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what is "Real Ballet"

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When you see the term "real ballet", what does that mean to you?

This question came up in my mind when I was reading the introduction to this internet site. My understanding is that this site was started to give a forum to those who enjoy and participate in "Real Ballet". So I was wondering, just what does that term mean to you.... WHAT IS real ballet as you see it?

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Good question, Ronny :) To me it is movement based on the technique and vocabulary of classical ballet, danced by exquisite and beautifully trained dancers, set to music that is listenable, and put together by someone who knows how to take the music, the dancers, a set or backdrop, and lovely costumes and pull it all together into something we want to see over and over again. :)

The work might have a story and it can be a comedy, a drama, or a romantic fairy tale. Or, it can be purely expressive of the music and totally abstract. But it must have form and reason. It can have movement that is representative of a country, called National or Character Dance, and it can take the classical vocabulary and use it to create a work based on a particular idea or period in history (Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Fancy Free, for instance) by making the balletic movements appropriate to the people in the story.

This question is difficult to answer because it is, of course, a matter of opinion. There are a lot of works being called ballets today which some of us might not consider to be "real" ballets, but then others do. When the vocabulary of the work is based more on modern dance technique or jazz, for instance, is it still a ballet? Is it a "contemporary ballet" as opposed to a "classical ballet"? If so, is it still a "real" ballet? Well, I guess my answer to that is, sometimes ;) I have seen contemporary works which I would certainly put in this category, but then there are a lot which I would not. If I hate the music and think that the movement is ugly, if it is violent or extreme and the dancers are rolling on the floor and beating themselves up and being thrown around, then I would probably not consider it a ballet. But then, that would be only my opinion. Sometimes it just comes down to whether it is a good ballet or a bad ballet, but other times I have walked out saying 'this was not a ballet'.

I think that the impression that the site is about "real" ballet may come from the original intent that it be about ballet only, as opposed to other forms of dance such as modern dance, jazz, hip hop, tap, ballroom, etc. But your question opens the door on the question of what we consider ballet, so, those are just my thoughts on this lovely April morning. :)

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Thanks, Victoria.

To be clear, the "real ballet" comment was made by a DanceView subscriber who wanted us to print more articles about "real ballet".

This topic has come up here many times. Here's a link to a thread a few weeks ago when a poster questioned what we meant by ballet and Leigh and I answered with regard to the mission of the site.


I think this would be a good topic for the Discovering Ballet forum, as it is a question that will undoubtedly continue to be raised and I'd like that forum to become the home of frequently asked questions.

More definitions of "real ballet" welcome :) If you heard someone say "I want to see more real ballet!" what would that mean to you?

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If I heard someone say, "I want to see more real ballet," it would mean to me that person wanted to see ballets with tutus, a set, a story, a prince, and more than one act. I recall a time in Saratoga when after a fine performance of Agon, a woman sitting next to me said, rather disgustedly, "I expected more from Balanchine." She was obviously new to ballet, but had probably heard that Balanchine was a great ballet choreographer. So she'd expected a "real ballet." Many times I've heard audience members refer to Agon and Four Temperaments as "modern dance." For them, perhaps, the key element of real ballet is the costumes. I don't have my own definition, but I think "real ballet" means very different things to different people.

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This really does cover the question nicely. I would enjoy seeing any other ideas on it also if anyone wants to add something.

This comment that Victoria makes in her first paragraph is especially interesting. It mentions something that I have noticed recently... the good ones I want to see over and over again. That's a great quality in buying videos. More bang for the buck you might say. Movies usually don't have that quality (none of them do it for me) but a good ballet just lives on and on and on. The great ones seem to take on the quality of immortality.

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I have worked with Linda Kent twice. In addition to being on staff at Julliard, she teaches Paul Taylor works. I would like to add that I think she is an expert teacher.

Joffrey, ABT, Oregon Ballet Theatre and other ballet companies have presented Paul Taylor works.

In conversation with me, Linda Kent made it clear that one cannot call a Paul Taylor work a ballet. Yet, ballet companies do Paul Taylor works.

Before Linda Kent set me straight on the matter, I was calling "Cloven Kingdom" and "Arden Court" ballets. So, again, what is real ballet?

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Good for Linda Kent! I wish she'd go on the lecture circuit :)

I think one of the problems is the difference between "a ballet" and "ballet". In the "a ballet" sense -- you have to call a dance work something, so unless you really want to be a purist, like Taylor and Cunningham, who call their work "dances," most people will use "ballet" in talking about something they saw. ""Esplanade" is not my favorite Paul Taylor ballet," for example. Also, as Glebb mentions, since ballet companies so often do modern dance works, it's quite natural to assume that "Kingdom of the Shades," "The Four Temperaments" and "Esplanade" are all ballets.

I think Victoria's explanation is a very fine one. In a sentence, I'd say that a ballet is constructed from the ballet vocabulary (classical or character) and created from within the aesthetic of ballet.

I just did an interview with a young choreographer -- it's in the next Ballet Alert! -- and was rather surprised that he had no trouble distinguishing modern from ballet. "Push Comes to Shove" is modern dance to him. Why? Because Tharp has a modern dance sensibility and uses ballet technique and puts it into what is basically a modern dance. Modern dance is her broth, if you will, and ballet steps are the things she puts in the soup. While a ballet choreographer has ballet as the base, the broth, and can put in jazzy hips, folk dance steps, walking, whatever, because the base is ballet.

When this came up on alt.arts.ballet a few years ago someone wrote: You can call roller skates ear muffs, if you want to, but they won't keep your ears warm!

BTW, Farrell Fan, the subscriber who wrote was a Balanchine person.

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