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Balanchine by his Disciples

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If there is any question I would have liked to ask Violette Verdy at a lecture I attended, but didn't dare, was - do the teachers who pass down the Balanchine legacy, who worked with Balanchine, agree as to the details of his technique?

I'm not a dancer, but I wish I could compare notes on Suki Schorer, Violette, Allegra Kent, Peter Martins, and Suzanne Farrell, to name just a few. Do they agree on the principles of the technique or are there rival memories, and rival schools of thought?

Just thought I'd throw it out for discussion.

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To get the beginnings of an answer, I would connect to the Dance Films Association, where you can find information on Connie Hochman's "In Balanchine's Footsteps." There is a short trailer you can watch (first clip is Violette) that gives several responses. Also see the Steven Caras documentary.

Correction: "In Balanchine's CLASSROOM!"

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I'm not a dancer either - I think that they do see far more, and differently, than I do, but also that I respond to what they see without being able to put my finger on what it is like they can - but I find that watching Balanchine prepared by different people shows considerable differences in result, in effect, even if, to a sharp, dancer's, eye, the technique is the same.

From 1973 into the mid '80s I saw some 500 or so programs by NYCB when Balanchine was there - if I didn't, something was missing from my life - but watching NYCB since then does nothing for me, and so I've seen only a handful of their performances, for example. So there seems to be some deep disagreement in practice and in result going on there.

In recent years, Edward Villella's Miami City Ballet has given me much of what I've had to have, and his method has been to have a variety of people who danced for Balanchine prepare his ballets, in addition to himself, Violette Verdy, Suzanne Farrell, Jean-Pierre Bennefoux, Allegra Kent to name a few, and another, Roma Sosenko, has been their top ballet mistress for some time. Their dancing looks authentic without the possibility of being mistaken for the dancing of Balanchine's company - I mean NYCB in Balanchine's time there.

And Farrell's own little troupe also rewards my watching it - in essential ways it looks like Balanchine's Balanchine to me.

You mention Suki Schorer, pasdequatre, so I think you're aware of the Spring Workshop programs she contributes to at the School of American Ballet. Susan Pilarre also usually prepares a ballet for those, and there we can make comparisons right on the same program. They do look a little different to me - Schorer's looks more sharply etched - but I don't think the principles of technique are very different. This is another example of what leads me to think there may be agreement on principles but differences in their application.

I don't think it should be surprising that different stagers and coaches bring subtle individual differences - degrees of emphasis - to their work staging Balanchine just as they brought some individual differences - differences of flavor, one might say - to their performances for Balanchine.

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Thank you for your thoughtful answer, Jack. You have been so fortunate to see the company over many years when Balanchine was leading it. I came belatedly around 1980. Suki carefully describes Balanchine technique in her book, whose name escapes me.... I also was greatly impressed by Suzanne Farrell's company when they visited New York over a year ago. Meditation was so real, so like it was in the grainy video I have seen from 1963, the original.

Thank you also to ViolinConcerto, with the lead to Dance Films Association, which I will have to track down. Interesting to hear what the dancers have to say.

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1980 is not too late, unless it took a few years to learn to see what you were looking at. (It took me some time.) For me, Balanchine's way of dancing could still be seen at NYCB into the mid-'80s. (Now we have some film and video of those days.)

The title of the book maybe too prosaic to be memorable: Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique. It's a little technical for this non-dancer, lots of those French terms I've not learned, and with just a "Technical Cross-Reference" at the end, so that the many anecdotes about working with Mr. B. there are along the way are not indexed. But as luck would have it, I stumbled on one relevant to this topic, on page 360:

... somebody noticed ... my chasse' and said to Mr. B, "Some dancers barely slide the foot at all, they mostly present the toes to the floor in fourth, but Suki really slides the foot along the floor." He said, "Oh, you know, a little more of this, a little less of that... It's all fine as long as it looks good." This little anecdote shows once again that Balanchine was less concerned with complete uniformity in technique than with the way his dancers looked doing the steps. My chasse' ws acceptable because it had a lot of energy, it was precise in execution...

I also was greatly impressed by Suzanne Farrell's company when they visited New York over a year ago. Meditation was so real, so like it was in the grainy video I have seen from 1963, the original.

That's it! Here, now, real! That's an essential element in Balanchine performance that's often missing today.
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Thank you, Jack, for giving me some hope that I have seen the "real Balanchine" style in my time.

ViolinConcerto, you have led me to "In Balanchine's Classroom", which apparently is a work in progress. And what a film it is! I was enthralled, particularly by Violette Verdy's opening statement that we each have part of a quilt, and we all put our pieces together, and she has a good part of the quilt. That is so generous, she is in collaboration with her colleagues and fellow disciples to transmit the teachings of Balanchine. That really answers my initial question.

And wonderful footage of Balanchine leading class, evocative photos - Merrill Ashley and Lourdes Lopez dancing together in ??? (from my generation). I do hope this film is completed, The dancers speak eloquently, some like Darla Hoover charmingly demonstrating with her hands the increasing tempo Balanchine asked for. In fact, this work in progress deserves a topic of its own. Maybe someone will start one?

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I've posted a few times that Connie, the producer, director, originator, is looking desperately for funds. Those of us who love and treasure Mr. B's memory should jump in with support.

I think the Lopez/Ashley pas de 2 is Concerto Barocco. I know I recognized it, but right now I can't go back.... They were wonderful in that together. Sigh.

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...Merrill Ashley and Lourdes Lopez dancing together in ??? (from my generation). I do hope this film is completed, The dancers speak eloquently, some like Darla Hoover charmingly demonstrating with her hands the increasing tempo Balanchine asked for.

FWIW, the picture of Ashley and Lopez that comes up at 1:13 in the video looks like Concerto Barocco to me too, which we also hear on a piano at that point. (The tutus are hard to account for.)

But I came away from the clip puzzled as to what the film-makers aim at: Just people talking about what it was like? Or will we get stretches of the Robbins film record of Balanchine teaching? I'm afraid that's silent, but that's not clear either. I'd rather see Balanchine teaching than hear about it, fun as the anecdotes are to hear, and to tell, from the looks of it.

As to seeing "real Balanchine," there's a fair amount recorded, although some of that has technical or availability problems. One of the better examples, a video of Western Symphony from 1954, has lately turned up on a French-government website, for example.

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In terms of support, this film has been given encouragement by many who care about the Balanchine legacy. The George Balanchine Trust has given Connie Hochman the green light to develop In Balanchine's Classroom. SAB allowed her to film on multiple occasions to capture Suki Schorer teaching an advanced level class as well as Workshop rehearsals. Nancy Reynolds (of The George Balanchine Foundation), Karin von Aroldingen, Suki Schorer, Kay Mazzo, and Andrei Kramarevsky have all done interviews about their experience with Balanchine and what they learned from him. The Ford Foundation awarded a grant to In Balanchine's Classroom in 2011.

With this said, it is an undertaking of great breadth which depends on donations from those who want to see the film completed. Visit the Dance Films Association website to make a contribution via Paypal or check (tax-deductible). Also, you can read more about the documentary.

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