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It all looks alike....

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Another part of the "getting it" question. One often reads and hears the complaint about a choreographer's work that "it all looks alike".

One example of this is critics who write about every new classical ballet they see "It's just classroom steps" and "he doesn't go beyond classical ballet." Sometimes a ballet IS "just classroom steps." and sometimes it's "Divertimento No. 15" which is also academic classicism but, one could argue, much more.

I think often the "it all looks alike" comment can be defended. I have a theory that great, or at least successful, choreographers have an infinite formula that they can vary: Balanchine's is understanding the structure of a score so thoroughly that he can set steps to music -- same approach -- but produce infinite varieties on this base. Fokine and Bournonville had several infinite formulas, or types of ballets -- exotic folk tales, domestic comedies respectively, as well as local color ballets in both cases. So yes, it all looks alike. But it's all different. (Ashton is the exception to this rule. He has favorite steps, but I can't find an infinite formula in his works.)

The more attuned one is to a work, the more examples of a choreographer one sees, the more differences one will find among the works, but otherwise, how does one deal with the "it all looks alike" question?

Edited by Alexandra
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Isn't it the artists' interpretation that makes familiar steps interesting? Doesn't it depend on the coaching and the foundation the artists are building on? Sir Anton Dolin once said, " ... Tibaldi, Sutherland, Callas: They all sang the same operas. They all sang the same notes; but their interpretations were different." Phrasing and coloring can be changed. Isn't this what keeps us coming back for more?

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I think it is a hallmark of greatness that, at a time when one can look back upon a life of work, it suggests not discrete entitites, but a "body of work" with a shape. In this way dances are like poems, and the body of choreography like poet's Collected Works. The better you know the work the more differences you see among works, because detail is so telling, and because the choreographer's means are so familiar to you that you can "read" the work clearly. And yet, there is that blessed familiarity, the signature traits that , when someone complains that the work is all alike, makes you say, 'Thank Goodness." Incidentally, to me differences do not neccessarily arise from music, but from the inherent structure of the work, and how the choregrapher creates drama though weight, inflection, phrasing, pace, counterpoint, canon, etc etc. That may be a reflection of or an amplification of a score, but it may be resident in the steps, apart from the music.

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Well that's something I really have to think about, Alexandra. Just off the top of my head, I'd say that with a signature style, the artist uses the same language to say different things (not that there isn't an overarching vision or philosophy). With a repetitive artist, there usually isn't much being said at all, and whatever it is is always the same old same old. (This is getting into form and content---sooooooo, back to you, Alexandra! How would you explain the difference?! If I had smilies enabled, this is where my wicked grin would go....)

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I agree with both of you :( Yes, Mozart is instantly recognizable as Mozart (The National Gallery has a whole series of books on different artists with titles like "What Makes a Van Gogh a Van Gogh.") And that's what I meant by signature. But what about Joe Mozart? The non-Mozart, the sub-Salieri? I agree with Nanatchka -- it's the same steps or movements repeated -- material reshuffled, but not reinvented. It is form without content (content not meaning a story, but just something going on beyond class). Make sense?

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I don't know about that, Nanatchka.  Isn't Mozart always and instantly recognizable as Mozart?  And while there are themes that appear in more than one work, it is hardly the "same old same old."  Michelangelo?  Van Gogh?  Petipa?

Sorry, I guess I didn't make myself clear! I don't think Mozart is a

"repetitive artist," so none of what I said would apply to him. I was thinking of bad choreograpy, actually, of the present era. When Mozart themes recur (such as the clarinet in the Clarinet Concerto "singing" an aria from Figaro), the works simply resonate with each other. Or not so simply.

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