Posted 16 July 2002 - 01:15 PM
Although I am not in NYC to see the Kirov (unfortunately), I do find the article quite interesting. I suppose I am a Russian lurker of some sort, so I will give it a try. I comment as an American teacher of a high level background in American Schooling as I experienced it, but I cannot comment for American Schooling in general for this is a vast subject.
There are many differences in Russian training from American training as I know it. Ms. Acocella seems to be either very observant or else has knowledge of Russian pedagogy and experience with various American schools of thought. She has hit on very key issues which do make the difference in the dancer's approach to movement. The training of the back, port de bras and poses are a very large part of the difference in the overall movement quality of the dancers. To be a little more specific I would also like to add the focus. Where they look, how they look, when they look and why they look is clearly defined and studied as a child. These are things that I know were not trained in me as a young student. It all was wanted from the dancer by the teachers and various directors, but it was never thoroughly trained as a student thus making artistic expession more of a challenge than it needed to be. Russian dancers are trained from the beginning about focus and it continues to develop as the years of study increase.
As for the discussion of Balanchine and his effect upon our training and standards, I think there was an attempt at some point to discuss this issue on this site. Ms. Acocella's has made some very interesting observations. I do not agree with her statement regarding musicality. Am I to assume that her feeling is that the Russian "deliberateness" of movement takes away from the musicality of the movements and that it is only the acting/dramatic ability of the schooling that encourages musicality? I can discuss Russian musicality vs the musicality I was trained with as an American student/professional and indeed it is very different. The basic difference, without going into too much technical mumbo jumbo is the movement being defined, whether it is on the upbeat or the downbeat, it is defined. Whether it is in the depth of the demi-plie or the height of the jump, it is hanging/floating using the full musical value of the note. Speed, the Russians have incredible speed, Balanchine did not invent this. He devised his way of moving quickly which is just different from the Russian way. To watch the examination class of the graduating class, 8th year, is to see lightening fast jetes, ronde jambes par terre and en lair, petit battements, petit allegro and pointe work. I have never seen non-Russian trained students work this quickly, in this way. It is different, but it is something that is trained extremely slowly, methodically and relentlessly. They do have more time with their students and it does make a difference. Maybe if we teachers in the US had the time too we could develop some of this type of musicality as well, if that is what is required. I do not have an answer.
I do not know if it was in this article or E. Kendall's excellent article, but one of them made the observation that the Students of the Russian Academies study with two or three ballet teachers over the course of their studies. This is true, and in my opinion makes a huge difference in the product but they also work with 2 different historic dance teachers, 1 character teacher, 1 acting teacher, 1 duet (pas de deux) teacher as well as a rehearsal mistress/master for the rehearsals for school productions and company children's roles, bring the total number of teachers to 8-10 over the course of study. These teachers are important to the students developement for various reasons. Of course the subject matter is important but also they are exposed to other ideas and different ways of working. No, I do not mean in methodology, but definely in personality types and emphasis of importance. In America, we tend to approach this issue of exposure to various teachers/ways of doing things through changing ballet teachers quite often, perhaps in the case of some SI offering more than 1 technique class a day, even 2 teachers in a day. Generally it is divided between 2-3 teachers a week. This has its good points but also gives less consistency in training. We have discussed this in the Teacher's Forum I believe, and have come to a general consensus that at a certain level students must have more than one teacher, but I am never quite convinced that there is the consistency in training because teachers generally do not discuss what, when, how and why they are doing something so that there is a coordination, so as not to contradict ideas. I think to a certain extent I know more of how Ms. Leigh and Mr. Johnson approach their work and I have never met either one of them. We do have an open dialogue regarding the hows, whens wheres and whys here, but I do not find this amongst my collegues in general. I do not mean in my job in particular, just that it is difficult to find teachers who are willing to sit down to openly and honestly discuss how they do something, when and why! Some people/schools just are not as open to discussing these issues as BA. In the pedagogy program in St. Petersburg, at least for a foreigner, that was the point/purpose to the course. I know that my Russian friends doing the course at the same time also had these discussions. It is not a bad thing to contradict ideas, there just should be a way to prepare the students for the various ways of doing things. I am drifting, I know, so I will stop here.
I gave it a shot and hopefully it is understood that I am not making a stab at non-Russian training vs Russian training because I truly do believe the bottomline is good teachers/teaching vs bad. There are good and bad no matter what method or school of thought, but is a fact that various schools do produce various looks!