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Dancing balanchine


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Hello! I am discovering ballet, i have never danced, never taken a single class in my life... i am mostly able to watch ballet through videos since i don’t have easy access to live performances by a top-tier company. I am educating myself through documentaries and articles found online about Balanchine and his legacy. I realized that i enjoy his works more when they are not danced by the nycb! I know i might be stating a terrible heresy but i really feel that way! Maybe im just exposing my ignorance regarding how balanchine should be danced? 

However, Ive watched some older videos of nycb on John Clifford YouTube channel. Some with Allegra Kent, or Suzanne Farrell, or Darci Kistler ... and i feel like those are very enjoyable. But somehow, for reasons that i cant properly articulate: the current crop of nycb dancers does nothing for me... there always seems to be something that takes me out of it: facial expressions, distracting body proportions ... i feel terrible for thinking that way because i know they are all beautiful  dancers.

Maybe some of you could help to shed some light as to why it is that way? What changed in the past 10,20 or even 30 years in the way nycb dances its Balanchine repertoire? 

Also, while dancers from other companies around the world can dance Balanchine reasonably well,  i can’t imagine any of the current nycb principals dancing anywhere else... is it because of their technique? I don’t know and i wish i could better explain why i feel this way! Maybe some of you could lol? 

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7 hours ago, Hogmel said:

Also, while dancers from other companies around the world can dance Balanchine reasonably well,  i can’t imagine any of the current nycb principals dancing anywhere else... is it because of their technique? I don’t know and i wish i could better explain why i feel this way! Maybe some of you could lol? 

Greetings, Hogmel -

It's perfectly natural for a person to have aesthetic and athletic preferences even in the beginning, when one doesn't actually "know" any details of the art or sport. But it's also true that as one learns more and more about ballet, or whatever, one's notions of what is "good" or "appropriate" can change dramatically over time. The more you learn, the richer the experience, so I'm all for learning.  😉

We have many threads discussing Balanchine technique and how the dancing has evolved over the years - especially during the post-Balanchine era when Peter Martins was Artistic Director at NYCB.

This was an interesting statement for me:
"Also, while dancers from other companies around the world can dance Balanchine reasonably well,  i can’t imagine any of the current nycb principals dancing anywhere else... is it because of their technique?"

It's certainly difficult to imagine how NYCB dancers would take on Giselle, say, because they spend no time training or performing that type of classical ballet. The dancers certainly have the basic talent, but they don't live and breath traditional ballet, except perhaps for The Nutcracker or non-Petipa/Ivanov versions of Swan Lake.

On the forum we get into arguments discussions about just how successfully other companies actually dance the Balanchine repertoire. Discussions of Balanchine's Jewels often feature some lively discussion, since that's one ballet many companies choose to perform. There's a lot of "OK" renditions of Balanchine works out there, imo, and a few possibly great ones, but I've seen some that just made me angry. That's ballet.

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NYCB dancers have been invited by Russian companies to guest perform in Russia, so it's not uniformly true that NYCB can't dance classical ballet.

There are a few things to consider: 

  • Many of the dancers on older videos were either coached by Balanchine or by the generation that was coached by Balanchine, many of whom were the originators of their roles
    • What is in a lot of the early films was the cream of the crop across decades and decades, and in the case of Clifford videos, curated by him.  What we're seeing today is a snapshot of the company at this time.
  • Some of the older videos were filmed, edited, and produced by masters of dance on film.  Most of the NYCB videos that were shown this summer were meant to be edited for promotional use and not to be streamed and compared to, for example, the programs with Mozartiana and Coppelia, while other companies are showing their single or two-view (distant and close) footage from their archives that they use for reference and learning.
    • Balanchine himself cut his teeth in Hollywood of the '30's, and he had input in the way those dance sequences were filmed, as well as for many of the dance series made for PBS.
  • Until the Ford Foundation grant in the '60's, many of Balanchine's dancers were hired into the Company as fully formed professionals with other artistic influences and stage experience -- Tallchief, for example, danced with the Ballets Russe, Hayden danced with Ballet Theatre, Verdy had a career in Europe.
  •  After the Ford Foundation grant, Balanchine started to have a pick of elite students, which he built into the current SAB, and dancing, at least for women, became accepted as a career as it hadn't before, with the endorsement of the Ford Foundation.  Merrill Ashley wrote in her book that this convinced her parents that ballet was a real career.
    • The Ford Foundation also gave Balanchine leeway in distributing money to schools across the country, which established his method and extended his influence.
    • The technical aspect has risen, but so has the competition and, in my opinion, more pressure or maybe selection for conformity that wasn't possible forty-sixty years ago.

There are dancers from the recent past and dancing today that I find just as compelling as the dancers of the past.  This past summer, there were always dancers that caught my eye.  But if I listened to my father's record collection, which spanned sixty years of singers, and then I went to the opera house today, I'd likely be disappointed by the comparison, and it would be entirely up to me whether I wanted to invest the time to hear today's singers and see today's production with different eyes.

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It just occurred to me that the recent rehearsal films that NY City Center released as part of their Studio 5 @ Home series would be of interest to you. Unfortunately, the only way to see them after the initial free week is to subscribe to City Center. [Note that there are some upcoming videos in September with Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns]

Studio 5 | Great American Ballerinas
https://www.nycitycenter.org/pdps/2019-2020/live-at-home/studio-5/

The first video was of Merrill Ashley coaching Tiler Peck in 2 or 3 different Balanchine variations - with Alastair Macaulay providing some historical background information and asking questions. (It's just too bad that the video is so short.) There's a particularly great section in which Ashley is describing where Peck needs to display more clarity in her movements - that will give you a sense of what the choreography was striving for as opposed to what dancers tend to do to get through the performance (especially when they're not in shape due to pandemic quarantine).

In the 2nd video, Nina Ananiashvili coaches Sara Mearns in some Swan Lake techniques. You get to see an NYCB dancer struggling with non-Balanchine characterizations from a traditional ballet role.

The videos may be re-released at some point - we'll just have to see.

Edited by pherank
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I happen to share Hogmel's taste, or preference, only I developed it in the theater.  The NYCB video programs recently shown, one ending with the last act of Coppelia, another with Mozartiana in the middle, and especially the one of Chaconne posted on Kurt Froman's YouTube channel (which some of us old fans consider the best Farrell-Martins performance on screen - or, maybe, ever), all from the 70's and early 80's, also do more for me than anything NYCB or most other companies attempting Balanchine do lately, for that matter. 

I saw hundreds of performances of his company (i.e. not Peter Martins's company) from early 1973 through early 1986, because I had to:  Not that I was paid to "cover" it - no one would pay me, I'm not that good a writer! - but because I felt in the late 60's by which time NYCB stopped visiting Chicago (where I still live), that something was missing from my life, and I figured out around 1970 what it was:  Their dancing; and so I soon started visiting New York, to be restored.

There were lots of us "Old Audience", and in the mid-80's, Pete Martins had adjusted the dancing to something that might be described as affectless; still, a good performance of a Balanchine ballet will show how the movement answers to - or sometimes leads - the musical sounds, which he did better and more often than most, IMHO, but by the '85-'86 season, most of us decamped, and NYCB's marketers had to find "New Audience".  (The recent video ending with Coppelia Act III began with examples of Martin's NYCB's more recent dancing.)

I hope Hogmel and others who are interested in this comparison are aware of some other documentation of Balanchine's company and his way of having his ballets danced:  There are the two "Choreography by Balanchine" DVD's, some with video technical problems the four earlier VHS editions didn't have; the video of Robert Schumann's Davidsbuendlertaenze; the hard-to-find 1965 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the even-harder-to-see film from the same time of Balanchine's Don Quixote, and some others I'm probably forgetting.   

Edited by Jack Reed
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If City Ballet has changed, it's perhaps because society has also changed. How people enter a room, how they walk on the street is different than it was 50 years ago.

My general impression about how Balanchine interpretations have shifted at City Ballet is that they seem to be cleaner and more finely detailed – due to greater technical proficiency of the dancers and the biases of different coaches or simply the mechanics of coaching and trying to carry certain remembered details over the years. Your eye is drawn more to a dancer's periphery, to fingers, forearms and feet, to their quickness and speed rather than how the dancer as a character is possessing space. Villella I thought was able to coach in an older way of being present. 

But music has changed too. Pianists don't play in big architectural contours like Sviatislav Richter but foreground more of the inner details and transparency – or so it seems from listening to the current Chopin Institute Festival in Warsaw, as I have been this week:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSTXol20Q01Uj-U5Yp3IqFg     

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On 8/30/2020 at 2:16 PM, Quiggin said:

If City Ballet has changed, it's perhaps because society has also changed. How people enter a room, how they walk on the street is different than it was 50 years ago.

My general impression about how Balanchine interpretations have shifted at City Ballet is that they seem to be cleaner and more finely detailed – due to greater technical proficiency of the dancers and the biases of different coaches or simply the mechanics of coaching and trying to carry certain remembered details over the years. Your eye is drawn more to a dancer's periphery, to fingers, forearms and feet, to their quickness and speed rather than how the dancer as a character is possessing space. Villella I thought was able to coach in an older way of being present. 

But music has changed too. Pianists don't play in big architectural contours like Sviatislav Richter but foreground more of the inner details and transparency – or so it seems from listening to the current Chopin Institute Festival in Warsaw, as I have been this week:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSTXol20Q01Uj-U5Yp3IqFg     

I love what you write here Quiggin. Especially your first paragraph. I think the same can be said for all art. As society changes so too does its art.

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