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  • Connection to/interest in ballet** (Please describe. Examples: fan, teacher, dancer, writer, avid balletgoer)
    Musician. Serious interest in ballet as theatre
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  1. Thank you, Helene. As a new member of Ballet Alert, I want to thank you and everyone else here for such stimulating, informative and helpful answers to questions. A bit belated, but -- Happy New Year!
  2. All my instinct as a musician says "Amen" to that. However, bending tempo in this way is so widespread, even with such great ballet musicians as Victor Fedotov and many others, that I feel I should reconsider, taking into account issues such as those mentioned by Quiggin and Nanushka.
  3. Thanks for your input, Quiggin. I'm sure you're right. So I accept that there is a justification for that slowing. But the issue I'm grappling with -- not in the sense that it's wrong, but in that it's outside my experience as a musician -- is getting used to something being done with the music that comes from outside the music. A good instance of what I'm talking about can be heard by comparing recordings of the music alone with recordings of that music done by the same orchestra and conductor in the context of a ballet performance. For example, this recording made in 1992 by the Mariinsky Orchestra under the great Victor Fedotov has no slowing at all at that point: https://youtu.be/wG0fUnomgYw?t=721 (I presume it was a studio recording or done in the theatre with no dancing.) In this case Fedotov's decisions are shaped entirely by the music's internal structure. (Tchaikovsky marks this variation as Allegro Vivace, and no tempo changes are indicated, even though there are many other places in SL where he does mark in a change of tempo, or an accelerando, or a slowing.) However, in the following film of a ballet performance by the same orchestra and conductor just two years earlier, there is a marked slowing (more than in the ABT performance) for the male solo in the final variation. https://youtu.be/9rJoB7y6Ncs?t=1223 In this case it seems clear that Igor Zelensky's Apollonian dancing requires that. (What dancing!) Of course, you're right that But their senses of time were shaped by purely musical factors. (In that respect it's interesting that Furtwängler studied and worked for many years with the theorist and analyst, Heinrich Schenker, whose whole life was devoted to demonstrating the internal workings of music.) So, as a comparative newbie to ballet, and especially to how it works in its relationship between orchestra/conductor and the dancers, I'm struggling a bit to get used to the idea of choreography impinging on the musical flow. I daresay this is something I need to learn to get used to. One of the things I definitely appreciate about the ABT performance is that the accelerando towards the end is impeccably timed to compensate for the lost time of the male solo. Moreover, I do accept that one cannot be doctrinaire about this. For example, some ballet performances of the Pas de Trois that have no slowing leave me dissatisfied because I find the choreography unconvincing. This performance at La Scala is one such instance: https://youtu.be/UHbM58HMXZ4?t=1492 I'd be interested to know what you think of the Royal Ballet performance I've linked above, in which there's hardly any slowing and the choreography is pretty much the same as in ABT. As I say above, Michael Coleman's "go for it" jumps are a lot less tidy than Herman Corejo's at that point; but it seems to me that this performance has a lot going for it nonetheless. Thanks again. That's a nice story about Danilova and Barbirolli.
  4. These are some really interesting replies to further questions that have arisen from my original question. Thank you all. I think that gets pretty close to what I've been sensing for a long time, without understanding the technical aspects involved -- and because I don't really understand the technical aspects it's hard to talk about it with any precision. After all, the only precise language we have for talking about music (my field) is technical; and even then we are always translating on the assumption that those sharing the technical language have a common understanding of what the language means in terms of sound, structure etc. So, putting all this together, I'm wondering if those dancers whom many watchers declare to be "musical" are those who can make their moves serve expression in a focussed way that communicates -- and expression often is defined by context. (Canbelto's point about "you don't even have to be much of a dancer to be a musical dancer" is relevant here.) It seems to me that the following extract is a pretty good example of what I'm thinking of. It's the Pas de Trois from Swan Lake, done by ABT in 2005, with Erica Cornejo, Xiomara Reyes, and Herman Cornejo. So much could be said; but here are just three points, two pro my suggestion that this is a good example of musicality serving expression, and one slight reservation. The full extract: 1) The way these dancers fill the temporal space, from downbeat to downbeat, and even across the phrase, strikes me as so natural, without being at all fixed -- it feels so responsive to the sound in that it is almost always pretty much in time with the sound, though without being precise in a "beaty" way. 2) A slight reservation -- it bothers me, as a musician, that this performance and so many other slow down for the male solo in the final variation just after 7.35. Many performances do this, but not all, by any means. 3) And then -- this is brilliant. The orchestra quickens back towards the original tempo for the final female solo, and when Erika Cornejo (it is her, isn't it?) starts she presses the tempo even harder so that when she's finishing the solo with those jumps (sorry, but I don't know the technical terms) she's well ahead. The whole point of that acceleration by the dancer seems beautifully to fit the expressive purpose. After all, they are trying to cheer up Siegfried -- "Come on!!", she seems to say. Watching this performance always cheers me up! Another account, in which the male solo in the final variation is hardly slowed at all, is from the Royal Ballet. with Rosalyn Whitton, Sandra Conley and Michael Coleman. Here, Michael Coleman just goes for it; and while the result is less tidy than Herman Cornejo's dancing, his reckless abandon has a similar effect. Lovely jumps at the end. In both these cases the musicality of the dancing seems to come not from precise patterning between the two mediums (music and dance), but from the tension between them. First one of them leads, then the other. I'd be interested to know what those experienced in ballet think of these points. Tell me if I'm wrong. Thanks.
  5. Thank you! I think I see what you mean about the boy in the red hoodie etc. One of the most interesting things about what he does here is that, while the energy is all a bit raw, and the moves even more raw, there's an underlying sense for metre -- as if he's not just counting pulses, but is very aware of the moves from one bar to the next, and even in groups of bars. That was one of the issues I raised in my original question. When I was teaching compositional techniques -- and I was blessed by having some of the brightest and best which that country (Ireland) had to offer -- I was always especially fascinated by abilities of that kind. Raw, sometimes eccentric, often opinionated about their own ideas -- they might be all those things and more. But that inherent ability meant there was always something with which they and you can work. I have a strong suspicion that many of these issues to do with "musicality" in a dancer must have some kind of innate aspect. They can be taught, they can be honed; but I suspect they are there from a very early age -- a bit like a discerning ear in a musician. I read somewhere that Riccardo Drigo said a conductor's worst nightmare was a dancer without an ear -- or words to that effect. Sorry, I know I shouldn't post unattributable things; but I'm certain that it was he, and that this was the substance of his comment. Maybe I read it in a book?. Perhaps someone here knows where it is recorded in an authoritative source.
  6. Ha! Thanks everyone! I'm learning a so much from things I never expected to encounter when I asked the question. (I know we're answering one another, not necessarily me; but such discourse is a benefit of an informed forum like this.) That includes those very-accomplished mash-ups of Beyoncé and Stravinsky, that very thought-provoking clip of Yulia Stepanova "dancing" to a single piece of Chopin — especially thought-provoking because this was very the dancer who induced me to ask this question. Of all the others, I'm as struck by some of your comments as I am by a priceless line-up of video clips. Canbelto's point about Gelsey Kirkland is an especially interesting one because it raises issues about the interaction of acting, dancing and musicality. Yes! A point all the more striking because the Wilis are such ambiguous characters -- beautiful on one level, sinister on another. I'd never thought of the cross-act connection before. But what you say feels right. And as for that point about Lopatkina -- I've just watched the whole of that act in this performance, Mariinsky in 2006(?), with the ways of thought everyone's raised in mind. Oh my goodness. Everything about it is at such a high level -- from that orchestra (surely, along with the Met in NY, one of the two best theatre orchestras in the world), to Lopatkina's frappés which, unless you'd mentioned them, canbelto, I don't think I would have noticed. Finally, and in the light of all that, I'm left with a sense that volcanohunter has hit right on the head a very important nail about musicality in a dancer. Thanks!
  7. Fraildove. Thank you so much for the recommendations. I've ordered both these books. Your suggestion about going to classes is worth thinking through. I don't know why I didn't think of this myself, because when I taught compositional techniques I several times allowed folks who were curious to sit in on my classes, which were small-group. (You can't really teach it any other way.) It would not be possible for me to take the ballet class myself, being nearly 70 and with quite bad arthritis all over the place; but I'm sure I could still learn a lot. I'll seek suggestions from a friend who works in theatre and is fairly knowledgeable about all kinds of dance. Thanks again!
  8. Thank you for these replies. They are all very helpful. I found the clips that showed different dancers doing the same passage in the same production especially valuable. So thanks for those to volcanohunter, and to Quinten for the example of Italian fouettés. Fraildove, your use of proper ballet terms inspires me to look for a decent online dictionary of those terms. Would you or anyone else in the forum find this one reliable? Or how about this from American Ballet Theatre? I ask for that advice because, as a musician I find so many online discussions and definitions of compositional techniques very deficient or just wrong. Thanks.
  9. Thank you everyone for all the posts of the last ten days. As I had hoped, they are helping a musician understand more about ballet, especially about relationships between balletic technique, artistic expression and music. Also, I've found that when one person replies to another, rather than directly to my original question, all kinds of unexpected avenues open up helpfully. I can't respond to every point; but here are some of the ones that have made the strongest impression in answering my questions. 1) Quinten. Thank you SO much for that analysis of Ulyana Lopatkina rehearsing. As a newbie, it's fascinating to see the choreography "dismantled" in tht way, analogous to the way musicians might dismantle a score when practicing. I've learned a lot by looking closely, with your point in mind that "the melody is in the upper body, lyrical and continuous." It's amazing to see how it all comes together in the live performance. And WOW! I've played that performance over several times, especially that extraordinarily expressive passage from 1.26 onwards. I can now see something of what you say about the relationship between upper and lower body. And I think that's the first time I've understood this point -- as distinct from just finding the general effect beautiful. Thank you! 2) Drew. Your response to that Lopatkina posting expresses so much of what I would have liked to say, but didn't have the words or the technical know-how to do so. Thanks. Also, your point about the dangers of video and synching is well made. Since you and a couple of others mentioned NYCB I've looked up some of those dancers with your points in mind. Having done that, I'm beginning to see what you mean about dancers such as Tiler Peck. I was struck by her commentary on this page, about the Act III pas de deux in Sleeping Beauty (sixth video down on that page). I was VERY confused -- until I realised that the partners were Tiler and Tyler! HeeHee! (It's not a common name in my part of the world.) Of her you say "Meeting the music at crucial times but playing with and against it at others". It seems to me that her dancing of the Ratmansky "Pictures at an Exhibition" linked on that NVCB page I've just mentioned is a good example of just that. Also, the excerpts on the NYCB page of Pictures https://www.nycballet.com/Ballets/P/Pictures-at-an-Exhibition-New-Ratmansky.aspx make your point about the character of a company. 3) pherank. I find your comments about Balanchine especially interesting, because so much of his work was involved with what some have called abstract ballet. I'm not sure that's an entirely appropriate word because, as Helene said, "They can look quite musical as stand-alones, until you realize that the choreography was meant to do and show something else," and there is always some kind of concept behind them, even if the dancer is freer than in classical ballet to put their own interpretation onto the concept. But that musical emphasis comes across very strongly in just about every piece of Balanchine choreography I've come across, including classics such as The Nutcracker and more recent pieces such as Agon. When watching Agon, I always experience the most extreme tension between musical interests and visual interests. Even more than in Tchaikovsky, the music nails itself into my brain in the experience of the moment. So music always wins! But that's my problem. Thanks for the link to this Tiler Peck Pas de Deux. As with Drew, who suggested her as an epitome of a specific kind of musicality in dance, your last comment nails so many of the challenges of the question we're discussing. That's why we need, as best as we can, to spell out the meaning of terms -- AND to acknowledge that viewing something as valid or invalid can have authority only if it is measured against a defined baseline. Elsewhere there's a thread discussing classicism in dance, and "musicality" crops up quite a bit there. I don't want to open up that subject here; but here's someone else who is musical in the sense I'm wrote about in the initial question. Aurélie Dupont and Hervé Moreau do Pas de Deux in a way that strikes me as more "classical" than the NYCB -- not better, just different. Yet even within that, Dupont takes risks -- of a different kind and perhaps a bit more targeted for the moment than Peck. (Again, different but not necessarily better.) For some reason I find this both quite exhilarating and amusing -- pressing at the margins, but musical. I'm sure that if she could have gone round again, she would have. So, it seems to me that I need to learn to LOOK differently. That's not as easy as it sounds, because seeing something happen is merely the surface, and I generally don't have a very strong visual awareness. It's a bit analogous to a challenge with which a former composition pupil presented me. She had a superb ear for pitch. But she had never learned properly to sift out instrumental timbre, such as exactly what instruments are playing if, say, a violin line is doubled at the unison by flute and clarinet. Eventually she learned to do it well -- after quite a bit of prodding and suggestion from me. Essentially it meant she had to listen and to think differently, with a different part of her mind's excellent ear fully engaged. But it didn't come easily for either of us. Thank you all. So, as James Taylor has sung — "That's why I'm here". Thanks everyone.
  10. As a musician who joined this forum to gain a better understanding of ballet, can someone please help by answering a couple of questions for me? They seems connected to fouéttes, so I hope this is the best thread for my purpose. What is this movement, that Yulia Stepanova is doing in Le Corsaire? It looks a bit like a fouétte, but it's very different from these ones, which she did in Swan Lake in London a few weeks ago. [I saw her performance (with Alexander Volchkov) in this production (St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, at the Coliseum) two days prior to when this clip was recorded.] I've heard the Swan Lake ones described as "standard fouéttes". I've also heard of "Italian fouéttes"; but none of the descriptions of them I've found are quite what YS does here. One aesthetic point that interests me is that she times the double turns so that they immediately precede the strongest downbeat in the phrase and therefore seem to drive into that downbeat. Is that something that Petipa(?) would have written into the choreography, or is it her own ornamentation/addition or whatever. Many Thanks.
  11. Thank you, Drew and Quinten. I'm not attempting to flatter when I say that I was especially hoping that either or both of you would reply to my post. Your contributions to the debates about Yulia Stepanova implied that you'd understand the issues I'm trying to talk about. There's plenty for me to think about in both your posts. And that's exactly what I was looking for. Two points, Drew. Incidentally to this topic, I passionately agree with your statement (Stepanova, 19 September) that ". . . the measures of Tchaikovsky’s score that the current production cuts have also always seemed to me among the most transformative and moving ever written for ballet...." Secondly, I take your point on NYCB. To be quite honest, as a newbie to thinking about these things, I haven't nailed down the characteristics of various companies except, perhaps, for some elements of the most obvious one -- the Mariinsky/Vaganova style. So I'm going to look at this some more; and I'll especially follow through on your recommendation of Tiler Peck among contemporary ballerinas. Any further recommendations of that kind, relevant to this topic, are welcome. Quinten -- I'm naturally inclined to tilt towards the general position epitomised in your last sentence: "Or it could be a delight to see these contrasting approaches, both of which can work, in my opinion." In exploring this topic I've come to suspect that some ballet folks can be like some musicians. They have such strong opinions about how things ought to be done that the opinions become an artistic equivalent of a religious creed or body of dogma. Anyone or anything that goes against the grain is seen as error or even as artistic heresy. You summarise what I've been trying to do over the last year or so: "to get the full effect the observer has to be attentive to the whole body, not just the feet." I find that so hard, because, for me, it's a new way of looking. I find reading a score a lot easier. HeeHee! But I'll keep going. Thank you both!
  12. First, apologies for such a long post (my first in Ballet Alert!). The nature of my question calls for detailed evidence, rather than opinion. I wonder if folks on the forum can help me understand ballet better by telling me whether my thoughts on this topic are sound. I’m a musician, yet a novice in serious thought about ballet — though I have known the ballet music of, for example, Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Prokovief and Stravinsky for decades. One of the things that I have found most interesting —and sometimes most frustrating — about online discussions of ballet are fights over a dancer’s “musicality” or lack of it. Too often, praise or insult comes without defining what the terms mean. ——————————— So about a year ago I looked up some dancers about whom the term “musical” has often been used. Among younger dancers, the most interesting to me has been Yulia Stepanova. On Ballet Alert! she has a huge number of replies under her name in the “Dancers” section — FAR larger than that of any dancer except Misty Copeland (Stepanova 476 as of 28 September 2018. Copeland 781 — but that’s no surprise). Although not all these replies relate directly to Stepanova, it is clear that she raises strong opinions, and “musical” or “unmusical” are pretty frequent references. So, wondering what folks mean by musicality in a ballet dancer, I started watching everything by Yulia Stepanova I could lay my hands on. (There’s a lot of it, especially on YouTube.) And I followed this up by watching other dancers who have been widely praised as “musical.” In no particular order, here’s a selection: 1) Yulia Stepanova (Swan Lake Act 3, with Jacopo Tissi) (Spartacus Act 3, with Alexander Sergeyev) 2) Rudolf Nureyev (Swan Lake Act 4, with Margo Fonteyn in 1966) (Swan Lake Act 3) 3) Cynthia Gregory (Rose Adagio) 4) Mikhail Baryshkinov (Solo from La Bayadere) 5) Natalia Makharova (Swan Lake Act 3, with Anthony Dowell) 6) Margo Fonteyn (Rose Adagio) 7) Svetlana Zakharova (Rose Adagio) 8) Anna Nikulina (Spartacus, Adagio) 9) Aurélie Dupont (Entrance of Aurora & Rose Adagio) 10) Sylvie Guillem (Swan Lake Act 3, with Manuel Legris and Cyril Atanasoff) Of course, these are variable in how persuasively they express the character or the dramatic context. For example, I understand why some folks find that both Aurélie Dupont and Svetlana Sakharova are too “ice maiden” for the role of Aurora. But that’s not the main point for my purpose here. (If I had to take one of these scenes and leave all the rest, it would be Fonteyn and Nureyev in the Act 4 pas de deux from Swan Lake.) ———————————————————- These dancers are all very different from one another. So what do they have in common that has made so many people describe them as musical? I suggest the following: 1) Their dancing is not concerned primarily with the beat of the music — though sometimes they must be “on the beat." 2) Rather than reflecting the beat, they are far more likely to shape things by the full bar or the phrase. 3) Crucially (and I suspect this is the most important thing of all), their physical movements fill the temporal space and tension of the metre. I mean the temporal tension that, in the music, comes between the beginning of one bar and the beginning of the next bar, and also spans the musical phrase. In “musical” dancers, that musical tension is reflected in the speed and shape of physical movement. One or two people in Ballet Alert! have touched on some of these points. For example, on 4 August 2016, forum member SFCLeo said about Stepanova “To my eye, there is a sophistication in her dancing - a lack of ‘beatiness' -- that may be mistaken by some as not being ‘on’ the music.” On the same day, and in reply, senior member MadameP reinforced the point that musicality includes “being able to phrase a sequence of movements appropriately with the line of the music”. Both these comments seem to be close to the essence of the issue. And yet there are places where being “on the beat” is essential. The infamous fouéttes from Swan Lake strike me as a good example. As Alistair Macaulay said in the New York Times (13 June 2016), “The rare artist is not the one who does the most turns but the one who makes them interesting and, above all, musical.” How to make such a thing musical? It seems to me that Sylvie Guillem does just that — superbly! Her double turns fill the musical space at the end of each phrase; and her timing is impeccable. So does Yulia Stepanova here in Corsaire. She places double turns according to the place in the phrase — in this case they come immediately before the strongest pulse in the phrase, so her movement seems to drive into that pulse. (And please, can someone tell me the name of that type of turn in Corsaire? It looks a bit like a fouétte; but it’s different from the Swan Lake ones. Is it harder? Yulia Stepanova makes it look like a stroll in the park. Are the double turns written into Petipa’s choreography; or is that a detail that the dancer can choose?) Most tellingly, some dancers can get very “out”, creating a tension between their physical movement and the metrical patterns of the music. That is what Fonteyn does towards the end of the Rose Adagio linked above. But it’s calculated; and it all falls back into line after a few bars of music. Superb dramatic sense! I’d be very interested to hear the reactions of folks who understand ballet better than I do — which is not very well at all! Thank you Martin (P.S. I saw Stepanova in London on August 29 last, with Alexander Volchkov, in St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake. Neither the production nor the soloists disappointed. Charisma is one of the most mysterious of human qualities, especially when it’s quiet, which it is with her. But that’s another topic!)
  13. Hello from Cornwall, in the south-west corner of Great Britain. I am a musician who has always been interested in ballet, though primarily from the musical end. For example, I have known the music of Tchaikovsky's ballets for years. Likewise for Stravinsky, deFalla, Prokofiev and other composers who wrote music specifically for ballet. Conversely, I hardly knew the ballet music of Minkus and other highly skilled specialists of his kind -- but only because the music per se is less interesting than is the music of the other composers I've mentioned. Since I retired from full-time work, I've had time and space to explore ballet in more detail. It's been an immensely rewarding experience; but also a challenging one. It's helping me to appreciate the skill of specialist composers such as Minkus; but above all it's presented me with ideas and perceptions that are stretching my presuppositions, especially about the physical aspects of ballet. (Disclaimer -- I'm a lousy dancer of any kind; and I cannot catch a ball.) In music, I understand compositional techniques; so I can talk about and write invertible counterpoint, harmony, orchestration etc. But I understand nothing about ballet technique. I do not know the technical language beyond having some idea of what are an arabesque, a fouétte and a pirouette. (When writing in English, does one use the acute accent? It seems that some do; some don't.) I applied to join this forum because this is a place in which there seems to be plenty of technical discussion and information. Also, this is one of the most international-minded groups. So I intend to post a topic or two, largely to present questions of those who understand ballet better than I. (I'm sure that, as in music, knowledge about, love for, and understanding of, are not at all the same things.) Many thanks, Martin
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