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Mel Johnson

Grand Old Men and Women

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Agnes DeMille appeared in a documentary, teaching one of her ballet's (I don't remember which) to young ABT dancers.  It's amazing what she could convey, seated in a chair, using (a) her arms, head and upper torso, and (b) a shared ballet vocabulary.

That was the Frederick Wiseman documentary. Agnes DeMille was (after recovering from a stroke & therapy) rehearsing The Other; music by Franz Schubert. ABT's Amanda McKerrow and others were dancing in this last ballet by de Mille, who was being assisted by Terry Orr, now director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

The mother thought that teachers who can't demonstrate should be "put out to pasture" and suggested that no one over 62 should be allowed to teach.

Some parents can be so arrogantly clueless!

Madame Tatiana Legat, still active in her 70's, is responsible for producing the beautiful Sarah Lamb, soloist now w/ the Royal Ballet. Both are Boston Ballet's great loss, IMHO.

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Jocelyn Vollmar must have been a prodigy if she danced with SFB in the 30's---her career was in the 50's and I have fond memories of her with Ballet Society and ABT.

http://www.sfballet.org/performances/nutcr...snow_queen.aspx

The link above includes a photo of her as the Snow Queen in the first production of the SFB's "Nutcracker" in 1944 (and also an interview).

http://www.voiceofdance.com/Insights/featu...000000000000137

That article mentions that her career at SFB started in 1938 (but it doesn't say at which age).

[Edited to add the following:]

http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/schools/lhssp43.htm

There's a Jocelyn Vollmar listed among the Lowell High School (San Francisco) graduates of 1943.

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Some parents can be so arrogantly clueless!

Quite so!

This mother's main concern was the money being spent on the SI. While she perfunctorily acknowledged the ballerina/teacher's former greatness (before readily identifying her upon prodding by other posters), she felt that she wasn't getting the proper return for the big bucks she was paying for her daughter's summer training.

Wide-eyed me ......I'd pay just for my daughter to be in the presence of these former greats every day. But I'm not your average ballet mother. :)

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While I don't necessarily agree that a great dancer automatically makes a great -- or even good -- teacher, the monkey-see-monkey-do way of teaching is not, IMO, the most effective for all students. A teacher who can explain either through imagery or the feeling one should aim for is likely to open the mind to epiphany. Epiphanies don't come through imitation, and they last longer.

Tradition is part of the glory of ballet. To have touched those who have been a part of its past is a great privilege. This cranky mother -- what does she want? That dancers should start their teaching careers in their early- to mid-30s, during their peak performing years? Because then they can best demonstrate every step to the max time after time.

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Melissa Hayden, at 82, teaches year-round and is presently teaching at NCSA's SI. An unhappy mother on an unmoderated ballet board slammed her pretty badly because of her daughter's frustration with Hayden's classes.

What a shame. I just came across another message board (I dunno, same one?) where someone expressed a similar sentiment, except this time it came from a young dancer.

:dunno:

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One of my favorite sections of Karsavina's memoirs is about her time in Italy, studying with a former ballerina from La Scala (I cannot remember the name right now, and can't find the book to double check) who taught from a chair, sometimes eating a leg of chicken.  She was known for her strength on point, and was able to impart that wherever she was sitting...

I wonder if that was Carlotta Zambelli?

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David Howard is one of the greatest teachers I have ever seen, and at most times I don't recall his demonstrating at all, even when younger, I recall what he said.

When I first came to New York, Valentina Pereyaslavec, Igor Schwezoff, Vladimir Dokoudovsky, Nina Stroganova, Vera Nemtchinova, Maria Swoboda were teaching, all way over that "age", and their classes were magical. All the dancing about in the world wouldn't have made them better teachers. It was a thrill just to be around them, but more than that, they gave incredible classes! Find me a student of Danielian's who would have avoided him just because at times he had to teach from a chair. How clueless can someone get?

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Sulamith Messerer.

Edna McRae.

Anatole Vilzak.

Sydney Leonard.

Alexandra Danilova.

Felia Doubrovska.

Antonina Tumkovsky.

Edward Caton.

Natalia Dudinskaya.

Konstantin Sergeyev.

Sorry for all the posting but as you can tell this is one of my pet peeves.

Dudinskaya and Sergeyev staged a full length Swan Lake in Boston in 1990, when Dudinskaya was 78, don't recall his age at the time. Tatiana Legat is a comparative youngster, she's only 71. Argggh.

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Anyone recall the "Spectre de la Rose" done at the Met Opera 100th anniversary Gala, with Patrick Dupond dancing around Lillian Gish in a chair? It was touching to hear from the announcer that Miss Gish had been coached for this role by Natalia Makarova, who herself had been coached by its creator, Tamara Karsavina. Though heaven knows, since she was past 62 she couldn't have had anything to offer. :dunno:

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One of my favorite sections of Karsavina's memoirs is about her time in Italy, studying with a former ballerina from La Scala (I cannot remember the name right now, and can't find the book to double check) who taught from a chair, sometimes eating a leg of chicken.  She was known for her strength on point, and was able to impart that wherever she was sitting...

I wonder if that was Carlotta Zambelli?

I've got my copy of Theatre Street open in my lap. The teacher is Signora Beretta (her first name is not given). Karsavina writes in Chapter XIV:

We found her at her meal. A leg of chicken in one hand, Signora Beretta, with a stately flourish of the other, waved us towards her sitting-room, where we waited for some time till a ludicrous little figure waddled in. Fat and short, her pyramidal shape was emphasised by a very small head with a meagre blob of hair on top. From the look of her it was unbelievable that she should have been a great star of the Scala.
Karsavina continues to describe the classes, taught from Signora's chair,
.... she never got up from her arm-chair to show the steps set for each day of the week. Even on hot days her knees were wrapped in a rug, a red cushion under her feet.

and how difficult they were, with no rest at all permitted during barre. In fact, Karsavina fainted at the barre during her first lesson. She wrote that she improved considerably during the two months she took class with Signora Beretta.

As to my post about the disgruntled mother, I went back to read new posts on that board and realized that I had attributed the "out to pasture" comment to the original poster whereas it was made by a replying poster who thought that Melissa Hayden should have been put "out to pasture 20 years ago" and that teachers ought to be able to demonstrate everything. I juxtaposed her post onto the original one (sort of like sandik's having Karsavina's teacher chomping on her leg of chicken while actually teaching, when in fact she ate first and taught later. :dunno: )

I am glad to report that a slew of posts supporting Melissa Hayden (some from mothers of her former students) and other revered teachers came in response to the moms who were concerned about their SI dollars. It seems that most parents do realize there is more to ballet training than learning the steps.

Mme. Hermine, I agree totally with you that

It was a thrill just to be around them, but more than that, they gave incredible classes!
No one who was fortunate enough to have been there could forget Valentina Pereyaslavec's barking commands! The greatest dancers in the world took her class at ABT when they were in New York. Margot Fonteyn said "if you can survive Madame's barre, you can survive anything."

Marika Besobrasova, another difficult teacher, in whose classes survival of the fittest, physically and mentally, seems to be the goal, has world-famous dancers seeking her out in Monaco.

Leon Danielian inspired scores of dancers from his wheelchair (when he was recovering from hip replacement). What a memorable teacher he was!

David Howard teaches sitting down now, and the studio is overflowing with professional dancers and serious ballet students who flock to his classes.

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Also a memorable teacher to remember was Antonina Tumkovsky, who can be seen teaching in her 90's from a chair in a video that's out, in what her students describe as a terrifically difficult if brilliant class. It is amazing to view.

"I believe one of Tumey's greatest gifts is in shaping the essence of a dancer. She not only promoted physical strength, but tried to instill in us emotional integrity as well," writes Wendy Whelan, principal dancer for New York City Ballet in a tribute to Antonina Tumkovsky. "She wanted us to be confident, to learn to handle demands, to be healthy in mind and body." Mme. Tumkovsky retired in September 2003 at age 98 after fifty-four years with the School of American Ballet. A graduate of the Choreographic School in Kiev and former soloist with the Kiev State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Tumey, as she is affectionately known, came to SAB in 1949 at the invitation of George Balanchine. Her responsibilities included auditioning new students iii New York, and over her career, she taught every level of class at SAB, challenging generations of dancers, including Whelan. "Ultimately," Whelan writes, "she was prompting us to ask ourselves, 'Do I have what it takes to make this my life?' "--KAREN HILDEBRAND

COPYRIGHT 2004 Dance Magazine, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale

Also; Felia Doubrovska & Alexandra Danilova, were both beloved Russian teachers who taught at SAB until very late in life.

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I think there are two factors to keep in mind. There are some people whose learning style is to imitate, and no about of verbal instruction or description can replace a demonstration of the "what is" and/or "to be." Numerous professional dancers have described how they didn't know what Balanchine wanted until they saw him demonstrate, and not being able to demonstrate was one of his great concerns in his last decade as he struggled with several illnesses.

The second is the developmental stage of the student. Not every kid is ready to absorb artistic subtlety from one of the great ones. When you add in an intensive situation, where a young dancer may be away from home for the first time, and/or not automatically the best student, and the program is expensive, it's not surprising that a student or parent will complain about a teacher. It's also not surprising, alas, that the complainer will make a blanket statement about that teacher -- too old, doesn't do this, too absorbed in his own career, a name but not a teacher -- instead of saying, "I'm not getting what I need, and I'm upset and disappointed."

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Just to clarify someone's post at the beginning of this thread -- I don't believe Yvonne Patterson ever teaches company class at PA Ballet. But during the mid-late '90s, she was still teaching advanced class in the Academy one day a week... one of the most difficult classes I've taken in my entire life!

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Don't you think it also has something to do with what kind of attitudes they've learned in their home studio (besides at home from their parents?). If you have a studio where you're lucky enough to have a grande dame's (or monsieur's) presence around all the time, someone you can look at and say "He/She danced with Pavlova/Markova/Makarova (depending on your generation) it might make you more inclined to receive what such a person can give you. In Chicago when Ruth Page was there, you had Ruth Page, who danced with Pavlova, for Diaghilev, in Cecchetti's classes, etc. When Larry Long was teaching you knew that he had studied with someone who was in the original cast of Les Sylphides, imagine! (at least to me, anyway, and I think to the rest of us, this was incredible stuff!) Miss Page was cleaning out an attic in her summer house and one day brought in a scrapbook (now in the library) and I recall her showing us the telegram she got inviting her to join Diaghilev's Ballets Russes! Even though she didn't do a lot of teaching, just having her around (and she was a friendly person and liked students a lot) was inspiring!

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I just ran across this topical passage in a Mindy Aloff review while I was searching for something else:

Of particular interest are scenes of the original Nightingale, Alicia Markova, in her late 80s when this film was made, teaching her solo—which she performed at age 14—in a very sprightly and physical fashion to a Royal Ballet student, under the auspices of The George Balanchine Foundation.

I wonder who the lucky Royal Ballet student was?

It is part of the review of "Dance on Camera Festival 2004", 4 Emperors & 1 Nightingale

Letter From New York

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Thank you very much, Leigh!

I went to the Royal Ballet site to read more on Miss Loots. She was born in Johannesburg and finished her training at the Royal Ballet School. She moved up to First Artist 2 years ago, in 2003.

Now I've got to go to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts to see the tape!

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I juxtaposed her post onto the original one (sort of like sandik's having Karsavina's teacher chomping on her leg of chicken while actually teaching, when in fact she ate first and taught later.  :flowers: )

Oh, thank you so much for looking up the details and mending my error!

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Marga, you don't have to come to NYC unless you want to - at least some of the tapes are at York University.

I see they're also at the National Ballet and in Montreal. I didn't know such videos were available in Canada!

I will be in New York to see the Bolshoi but now I won't have to make time to nip over the square to see the tape. Thank you very, very much.

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Do yourself a favor and contact the libraries to make sure they have the tapes you want available for viewing. Then you'll know for sure.

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This is dangerous to say, but I would hold off judgement on the Hayden class not knowing what took place... While the parent's reaction was truly wrongheaded (my God! What gems there are out there! How dense can you get?)... still, I was in a master class at SUNY Purchase with Melissa Hayden back in the late 1970s and my memories are not flattering to Ms. Hayden. And at the time, she had a notoriously bad rapport with accompanists. I don't know what the deal was, we must have got her on a particularly bad day, because no one could have gone on like that for very long.... I just would like to hear from someone else who was in the class first before I accuse the dance student of "not getting it".

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I took a class from Hayden in the studio she had on Broadway. The only reason I didn't return was the disorienting columns in the middle of the studio. I did not get a negative feel from her.

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Sydney Leonard (Boston Ballet School) and I believe she is still teaching

Violette Verdy, who continues her tenureship at Indiana University.

:rolleyes:

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