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Strain in classical dancing

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There's an interesting "flash review" on DanceInsider by Gus Solomos, Jr. about Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Dance Theatre of Harlem Strains at Classical, Shines for Robbins

One of the points Solomons makes is that the DTH dancers now look more comfortable in nonclassical ballets than classical ones -- something that could be said about a lot of companies these days.

What's wrong with the training and coaching of these strong, attractive dancers? In the classical works they dance mostly as if they're afraid of making a mistake. 21st-century classical ballet companies can't get away with tentative double pirouettes on point and brittle arms. These are strong, lithe, potentially wonderful dancers, but somehow they rarely reach their technical or expressive potentials in the classical repertoire. Strain replaces the magical effortlessness the work demands. They don't enjoy themselves, and neither do we.

What is wrong wtih the training and coaching of dancers -- not just at DTH.

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Alexandra, do you think it has anything to do with this:

This wonderful staging by Judith Fugate made more dramatic sense than either the American Ballet Theatre or the New York City Ballet versions, because the cast believed the miming horseplay and did it with unselfconscious conviction.

What I am refering to is about the cast's being able to dance it "with unselfconscious conviction" - is that part of the reason the classical pieces aren't working...or am I putting the cart before the horse here? I suppose if the classical technique were taught, it would be understood, and have become an integral part of these dancers... and, then, they would be able to perform the other pieces "unselfconsciously"?? :wacko:

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BW - could i ask you to clarify what you mean here, please? ~

I suppose if the classical technique were taught, it would be understood, and have become an integral part of these dancers...
i mean: do you mean that these dancers don't do BALLET for company class - they do a acontemporary daily class instead? or do you mean something else? thank you.
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Grace, I have no idea...naturally I assume they do a ballet class as their company class... :unsure:

My question was an attempt to delve into the possibility that "comfort zones" might come into play in some part.

I am a mere audience member and never have had the opportunity to see Dance Theater of Harlem perform :( . What I was asking was more along the lines of whether or not these dancers (and/or many others) are well versed in what some might call "classical ballet"? I just know that there's often a big disagreement as to who is trained "classically" these days, that's all...and wondered if that is what the author was driving at. :ermm:

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As far as I know, DTH does have a strictly ballet class.

I think Solomons is questioning the teaching -- and I don't know who's teaching company class there now. But there's also an issue with contemporary dancers and classicism -- it often doesn't seem like second nature to them. I interviewed one of the ABT balletmistresses the first season ABT did MacMillan's "Sleeping Beauty" and I asked her about this. She agreed, saying, that the instruction would be given to "just be natural" but the dancers WEREN'T natural, or that this kind of strict classicism wasn't the natural language. My take on this is that a company's "natural" language is that of the resident choreographer -- or great teacher or ballet master who dominates the training and performing life of the company. Without that, the classroom steps WILL remain classroom steps, no matter how good or willing the dancers are.

Audience members' views are always welcome, BW :unsure: Y'all got eyes too :ermm:

[quickly] editing to add an afterthought: when DTH was here, what I saw was weak dancing -- the dancers were struggling with "Prodigal Son." They looked their best in the contemporary pieces where line and strength wasn't an issue.

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Or the atmosphere is one of fear of failure or unless I do this perfectly it is wrong. That is a huge problem with the classics as there is a tremendous pressure to be perfect, hence the inability to move with abandon. In a company class the teacher or direction may be putting too much emphasis on not breaking the form and not enough on moving from a line to a line THROUGH a line. Also the culture may be one of classical is beyond our capabilities and we are not worthy, which results in self-consicious dancers afraid to move.

In my opinion, those classical dancers who moved (move) freely were not so concerned with making perfect steps, but were concerned with dancing and story telling using a classical vocabulary.

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I agree. There's a balance between corporate permission to be sloppy (which I've also seen) and Fear of Failure. I think the stories about Balanchine being delighted when someone fell are related to this -- it's not that he wanted people to be fall, it's just that he enjoyed seeing dancers go for it.

One of the things I learned from my observations of classes in Copenhagen in the early '90s was that the dancers were expected to dance cleanly, and told (and given help) working on steps or step sequences -- but not on stage. Go for the point of the movement, work on refining it later. I think that system eventually does produce at least some dancers who give some "perfect" performances -- but there's still juice in their dancing.

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Yes, performance is a step in the process. It is not the be all or end all. A healthy attitude lets the performance be the raw truth of the moment, not a calculated event. Then you learn from the truth and return to the rehearsal or class with that experience to grow from. The next performance takes you that much more into freedom. For me, that is the frustration of the once a rep season four times a year in the regional companies. You need the repetition in the same roles with the naked truth of performance to grow as an artist.

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