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Dancers who grow in roles, and the ways they do it


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Here's a topic that developed during the discussion of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. It applies on some level to all dancers, so I'm nudging the discussion over to the Dancers Forum, to maximize the response from all over.

In talking about casting for Sleeping Beauty, discussion turned to the advantages (or not) of having the chance of dancing a role multiple times during a run. Some posters felt that dancers who grow in roles in several distinct ways. Here's the way drb expresses it:


QUOTE from drb's post:

"Dancers who grow roles by

1. refining and polishing (I'd site McKerrow and Kirkland as examples),

2. reinventing (Bouder), and

3. onion-peeling (revealing new layers of depth --as you say, Farrell).

Perhaps these last two are facets of some more encompassing way of describing what they do."


What do you think? What dancers in your experience have been particularly gifted in the ability to grow in certain roles? In which role(s)? And which of these three approaches (or any combination) have they used?

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My favorite classical ballerina (in America) is Veronika Part, the ballet context is Swan Lake. I've been lucky to see her three NYC performances as O/O, and each has been very different (long ago she performed the Mariinsky version of the ballet here as well). The growing of her interpretation has been multidimensional:

Artistically, growth definitely in the latter two ways. For me she is a dancer who creates epiphanies, and each performance her Odette achieves this at a different point (one time, a moment of supreme terror at first sight of Siegfried; another, back to him, she brushes his upper leg--sealing his devotion). Perhaps more reinventing than unpeeling, in that the prior performance's epiphany-point is toned down to better highlight the new performance's peak.

Technically, growth is more in the way of refining and polishing. Being a terribly underused dancer, I think it has been a matter of rebuilding strength and stamina, especially for Odile. Her sheer beauty (physical and in movement) can pretty well make Odile seductive, but the turns are easily the weakest of (almost all) ABT O/O's. Turns, and the stamina, have improved. For Odette, the technical refining has enabled her to uncover more layers of depth in the variations after the adagio.

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There has to be a difference between the young dancer in a relatively new role and a mature one in a role s/he's been dancing her/his whole career. I wonder if the very young Farrell, taking on her early Bizets and Tchai pdd's gave the sense of completely reinventing it, and if the mature Bouder will appear more like the onion-peeler.

I recall a remark by Kirkland that everything she did on stage had been worked out in the studio, that there was no spontenaiety in her performances but she strove for hours preparing to convey the illusion of spontenaiety. I don't recall when she made that remark -- whether she may have been under the influence -- but I don't think anyone who saw her twice in the same role swallows that.

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Croce did have a essay in which she compared Kirkland's, shall we say, rehearsal style with that of Darci Kistler, who was emerging after her long injury in the early 80s. Croce seemed to worry that Kistler was over-rehearsing as a means of overcoming her anxiety of the injury.

However, I believe I have read about "hours preparing to convey the illusion of spontenaiety" by Kirkland in another publication.

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I saw Kirkland in Baryshnikov's Nutcracker numerous times including, one Washington Christmas season, four times within two weeks. Each one was different even when the partners were the same (which was not always the case). One of the few examples that is strong in my memory: one evening in the pas de deux/trois, she supported herself against her partner's shoulder while on point and her working leg brushed against the other moving from behind her to in front of her and back with the utmost delicacy, holding the leg quite low; a few nights later she performed the same phrase with greater emphasis and took the leg higher. Both times looked equally controled, lovely, easy and natural. Still, the inflection was quite different. (The video obscures the moment altogether by giving a close-up; the video is, in any case, a very poor testament to her Clara.)

Based on everything I have read, including Kirkland's own writings, I believe Kirkland WAS a demon of preparation, but I suspect that the preparation somehow enabled her to respond with ultra sensitivity to the moment in which she was dancing. Certainly when I saw her--mostly after she joined ABT--she was the least predictable or robotic dancer imaginable. She noticeably responded differently to different partners. And, as has been noted by others on this board in other threads, Kirkland was also a dance risk taker who sometimes took very noticeable spills--and what I recall about those spills is that (in story ballets at least) she would get up from those spills "in character," as if Clara or Swanilda or whoever had taken the fall and was picking herself up off the floor not the dancer Kirkland. And that, in itself, is testimony to a kind of living spontaneity in her performances, however meticulously prepared they were.

Unfortunately my memory isn't sharp enough to detail much about how I think she "grew" in performances--I suspect memory has even blurred some performances together. But I did see a Swanilda early in her ABT career danced with Baryshnikov that was ultra exuberant, electric in its flirtatious chemistry, and technically smashing and saw another much later with Charles Ward that seemed tinged with more ethereal and vulnerable qualities...very, very beautifully danced with Kirkland drifting down like a feather from the high lifts that (the very tall Ward) managed, as it appeared to a viewer, effortlessly. I wouldn't exactly say she "grew" in the role--the early performance with Baryshnikov could hardly be bettered. But these were two gorgeous performances very differently conceived.

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I wouldn't exactly say she "grew" in the role--the early performance with Baryshnikov could hardly be bettered. But these were two gorgeous performances very differently conceived.

Thanks, drew. An important distinction. Especially in a live performance art, where so much must be subjective and ephemeral, both for dancer and for the members of the audience.

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Unfortunately my memory isn't sharp enough to detail much about how I think she "grew" in performances--I suspect memory has even blurred some performances together.
Thanks for the contrasting Swanildas, Drew.

I'll steal klingsor's metaphor of a "pearl onion" ( :thumbsup: thanks for that!) to recall one of Kirkland's last Mad Scenes in Giselle (at the Met), in which it was hard to say exactly what she did. It was pared down to nothingness, and yet the character went from one realm to another propelled only by (as far as I've been able to figure) Kirkland's concentration. A lot of jokes about whether this dancer had to act to make an effective Mad Scene, but I doubt anyone who saw it will ever forget it.

This contrasts with a mid-career Mad Scene (City Center?) which she danced full out -- very wildly. I can still see her maniacal grin as she held up the sword, about to impale herself. As chilling as that was, the later, less-is-more rendering still carries the stronger emotional punch.

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A really good friend gave me a beautiful book by Keith Money covering Margot Fonteyn's career from its very earliest days as a teenager to about 1974. This wonderful book allows me to see, just in pictures, how Fonteyn "grew" into roles. One of the great things Money did was compare her in the same role over time. He points out how steady her famously pure classical line remained. But the book also showed how Fonteyn matured as an artist. In her early 20s, she was of course very beautiful, but as she aged, her face became infinitely more expressive. One example is Giselle: when she was in her 40s she no longer looked as girlish, but her face expressed so much more.

Another good example is Alessandra Ferri. I've seen her Juliet in three different incarnations: the early video with Wayne Eagling, the later video with Angel Corella, and finally live at the ABT two years ago. By the time I saw her she wasn't a little girl anymore, but her dancing expressed everything from fear to joy to anguish, and I'll never forget it.

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