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pherank

Ballet Methods: The Balanchine Technique

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The Balanchine "technique" as it is usually referred to, is not a method, as I understand it, so much as an enhancement of the pre-Vaganova, Russian Imperial Ballet training that many of the original SAB teachers (including Balanchine and Danilova) had received in their youth. With Balanchine, the emphasis was on techniques to provide quick, expansive and economical movements. Movements that facilitate rather than hinder or obscure Balanchine choreography (makes sense). At its core though, the SAB approach remains a traditional, classical ballet method; it is not a reinvention of ballet techniques.

The Balanchine Technique is also referred to as a "style":

"Characteristics of this style include: extreme speed, a deep plié, an emphasis on line, en dehors pirouettes taken from a lunge in fourth position with a straight back leg and an athletic dance quality."
—Laura Di Orio

'Balanchine developed a distinct technical style to accommodate his choreography. He stressed precise musical timing, and emphasized phrasing and syncopation in his classes. “For example, Balanchine’s fondu doesn’t have the same timing on the way down as on the way up,” says Suki Schorer, a longtime instructor at SAB. “It goes down slower and comes up a little faster. Frappé isn’t even—its accent is out and out, while ballonné is in and in.”

Balanchine wanted dancers to gobble up space, and gave classical technique a more streamlined look. He asked for longer lines, deeper lunges and a more open arabesque. “He disguised all his preparations,” says NYCB principal Teresa Reichlen. “He tried to make the in-between stuff look just as fantastic as the bigger steps.”'
—from Dance Spirit
http://www.dancespirit.com/dancing-balanchine-2326223886.html

In recent years, The George Balanchine Foundation has been able to realize a video documentation of the Balanchine Technique known as The Balanchine Essays. The DVDs are available on Amazon.com for purchase.

"Toward the latter part of his life, Balanchine talked about creating a "dictionary" of his technique, a visual reference for students of the ballet. The Foundation has helped to fulfill his wish by producing The Balanchine Essays. The Essays provide over nine hours of visual discussion of Balanchine’s ideas on technique that are not only educational but also protect the high standards Balanchine himself set for his dancers."

http://www.balanchine.org/balanchine/03/balanchineessays.html

I've recently watched some videos by former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan on "Balanchine Basics" and techniques, and found them to be quite helpful (and she has many other ballet tip videos on her YouTube channel). Having a dancer demonstrate movements while explaining verbally the thinking behind the movements is invaluable. [Morgan's career as an NYCB soloist was essentially ended when she developed thryoid disease. She now teaches dance classes, and dances as a guest performer.] Morgan attended SAB and danced with the company during the Martins era, and I suppose it could be argued that aesthetic/technique emphasis was a bit different during the Martins era (as opposed to the time when Balanchine was alive and still involved in teaching). But that's for others to discuss…

Balanchine Basics: Heads & Arms
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqev2vXivl0

Balanchine Basics: At the Barre
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OkdUukJpy8

Ballet Technique - Attitude and Attitude Balance (this includes references to the Balanchine technique)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgkfxmq6mIY

Hopefully people will find these enjoyable and insightful as I did, but I welcome all manner of civil commentary. ;)
 

Edited by pherank

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thanks @pheranklove Morgan's video. Did you get to see her sleeping beauty or flower festival videos? She was one of the best aurora I think musically and artistically. Too bad that she had to end her soloist career. She was definitely one track to be a principal. Her recent videos about how she got casted as juliet and other principal roles while she was an apprentice offer interesting perspective as a dancer as well

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Thanks very much, Pherank. Being a Mariinsky (and Bolshoi) devoté I'm still fascinated by George Balanchine and do consider some of his work, such as the Midsummer Night's Dream Act II duet, to be of equal 'ethereal' beauty (which I prize above all else in ballet) to Swan Lake or anything else that the Mariinsky excels at. Also the Miami City Ballet, at least when Edward was there, (I haven't had a chance to see it much since, although any company that would make Simone Messmer a Principal is fine with me) was a great favorite of mine.  Still, I've been looking for some easy to understand explanations of Balanchine 'technique' and 'style' for years. This seems very helpful.

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On 4/8/2018 at 11:29 AM, kenanna said:

thanks @pheranklove Morgan's video. Did you get to see her sleeping beauty or flower festival videos? She was one of the best aurora I think musically and artistically. Too bad that she had to end her soloist career. She was definitely one track to be a principal. Her recent videos about how she got casted as juliet and other principal roles while she was an apprentice offer interesting perspective as a dancer as well

Unfortunately, the little that I've seen of Morgan's dancing has only been on video. I gather that she was like by Peter Martins, so she probably would have kept getting plum roles had her health not gone haywire.

44 minutes ago, Buddy said:

Thanks very much, Pherank. Being a Mariinsky (and Bolshoi) devoté I'm still fascinated by George Balanchine and do consider some of his work, such as the Midsummer Night's Dream Act II duet, to be of equal 'ethereal' beauty (which I prize above all else in ballet) to Swan Lake or anything else that the Mariinsky excels at. Also the Miami City Ballet, at least when Edward was there, (I haven't had a chance to see it much since, although any company that would make Simone Messmer a Principal is fine with me) was a great favorite of mine.  Still, I've been looking for some easy to understand explanations of Balanchine 'technique' and 'style' for years. This seems very helpful.

Kathryn Morgan's videos are definitely helpful in explaining the stylistic differences between what is taught to SAB students, and say, Vaganova students. She doesn't really go into an analysis of Balanchine ballet roles or choreography, but it's really helpful, I think, to learn about the SAB approach to the basic positions, port de bras, etc.  Balanchine was too clever to simply stick to a mechanical presentation of these same positions and steps in his choreography - once dancers had the core classical techniques down cold, it was time to learn to deal with off-balance movement, dancing "big", and development of musicality in all movements...

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1 hour ago, pherank said:

Kathryn Morgan's videos are definitely helpful in explaining the stylistic differences between what is taught to SAB students, and say, Vaganova students. She doesn't really go into an analysis of Balanchine ballet roles or choreography, but it's really helpful, I think, to learn about the SAB approach to the basic positions, port de bras, etc.  Balanchine was too clever to simply stick to a mechanical presentation of these same positions and steps in his choreography - once dancers had the core classical techniques down cold, it was time to learn to deal with off-balance movement, dancing "big", and development of musicality in all movements...

So it sounds like those mechanics of Balanchine's teaching have been preserved pretty well in SAB and NYCB classes? That's good to hear.

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6 minutes ago, nanushka said:

So it sounds like those mechanics of Balanchine's teaching have been preserved pretty well in SAB and NYCB classes? That's good to hear.

There have been many arguments about how well the style/techniques have been preserved through the Martins era. Many of the original SAB teachers were gone by the 1990s. Naturally, that led to some alterations in the look (depending on who the students were training with). Suki Schorer and Stanley Williams remained for a while. Stanley Williams is a case in point: he was expert in the Bournonville tradition, which Balanchine admired, and so Williams couldn't help but pass along some of that aesthetic as well in his classes. But he made conscious alterations to fit with the 'Balanchine program', and provide Balanchine with young dancers who could do what he asked of them. Edward Villella credits Williams for transforming his dancing. These days, another generation of teachers is at work, so things change, sometimes noticeably, sometimes almost imperceptibly. No dancer at the Vaganova Academy dances as they did at Vaganova in the 1930s...

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4 minutes ago, pherank said:

No dancer at the Vaganova Academy dances as they did at Vaganova in the 1930s...

Of course. The most one can hope is for a reasonable maintenance of the tradition. It sounds like that's at least arguably the case at SAB/NYCB, which bodes well. Thanks for the further info.

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