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Are certain ballet steps an endangered species?

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In the latest Dance View (Spring 2006), Alexandra has a very thoughtful essay on the student performances at the International Ballet Academy Festival in Washington DC last winter.

Commenting on one of the pieces choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet School, she writes:

In a program note, Jean-Guillaume Bart said that in his Peches de Jeunesse, set to music by Rossini, "I very much wanted to use the petite batterie and other rapid dance steps, characteristic of the 'French School,'" which [Alexandra continues] have nearly disappeared from the repoertory. Since nearly all ballet steps are disappearing from contemporary ballets, Bart's is a noble goal.

Many posters on Ballet Talk have expressed concern about the decline of the classical vocabularly in today's choreography But I had never thought about this in the way Alexandra presents it here -- that the STEPS THEMSELVES are disappearing from the stage.

This seems to parallel the precipitous decline in the size of the typical American vocabulary. Thousands of words that were fairly current in educated spoken and written English only a generation ago have been completely forgotten by those who speak the language now. They survive only in a kind of lifeless form in dictionaries.

Is the same thing happening with steps? Which steps (or families of steps) seem to be disappearing in contemporary choreography? What kinds of steps are winning the survival-of-the-fittest competition? What could explain why this is happening? Can anything be done to reverse the process? HELP! :wink:

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I think Bart asks a fascinating question. I wonder if anyone can think of specific ballets with step motifs of now rarely seen steps. I wonder if there are certain steps, now rare, in the original choreography of beloved classical and romantic ballets that have been omitted in later versions. And I wonder why these steps are disappearing. It's unlikely they're too difficult for today's better-than-ever schooled dancers. Do they not look as good on today's taller, slimmer dancers? Do they look too relaxed and easy, not athletic enough for today's audiences? Or similarly, do they not fit the neo-classical aesthetic choreographers tend to use today?

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Or similarly, do they not fit the neo-classical aesthetic choreographers tend to use today?
Not just today. I think one of the reasons that Robbins' work looked so "spontaneous" and "natural" to audiences is the lack of steps. Dancers run or walk to each other in his works, or perhaps perform a little folk dance. I don't think it was coincidence that one of the most striking set of steps in any of his Chopin piano works was made for Violette Verdy in the second pas de deux in In the Night, nor that the petit batterie was performed upside down, in a lift.
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Ignoring petite batterie is a growing trend. Part of that may be due to the kinds of bodies on which new choreography is made -- longer and lankier than fifty (and more) years ago. That discipline tends to look best on compact bodies. Instead, today's choreography tends to exploit big, bold movement that looks better on elongated frames.

Then again, choreographing petite batterie requires real craft. I can count on one hand those who have triumphed in that aspect: Bournonville, Balanchine, Ashton and Petipa. If anyone wants to suggest a current choreographer who succeeds in P. B., please, please name him/her.

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Hans mentions gargouillade. I admit I had to look this up ... and found it very connected to something I has been thinking of when I read Alexandra's comment: ballotte, rond de jambe in the air, pas de basque jumps, and even pas de chat.

In fact, there's a whole category of light, airy, elegant, carefree, precise, speedy jumps and travelling or linking moves that seems to have disappeared from contemporary ballet --at least that which I've seen. In contemporary, when dancers have to get from one point to another quickly, they tend to run or leap.

It sometimes seems that contemporary work, when it tries to express lightness, insousciance, elegance or fun switches to vocabulary borrowed from jazz or folk (western, international, pop). Not classical. This is definitely true for epaulement and port de bras. It seems, to my uneducated eye, that it may apply to steps as well.

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Helgi Tomasson's choreography does use quite a bit of batterie, but it's not clear yet that he's a successful choreographer for the ages. I wonder if the decline in what is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of classical ballet is just a reflection of the fact that there are very few choreographers working in a purely classical style today. But if it's still being taught, and works that use it successfully are being preserved, is there any reason to worry?


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Pierre Lacotte tends to use a lot of petit batterie. Certainly it abounds in his Pharao's Daughter. I don't know about his Ondine, but I've read quite a lot of commetns on its Napoli-like scenes, so I guess theres quite a lot of batterie in that as well.

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