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dancers with odd bodies

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Leigh and I were swapping thoughts on the way dancers' LIMITATIONS could inspire a choreographer -- it was on hte Fonteyn thread, and started by noting that she did NOT turn well and so on, but he went on to describe a piece of choreography he'd tailored to several of his dancers to make VERY differently gifted dancers look like they belonged in the same piece.....

Check out what he wrote -- it's really smart....

But in fact, this not an isolated situation. The Ballets Russes sstyle grew out of this. Diaghilev had to use what he could get (Rambert was a modern dancer) when he was caught outside Russia and couldn't get any more Maryinsky-trained dancers -- and it resulted in a whole style of "classical" dancing that wasn't "really " classical, but was closer to "character" dancing. In the original Apollo, Lifar was not a good classical dancer -- the ballet has changed a LOT with time, as better- and better-trained men took over the role, but if I had my druthers, I'd still rather see Lifar, with his 17-inch waist, his moxie, and his twisty plastique....

Anybody else got some favorite dancers, roles, or ballets that were built around the particular strengths AND LIMITATIONS of particular dancers?

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Great topic. My first thought was of Karin von Aroldingen. She was, a friend repeatedly explained to me, a character ballerina, so I guess one could say she had the perfect body for her employ. BUT she didn't have the perfect 20th century NYCB body.

But the roles that Balanchine created for her -- MacDougall of Sleat in "Union Jack," Sissy in "Vienna Waltzes," the woman in "Davidsbundler" -- used her squareness, her short, powerful legs, her flexibility and, perhaps most importantly, her aura. By the 19th century Types system she was his The Woman Who Knows She's Going To Be Left. Every great ballet company needs at least one of those.

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The greatest dancers shaped roles both ways. The penchee in Symphony in C with the head to the knee was inserted by Balanchine for Farrell because she could do it, but he also took out jumps in Concerto Barocco because she had bad knees. It went from being a much more allegro and jazzy work to the legato ballet we know today partially because of her.

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let me add to the von Aroldingen list my FAVORITE role of hers, the "horsing-around' girl in WHO CARES? There is an old video of this floating around, from way back when it was new, and the way she danced that role was the best BAlanchine ever came to the American tomboy athletic girl who likes being the way she is -- like a prologue to Erin Brockovitch.... She just throws all those steps away, no matter how hard, her attitude is like a kid's on a skateboard -- of course it's hard, swhat's the point if it's not HARD, but hey, it's cool, and get a load of THIS!!! She made those beats so tasty, and the jumps in second with a full turn, she made it all look so casual.....


oh yes, and the girl who knows she's going to be left -- that's bang on, Alexandra. Monica Mason was splendid at that at the Royal Ballet -- as the hostess in Les Biches, I can STILL see her, and the girl in green in Dances at a Gathering, such witty feet, sad-funny, I totally lost my heart to her..... She was too strong-featuredd, I was toldd to let her play Giselle -- they always gave her Myrtha. Of course, she was the greatest Myrtha I've ever seen.....

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Guest Prisma

Yeah, even though von Aroldingen may not have had the norm balanchine body, I thought she looked great in the video of Violin Concerto filmed awhile ago. She moved so smoothly and didn't have those " I"m gonna fly away" hands.

What about Ms. Heather Watts? She had an awkward body. She was all rib cage. But I loved her dancing even though some times she would get carried away with her port de bras. She seemed to always be dancing for herself and really giving it her all. I don't know how she did though, because she looked so cadavor (sp?) like, but she was fierce. All legs and rib cage.

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you are so right, Prisma --

Watts was quite a creature -- her rib cage did go haywire towards the end, but if you never saw her looking simply beautiful, check out hte Bournonville divertissement..... and wasn't that her in hte pas de trois in Emeralds?

BUt she was awesome in 4 Temperaments -- small part, awesome dancing...

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Lynn Seymour with Kenneth McMillan was a perfect example of how a choreographer works around a dancers limitations and at the same time makes a masterpiece that will forever remain associated with the dancer. I believe Lynn Seymour has often been described as heavy,not dependable,and having a not so wonderful technique.She was, however, an exceptional dancer-actress and this was exploited in ballets like The Invitation,The Two Pigeos,Romeo and Juliet,Mayerling and many more.

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Its good to hear things like this. I like this discussion. It makes you believe you actually do have a chance if you dont necessarily have the best body to work with. I have been told many times in the past that I have short lines and bulky muscles, and it makes you question where exactly you belong in the ballet world. But it seems that some directors and choreographers are willing to work to the needs of their dancers, rather than the dancer working to the needs of the directors. It seems you must find these directors that are so few and far between. It just feels harder in this day and age when it seems everyone, including guys, seem to have great bodies, except for yourself. But its nice to know that there are directors out there like this.

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A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to watch Martins and Von Arnoldigen teaching Violin Concerto to a Danish guest artist. Von Arnoldigen got so involved in her work that she began dancing full out and the years just fell away, it was a potent reminder of how wonderful she was in that role. A moment to cherish.

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thanks, Liebs, for sharing htat.... what a privelege to be there and see that....

I was just replying to Kirovboy on another thread -- "feet and flexibility" -- and realized that what I was saying belonged here....

BAryshnikov belongs on htis list -- he made extraordinary use of a short chunky body, had to fight to get to do "noble" roles like Albrecht.... But with the way he used his FEET, and his immense understanding of how to pull his legs out of the hips, to pull his lines, how to "dance turned-out," and how to think through every transition so he was never seen from an unthought-out angle, and on top of that his immense gift as a mime, he made himself extraordinary.....

Feet are not something you have, they're something you DO -- even feet like Malakhov's or Guillem's, they work them...

Baryshnikov didn't have freaky-beautiful feet, but he used them so -- rather, he still does....

Last time I saw him, at the not-very-popular program he did in honor of the post-modern Judson dancers, there was a good house but it was n't full and I got a lesson in feet .

A friend who is a dance historian, but also a ballet teacher, was sitting in the front row, and at the intermission she got me to come sit next to her and "watch Baryshnikov's arches"

She'd been the night before and "seen hte show", tonight she was indulging herself in what she was really interested in-- just watching Baryshnikov use his feet, all the time, even WHILE HE WAS JUST STANDING ON THEM..... barefoot, you could really see it... his feet were very dry, almost like a chicken's foot in texture -- not very appealing, but very useful if you're dancing barefoot on marly -- and he NEVER rolled over, there was always , even in fondu, air under his instep. watching him work his feet was -- well, I can't put words to it, but it was like mind over matter, his feet were like ideas, you thought about them because he was thinking about them, and when the time came to point or releve or jump (which wasn't so often, this was post-modern dance, but still it happened) and his foot "appeared," it was like the white cap on a wave, part of a beautiful process......

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Melissa Hayden in the mid-60s, when I saw her dance often, had an unballerina-like body, all boxy and square. She was very small and hadn't an ounce of fat on her, but still didn't looked thin, even though her costumes seemed to always sag and never fit her quite right.

She danced alongside those Balanchine ballerinas with gorgeous bodies, like Patty McBride, Allegra Kent, Violette Verdy, and later, Suzanne Farrell, so the comparison was always there to be made.

Didn't matter. I adored her and was often the first one to clap as I saw her come out on stage (this was made easy by my vantage point, seated in the center of the first row slightly to the right of Robert Irving or Hugo Fiorato!)

What a dynamo she was!

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Gloria Govrin-what an experience to watch her as Profane Love and feel the temperature rise when she danced Arabian-all those daddies that were dragged to Nutcracker were suddenly mesmerized !! I can still see her flying across the stage in Stars and Stripes. In spite of Balanchine being given the somewhat dubious credit of liking only long thin dancers, he was far wiser than that and recognised and found ways to use extraordinary talent,regardless of physicality. What a loss if he had not found ways to use her. Many artistic directors today would take one look at her junoesque stature (6'4 on pointe, I heard once) and say fuhgedaboudit!! I am eternally grateful to Mr. B. for the privilege of seeing her dance.

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I remember seeing Gary Chryst as The Profiteer in The Green Table. At first I thought his feet were not flexible and his head too large. By the end of the performance I had forgotten all about his physique. His artistry was so powerful that I was compelled to see beyond the superficial issue of bodily proportions. He was such a master of his body, his focus, his musicality, his phrasing - all I remember was being so pulled into what he was doing and believing completely in his portrayal. It was his performance that night that taught me to look at dancers in a different way. The kind of instrument an artist has does matter, but it matters more if they know how to use it, even if it's not ideal.


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That is a wonderful part, isn't it? I can still see Richard Chen See in that role -- which must be from 20 years ago, when he was in the Oakland BAllet here...... He's been in Paul Taylor's company almost a decade now -- but he was such a snake in that role, his feet were so snide.....

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