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The dancer's dancer


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You know, Ballet Nut, I was going to post that question some day and never got around to it.

I have two meanings. The first (and what I always thought it meant) was a dancer whose technique was so pure that only other dancers got it -- no flash, just perfect placement, going for the ideal, quality not quantity. (This came up a lot when I was doing my book. The NYTimes called Kronstam "a dancer's dancer" in his obituary and defined that as "a classical stylist.")

BUT in reading some interviews with dancers, I've heard the term used another way entirely. That it's a term that dancers use to indicate someone who is "only" a technician.

The meanings are close -- both are someone whom dancers might appreciate more than the general public -- but the second definition implies that perhaps they're not known as actors, while the first does not.

I'd be curious to know what others think this term means.

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I certainly think of it in terms of your first definition, Alexandra. To me it would be the dancer who is a classical stylist with a pure, clean, well placed and very solid and consistent technique who is appreciated by the public as well as dancers. The difference would be that the dancers might just be more aware of why this dancer is so special, whereas the audience just knows that he or she is wonderful! :) There is a similar thing with a teacher's teacher. Students will recognize (sometimes) a really good teacher, but other teachers will KNOW this is an exceptional teacher, someone they can still learn from, and why.

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To me, it was someone whom other dancers looked to as a model. The dancers we looked to, who often were technicians. Three that come to mind for me are Merrill Ashley, Peter Boal and a much less well-known dancer, Stephen Hyde, who was a principal with Winnipeg and a corps member at ABT. I used to watch him in class and marvel at his perfect fifth position. I think it's the minutiae that make a dancer's dancer. I mean, why should anyone but another dancer care about a dancer's placement?

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It's a great topic.....

And it's got lots of potential meanings for people.... Depending on what YOU actually value in dancing.

Someone who always hits fifth, yes, indeed; that's a very likely candidate. Someone who dances "honestly" --

But my feeling about a dancer's dancer is not that it's someone who's a technician but rather someone whom dancers tune in to -- maybe hte performer's personality is not big, or greedy for attention, or dazzling in proportions and line, but there's a kind of continuity of sensibility that carries through all hte phrasing, so that the dancer repays attention – and in a way that provides a kind of consolation that dancers feel grateful for, as if they were paying attention to the fact that you might be paying attention to them and didn't fudge things just because they're in the background or the passage is irremediably ugly or thanklessly difficult ("hard and ugly," in my friend Judy Bean's phrase)

A dancer's dancer is the opposite of the gross attention grabber, who sell their sex-appeal or dramatic flair, the Michael Flatleys of the ballet world. Kyra Nichols used to be a dancer's dancer; she somehow became a ballerina as her temperament blossomed. Many ballerinas are dancers’ dancers.

In San Francisco, we have some stars whom hte audience doesn't appreciate as much as the dancers do -- even given his popularity, Guennadi Nedviguine is known by dancers to be earth-shakingly beautiful, way beyond what the public at large apprehends.

Erika Johnson at Diablo Ballet is a dancer all our local dancers are dizzy in love with -- she is so quiet, so calm, so musical, so private, the continuity of her dancing is so lucid by hte end of the piece you don't know how to thank her, because she never seemed to ask for anything from you -- never "don't watch this bit, please, it's so awkward," never "pull for me and I'll do it for you,' she never vamps us, even in hte tackiest cheese -- and some of their choreography is pretty cheesy -- she's never sullied by it, nor does she condescend to her material, she never sniffs at the cheesiness, she always does things on time and not when it's convenient......

Joanna Berman -- but I've said so much about her, I'm in danger of being confused with her agent...

But if I could say one more thing, a dancer's dancer, and Joanna exemplifies this to the highest degree you'll find around here -- shows you the DANCE in the steps.... Like Gielgud showing you the poetry in the drama, a dancer's dancer de-emphasizes the jagged dramatic moments that could stop the show and makes you feel even in hte most vertiginous difficulties Petipa or Balanchine could present, the similarity the passage has with dancing as folk dancers understand it, something made up of rhythm and posture and attitude and accent and "sweep." She lets you see the grapevine step in a series of glissades that change, or failli pas de basque, or in any of the many academic combinations that grapevine is the basis of…..

I'd add Lucia Lacarra to my list based on her dancing recently -- the way she brings out the czardas in the "Hungarian" duet in van Manen's "Black Cake." It's brilliant artificial comedy, especially in DANCE terms – she makes pictures, of course -- hte same huge develloppe devant (and fondu on hte standing leg) as in Petipa's Czardas in Swan Lake -- but also in hte sweep of the movement, her momentum, the fabulous timing alternating languor and attack -- she MAKES it feel so Hungarian.... you see it, it's there over and over, and each time it's beautiful, and preposterous..... and so intentional.

So you see in its stormy lovers' quarrel there are simultaneous allusions to Pina Bausch and William Forsythe, and to apache, but also to their 19th-century antecedents in Hungarian/Spanish-gypsy passion-dance.

And her understanding of the imagery and rhythms of l'Arlesienne, a very peculiar ballet, wow! Her lines of course were stunning, but so was her continuity, her timing -- you saw EVERYTHING, the stance with one foot turned out and the other in parallel, the care she gave to phrasing the smallest gesture was all in keeping....

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Just found this thread - beautifully written responses!

I am guessing that what makes a dancer's dancer is the same thing that makes me "fall in love" with that dancer - even if I may not know the technique, there is always that certain "something." You all put it so much better than I - many thanks! :D

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