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Ed Waffle

New levels of fitness

35 posts in this topic

In reply to Paul's post about the aerobic qualities of certain dances:

An important distinction between Rite, Les Noces and Upper Room is the era in which they were made. Like he said, Tharp's work is from the period of "wouldn't you rather write a book than read one?" (The proper answer to that is, "but who would read all these books that everyone is writing and what have I done to assure what I have to say is actually worth reading?")

Nijinska's work especially is from an industrial age and the dawn of mass production. Nijinska's work has one foot in primitivism and the other in Futurism. The dancers are not individuals. They are a society; even the bride and groom are barely differentiated from the corps, and one senses only for the duration of the ballet. When they reemerge from the door of the marital chamber, they go back to the fields with everyone else.

There's a difference between the faceless anonymity of an agricultural or worker society and that of an aerobics class. The latter is competitive, narcissistic and temporary.

The dance that has best recalled that Flashdance era to me is actually one by Paul Taylor, Szyzygy (and for the dark side of it, Last Look) Probably, if we want to continue on this one, we should break it off to a new thread.

[ March 17, 2002, 11:58 AM: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

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But if dancers aren't getting the proper repetition because of time or money constraints (or whatever the problem seems to be), shouldn't they seek other methods of ensuring their physical capabilities for getting through a ballet? And shouldn't dancers take some responsibility for themselves and not rely only on the 'great wisdom' of the ballet master to judge their physical fitness?

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I'm just curious about when this great "fitness crisis" in dancers emerged? If the bar has been raised for aerobic fitness of dancers, yes, choreographers are raising it, but so are the dancers, and trust me, dancers are among the most self-policing professionals on earth.

I'll never worry about a dancer being fit for a role I select him or her for. If, for example, a role had tours in it and I chose a dancer whose tours were inconsistent, you can be sure it was deliberate. And you can also be sure that any dancer I chose would probably be practicing tours until he was blue in the face before I ever even suggested he practice them.

My ballets tend also to be aerobically demanding. The way the dancers condition themselves for them is to run the ballet twice (back to back) daily for two weeks before performance. Repertory itself can provide conditioning, and it has for years. I assume that's how any ballerina acquired the stamina to get through Aurora before cross-training came into vogue.

Physical condition of dancers is awfully high and it has been for at least two decades. It isn't as if these thoroughbreds can't become artists (case in point, Alexandra Ansanelli seems to be doing it right before our eyes in New York). But I can tell you as a choreographer the broader the dancer's view of the world, the more interesting they are. Maybe that's why one of my favorite dancers is in her mid-thirties.

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quote:

Originally posted by Leigh Witchel:

Repertory itself can provide conditioning, and it has for years. I assume that's how any ballerina acquired the stamina to get through Aurora before cross-training came into vogue.

Famous for it -- in fact Sleeping Beauty itself is a powerful great exercise for any company -- all those fairy variations, including the gold/silver/diamond, to make them presentable...

The procedure Leigh's advocating is the classic one--

I've heard from my teachers who studied with Danilova over and over -- you rehearse it and rehearse it, back to back, so you know what your body will want to do when it's tired, master the technique, and THEN go out and dance it and "throw away" your technique, that I'm told was how she built strength and stage presence while preserving musicality....

[edited only to move the "quotes" code so that Paul's post is separated from what he was quoting.]

[ March 18, 2002, 09:53 AM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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quote:


Originally posted by Leigh Witchel:

I'm just curious about when this great "fitness crisis" in dancers emerged?


Exactly. And what Paul wrote about Danilova rings true, too. I've done at least 200 interviews with dancers over the past 20 years and the subject of "fitness" in the sense that it's being used here has never come up.

I couldn't find the interview where Stretton was quoted, but my memory of it is that the context was that one of the reasons he was bringing in the contemporary ballets was to raise the fitness level of the dancers. (I can imagine Danilova's response to THAT.) If someone remembers differently, or has the interview, please correct me.

I also think BW's point, that we're talking about two kinds of fitness here -- physical and intellectual/artistic -- is a good one. It isn't that dancers should be scholars, IMO -- in fact, pouring over literary criticism before dancing Juliet, say, would probably do no good at all and may very well do harm. It's that if dancers are culturally aware -- go to museums, concerts, plays, etc. -- it enriches their world view, which enriches their performance.

I also remembered some stories I'd heard from and about dancers' childhoods. Even in thegoodolddays many dancers came from homes that were now oriented to the arts. They had a dance mentor -- teacher, coach, older dancer -- who urged them to read, go to museums, etc. They began to be interested in music from the roles they danced. The first time they danced a Stravinsky ballet, for example, they'd be intrigued by the music and buy several recordings of other works. And so I do think that if the atmosphere in the company was less on how much can you benchpress and more on "did you see the new exhibit at MOMA?"

Farrell takes her summer workshop students to museums and concerts -- as Balanchine took her. It's another thing an artistic director can do.

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If you look at the sort of thing that passes for choreography at the moment, clearly, it does NOT call for high levels of fitness. an adrenaline rush is NOT fitness.

That is why people who attempt to dance a Bournonville piece, find it exhausting. Nikolai Hubbe himself said that when he was back in Denmark recently, he realised he had "no calves left".

Choreography, over the last thirty years, has mainly involved, for the woman, three steps: développé à la seconde, pas de bourée, and piqué turns. Then she gets to slide along the floor, or rather, I should say, is dragged along the floor, by one arm.

Choreography for the man has mainly involved tearing up the stage five or six steps at speed, and picking up or tossing a female. Occasionally, he might get to do a manege, but it will be fifteen identical jetés en tournant...

If it is Mats Ek, or Pina Bausch, both sexes get to froth at the mouth, wring their hands, and writhe. Again, amphetamines might help, but that is not my concept of fitness.

Stamina and cardiac capacity are developed by jumps and beats, and by certain forms of adagio work. The importance of lengthy adagio enchainements can be underestimated. There is, for example, a world of a difference, in terms of building one's respiratory and cardiac capacity, between slapping up a développé againqst one's ear and bunging the leg down, and powerfully developing the leg out to waist level, holding it there, and then carrying it down, or forward etc.

Many dancers have told me that the condition required to dance Bournonville, is higher than anything they would normally experience, whether in class, or in performance. They have said that they have a feeling of "not getting off the ground" in the jumps, and would RESIST any proposal to dance Bournonville, because they fear to be injured owing to poor condition.

I remember one American critic attending the Bournonville Festival in 1992. He wrote that in the adagio passages, in the 60s and 70s, he had always recalled the Danish ballet "moving forward from immobility to action, like huge tree trunks suddenly uprooted", or something along those lines. By 1992, he said, that feeling had quite vanished, in favour of something more skitterish, flitty. I find that image perfectly expresses the problem.

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I found this rather interesting:

At SAB's summer course, they have a "weight lifting for men" class that's required.

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