Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×


Recommended Posts

Would someone please define fusion? What distinguishes it from the genre of modern dance? The implication is that two distinct genres are merged. Is there a limit which genres are used? For a bizarre example, classic and hip hop?

And a more important question: is such a distinction useful? Or are we doing the equivalent of a Phd (piling it higher and deeper)? Does the subcategory of fusion help us in determining whether a new work is good/beautiful or average/common? And is fusion as a category permit us to clarify in discussions what after all is a subjective judgement?

Link to comment

I am not sure that fusion is a thing unto itself, with its own techniques and so on, but a catchall term to apply to choreography that is neither one thing nor another. So, yes, it can include jazz and hip-hop as well as the more usual hybrid of modern and ballet.

Scanning the school advertising in dance magazines, you'll find curricula including jazz (sometimes specifying technique/s), modern (ditto), ballet (again), but no offerings of classes in fusion.

When Tetley started injecting his Graham training into ballet (or was it the other way around?) it was revolutionary. He had solid understanding of the theories of both. Few of his imitators have that foundation to build their works upon.

Of course, this doesn't mean that some of those works can't be enjoyable. Many are.


Link to comment

Fusion is a term used to describe/categorize a particular kind of choreography -- as carbro noted, a fusion of two forms, ballet and modern dance -- often by the choreographers themselves. It's not a judgment. I think part of its function really is to bring objectivity to a subjective discussion, to describe rather than judge. (I don't know what they'd call a mix of ballet and hip hop -- perhaps just that, until there were enough works done in that style that it needs its own name.)

Words are invented when they're needed. There's a kind of dance that isn't ballet and isn't modern dance. So it needed a name. "Fusion" -- and crossover, and other terms -- are distionctions, and like most distinctions, only useful in discussing something at a certain level. If you're just going to talk about fruit, then you don't need to distinguish among apples, pears ands kumquats. Just say fruit and everyone will be happy. If you're really into fruit, then it's nice to know which are the apples and which are the pears. And so when there came a time when "classical ballet" didn't quite work for "Apollo" or "Agon," people started talking about "neoclassical ballet." And when one might need to say, "You know, that stuff that isn't ballet and isn't modern" a new term had to be invented. (In modern dance, you had "postmodern" choreogaphers when what they were doing was so far from Martha Graham that it was generally recognized that this wasn't "modern dance" anymore). I don't think one has to know the different genres to enjoy them, but, like other terms of art -- demicaractere, noble, character dancing as applied to dancers (or tenor, baritone, bass voices in opera) -- the terms are useful in describing performances, aesthetics, and different approaches to ballet.

The categories of dance -- classical, neoclassical, fusion, ballet moderne, etc. -- are based on the vocabulary used, the language of that particular category, and the training of the choreographer. So if the choreographer is trained in classical ballet and uses that language when s/he choreographs, that's a classical choreographer. "Neoclassical" was a way to distinguish people like Balanchine and Ashton from Petipa and other 19th century choreographers, and indicates that the roots and vocabulary are classical. "Fusion" came in in the 1950s with John Butler and Glen Tetley, who were trying to "fuse" ballet with modern dance. There are also instances of works in a ballet company's repertory that are modern dance -- or postmodern dance -- and works by modern dance choreographers who can work in ballet and with ballet dancers and who make things that can genuinely be considered ballet -- or not. (I think actually someone has trademarked the word "fusion"; there was an incident a few years ago when a critic used the term in a review and got an angry letter from someone saying that the term had been used inappropriately because it was HIS. But I can't remember who it was!!)

One other monkey in the works is that people often use the term "classical" to mean everything from "they're standing in straight lines" to "they're wearing toe shoes" to "a great ballet." Classical ballet is a vocabulary and training system; theatrical works built on the danse d'ecole. A modern or postmodern choreographer may make very formal works, but that's formalism, not classicism. There are choreographers who put the dancers in toe shoes and use them as though they're height boosters and choreographers who make barefoot ballets, and there are a lot of classical ballets that are not generally considered great.

When I was in college, I remember puzzling over why Leonard Bernstein was considered a "classical" composer when he wrote "West Side Story" and George Gershwin was considered a pop composer when he wrote a concerto and "Rhapsody in Blue." It was explained to me that the distinction was one of training and orientation and language -- and the same works for dance. It's not always clear from just seeing one work by an artist, but taking the whole body of work into consideration, and placing a person both horizontally (where s/he fits in to the historical continuum) and vertically (where s/he fits in compared to others working at this moment in time).

Sorry for the long answer, but these are complex issues! You've hit upon a topic that actually was one of the reasons the site was founded. Some of these issues (especially the judgment ones) were addressed in the Mission Statement, What This Site Is About

Edited by Alexandra
Link to comment

For a discussion of why all of this matters, you might be interested in an interview I did with Bruce Marks (trained in modern dance AND ballet and one of the very few modern dancers to crossover to ballet) in 1997. Marks was Artistic Director of Boston Ballet then, and had been a vigorous proponent of crossover dance in ballet company repertories. (Fusion dance in fusion, or contemporary ballet, companies, like the Netherlands Dance Theater, is a different matter entirely. There the dancers are trained to do that type of work.) He was beginning to change his mind.

BRUCE MARKS: I think the dialectic is complete. I think we've melded, and I think we need to start unmelding again, and becoming individual.

I grew up in the '50s, dancing in the '50s, when ballet dancers and modern dancers didn't speak to each other. And of course, now that we love each other -- I don't know why modern dancers love us now. We're less like them than ever before.

Ballet has no épaulement today. It has no opposition in the body. All the tension in the body is gone from it. There are no body positions any more. There's no such thing as an effacé, because you can't do an effacé when your leg's up around your face. Effacé is a position of the body, not of the legs. A croisé is a position of the body, meaning the torso has a lot to play in it.

And I think ballet has lost a lot because of that. I now believe that you need to examine within whatever that is called the ballet base, the classical technical base, in order to create and to move out from the classical tradition. I think you have to be trained classically to move out from it and to expand it. In my experience commissioning modern dance choreographers to create on ballet companies, what happens so often is, the modern dance choreographer feels so uncomfortable, or so uninterested in the technique itself—the use of the pointe shoe and the foot, and the way we use gravity—that they choreograph on their own company and transfer it. Or their own assistant. "I need my assistant to choreograph on."

Very few actually challenge the ballet technique, so that in and of itself is just doing modern dance on ballet dancers, who don't do it as well. And then the modern dancers complain that it's not being done well enough.

I don't think there's much point in that. I think there's a great deal of point in taking people who wish to, who want to, work with ballet dancers. You don't have to be necessarily deeply ballet trained, but you have to have an interest in ballet. For example, I believe Birgit Cullberg was not deeply ballet trained, but she was interested in ballet idiom for a long time, and worked with ballet idiom and ballet steps.

I think it is time to examine ballet technique, and to use it and to explore it, and I think crossover doesn't do that.

To read more:

The King of Crossover Crosses Back

(Note: This doesn't addrress, except in passing, whether X or Y is a GOOD choreographer, merely the current situation where crossover work is presented as the only new work in ballet company repertories.)

Link to comment

Thanks, Alexandra, for your comments and the quote of Bruce Marks. I was especially impressed by his distinction between classically trained choreographers (who can "move out from it and expand it") and modern trained choreographers (who apparently pick and choose certain ballet conventions or techniques to give a different look to their work or to meet the needs of a commissioning ballet company).

I also appreciated your own comment that this distinction doesn't (or doesn't have to ) take into consideration whether the choreographer is good or not.

Ballet Talk is giving me such a remarkable education. I'd be grateful if you or others could suggest some recent or current modern choreographers who are BOTH good choreographers AND classically trained, and how they manage to avoid the trap of superimposing superficial ballet stuff on a very different dance platform.

Link to comment

Thanks, Bart. :yahoo: I'm not sure I know what you mean by "imposing superficial ballet stuff" because what I'm talking about is that the natural language of the choreographer is ballet. He can take (as Balanchine did) movements from jazz or Graham or Wigman or physical therapy, and it's still ballet because he's melding that onto a ballet base.

I think what Marks meant by a choreographer who can "move out from it and expand it" is someone who can do what Ashton, Balanchine and Tudor did. Make something that is instantly recoognizably NEW and, at the same time, Diaghilev could look at it and say, "My God, that's Petipa!" I think Ashton's "Cinderella" is like that, and it was revolutionary in 1948 when the three-act ballet had been pronounced dead. To me, it's as though Petipa had left the studio the Friday before Ashton started working. And yet, if you look at the choreography closely, there's almost nothing in it that would have been in an 1890 Petipa ballet.

I'm afraid I can't name very many new Petpas. Bruce Marks mentioned Michael Corder and David Bintley in that 1977 interview; I haven't seen enough of their works to comment. I think Christopher Wheeldon is definitely a ballet choreographer. There's another English Christopher -- Christopher Hampton.

There are quite a few "sons of Balanchine" ballet makers around (many current artistic directors), but, to me, the works are derivative, like those posthumous Jane Austen novels that are popular now. They're very cleverly and lovingly done (the novels, anyway :shake: ) and if you adore Austen and wish she had written 2 dozens books, they may be very satisfying. But they're dead things, to me, because the creator is dead, and it's like imagining having a conversation with a dead friend. It only works when you go over ground you both know. You don't KNOW how the friend would react to your new love, or the new house, or the new brand of spaghetti sauce. You can only put into his/her mouth the words you remember. If the person could suddenly appear s/he might surprise you.

I think, for the reasons you stated on the thread about "not liking it/not getting it," that the triple bill programming is a problem in allowing new ballet choreographers a voice. There are choreographers working in the classical idiom whose works aren't getting seen. They have their own companies or work for smaller troupes. In big and midsized companies, new work has to be Trendy and a Hit, and so more and more companies are programming pop pieces -- which is a different distinction altogether. If you have a repertory system, like NYCB -- which is the only company now, as far as I know, that mixes up the ballets instead of having a Program A, Program B formula -- you can squeeze in a new little ballet here and there, give someone a chance. But the way things are structured today, you need a Hit. The audience is going to buy tickets to Valentine's Evening with the expectation of seeing three things they will like :) It's hard to take risks in that situation. The Post's Sarah Kaufman wrote about a program like this -- billed as New! Cutting Edge!! Risky!!! -- that it was about as risky as offering candy to a toddler (since this has been the formula now for about 30 years) but we still have that rhetoric. I'm also seeing pop dance choreographers trying to make it up the ladder, from small to medium to large regional companies, and when they start tackling -- and I don't use the word lightly! -- classical composers, it's obvious to me that they've never listened to the music before and wish they didn't have to. They don't understand it. They use it as noise. They don't understand its aeshetic, or its rules or its structure.

Back to the crossover choreographers, I think this is a separate genre that has its own audience and deserves its own companies (like Netherlands Dance Theater) or modern/contemporary repertory companies (like Rambert Dance Company). I don't want to see another ballet company turned into a contemporary dance company, though, because what a lot of people -- including some Artistic Directors -- don't realize is there is a tipping point, and that if your dancers don't dance classical works often enough, they will not be able to dance them, or they will dance them with a modern dance inflection, and that is not good for ballet.

Edited by Alexandra
Link to comment
Words are invented when they're needed.  There's a kind of dance that isn't ballet and isn't modern dance.  So it needed a name. "Fusion" -- and crossover, and other terms -- are distionctions, and like most distinctions, only useful in discussing something at a certain level.

Thank you Alexandra and carbro for taking the time. Especially for the reference ‘The King of Crossover Crosses Back’ There’s a lot to digest. Fusion is a category that has puzzled me for sometime and your comments have raised new questions. Hope that I can share these in the spirit of a debate. Long answers always most interesting.

Link to comment

I think it would be good to debate/discuss all of these issues, so ask away (and others, please, jump in!) It IS confusing, and it doesn't help that these terms are often used carelessly in reviews and articles. I think, too, that often there are misunderstandings when someone says, of a work one loves, "It's not a classical ballet!" That SOUNDS as though they're saying, "It's not a good ballet," but it doesn't necessarily mean that.

Link to comment

Oh, thank you for making that link to the Marks interview -- it's a fascinating read and full of material for this topic.

I've talked about this in other contexts before, since it's a favorite topic of mine, but I think part of the difficulty that some people perceive in fusion works is that they are frequently scheduled to satisfy the dance audience's ongoing desire for "new work". Theater, classical music, and opera all seem far less dependent on the creation of multiple premieres, but dance is joined at the hip to the idea of new.

I know that many people have mixed feelings about John Rockwell's work at the NYT, but I did appreciate his comments about revivals, in a recent essay after watching the Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Joffrey companies. He holds up the idea of looking to the past, looking to older repertory, as an integral part of dance programming.

I am not saying that I dislike fusion work -- as with most categories in dance, I've liked some of what I've seen and disliked other things. I just worry that, if this becomes the default style for all new work, that the balance of the repertory (as in Alexandra's comment about a tipping point) will be too skewed.

Link to comment

Question for Alexandra,

In the March 21 post you wrote,”I think what Marks meant by a choreographer who can "move out from it and expand it" is someone who can do what Ashton, Balanchine and Tudor did. Make something that is instantly recoognizably NEW and, at the same time, Diaghilev could look at it and say, "My God, that's Petipa!" ……. I think Christopher Wheeldon is definitely a ballet choreographer.”

Since Wheeldon in your opinion is a ballet choreographer and mentioned in the same paragraph with Ashton, Balanchine, Tudor, and Petipa do you here equate ballet with classical? The inclusion of Tudor suggests that you might be making a subcategory distinction within the general category of ballet.

Link to comment

Thanks for the question, Balletaime. But first, to head off a possible misunderstanding -- there are a LOT of words cut in the quote you posted. I did NOT compare or rank Wheeldon with anyone and I did NOT associate his work with that quote of Diaghilev.

Re defnition of ballet: In an earlier post, I pointed to the Mission Statement, which tackles many of these issues, but I'll quote from it here for the definition. It was included in the Mission Statement to let people know how the word "ballet" was used on this site.

What is ballet?

We'll go with the definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Dance: "A form of Western academic theatrical dance based on the technique known as the danse d'école (the classical school) usually presented with elements of music and design to dramatic or lyric effect."

That's the standard, state of the art definition. Personally, I'd omit "usually presented wiith elements of music and design" but it does say "usually"

Re Tudor: I don't think he's a subcategory. Tudor is a ballet choreographer. Some of his works are expressionistic in style (as are a few by Balanchine and Ashton) but the basic language is that of classical ballet, and he was classically trained. Tudor was also a noted teacher who cared a great deal about classical style.

Link to comment
Thanks for the question, Balletaime.  But first, to head off a possible misunderstanding -- there are a LOT of words cut in the quote you posted.

Sorry, I did not intend to mislead. The original was readilly available and I did indicate that a section that I deemed unimportant was cut by the row of dashes.

Again my appologies.

-"but the basic language is that of classical ballet", answears the question that I was attempting to pose.

Link to comment

Oh, I know you had only good intentions! What happens on the net, though, all too often, is that people just read the post above theirs, and things get attributed to one that one didn't say.

One thing I didn't mention is that "ballet" is used in so many different ways -- including contemporary dance companies, especially European ones, with the name "ballet" in their title, like Ballet Preljocaj -- that the whole issue can become very confusing!

Sandi, I second almost everything you wrote :) I think revivals have been the mainstay of the ballet side of ballet company repertories for awhile now, and as valuable as they are -- and I want more of them, before the entire 20th century is lost -- we also need new ballets. When fusion works are substitued, as you wrote, to satisfy an audience's demand for something new, rather than looking to new ballets that there's a problem, for the same reason that there would be a problem if the Limon company suddenly started mounting revivals of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake." It's not what they do and if they do too much of it, it will change what they are.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...