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Alexandra

Style versus technique

44 posts in this topic

Thanks, all ...

For me, as a non-professional and as a ballet dad, it's nice to be able to "listen in" to the discussions of people involved on a day-to-day basis in helping define the minds and techniques of students ... and hear that there isn't complete agreement even in such a group ...

Thanks,

BB

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I have enjoyed reading this thread, which I am sure is not a surprise to any of you. I have tried to stay out, which I suppose has been obvious.:) I do think this very difficult task has progressed from the last time this subject came up at BA, although I do not believe it was an actual thread!

So...one small correction, the book The Principles of Classical Ballet by Agrippina Vaganova is not

a reprint of her exercises.
It is her attempt to codify what each movement in ballet is, how it is done and why it is done. There is an example at the back of the book of her sample class for the advanced/professional level dancer only. This Dover addition, my last edition 1969, is far from complete in terms of how and where the program/school, named for Vaganova, has evolved. It is a small sample of what has evolved into a four year methodology course given in the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. The diploma given for this course is on the level of a Masters degree in the Vaganova Method of Teaching Ballet.

Onward...I have found the summeries of what is Technique versus Style to be actually quite good. I am confused however by the discussion of the Balanchine Technique (please forgive the fact that I have not used the term correctly, as I do not know how to make that little sign signifying copyright). To my knowledge, and I would love to be wrong, one cannot have an actual method if no one has ever implimented the method from the beginning. Something such as technique, I believe must have a beginning and an end. I have never seen the actual teaching of the Balanchine Technique from the beginning to the end. I have read Ms. Schorer's book, with great interest, but let us not confuse what is the written word versus the actual implementation of the work. Is there a school of teachers actually teaching this from the beginning? By this I mean a school begins with say 12 beginners. Suppose two drop out annually so you end up with 2 young 18 year olds who have actually completed the course of study, based upon say 10 years of study by US standards, who have actually learned and accomplished the full "technical requirements" of said Technique. The ABC's are not there. To my knowledge the Balanchine School of Ballet, SAB, has a greater success rate with taking other's very good material for maybe the last year or two of the training cycle and decorate the students with the finer points of Balanchine. It would be interesting to see how many of the dancers in NYCB actually began their training in this school. How many of them spent 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 years at SAB.

For me, whether something is an actual Technique or not can only be judged on what it produces. Like learning the ABC's, then spelling, sentences, paragraphs, stories to books.

Perhaps we are confusing what is technique in ballet versus what is a Technique!:)

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VRS - thanks so much for the correction, enlightenment, and for forbearing a bit to keep the discussion on a layperson level!

I would ask all concerned if we start getting into more scholarly discussions about the difference between techniques that we break off into a new thread off the Discovering Ballet forum. In general, we'd like to keep Discovering Ballet to its purpose, which is to give new viewers a "safe place" to ask questions and discuss what they've seen. This is all good and interesting stuff, but if we're going to get technical (pun intended), let's repair to another room ;)

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Maybe to keep this in the realm of the Discovering Ballet idea, we can discuss whether "technique", "method" and/or "system" are synonymous from a pedagogical standpoint. "Style" is obviously something different, given that hermeneutic.

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You lost me on that one, Mel. What does "hermeneutic" mean?

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Interpretation. Understanding. (I looked it up.;) )

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One o' them Eutic fellers from down the holler. Hermen. He spells funny, but he's a good ol' boy. Name means "point of view", too.

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Thanks y'all! My handy Random House Webster's must not know the Eutic brothers, but I'm glad to have made Hermen's aquaintance.

As for style, method and/or system meaning the same thing from a teaching point of view, it seems we'll have to agree to disagree about certain schools having one or not. ;)

Just an FYI, last night I started to make my way through the current list of NYCB dancers and I'd say that there are not a few who have made their way through SAB from at least 12 (and earlier in some cases) and have actually ended up in the company. However, I do digress... Darn them Eutics, they always do get in there!

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I've been down into my deadly cellar, and pulled out some old programs. Seems I saw an astonishing number of NYCB dancers when they were Polichinelles in the "Mother Ginger" sequence of Nutcracker, or party kids, or Candy Canes, and so on. You can actually chart them over the years from supers to featured young dancers, to apprentices in Snow and Flowers, to being on the company roster on the masthead. Some of these Polichinelles are even retired now! Oh, the Age of the Mountains has descended on my shoulders.;)

About ol' Hermen, there was some tussle when he got hitched to his first cousin, Therap, but people will talk!

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SAB has changed a great deal, though. Once upon a time, the teachers were all French and Russian. Now, they are (with, I believe, exactly three exceptions) former or current NYCB principals who mostly teach what Balanchine taught them in company class. When I was there, almost none of the dancers in the upper levels had started their training at SAB. It'll be interesting in another 10 years to see how many native SAB dancers there are in the company.

I think I would say that Alexandra's definition of ballet, Graham, and Humphrey as techniques makes sense, but I would also say that whereas there are Russian, French, English, Danish, and Italian methods and styles, there are also degrees of style, if that makes sense. For example, Russian style -> Vaganova method -> Kirov style -> Chenchikova's style (as a coach/teacher) -> Larissa Lezhnina's style. That looks really complicated all typed out--it made so much more sense in my head! However, I think that can be done with pretty much all of the major companies/schools today. The Balanchine style is an anomaly, though--it's a combination of Russian, French, Danish, Italian, and Balanchine aesthetic. It doesn't have a prescribed teaching method that I've ever come into contact with, but just like the Kirov and Bolshoi, the style can vary widely depending on the company. I would classify it as a style because it is a stylization of classical ballet technique--certain aspects of it depart from the classical tradition, but these idiosyncrasies do not give it the status of a technique or method, IMO.

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I know where you're coming from, Hans, and I agree with you. It's a hodgepodge mixture of æsthetics, and, going back to my original criterion, it does not have its own "language". A tendu is still called a tendu, a frappé is still called frappé. There is the evidence of a giant intellect at the back of the SAB style these days, but no giant intellect there now to continue to codify it and modify it the way Balanchine did when he was alive. I think many of the former NYCBers from the Balanchine days take, more or less, the last thing that they heard him say on a subject and consider that the highest development of form. I don't think that's a good way to make an independent technique, no matter what some may call it.

Now when Hermen and Therap got hitched, there was some grumblin' about that white wedding dress, but he looked real purty in it.

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Originally posted by Mel Johnson

There is the evidence of a giant intellect at the back of the SAB style these days, but no giant intellect there now to continue to codify it and modify it the way Balanchine did when he was alive.  I think many of the former NYCBers from the Balanchine days take, more or less, the last thing that they heard him say on a subject and consider that the highest development of form.

Wouldn't the difficulty of codifying the Balanchine technique/style lie in his relentless experimentation? I don't think he ever saw it as "set" but rather as something that would and should continue develop. If that is your point, Mel, I agree.

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Exactly. :) One of the problems I see with today's "Balanchine dancers" is that there is an inambered quality. Something is frozen and fixed and fossilized (already!) that was supposed to be live and flexible and breathing.

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I would call it the main problem; it casts a pervasive grayness over the works. It is not the fault of the dancers, who enter the company looking so promising. Something happens -- :eek: --after they've been there a while.

Now let me go look up "inambered.";)

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You contrived that word, right? I took the "amb" root right away as pertaining to walking, but then it occurred to me that you meant preserved in amber. Okay.

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Right - it takes a prefix "in-" as "interred" "interned" or "inurned" and adds it to "ambered" as in "covered with amber" and came up with "inambered". That's another example of a flexibility of a language that I think the present Balanchine generation's

"language" lacks.

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I have read Suki Schorer On Balanchine Technique in quite depth, and if it does represent Balanchine's teachings well, I would say that his teachings form as Style. In Suki's descriptions of ballet steps, it generally seems that these same descriptions would work in a primer on Vaganova, Bournonville, and Cecchetti.

She stresses that Balanchine emphasized picking the foot up with the heel forward and toes back. Apparently this is a key element in Balanchine "Technique." However, if you ask any dancer, this would be called "utilizing one's turnout," wich is a fundamental in all school's. The only other difference that I found between Balanchine and other styles was the precise musical phrasing of steps. This phrasing gives the movements a different look than if the step were performed at an even tempo. But, the musicality doesn't change the mechanics of the step.

Of course Balanchine used crossed wrists and broken wrists and all sorts of unorthodox positions. I don't really believe that different arm positions distinguish between different styles. Cecchetti's third arabesque is different than Vaganova's, but this isn't why these are two separate techniques. The core differences between techniques are the different ideas on how steps should be performed. For example, Cecchetti insists that one's hips must remain entirely square for grand battement while Vaganova didn't stress this.

Rachel

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That's sort of what I think, too, Rachel, although there are others who would hotly debate the point with us. I believe that Schorer's book is an accurate presentation of what and how she teaches, but if, say, Kay Mazzo were to write a similar book, the results might have points of contact, but there would be more than a few differences. Regarding the hands, wrists and arms, I have noticed the tendency of SAB to teach a rather strict port de bras early on, then in later years, let things all hang out. Robert LaFosse noticed on his first sight of NYCB that he'd never seen so many arms on so few dancers in his life! It seems to me that Balanchine is derived from choreographic elements in his ballets and has been cobbled together from that. Objections that the Old Man taught that way are less-than-convincing to me, as he taught in order to feed his choreography, rather than establish a central parameter of technique for all dancers who would study ballet from the ground up.

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