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Where can this art go from here?

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Having not been invloved in active "ballet circuit" for some time - what I mean is the endless auditions, classes at this or that studio, summer courses, tights, dance belts :clapping: , pointe shoes, rehearsals, and everything in between that was my everyday life from 8 years old untill I was 22, the only real ballet contact Ive had (after a 2 or so year pause from the world of dance) is the little studio I teach at (which is just a modest but wonderful place) , and this board (which I love VERY MUCH!!!!! LONG LIVE BALLETTALK.COM!).

Ive been so immersed in reading my much loved books, etc. about the old Imperial Ballet, ballet history, and researching this or that topic related to it, that I guess Ive become rather disconnected from the current state of the art of ballet, and I almost forgot what it was like to be a dancer "on the move".

I recently joined the board known as Dance.net after browsing through it and finding that some of the members put up (god knows where there get them) really great clips of dancers in performance from around the world, even classes from St. Petersburg, etc, also many of the members, who are mostly teenagers, needed help finding music for this or that Pas or variation and me, knowing what a pain in the *** it is to find good ballet recordings wanted to help.

Anyway one member put up a performance of clips recently filmed at the Mariinsky of graduating students performing the good ol' Grand Pas Classique from "Paquita", and eagerlydownloaded and watched the footage....and I WAS SHOCKED! I mean these Ballerinas-to-be coming out of the greatest ballet school in the world looked to me like Rhythmic Gymnists dancing to Minkus and Pugni on pointe and in tutus.

I was like, what rock have I been living under?....is this ballet nowadays? I dont remember seeing dancers like this when I was dancing, which was only a few years ago. Maybe I did, but I think I would have remembered Ballerinas like this. Even Svetlana Zakharova, or Sylvie Guillem for example, for all thier 6:00 extensions and hyper-modern technique dont dance at all or look like these 18ish year old girls. I mean it was a TRIP.......

One girl who was performing the Minkus variation in 3/4 with the big saut de chats (AKA grand jetes) at the beginning, really blew me away. After her jumps, she did a first arabesque where her leg was literally only a few inches away from making contact with the back of her head - and all of this in a classical tutu sur le pointe! I couldnt believe it! With the other girls it was the same thing - one performed the variation to Pugni's waltz (the white pearl from the under-water scene in "The Little Humpbacked Horse"), which begins with an a la seconde ecarte pose into glissade, attitude croise avant, etc. Not only did she perform the required a la seconde pose while in the splits, but had she leaned over just a little bit more over her supporting leg she would have been BEYOND the splits......they all had such flawless technique, I mean REALLY FLAWLESS.

None of the Kirov school girls did anything more on that stage than perform mathematics, at least to me. There was no fire, just mathematically precise super-human tricks......grant it, they are still very young and have spent thier lives in school, up to that point anyway, like just about every ballet dancer, perfecting technique, and, needless to say, they have achieved it.

Anyway, now to get to my point. This all led me to think, where can the art of ballet go from here? Can it evolve any more? Where will this art be in 100 years from now? Will it still be art? Will it be sport? Ballet technique 100 years ago, as we all know, was very different and not nearly as precise as today. But now it seems this perfection of technique has been achieved, but it seems the dancers are getting more and more extreme. Where will this art go from here?

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I am a member of Dance.net as well and I would like to offer my possibly ignorant but hopefully tolerable opinion.

As you said, members of Dance.net are almost all teenagers and ballet students. Students/graduates from ballet schools are likely to have been so much engrossed into perfecting their technique in their classes that they are likely to focus on technique more than when they actually enter the performance/company world. But perhaps we can just give them a little bit more time and let them grow artistically during their time in ballet companies and make the conclusion then?

I wouldn't ignore the fact that ballet has become more athletic than ever but with so much amazing choreography I don't think any sensible and aspiring dancers can ignore the fact that they are artists not gymnasts.

One trend, however, that I feel uncomfortable with are circus in, well, mainly China in which performers wear pointe shoes. There is actually a link called "crazy video" where you can watch a particular performance. The girl was balancing en pointe on top of the guy's HEAD!! This certainly might mislead audiences but all kinds of art are susceptible to wrong interpretations.

But thank you for bringing this issue up, I agree that it is one important thing we should be aware of!


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Just this morning, I was reading a few more Dance Anecdotes, and from another dance discipline, ballroom dancing, came the following description by Gilbert Seldes of Irene Castle's dancing:

"She danced from her shoulders down," the review went in part. "The straight scapular supports of her head were at the same time the balances on which her exquisitely poised body rested. There were no steps, no tricks, no stunts. There was only dancing, and it was all that one ever dreamed of flight, with wings posed, and swooping gently down to rest."

Francia Russell said outright that her preference is for "feminine" dancers among the women, which by definition is anti-gymnastics. If the PNB school produces tricksters, I haven't seen a single one of them get into the Company. I haven't seen this tendency in any of the women I've seen at Ballet Arizona or San Francisco Ballet, either. My question is, into what companies do these kids get accepted, if any, and what happens to them once they are in companies? Like most gala performances, excerpts are used regularly in school performances, and out of context, my observation is that they tend to get "sexed up." (Which is why I'm glad the PNB school eschews the gala approach for its annual school performance.) For parents who are trying to decide whether to send their children to a given school, but have no schooling in ballet, these types of performances for the public certainly catch the eye of the uninitiated. Sports, something we've discussed in another topic, is a more common background, and from your descriptions, it sounds like the ballet version of the Olympic motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius."

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One trend, however, that I feel uncomfortable with are circus in, well, mainly China in which performers wear pointe shoes. There is actually a link called "crazy video" where you can watch a particular performance. The girl was balancing en pointe on top of the guy's HEAD!! This certainly might mislead audiences but all kinds of art are susceptible to wrong interpretations.

The truly crazy part of this is that it's an excerpt from a version of "Swan Lake."

It seems the majority of these performances come from fairly young dancers who've combined their training with gymnastics, where the aesthetic prefers hyper-limber bodies and extreme extensions. I agree with Helene that we don't see much of that reflected in performance today, except for some school shows.

I was thinking about the different timelines in development while I was talking to some friends about Patricia Barker's upcoming retirement. As people have mentioned above, young dancers often acheive great physical facility before they really know how to use it in the context of the art form. One of the pleasures of watching an artist develop over time is seeing them mature, watching them bring the riches of the art form to the anatomical skills they've got, and seeing what they do with the combination.

As disorienting as it might be to watch these ultra-flexy kids, I'm not sure I'm ready to panic -- it's like watching a teenager go through one of their gawky phases. You have an empathetic twinge, but you know it will get better with time.

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I don't know, sandik. Having watched the Kirov lately, I'm becoming less and less convinced that it will get better with time; it seems to be getting worse. The problem is not that the dancers are developing their physical facility, it's that only people with one type of body are being accepted into the big academies these days, which runs contrary to the fact that many types of bodies are acceptable and necessary in ballet, beyond certain minimum requirements (turnout, &c).

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There is actually a link called "crazy video" where you can watch a particular performance. The girl was balancing en pointe on top of the guy's HEAD!!
If you missed it, this video is viewable through NYTimes.com. From the Channels menu, click Arts, then Music & Dance. On the second panel, this link is (at this moment) the second one on the top row.
The truly crazy part of this is that it's an excerpt from a version of "Swan Lake."
Is this very different from, say, reading Don Quixote (the novel) in English? Resetting Romeo and Juliet to the New York slums of the 1950s? Swan Lake is reinterpreted for a different culture, into a genre that is more accessible to its intended viewers than the original. By matters of degree it is a more radical "translation." It is we who see it as alien, but it is a real mish-mash product of the shrinking world of our era.
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It wouldn't be the first time in history where the balance between style and virtuosity was questioned. In Ivor Guest's book The Paris Opera Ballet, he quotes former leading dancer Madeleine Guimard's husband, writing in 1816:

Dancing today is nothing like what I myself saw from 1770 until 1790 or '02. The lower-class public with red bonnets who took over the pit, the boulevard dancers...who were introduced on to the stage of the Opera, have caused us to forget the grace that gave the gloss to the moving tableaux at the Opera. Talent in dancing does not consist of knowing how to perform all kinds of steps in time to some rhythm...Speed is only a a minor advantage.

Guest continues: "But dazzling tours de force were what the public increasingly wanted, and what Duport and later Paul, with their astonishing pirouettes and jumps, gave them. Their female counterparts were also drawn towards technical display. Guimard had danced in a terre à terre style that was always firmly founded on grace, and as her husband declared, 'disapproved of the present custom of raising the foot to the height of the hip.' Movements such as that, he went on, dislocated the body, were ungraceful, and were done only to astonish the pit."


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So...wait. Legs at 90º are now the minimum requirement for anyone wishing to study ballet seriously. Does this mean that in two hundred years or so the minimum required leg height will be 180º? :rolleyes:

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