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volcanohunter

extreme extensions, again

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So today Luke Jennings and Wayne McGregor got into a Twitter argument over extreme extensions, or rather, the "whole genre of crotch-splitting choreography," as Jennings put it. What do you think? I have to admit that the frequent sight of male dancers manipulating the bodies of female dancers into extreme positions makes my skin crawl.

https://twitter.com/LukeJennings1/status/671413724805267456

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I completely agree, volcanohunter. These extensions distort any semblance of line or purity. It's the reason I'm not a fan of contemporary dance, which to me is more like acrobatics. And to see these tricks added to classical canon thoroughly annoys me.

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Interesting!

Many young dancers I know tell me that modern dance /contemporary /zeitgenössisch (in German) is meant to be watched (as opposed to "looked-at"), and the movement itself is what is important, not the poses.

So, any photographs of such pieces of choreography may well appear odd or unsettling or - yes - ugly; but they cannot really be taken as examples of the MOVEMENT. I guess.

That said, there does indeed seem to be a large amount of "crotch to the audience", as well as "bums to the audience" in many contemporary pieces - whether danced by males or females, from what I have seen over the past years, anyway.

(when I was a dancer, we did mostly classical ballet and some modern, but not in any way as much as there is done nowadays in most companies. So, I am surely biased.)

-d-

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Oh I agree too! Why can't the ballet world leave extreme extensions to gymnastics?!

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That exchange between Jennings and McGregor turned pretty nasty. I don't agree with McGregor that "a body can be abstract: pure form, pure line, pure kinetic" (emphasis mine). Not a body onstage at least, where we observe the whole body, including the most personal part, the face. It's the face that impresses us most strongly that we're looking at a person, not a pure abstraction. And would we want it any other way? Not me. I go to see people dance, not forms.

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That exchange between Jennings and McGregor turned pretty nasty. I don't agree with McGregor that "a body can be abstract: pure form, pure line, pure kinetic" (emphasis mine).

I agree (though for slightly different reasons). I was all ready to defend McGregor, since I think that overall his ballets are quite interesting and even progressive on a gender front - mostly because he allows the men to take on characteristics usually reserved for women on the ballet stage - being partnered by someone, using that rippling effect through their limbs and torso, sticking out their bottoms, and even this 'crotch-splitting choreography'. But I couldn't believe that his only defense was that the ballet is abstract - that's not a defense at all. Of course even abstract ballets are being performed in a real world and respond to all kinds of things in ballet and in society at large. In particular, any ballet is automatically about gender (at least a little bit) whether its choreographer wants it to be or not, because ballet has such a long history of delineating parts by gender. Not to mention a long history of commenting on gender roles in society - Giselle with its murderous dead brides, Coppelia with the woman/doll, Sleeping Beauty with its queen, Afternoon of a Faun with its blatantly sexual male leading role (I could go on). Anyways, I came out of this still with goodwill and support for McGregor and his ballets but also wondering if maybe it would be worth his time to think of a ballet in which a woman partners a man (maybe he's already done that at some point - I haven't seen all his work).

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I don't agree with McGregor that "a body can be abstract: pure form, pure line, pure kinetic" (emphasis mine). Not a body onstage at least, where we observe the whole body, including the most personal part, the face.

I don't agree either. And never mind the face -- which we can't always see clearly, either on stage or in real life-- as social animals humans are exquisitely attuned to body language and even the slightest adjustment of a shoulder or a hand can speak volumes.

And if Jennings can't explain to McGregor why 20 minutes of men bending women into pretzels and then toting them from one corner of the stage to the other makes the women look like passive objects unable to move under their own volition, I sure as heck can't.

I'm not much bothered by extreme extensions when they're part and parcel of the style, but I think choreography that trades on them is rather limited in terms of expressive power.

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Kathleen, you make lots of good points. I'm reminded of that famous Balanchine quote - I can't remember it exactly - in which he says his ballets are not abstract, and that once you put a man and a woman on stage together, well, "how much story you want?"

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"What is abstract? They mean story-less. But...could be meaning in it, you see. The people that meet, that one person gives the hand, and the girl embraces, it already has meaning in it, you see. Duet is a love story, almost. So how much story you want?"

And if Jennings can't explain to McGregor why 20 minutes of men bending women into pretzels and then toting them from one corner of the stage to the other makes the women look like passive objects unable to move under their own volition, I sure as heck can't.

:clapping:

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"What is abstract? They mean story-less. But...could be meaning in it, you see. The people that meet, that one person gives the hand, and the girl embraces, it already has meaning in it, you see. Duet is a love story, almost. So how much story you want?"

A great quote. Thanks.

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That exchange between Jennings and McGregor turned pretty nasty. I don't agree with McGregor that "a body can be abstract: pure form, pure line, pure kinetic" (emphasis mine). Not a body onstage at least, where we observe the whole body, including the most personal part, the face. It's the face that impresses us most strongly that we're looking at a person, not a pure abstraction. And would we want it any other way? Not me. I go to see people dance, not forms.

That's an interesting thought. To me it almost seems that that point of view (McGregor's) is endorsing the split between mind/emotions and body. Which is a point of view that modern dance training has traditionally opposed! So perhaps as an audience we're expected to just look at the body, the physique, and divorce that from our minds and our feelings, and the dancers do the same?? That doesn't appeal to me at all, and I think it's a flawed premise.

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I've noticed a real change in the students I teach over the past four years. Before that, high extensions were noted, but more and more, now they are expected. I'm beginning to wonder if Guillem and Zakharova (even more so) will go down in history as latter day Taglionis, in the sense that their dancing changed the art form. (My students come from all around the country and from at least a dozen other countries, and we get new students every year, of course, so even though the sample is small, I think it probably reflects the general young dancer population.)

High extensions aren't new, of course. Bournonville used to make his dancers sew a thread from front to back of their skirts to "remind" (or prevent) their raising the leg higher than he wanted. :innocent:

I've found the comments above to be very interesting. There's been a HUGE change in modern dance since modern dancers now take ballet classes, something that would have been anathema before the 1970s.

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I've found the comments above to be very interesting. There's been a HUGE change in modern dance since modern dancers now take ballet classes, something that would have been anathema before the 1970s.

In a way, we have the 1970s post-modern pioneers to thank for the proliferation of contemporary ballet in the US today -- when they started taking ballet classes as a way to break off from the personality-driven, high drama styles that were the norm in modern dance training, they thought they were getting "style-less" dance training, but instead I think many of them internalized some of the aesthetics of classical ballet without the historical context.

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In a way, we have the 1970s post-modern pioneers to thank for the proliferation of contemporary ballet in the US today -- when they started taking ballet classes as a way to break off from the personality-driven, high drama styles that were the norm in modern dance training, they thought they were getting "style-less" dance training, but instead I think many of them internalized some of the aesthetics of classical ballet without the historical context.

Wow, well put, and fascinating new insight for me.

I'm enjoying this entire discussion thread!

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I've noticed a real change in the students I teach over the past four years. Before that, high extensions were noted, but more and more, now they are expected. I'm beginning to wonder if Guillem and Zakharova (even more so) will go down in history as latter day Taglionis, in the sense that their dancing changed the art form. (My students come from all around the country and from at least a dozen other countries, and we get new students every year, of course, so even though the sample is small, I think it probably reflects the general young dancer population.)

High extensions aren't new, of course. Bournonville used to make his dancers sew a thread from front to back of their skirts to "remind" (or prevent) their raising the leg higher than he wanted. :innocent:

I've found the comments above to be very interesting. There's been a HUGE change in modern dance since modern dancers now take ballet classes, something that would have been anathema before the 1970s.

NYCB instagram has the progression of extensions in Agon. "Take One" https://www.instagram.com/p/BCJb67sB7aC/?taken-by=nycballet

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I agree, it's not as extended as she was capable of, but it is, in its geometric way, extremely satisfying.

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I nether expect nor particularly like routine 180 degree extensions. To my eye they sometimes have the counterintuitive effect of closing a ballerina's body up against itself rather than extending her lines out into space. I find that foot-grazing-the-ear battements and développés can have the same effect: instead of opening the body up and out they kind of snap a cover down on top of it. With the understanding that the stills linked above capture mere microseconds of a phrase-in-progress (especially the one of Allegra Kent, whose arm position clearly suggests that she hasn't completed her arabesque yet) I actually think Heather Watts' position is geometrically the most satisfying because the lines of her extended limbs radiate out into the fullness of space in rather than just up and down. Those 12 o'clock penchées are biomechanically impressive, but not always beautiful as choreography. (Ugh. Especially with winged feet, which really do bend the line back on itself.)

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Well, just before that instagram was taken, Arthur Mitchell was standing up -- he left his hand in hte same place and fell to the floor, and Allegra stayed on pointe, though her standing leg has turned in and her neck shortened and the left arm is a little out of whack -- he is about to skitter around on his back to his left, which pivots her to the left to croise [if I remember right] and put her foot down. She may be on the move already....

So this is a classic case of ballet being contemporary dance; Balanchine was very much about dance being MOVEMENT moving through positions, not just posing.

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Many ballerinas also fail to take into consideration the relationship between their hyper extended penchees and their tutus,, particularly the modern ones, which are huge and bouncy. Tutus in the past were shorter, stiffer and more rouffled made, looking very much like a rose. Nowadays they are like bouncy pancakes, and there's a very unsatisfying feeling at seeing a ballerina in a Petipa ballet pencheeing as a contorsionist with her tutu falling all over her head. It looks just horrible.

alinasomovainpenche.jpg

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The photograph of Kent may indeed be misleading. In the film with Kent and Mitchell, in which this moment is admittedly shot at a peculiar angle, she gets her leg up at least as high as Watts as the penchée progresses, and close to Kowroski as she pivots. With Adams there wasn't a significant penchée, but you did get the sense of a very long balance. Personally, I think the pivot is much less dramatic when the elevated leg is already pointing straight at the ceiling, simply because the raised foot hardly moves through space. When the leg isn't raised quite as high, its sweep during the pivot is much greater.

there's a very unsatisfying feeling at seeing a ballerina in a Petipa ballet pencheeing as a contorsionist with her tutu falling all over her head. It looks just horrible.

It does indeed.

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Personally, I think the pivot is much less dramatic when the elevated leg is already pointing straight at the ceiling, simply because the raised foot hardly moves through space. When the leg isn't raised quite as high, its sweep during the pivot is much greater.

THANK YOU!

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