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"Style"? Technique"? What do these terms really mean?

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In reading about ballet, I am often confused about the use of two terms, and the relationship between them: STYLE and TECHNIQUE.

Are there generally-recognized definitions of these terms, as relates to classical ballet? Is the difference between them clear to everyone and generally agreed upon? Is there a real dichotomy here? Are they aspects of more or less the same thing? The existence of fudge words -- "approach", "manner" -- makes this even more confusing. So: :helpsmilie: , please.

I was moved to ask these questions by an article in the April/May 2011 Pointe Magazine: "The Style Debate," by Joseph Carman.

The article is full of statements like the following:

Should you study only one technique, or expose yourself to a variety of styles?

[ ... ]

A dancer who studies a single approach, like Balanchine technique, will have a strong grounding in it and might fit more easily in a company with that style.

And then there are what appear to be disagreeents about how to handle the style/technique relationship. For example:

[ ... ]

"I don't believe in 'style' when training young dancers, says Martin Fredmann, the Kirov Academy's deputy artistic director. 'Sound technique is the only basis. Style comes with being an advanced student and learning a choreographer's choreography. Having a mix of different teachers, each teaching a so-called difdferent 'style,' undermines the essential basis of ballet that must be understood in its morst elemental form. And what is 'style' but a certain choreographer's idea?"

[ ... ]

Parish Maynard, who teaches at the San Francisco Ballet School (where teachers are given latitude to teach their own styles with a core Vaganova curriculum), believe that studying only one approach undermines a dancer's education. "We get students from all over the world," says Maynard. "They come stuck in one way and we have to spend so much time getting them to understand how to shape their bodies differently. I tell them styles are like jackets. You put them on and take them off."

[ ...]

Edward Villella, [of Miami City Ballet] .... developed his curriculum based on his experiences as a Balanchine dancer at the New York City Ballet, and his work with legendary School of American Ballet teacher Stanley Williams. "What Balanchine had was a 19th-century approach and then he invented on that and made it his own manner and style. I continue that investigation -- the rhythms and syncopations. It is an amalgam that I received from brilliant people. .... We all come from the 19th-century technique. Balanchine was a genius after Petipa who made his own approach to prepare you for the classic works. Once you dance Balanchine, it's much easier to go back to the 19th century. What's really difficult is when you only have the 19th century and you try to achieve Balanchine."

So ... what exactly do these important terms MEAN? And (a related question): who is right in what Carman calls "the style debate"?

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Don't mean to be simplistic, but to me...

TECHNIQUE means physically HOW a step is done: (eg. the basics: point toes, turn out, 1st position, 2nd position...5th position etc.etc.,

STYLE means: the expression of that technique; what is emphasized (body part: head, hands, feet, arms; placement: epaulement, speed: battu, lift: ballon etc.) ie: WHY TO DANCE A STEP THAT WAY


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i'm afraid simplistic describes the way these terms are often thrown around.

if i must address "style" vs. "technique," and i try not to as often as possible, i'd say:

technique is something instilled by a rigorous ballet teacher about the mechanics of ballet schooling in the classroom, be it, in the case of the individual teacher, Russian, French, etc.

style is something a rigorous balletmaster or mistress instills in the technically equipped dancers rehearsing a particular ballet: stress this, shade that, etc.

in an interview in which he was was asked about technique vs. art, Balanchine once posited that technique and art were the same thing.

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When the word technique is applied, it refers to an established and often sophisticated practical method, being used as a step towards accomplishment that arises from study and practice.

Style however, as I see it, is either informed from within or without in academic classical ballet dancers and there is a generalised method of measurement emanating from particular schools and accepted traditions.

Of course it is does not end there, as great artists, bring something unique to their performances in which the underlying technique, serves as the template from which they can connect with examples from past and recent history.

Style can often be arrived at through their particular teacher(s) and of course is influenced by the stylistic context of particular schools of ballet they attend.

Dancers of style through personal inspiration achieve some kind of state elevated from classroom exercises performing in a very clean and pure manner and then, reflect if not imitate, the creative expression of examples of previous generations.

I would suggest that the greatest stylists have a rare, unique, imagined and inspired focus, arising from a personal aesthetic, for which I concur in with Christian, as it appears to emanate from a particularly deep level of performance expression which is generally known as coming from the soul.

Edited 27.04.11

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I don't think I can add much here, but I'll have a go anyway! I was trying to make up some simple 'rules'....

Technique can never be greater than correct.

Technique is functional.

(A recognized) style is the (conscious, intentional and) selective application of technique.

Style is relative and requires other styles to exist.

Style is a measure of both differentiation and coherence.


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Sometimes I tend to make the terms "style" and "school" interchangeable, as when trying to "get" the common places in stage projection of dancers coming from a specific, common class syllabus-(basically Danish-Bournonville and Russian-Vaganova). Of course, here anybody could argue that it is not style, but technique what really distinguishes the two mentioned examples, but at the end...isn't a pirouette just a pirouette...?-(although the step also varies on which position to start it from, again, depending of the school from where it was taught...!)


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