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Balanchine's admiration for Ray bolger

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In every Balanchine bio, when it comes to the Broadway work, there's always at least a mention of how much Mr B enjoyed working with Ray Bolger (who intitiated the hoofer role in Slaughter on 10th Avenue). It's always intrigued me; I've wondered what he was like.

This clip gives some idea of the awesome technique -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjTGNDOA0JU#7v4L-UHLazA

It's really astounding. Bolger was not just a clown, though he was a genius clown -- look how centered he is how he floats -- how he can pull up.

Anybody have experience of seeing Bolger live?

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Thanks for the fabulous clip, Paul. My late wife saw Bolger live in "On Your Toes" ("Slaughter on Tenth Avenue") and years later, in "Where's Charlie?" She never forgave Hollywood for casting Eddie Albert in "On Your Toes." But we watched "The Wizard of Oz" every year.

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I also think Bolger inspired Balanchine. When I saw the Kirov last April in 'Rubies' I said the following:

"The men had a problem with the running/jogging step that Balanchine used throughout the ballet; they looked comical in a clumsy way--THINK Ray Bolger when doing this..."

I saw Bolger in "Where's Charley" and 'once-in-love-with-Amy' was a highpoint in theater musicals.

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-- look how centered he is [ -- ] how he floats -- how he can pull up.

This clip, especially, gives the impression of someone whose body is composed almost entirely of air. You would almost think that this was a brilliantly animated cartoon rather than a film of a live person in real time.

I'd love to hear more about the specifically dancer qualities that produce this imrpession. And whether other dancers -- either show dancers or ballet -- have had this quality. How DO they achieve this effect? Can be learned in training?

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atm, I'm sure you are right.

Several people have told me they saw "Once in love with Amy" and have never forgotten it -- it was a soft-shoe dance.

Hans, can you tell us how he did it? Where is mbjerk when we need him, alas....


edited to add

Well look what I found:

"Once in love with Amy" is a soft-shoe done in tap shoes, with little arabesque turns and the sweetest, silliest, goofiest spell of enchantment inspiring hte whole thing. See for yourself

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One virtue of this kind of YouTubing is that you get a chance to look at details that you would probably miss in the context of a full production number.

For me it was a couple of things -- the way he snaps his leg in what appears to be a wide fifth position just at the start of the second line of the refrain -- or that sllippery-smooth pirouette with leg extended and flexed foot, towards the end. They are worth isolating and looking at again and again.

Where did this man get his training, I wonder?

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i haven't found much about his training so far -- but it may have involved high-wire tightrope walking. It certainly did in the case of his idol Fred Stone, a comic vaudevillean who literally bounced onstage. Bolger saw him as a child and "knew at once" that's what he wanted to do. Bolger modeled his performance as the Scarecrow on STONE's performance in the 1902-1911 stage production of The Wizard of Oz.

Certainly you'd have to pull up to do high-wire work.

If you look at Bolger's pas de chats carefully, what makes them so funny is how his legs seem to be hanging off him. THis is only an exaggeration of what ballet dancers strive for. Lorna Feijoo floats over her legs like this in Tchai pas


But tap dancers seem to have cultivated this quality -- esp the shorter Nicholas brother http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLJL01VpvbE (2:30 ff)

Where did they learn it? I don'tknow.

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Paul, thanks for bringing up Ray Bolger. I agree that he ranks right in there with Astaire and Kelly. For better or worse, I think he played to the fact that his face and demeanor was better suited for comedy rather than leading man roles. To a large degree, this served to limited his exposure and the true recognition of him as the highly skilled dancer he was.

I read an interesting reference to Bolger in Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance by Marshall and Jean Sterns. In it, they quote Herbie Harper, who was an assistant to Balanchine for “On Your Toes.” Along with Buddy Bradley, Harper was one of the great black dancers who were coaches and even choreographers on Broadway at the time, obviously uncredited. For Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Harper says he had to teach Bolger rhythm dancing. Harper is quoted as saying “Bolger knew his ballet but not his jazz toe and heel work. He had to come down out of the air for this new blend.” I’m not sure if Bolger really knew ballet, but his style, know as legomania or eccentric dancing, definitely had a lightness about it. Another well-know practitioner was Buddy Ebsen.

I also believe he had little if any formal training, but like many dancers of that era, spent many hours watching others, getting pointers, “borrowing” steps, and practicing over and over to develop his personal style.

My suspicion is that one quality Bolger’s dancing had about it, besides the lightness, that caught Balanchine’s interest was the amazing ability to be, or appear to be, very off balance but still actually be in control. I think Balanchine would later look to incorporate that quality in his ballet dancers.

Interestingly, I think this quality of dance, to appear off balance, has mostly survived in the area of the oft-maligned hip hop, where many dancers incorporate isolations, displacements, and extreme pull ups.

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