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As I have been navigating my way through the refreshingly direct prose of BALLET 101, I discovered the term "PLASTIQUE". A dictionary definition of the term reads: "statuesque poses or slow graceful movements in dancing". While this seems reasonably clear, I find myself more curious about the term than the simple definition would seem to imply. And I can only wonder if certain dancers through the years have been described as possessing an enviable plastique? What a fascinating term. 

Edited by altongrimes

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sandik   

You've asked a complex question -- while different eras and styles have valued different elements in ballet technique, "plastique" has sometimes been used to indicate the indescribable.  And I think almost everyone here has certain dancers or certain moments that they feel exemplify a kind of kinetic modeling that exists between positions or beyond correctness. 

 

For me, I tend to use the term when I see a sense of contrapposto, usually starting in the torso and extending through arms/legs/head.  It's usually about the getting from place to place, rather than a static position, though some shapes imply that process.  Though she thought of herself as outside the world of ballet, Isadora Duncan is probably one of the clearest examples of this for me.

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pherank   

Just to add to the confusion - I was trying to remember where Balanchine had used the term "plastic" or "plasticity", but couldn't find the quote. However, I've run into these different uses of the terms:

 

"In Square Dance Megan Fairchild dances the ballerina role with almost too much sweetness, but there’s a freshness to her dancing that’s appealing, as there is with Ashley Bouder in the outer movements of Symphony in Three Movements. However, the latter ballet’s central female role needs more cool and plasticity than Abi Stafford’s debut performance as yet demonstrates."

"Lasting eighteen minutes, Moto-Bio: Russia/1920s/Bodies in Movement explores trends in movement from the plastic free-dances of Isadora Duncan to the neo-classical innovations of George Balanchine."

"The common wisdom is that the Balanchine Violin Concerto and Duo Concertant marked Mr. Martins's breakthrough in the company as a dancer. True, the plasticity and broken-lined rhythms here marked a departure from his previous academic reserve. Nonetheless it was Mr. Robbins in the 1970-71 Goldberg Variations who first recognized the malleability hidden in his seemingly set nobility."

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I hope that this does not confuse the issue but I have attended at least one interview in which Sarah Lamb has spoken about the "plastique of a role" which suggests that for her the word is not so much a description of the characteristics of an individual dancer but sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the stylistic requirements of individual roles or of a body of works created by an individual choreographer. So for her it is the balletic equivalent of recognising the stylistic differences between Mozart and Puccini and having the sensitivity and ability to perform the works of both composers in a stylistically informed manner.

 

If I recall correctly the interview in question was one in which she said that a totally different plastique was required when dancing the Sylph in La Sylphide to that needed when dancing Odette/Odile. So for her, at least, it is the awareness of, and sensitivity to, how the dancer should use his or her body when performing a role rather than the general characteristics of the individual dancer in performance and is very much concerned with what the dancer is showing the audience. Lamb's readiness to use the word is almost certainly the result of her very Russian training.

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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I am astounded by the avalanche of response to my original question concerning "plastique". I keep pondering your replies very carefully and repeatedly as I go through my days. How I relish every word. How every one is like music to my ears. "A little Mozart, please!

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Having relished all of the above replies, I am inclined to conclude that there have been a few occasions when I have experienced "plastique" to such effect that for days I felt in a kind of creative trance: one; Polina Semionova's performance in an ABT Swan Lake (2014) two; Zhong-Jing Fang's glorious "light" in a Romeo and Juliette during that same year, three; Marcello Gomes' impossibly transformative effect upon Stanton Welch's CLEAR, and finally, Misty Copeland's astounding athletic empowering of Radmansky's With A Chance Of Rain. As much as I appreciate YouTube bringing dance much closer, I dare say that I have only experienced this phenomena of "plastique" during live performance. Clearly, the mystical stuff of "plastique" is apparently far better apprehended when one's senses are fully employed as in being seated A2 at the David Koch.

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MadameP   
On 2/23/2017 at 8:36 AM, Ashton Fan said:

I hope that this does not confuse the issue but I have attended at least one interview in which Sarah Lamb has spoken about the "plastique of a role" which suggests that for her the word is not so much a description of the characteristics of an individual dancer but sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the stylistic requirements of individual roles or of a body of works created by an individual choreographer. So for her it is the balletic equivalent of recognising the stylistic differences between Mozart and Puccini and having the sensitivity and ability to perform the works of both composers in a stylistically informed manner

 

 

That is interesting what Sarah Lamb said.  I see plastique as the using of the body to form shapes and lines and a way of moving particular to a choreographer's needs and also as interpreting the music.  For me, that is why I rate Andrei Arseniev, currently still only in Mariinsky corps, so highly.  I never saw a boy with his innate "rightness" of movement and line - it's SO DIFFICULT to put into words! - but he can use his body in so many ways, and they always seem perfect for the choreography and its dramatic truth.  I think the dancers who have this instinctive amazing sense for plastique are born with it - it's a great gift and one that allies natural technical ability, intelligence, musicality, innate understanding of of the intention of the choreography.  

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My interpretation of the term "plastique" is rather different to the responses above. Perhaps I made it up! But when I hear or read about a dancer possessing "plastique" I think of a dancer who has a sort of controlled, yet highly expressive and beautiful flexibility in her movement. (I suppose it could be 'his' movement as well, although I've usually encountered this term applied to female dancers). I think of Allegra Kent. Perhaps I'm way off base.

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