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Style versus technique


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#16 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 January 2003 - 06:59 AM

Again we return to the issues of school technique vs. individual technique. The school technique is what's taught. Individual technique is what's learned. A choreographic style is a curlicue that's put on top of a school technique, as I feel Balanchine is, on top of the basic Russo/Franco/Italian patois that most of the world dances. An individual style is unique to one dancer: The way they use technique AND style from the choreographer, plus resources arguably their own.

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 January 2003 - 04:53 PM

BW - here's why in my book it's style: How musically you extend the leg is not as much the mechanics of the step (that's technique) as a choice to produce an effect or a look (that's style).

Clear as mud? It's probably never clear cut and someone else could have different usages, but if it's more about the nuts and bolts of the step, for me it's "technique". If it's more about the aesthetic effect of the step, I would define it as "style".

#18 BW

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Posted 05 January 2003 - 05:08 PM

Ah. Leigh, I feel much better now! Until the deluge! (i.e, other's interpretations!) ;)

#19 Alexandra

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Posted 05 January 2003 - 07:06 PM

I like Leigh's definition. :) And I also think it's important to point out that there's personal style as well as company/school style.

Here's another one that's a mixture. I first noticed this in POB dancers -- when they turn their arms are rounded and form a circle. Aesthetically it fits with their very clean style -- no wild arms there. But technically (thank you, Victoria :( ) having the rounded arms helps them turn. If the arms are extended, or straightened, it can throw a turn off. So this is nice, neat way of holding the arms has a lot to do with technique, but the look of it has become part of the style.

#20 BilboBaggins

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Posted 08 January 2003 - 02:35 PM

So if you'll permit me to deviate a bit from the thread itself for a question ... one of the debates my daughter and I have had is whether a student whose ballet school is committed to a given technique (e.g., Vaganova) should focus her summer intensive programs only on those that teach the same technique, or whether a summer intensive is the time to explore alternate techniques and styles and broaden the student's dancing experience and ability ...

Does a student risk "getting confused" and deteriorating their personal dance technique by immersing themselves in a new technique, or is this how a true professional dancer improves their technique repertoire?

Thanks,

BB

#21 Mel Johnson

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Posted 08 January 2003 - 03:16 PM

IMO, when a dancer gets to an intermediate level on a scale of all dancers, then s/he is less likely to become confused about differences in nomenclature and technical execution. In fact, it may be a good idea for them to see if the grass really is greener, or browner, depending on their already pre-conceived notions, on the other side of the fence.

#22 katharine kanter

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 02:28 AM

As I understand it, technique is the means, the instrument, on which the rest (style, interpretation etc.) rests.

It is the mechanics of motion, the underlying principle of motion.

Seen from that standpoint, Balanchine - if we are to go by people like Miss Schorer - IS a technique. And Bournonville is, or was, a technique.

Why ?

Well, if we are to take Suki Schorer at her word, and if that really is what is being taught at the SAB, we have people without any épaulement (waving one's arms about is not épaulement, not in my book anyway). People picking up the heel. People picking up the leg and pressing it against the ear. People releasing the hip to do that. People in a strait-jacket-like fifth position. Girls who do not have the feet to dance in soft shoes. And people, as Victoria Leigh has written, "standing on a third leg".

Releasing the hip, and picking up the leg, alters every muscle chain in the entire body. It alters the full edifice, nerve-endings, spinal column, balance (the hip-joint is the heaviest in the body) etc. And it stretches out ligaments to where they do not want to go.

Pick up the leg, and you eliminate épaulement. You have thus changed the principle of motion.

That is, as a I see it, a TECHNICAL question.

When one sees SAB-trained people attempting to dance something else - with a few notable exceptions of course - they are QUITE recognisable. Because they have acquired a TECHNIQUE that cannot be glossed or covered over by acquiring some stylistic features.

Bournonville is also a technique, or it used to be. He has épaulement - not just an arm-wave - in every step. That changes all the orientations, the oppositions, the feeling in the body of what is effacé and croisé, one's sense of balance, distribution of weight in poses and on landing from jumps, curvature in the spine... And, of course, if one REALLY does the épaulement, one cannot, physically cannot, pick up the leg.

Now, the girls in Denmark do not really do the épaulement any more, because it would prevent them from picking up that goddam leg. They just pretend. That is also why the men dance much better (and why the men here in Paris dance better too, incidentally). So the girls are not masters of the Bournonville technique. They play-act. That is why it looks sentimental, soft and mushy.

Technique is the principle of motion that is ground into your body from early youth. Therefore, Vaganova School is also a technique.

Look at Alina Cojocaru. As an interpreter, as a musician, out of this world ! But her technique is 1000% Vaganova as it is now taught at Kiev (probably our Agrippina would have cunniptions if she saw what is now called Vaganova School), and that cannot be disguised, no matter which choreography she is dancing, as it has become part and parcel of the body.

#23 BilboBaggins

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 04:48 AM

So, as a non-dancer but enthusastic attendee of ballet, let me see if I can summarize: techniques are formalized descriptions of the precise positioning of body parts (arms, legs) and of weight distribution (posture, stance, joint). Historically, there are national traditions (English, French, Russian) which define major techniques.

Within the historical techniques, individual choreographers and schools have further defined techniques, either utilizing a lack of description or an ambiguity of decription in the historical techniques. These (Balanchine, Vaganova) still are techniques, because they represent a fixed method of instruction and development, independent of a particular piece of music or choreography; they are general rules.

Finally, there is the individual variation that an artist brings to his/her dancing or that a choreographer of artist brings to a particular piece of music. This is a deviation from the technique that that artist or choreographer has as his/her national or educational tradition, but it represents an artistic or emotional response to a particular piece ... this is what you would call "style"?

Am I off-base?

BB

#24 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 08:41 AM

Well, you're certainly not off-base in your summary of Katharine's post. I would point out that there are things in the post that would be debated (is it Balanchine "technique" or "style"?) by others.

Also, Vaganova's methodology is codified (there's a book in print in English - I think put out by Dover - that's a reprint of her exercises.)

I also might not define the individual approach of an artist as a "deviation from technique". There's interpretive leeway that's expected when a dancer reaches the stage in every technique. It may not be a deviation, it might be an emphasis on certain areas. It might have nothing to do with technique at all.

#25 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 04:35 PM

Bilbo, there are things here that we're attempting to define for people closely associated with the ballet business. Sure, there are plenty of dictionary definitions, but when it comes to ballet, there are shades and subtleties of meaning that have not yet been nailed down by anyone. We're trying to do that here, and a reread of the entire thread might be necessary for you to see the process we're going through. We might not even succeed, who knows? But at least we've given the definitions a little ventilation!:)

#26 BilboBaggins

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Posted 09 January 2003 - 07:21 PM

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

#27 vrsfanatic

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Posted 10 January 2003 - 05:39 AM

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!:)

#28 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 January 2003 - 11:24 PM

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 ;)

#29 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 January 2003 - 03:42 AM

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.

#30 BW

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Posted 11 January 2003 - 08:38 PM

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


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