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Dancing from Classical to Modern Ballet

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Last weekend I found an article "A Conversation with Kirill Melnikov" by Marc Haegeman:


In this interview K. Melnikov talked about his dancing experience from Kirov Ballet to Europe, from classical to modern. I am particularly interested in his opinion on "switching from one to the other makes you fight with your body," which is very new to me. Could someone give me some examples to illustrate his point?

DV: Don’t the modern styles affect your classical dancing in a negative way?

MELNIKOV: Physically it’s very difficult. You have to plan well. Switching from one to the other makes you fight with your body. After a modern ballet, you need a proper break before you attempt classical again. It’s quite difficult, because different muscles work. It’s important that you have a good class. With a good class and a good teacher, with classical exercises, you never lose the base, even if you dance modern. But once the class starts to be neoclassical, or even half modern, then there is a danger.

I arrive in class to recover from what I had before. It puts me back. When I come in the morning to do class, it’s like returning from a bad party and I have to put everything back. I know that the training, the class in the West needs to be better. There are a lots of styles. English, Russian, French, American,... it’s mixed.

I am wondering if or not his experience is also applies to other ballet dancers?


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Very interesting. :)

I am not an active dancer anymore, and when I was dancing, contemporary works were not quite as widespread nor as overtly athletic as they have since become. That said, I had similar experiences, in that after dancing a contemporary piece it took a bit of work to get back to where I needed to be for classical pieces.

If there were not full six times/ week ballet trainings offered to the company, then technique tended to suffer; it was harder to find my "centre" again.

I am sure there are other dancers who can comment more thoroughly!


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I agree with diane, and I had similar experiences, way back when! I was performing. As K. Melnikov says in the excerpt, it requires different muscle sets, as well as a different kind of flexibility and control. I can also say from my long teaching experience, that it is even difficult (for me) to go from teaching a modern dance class to teaching ballet, or even worse, from jazz (don't like teaching that anyway!!) to teaching ballet , or vice versa. The mental set is different, too.

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I wonder if others have a better memory on this than me: When ABT premiered Cunningham's Duets in 1980, I remember reading that those dancers were not required to perform in any other works on the program that evening, as the styles were so different. I don't know if that's still the case in recent revivals of Duets.

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Pascal Molat and Sofiane Sylve said something similar in a before-performance talk in San Francisco. That it was very difficult to switch from one to the other, especially in the course of an evening. Sylve distinguished between choreographers who build on dancers' bodies like Balanchine and those who work from a concept first. Also Forsythe composing with negative space.



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Thank you for all of your responses, especially diane and Stage Right for your own experiences.

I studied this topic more last weekend by searching for information, watching video clips and listening to the record. But I need more time to understand how "modern dance punches the dancer;s body", and "switching from one to the other makes you fight with your body", because I have had no any dance training, even no one dancing class, which makes me hard to understand the physical impact of modern dancing to a dancer's body.

From my observation, in modern ballet the dancers often bend, stretch and twist their bodies a lot, occasionally to extreme and limit, which could make me feel uncomfortable sometimes. Is that really good for dancers? Maybe, it is necessary to have such extreme expression for extreme psycho and emotion?

BTW, when I was searching for more modern ballet videos on YouTube, I found Svetlana Lunkina's channel, her own channel!

Svetlana Lun'kina - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7_uDNBJ8bZJXLTxs_CkfFA

I hope she is happier now.


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Here are some opinions from N. Osipova about these topics, dancing classical vs. contemporary :

Dancing contemporary choreography is very tough for ballerinas. When you dance en pointe all the time and play the part of a swan or a lovely young girl, - this is completely different to that. You need to realign your muscles, your body, and become more real, more human, not a princess.

She explains in more detailed:

“Your muscles work in a totally different way,” she says. “In ballet, the muscles on the inside part of your legs work,” she says, putting her hands on her inner thigh to show me, “but here you use the muscles on the outside of your legs.

“There's a lot of pressure on the knees, which you don't get in classical ballet, and you dance practically barefoot, which is also unusual. Lots of falling movements - when we were rehearsing we were covered in bruises, all beaten and battered!”

The above is quoted from the article

"Contemporary choreography is very tough for ballerinas"- Natalia Osipova
published on VOICE OF RUSSIA, UK
6 August, 2014

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Another way in which the two differ is the relationship to gravity. Put briefly, in classical ballet there is a pulling up and away from gravity, at least aesthetically speaking. (In reality, ballet dancers also need to learn how to direct energy both up and also down into the floor, but the 'look' in classical (not always contemporary) ballet is one of lightness, lift, and escape from gravity). Many modern dance styles, especially the older ones beginning with Martha Graham, are founded upon groundedness, giving in to gravity, using gravity as a powerful force, an "earthiness"--hence more use of the floor in modern dance. Of course, many styles now blend the use of both, but those tendencies still remain, and is one reason that the experience of dancing these two different dance forms can be tricky to navigate.

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