How often do you go to the ballet?
Posted 08 March 2002 - 02:45 AM
I fully appreciate that you want this site to be primarily about "ballet" and not dance in general. The problem I have is what is "ballet"? Is it like pornography, you know it when you see it? I have yet to find a definition of it that would allow me to confidently make a decision as to whether what I saw was ballet or modern dance. Ballet Tech dances many of Felds stuff that is not on pointe. I would guess that the majority of his ballets are like that. Are they still ballets or are they modern dance being done by a ballet company and choreographed by a ballet choreographer? Does turnout matter? How about lifts? How can you tell? I would guess this deserves a thread of its own or has it already been hashed to death?
I like the definition from the alt.arts.ballet faq. It is certainly not very definitive but it does give a sort of sense of the differences. The following is in the alt.arts.ballet faq:
Tom Parke, posting in rec.arts.dance, offered the following definitions:
"If the dancers are attempting to prove that gravity does not exist, then it's ballet.
If the dancers are attempting to demonstrate that gravity does exist and it's a bitch, then it's modern.
If the dancers are attempting to demonstrate that gravity does exist but they'd rather die fighting it than give in to it, then it's jazz. "
Its a cleaver and fun definition... but not really discriminating. What are the discriminating criteria that can be used to distingish modern from ballet. HELP! confused.gif
[ March 08, 2002, 02:52 AM: Message edited by: hal ]
Posted 08 March 2002 - 03:06 AM
I wrote this article for Ballet Review in '98 to distinguish Paul Taylor's technique from ballet.
Paul Taylor is often thought of as the modern dance choreographer for people who prefer ballet. The idea of this cross-pollination is buoyed by Taylor’s enviable position of having worked with three of the major American choreographers of the century, Graham, Cunningham and Balanchine. Thinking of Taylor repertory as balletic is a red herring, the Taylor technique is an offshoot of Graham's, the center of gravity firmly rooted in the pelvis, the leaps propelling from a love affair with the ground. Despite the influence on Taylor of Margaret Craske and her Cecchetti training, there is nothing balletic about the look of Taylor’s technique. In some ways, it is anti-balletic; the works need the propulsive force and groundedness the dancers get from working the front of the thighs, unlike the turned out positions in ballet. Watching ballet companies do his work becomes an exercise in translation, sometimes the accent is pleasing on its own terms, sometimes it isn’t. There is a tape of Rudolf Nureyev dancing Aureole with dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet in 1978. His weighted rhythmic style became an apt translation for a weighted center of gravity. Unfortunately, some of the other dancers are merely daintily complacent.
About the only things Taylor repertory has in common with ballet repertory are its musicality (which has paralleled Balanchine's on more than one occasion, vide Esplanade and A Musical Offering) and Taylor’s classical vision of Elysium. The idealized vision, the Illyria without time, is a classical vision contained within the demeanor of his dancers and the structure of his choreography.
So here are things I think are present in ballet -
[*]the most obvious, steps and ports de bras from the ballet vocabulary.
[*]the use of turnout
[*]the high, pulled up center of gravity of the body
[*]the style and ideal of classicism.
[/list]That last one is where we get into jello-wrasslin.
Here's an article (also from Ballet Review in 2000) that discusses a definition of classical within the context of Forsythe.
In dance, the term “classical” has become more and more vaporous, as more and more things are crammed into the definition, almost anything using pointe work gets stuffed into this overcrowded phone booth. The central property of anything classical is its acknowledgment of its tradition and antecedents. Reference and quoting are not sufficient per se. France/Dance, made by Forsythe in 1983 for the Opéra, quotes Apollo and is danced to Bach’s Kunst der Fuge. It also contains a dwarf reciting Foucault and a conveyer belt with cutouts of famous architectural landmarks. To consider a work “classical” implies more than decorative use, but a concern for and usage of established structures that is central to the work. It’s easier to define and recognize in music, because the established structures and techniques, sonata form, the rondo, the concerto, are better codified and more universal. In dance, the appearance of an element from “classical” ballet such as pointe shoes or turnout guarantees nothing. Not only do elements of the language and style of classical ballet need to be present, so do elements of the form. Agon and The Four Temperaments are danced with classical ballet technique, but also contain within them pas de deux which are structured identically to a grand pas de deux, with a partnered dance, solo variations and a coda. In the same way, Behind the China Dogs’ appeal lay not only in its sensations on the surface, but in the deeper appeal of its connections to what preceded it.
Too much? My point is that it's not enough that the "ingredients" of ballet have to be there. A knowledge and acceptanceof the aesthetic has to be there too. This is a highly individual point, and people will disagree with me on it, trust me. But that's my answer. I apologize for it being so much theory and so little concrete. Did it help at all?
P.S. Just as I posted this I realized Julip posted some of her own succinct, concrete thoughts in the middle of this thread Classical/Contemporary. Her distinctions may be a lot more useful than mine.
[ March 08, 2002, 03:14 AM: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]
Posted 08 March 2002 - 09:54 AM
Hal, I think, as with many things, the distinctions get more refined, the hairs split more, if you will, the more one gets into it. I don't need turnout or pointe shoes to make it ballet. (Petrouchka, turned in, is still a ballet character; character dancing is not turned out.) For me, it's the vocabulary, and sensibility, what the choreographer's native language is.
Mark Morris's "Gong" the other night, which I saw the other night, is, for me, an example of a work made by a modern dance choreographer for ballet dancers. I'll call it a ballet, because they do and it's easier, and it was certainly on pointe and used turn out, but, ot me, it was a (very well-crafted) modern dance, where the dancers wore pointe shoes and performed many steps that were in a ballet dictionary. But it didn't speak the language of the danse d'ecole fluently (I don't mean that to mean it was "bad," just "something else.")
I can't answer on Feld because I haven't seen Ballet Tech. He's changed over the years. His first works, his apprentice works, were ballets, but he comes from a mixed background -- Broadway, ballet, modern. I think there's a genuine Other Thing out there, as different from ballet as modern dance. It's sometimes called "contemporaory ballet" or "contemporary dance." When it's bad, I call it "ballet moderne" smile.gif One British critic years ago called it "thirdstream" which I think is a good, nonjudgmental definition. It makes it Something Else instead of Not Something. Kylian, Forsythe, Duato all go in the thirdstream bag for me. There are elements of both modern dance and ballet.
I remember very early in my ballet days going to see Nureyev with the Dutch National Ballet in New York and overhearing a woman talking on the phone in the lobby. "No, no. It's ballet. The girls are on pointe," she said. At the time, it seemed to me that that wasn't enough. What about Ashton's "Dante Sonata" or "The Wise Virgin"? Ballets, surely, although there were bare feet on stage. The first part of Balanchine's "Liebslieder Walzer," is in character shoes. (I think most Americans, bred on "abstract ballet" don't think about character dancing much. To me, it's a part of ballet.)
There are some threads in the archives on classicism for those who are interested in going into this further. It's not something that most people think about when they're "going to the ballet." (Interesting, my modern dance friends would never say they're "going to the ballet" when they're off to Dance Place.) Nor do they think, "Hmmm. Of "Gong," "Dim Lustre" and "Symphony in C" (the triple bill ABT just did at the Kennedy Center) which is ballet? Are they all ballet?"
It mattered to me because, for many people, "Gong" (to take one, harmless example) IS ballet. Contemporary ballet in the sense of "ballet now." And there are young choreographers who are trying to make neoclassical ballets -- using a ballet vocabulary and grafting on perhaps jazz, or hip hop, or ethnic, or modern movements to a ballet base -- and being told by ballet companies, "We don't want that. We want something contemporary." And I think that's a danger to ballet.
I'd be perfectly happy to see thirdstream companies. I'm just worried about the encroachment into both ballet and modern dance. I keep a kosher kitchen smile.gif
Posted 09 March 2002 - 03:29 AM
forgot that and vowed to raise my kid in Manhattan so he could have the wonders of the city to grow up with.
Well enough digression the point is I really know squat about Ballet. There was a piece by Robert Caro, an historian, in the Tribute book, Celebrating 50 Years of NYCB (page 46) that somewhat describes my experience. His point is that he also knows nothing, but thinks that allows him to dwell on the beauty and wonder of the ballet and doesn't want to loose that by knowing too much. When I first read that I thought yea, thats me too. Don't confuse me with the facts. confused.gif But I have come to realize that I am missing a great deal by not knowing the details. I have also read many ballet biographies including all of them by NYCB dancers, even a cook book. But I have never read a book on technique or method. Just through reading news groups and now Ballet Alert I sort of know what an arabesque is and I think I figured out what port-de-bras and jetes are. But I don't have the knowledge to properly evaluate good ones from bad ones. I know if I like the impression I get from watching dance but nothing more. And I know I can sense when someone is doing something very special, but not necessarily why. So what would you guys suggest as a place to start my technical knowledge. Can you recommend a beginners book on technique that was not written for an 8 year old that would make sense to one nearing senility? smile.gif How about any videos?
Thanks for any additional help. You guys are terrific.
Posted 09 March 2002 - 10:13 AM
go to www.abt.org - on the navigation bar at the top select "library" and click on "ballet dictionary". Many of the terms there are illustrated with videos of dancers (many you may know) demonstarting certain steps or positions.
Posted 09 March 2002 - 11:01 AM
For technique, in addition to what Leigh recommended, you might be interested in Gretchen Ward Warren's "Classical Ballet Technique." It's got 1600 photos, shooting each step in the basic vocabulary from eight different angles.
I think one discovers different aspects of things when one is ready for them. When your mind is open to this element, or that one, then you begin to see more, to rearrange perceptions. If you're interested in musicality, you'll focus on it and begin to see it -- and you'll notice, in those biographies, that the dancer may talk about it and explain what it meant to him, or how she struggled with it. If you become interested in "what is it?" you might find you'd skipped over references to "neoclassical," "romantic style," or "danseur noble," "demi-caractere," or not quite understood them.
I learned a lot from reading critics. I read them not to see whether I agreed with them or not, but to try to learn the contexts of ballet. (Critics were more helpful to me than dancers here, as dancers are, understandably, often more interested in their own careers than in what's going on in the world. I read Croce, Jowitt, Siegel and Tobias -- the major ones writing then (late 1970s). I read the newspaper critics, too, of course. wink.gif And I still envy London, which has eight major newspapers, each with a critic, because then one gets so many different views.
For Balanchine, my main "teacher" was Nancy Reynolds "Repertory in Review," long out of print, but still findable. I also learned a lot from reasding Barbara Newman's book of interviews, "Striking a Balance." I was interested in Ashton and Petipa as well as Balanchine, and I learned a lot from reading about the Royal Ballet. My first book (because it was the only ballet book in Brentanos that week!) was Keith Money's "Fonteyn, the making of a legend." I studied those photographs; Fonteyn's simplicity and purity always "spoke" to me, and I would often return to those photos when seeing something that didn't look right on stage, to see how she approached the role.
(I totally sympathize with your being dragged away from Manhattan story smile.gif I was dragged away from Baltimore -- and dancing lessons, piano lessons and an excellent school and public library -- at the age of 9, to move to a cultural wilderness. I've never forgiven them.
Posted 09 March 2002 - 11:35 AM
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