as she goes from feat to feat? Not to my eye, especially compared to, say, Zakharova. Zakharova's extensions are often super-high, but they remain in proportion to the scale of the rest of her dancing. That's what is critical - not the height of the leg or foot, but how it fits into the rest of the dancer's line and performing.

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It's interesting that Agnès Letestu holds the opposite view.

DV: Whom do you consider your examples?

LETESTU: I have several. I have always admired Sylvie Guillem a lot. In my view she got it all - physically and technically, she is perfect. She gives everything she has when she is on stage. Unlike what has been said about her for a long time, she works very hard on her characters. What concerns the drama and the theatricality it’s always intelligent, everything she does has been well considered and there is absolutely nothing superfluous. I know there are many people who consider her cold, but I really admire her work, especially as an actress.

DV: You don’t disagree with her technical prowess?

LETESTU: No, it’s a natural thing for her, it’s like she breathes. On the other hand, the young generation of Russian dancers goes a lot further and is much more extravagant than her.

DV: You had an example here recently with the Maryinsky star Svetlana Zakharova who guested in La Bayadère.

Yes, in her case it’s pushed to the limit, she exaggerates, everything is distorted with her. In Sylvie Guillem’s case it’s natural. And it’s not done to provoke. It’s a natural continuation, an extension of her whole being. After all, why not lift your leg higher, if you can create a beautiful line with it and can do so without falling over? It was Margot Fonteyn who once said that if she had been able to lift her legs as high as Sylvie Guillem, she would have done it herself. But this is really not the essential thing about Sylvie Guillem. For me, Sylvie Guillem is in the first place her interpretations and the way she identifies with her roles.

http://www.danceview.org/interviews/letestu.html

For my part, I generally don't object to high extensions as long as the torso and pelvis aren't distorted as a consequence. Unfortunately, they usually are.

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I realize that all this is in the eye of the beholder, but to me there is a big difference between high extensions (Suzanne Farrell, e.g. or, for her time, Sizova) and facile, loose-jointed opening of the legs in every direction (e.g. Guillem).

Hello, and let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the board. I see your point, but am I wrong in recalling that there were some at the time of the advent of Farrell who regarded some of her idiosyncrasies – the high, high legs, the unorthodox arms – as unclassical? And now she’s regarded as not only classical but a pivotal ballerina – arguably the ballerina – of the neoclassical era.

A belated thanks to Mel for reviving this thread.

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We've had a number of threads over the lamenting exaggerated extensions -- with a minority finding little or nothing wrong with them.

But this time we seem to be getting at something more interesting.

Paul -- in his discussion of Cojocaru -- and Letestus' comments on Guillem, as quoted by volcanohunter, seems to suggest that this kind of extension can be effective and asthetically valid

(a) when it develops naturally out of the dancer's own capacities, style and personality;

(b) when there is musical or choreographical logic to doing so;

and © when it is the product of the dancer's deliberate and intelligent artistic choice, in the service of the role and/or choreography;

This kind of dancing is a far cry from exaggeration "because I can do it" or merely to pump up excitement. It takes a fine eye to appreciate such distinctions. Thanks to all of you for helping to redefine, and to refine, this issue.

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This kind of dancing is a far cry from exaggeration "because I can do it" or merely to pump up excitement. It takes a fine eye to appreciate such distinctions. Thanks to all of you for helping to redefine, and to refine, this issue.

Well, I still don't have that fine eye, and would like to know if there is a video of Guillem doing Aurora. There are other Auroras I don't like, like Viviana Durante, but I could see what I thought of Ms. Guillem as an artist if I saw her Aurora. It's possible I might like some modernist sort of approach, although I can see I have a hard time imagining it.

I realize that all this is in the eye of the beholder, but to me there is a big difference between high extensions (Suzanne Farrell, e.g. or, for her time, Sizova) and facile, loose-jointed opening of the legs in every direction (e.g. Guillem).

Hello, and let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the board. I see your point, but am I wrong in recalling that there were some at the time of the advent of Farrell who regarded some of her idiosyncrasies – the high, high legs, the unorthodox arms – as unclassical? And now she’s regarded as not only classical but a pivotal ballerina – arguably the ballerina – of the neoclassical era.

A belated thanks to Mel for reviving this thread.

I don't think I recall that nearly as much emphasis placed on those idiosyncrasies, because for one thing, they have to do with the body itself as much as what the body then does. I knew dancers who didn't care for Farrell, and still do, but my recollection is that, although you can find plenty of discussion of her exaggerations in the pre-Bejart period, and Croce talks about this in 'Farrell and Farrellism', it seems that it was still the whole thing that was mostly being talked about, not separated-off elements such as the suddenly-severe thing Guillem's legs and feet do. In other words, Balanchine's attachment already got the legend going to such a degree that Farrell was not so dissectable and very quickly got an aura in a similar way to Garbo shortly after that early Pabst movie 'Streets of Sorrow' or whatever it was, when she had not yet become 'goddess-like'. So I had a number of dancer friends who told me they found Suzanne 'boring' and 'dull' and 'no personality', all of which I found ridiculous, but it always in those cases about the whole thing, not the physical attributes, most of which were reluctantly granted as existing--favourably, as special gifts. There were, I admit, also times, when I thought critics went to far in their hyperbole, not that Farrell wasn't great--of course I think she is--but that they wrote absurd stuff better left in the 19th century or in Buckingham Palace Machinery publicity. I didn't think they knew how great Farrell was, but that they had heard it and were going to join a 'cult.' Now, Ms. Guillem is a brilliant dancer, but she doesn't have that image in the same sense--although I probably agree with what Peter Martins said toward the end of 'Far from Denmark' that Farrell was 'a great ballerina' and that she was the last of a breed ...and something about the newer dancers are not cultivating this image thing so much any more, that it's much more a matter of work that is also dancing, something like that, you get the gist.

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We've had a number of threads over the lamenting exaggerated extensions -- with a minority finding little or nothing wrong with them.

But this time we seem to be getting at something more interesting.

True, but in many threads the topic has come up in passing and so the discussion did not go too far in that direction.

Well, I still don't have that fine eye, and would like to know if there is a video of Guillem doing Aurora.

You may be underrating your eye. :icon8:

Thanks to all for the comments. Keep them coming!

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When I saw Guillem's Odette-Odile, I found her high extensions to be something of a revelation--despite the fact that I had by that time seen several high-legged Swan Queens as well as dancers in other roles who used ultra-high extensions including the young Zakharova. Guillem's extended lines were (to my eyes) genuinely exquisite and...well...classical looking. Thinking about it, I felt they looked entirely natural to her body and motion. She remained utterly relaxed so there was no distortion of the classical line or musical phrasing. I had and have never seen 'high' extensions in a nineteenth-century classical role, traditionally conceived, that looked so appropriate to the artistic totality. This was one of my favorite Odette-Odile perfomances in many years.

Years ago, when I first read about Guillem's dancing, I was very skeptical. I expected to feel about her as Leonid does. Then I saw and loved her performance in a modern role (the Robert Wilson Martyre of St. Sebastien). In that work she created a huge impression just standing still. But I assumed I would not like her in classical roles. Since then I have seen her just twice more, in Swan Lake and in A Month in the Country. I don't even recall her deploying her high extensions except in the Swan Lake (which I have described) but both performances seemed to me, in very different ways, genuinely great ballerina performances. So much so, that whenever Guillem is mentioned on this board I feel practically compelled to say something about her impact.

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Well, as I wrote earlier, our eyes and tastes differ...greatly. I don't dislike Guillem because of her high extensions, but because (to me, though obviously not to Agnes Letestu and others) those extensions are neither beautiful in themselves nor do they relate harmoniously to the rest of her movement. She remains, for me, a gymnast - no line and no music in her dancing. It's all physical. But she has given much pleasure to a lot of people, so those who enjoy her, please continue to do so.

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but because (to me, though obviously not to Agnes Letestu and others) those extensions are neither beautiful in themselves nor do they relate harmoniously to the rest of her movement. She remains, for me, a gymnast - no line and no music in her dancing. It's all physical.

I find it mostly so thus far, but just found that there is an old video with her doing Petipa's 'Grand Pas Classique' with 6 other POB ballets with other dancers on the tape. I might be able to see more from that.

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In a 2005 thread on "hympermobility," Alexandra made a very interesting point:

I've blamed the emphasis on flexibility as Sylvie Guillem syndrome -- when Guillem became THE star, companies started looking for girls who looked like her and were as flexible as she was, and so girls started to work on flexibility at the expense of everything else. (When Fonteyn was THE star, dancers tried to look/dance like her; in the Makarova era, the same. And it's been that way since Taglioni.)
I realize that this is taken out of context, but it may suggest one of the problems high extensions may cause ifor ballet today. Many young women may be aattempting to emulate movements that are not natural to their own bodies, not supported by core strength and technique, and not justisfied by a higher aesthetic vision.

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but it may suggest one of the problems high extensions cause for ballet today. Many young women may be aattempting to emulate movements that are not natural to their own bodies, not supported by otherwise strong technique, and not modulated by a higher aesthetic vision.

And it really should come as little surprise that this kind of athleticism would become so emphasized, even if you think Guillem has all the other attributes as well, because technical perfection is always emphasized nowadays at the expense of everything else, if necessary--and in all fields of artistic and every other kind of endeavour. There's not a thing to be done about it is my guess--probably because even though an evolution toward technical perfection may be inevitable, by its very nature you can see it begin to colour what used to be thought of as something not exactly the same. You can hear it in a young pianist like Lang Lang, for example. The colours and shadings and emotions have become a part of technique, and they can seem as if switched on without having prior introduction, or are as implants that substitute for working out at the gym.

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In the interests of balance -- and possibly of HOPE -- I should quote the rest of Alexandra's post on hypermobility

So part of me isn't too worried -- yet -- because Guillem's career is winding down and there will be a new star coming up somewhere. And that star is always at least 180 degrees different from the last one.

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When I saw Guillem's Odette-Odile, I found her high extensions to be something of a revelation--despite the fact that I had by that time seen several high-legged Swan Queens as well as dancers in other roles who used ultra-high extensions including the young Zakharova. Guillem's extended lines were (to my eyes) genuinely exquisite and...well...classical looking.

It's probably because her torso isn't thrown way out of alignment when she elevates her leg. Assuming that tilting or leaning aren't built into the choreography, I wish ballerinas would lift their legs only as high as they can without knocking their torsos off the vertical axis or tilting their pelvises.

In this photo of Zakharova as Odette, her torso is leaning way over to the left because her pelvis is tilted so far that her pubic bone is probably at a 75 degree angle to the floor. I absolutely cannot accept this as beautiful classical line.

http://www.danzahoy.com/pages/edicion_10/i.../critica/02.jpg

Guillem, on the other hand, manages to keep her torso much straighter. Her pelvis is tilted also, and I wish she wouldn't do that, but the distortion is not as great.

http://homepages.tesco.net/~rostibolli/con...ie_guillem2.jpg

On the other hand, if a ballerina is dancing Bhakti, I really don't care how much she exerts herself to turn her pelvis inside out. That's the nature of the beast.

http://www.rolex.com/en/media/images/world...vie-guillem.jpg

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A photograph is one thing; as Farrell once said, "You have to watch the way I move." I see unbroken, centered, harmonious line in Zakharova's movement - not so in Guillem's. Things would be boring if we all experienced dancers the same way. Guillem seems to me like someone who wandered in from another planet suddenly able to perform ballet steps; there is a superficial, flashy sort of accomplishment, but something absolutely vital at the core is missing.

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We've had a number of threads over the lamenting exaggerated extensions -- with a minority finding little or nothing wrong with them.

But this time we seem to be getting at something more interesting.

Paul -- in his discussion of Cojocaru -- and Letestus' comments on Guillem, as quoted by volcanohunter, seems to suggest that this kind of extension can be effective and asthetically valid

(a) when it develops naturally out of the dancer's own capacities, style and personality;

(b) when there is musical or choreographical logic to doing so;

and © when it is the product of the dancer's deliberate and intelligent artistic choice, in the service of the role and/or choreography;

This kind of dancing is a far cry from exaggeration "because I can do it" or merely to pump up excitement. It takes a fine eye to appreciate such distinctions. Thanks to all of you for helping to redefine, and to refine, this issue.

There is at least one other circumstance here: When it is at the positive direction of the choreographer or ballet master. Then the dancer is off the hook, and it's a management choice.

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There is at least one other circumstance here: When it is at the positive direction of the choreographer or ballet master. Then the dancer is off the hook, and it's a management choice.
Thanks for that reminder, Mel. Perhaps we focus too much blame on the dancers, letting ballet masters/mistresses, AD's, etc., off the hook.

On the other hand, guest stars like Zakharova can pretty much write their own aesthetic ticket at places like La Scala, I would imagine.

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I managed to Google and find a clip of the Grand Pas with Guillem just now. It was especially interesting to 'watch the music', since I have not got any sound on this computer. My impression is that she is all sharpness and no softness at all. I may be wrong, because at the time I wasn't paying too much attention, but I think there were some critics who didn't like Susan Jaffe's sharpness during her earliest years, or at least around the early 80s. I never saw her in person until 1996 with ABT, where she was Juliet, and it was not so much I thought about softness, but rather lightness so that it did not look so severe even with Jaffe's very sharp technique--in short, I was blown away and transported at Jaffe's astonishing dancing. In this Guillem clip, I find that I agree with EW in that, however, slightly altered--the extensions actually do at one viewing seem to be more or less in harmony with the rest of her dancing, but I also find them not beautiful in themselves, i.e., it's just dancing I can't appreciate. It looks too fast, and makes me wonder if some of our threads on conductors with their too fast tempi are always to blame, because it's nearly impossible to imagine Guillem not being able to keep up with even the fastest tempi. I never see any repose, and that's very modern and, in music, can be very legitimate, but in 19th century work I'm just not moved. Pierre Boulez's 'La Mer' is supposed to be exemplary, but I don't think such a speedy businesslike and unromantic interpretation is especially admirable. This attitude is more appropriate for his own music.

Even though most will have speakers, it is worthwhile to watch dancers without the music--I do this on tapes to--so as to try to ascertain the musicality of the dancer. Leonid is surely right about Guillem being one of those dancers that divides audiences into very clear camps; to me, her Aurora looks like something somewhat circus-like, I find it slightly blinding and in a thoroughly non-romantic way.

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It is so interesting that you brought up Susan Jaffe, because I was also thinking about her in this context. I believe that when she first came "on the scene" as a supposed young prodigy at ABT, her dancing was nearly as facile and mechanical as Guillem's. She was also praised by many for her extensions and long "line," but to me there was no line at all, simply long limbs stuck into space. Line is hard to define - I think there are other threads about this - but a dancer either has it or she doesn't, and a viewers (or spectators, as Farrell calls them - I love that term) either see and feel it or they don't. The amazing and wonderful thing about Jaffe was that, through working with the incomparable Irina Kolpakova, she was able to change, soften and improve her dancing. In the later stage of her career, she actually did develop line and an ability to dance rather than cruise glibly through her roles. I haven't seen that change in Guillem.

About dancers responding to the wishes of ballet masters as a reason for altering their high extensions: I've often wished I could travel back in time to see the performances Farrell gave with National Ballet of Canada after she left NYCB. What could that Swan Lake, for example, have looked like? All those careful, rigid, polite Canadian dancers surrounding this voluptuous creature with incredible freedom and reach.....Did she try and hold herself back, or did she just let go and show herself, as Balanchine once said, like a "whale in her own ocean?' I wish there was a tape somewhere.....

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I've often wished I could travel back in time to see the performances Farrell gave with National Ballet of Canada after she left NYCB. What could that Swan Lake, for example, have looked like? All those careful, rigid, polite Canadian dancers surrounding this voluptuous creature with incredible freedom and reach.....Did she try and hold herself back, or did she just let go and show herself, as Balanchine once said, like a "whale in her own ocean?' I wish there was a tape somewhere.....

If I'm not mistaken, she didn't actually complete the performance, and Nadia Potts danced from Act III onwards. The performance took place while Farrell was dancing with City Ballet.

BTW, I'll agree that NBoC dancers back then were careful and polite. The company still had a distinctively English cast (akin to the quasi-English accent called "Canadian dainty"), sadly lost since then (like the dainty). But they were certainly never rigid. Nadia Potts, in particular, was one of the loveliest and most lyrical Swan Queens I ever saw.

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I take back those words about Nadia Potts - you're right, she did have a lovely, lyrical quality that was different from many of her ironing-board colleagues. I know that Farrell was injured during Swan Lake, but I didn't think that was her only performance. And I'm quite sure this happened after she left NYCB, when few companies would take her in and risk angering Balanchine.

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Regarding Guillem, it is very interesting to watch the video online of her contrasted with that of a young Elisabeth Platel. Platel is all airy lightness and delicate grace, with soft, detailed port de bras, and Guillem is very earthy and chic. I prefer Platel because she makes something beautiful and serene out of the tawdry choreography, but Guillem's flashier style is not out of place. I dread the day Zakharova decides to take on this pas de deux, I fear that her torso will never actually be upright!

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