Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Body Type-by company

Recommended Posts

I was speaking with a woman the other day and her upper body carriage was that of a dancer. When I asked her, she said she studied ballet under Balanchine at SAB but was told by Mr. B. that he wasn't the right body type for his company.

I had to chuckle, she was a spitting image of Jennie Somogyi.

Which made me wonder. Do you companies still have 'body types'?

Link to comment

Good question. I'd say the differences aren't nearly as stark as before. Think of the difference between the Royal Ballet and NYCB as late as the 1970s! And it was much starker (by photographs) the decades before.

Once you could tell where a dancer was from -- not only where s/he danced but where s/he had been trained -- in an instant. I couldn't do that now. This is part of the national distinctiveness being broken down, as well as the mish-mashing of all styles of classical ballet into globalglot as more "contemporary dance" replaces ballet in the repertories of ballet companies.

Link to comment

As Calliope noticed, even within a company, body types change. There are multiple reasons for it. Changes in repertory, as Alexandra noted, change body types. Changes in directorship, changes in the school. . .

I've got no objective data to prove it, but I feel like NYCB has become on average shorter as the years go by. It also felt like that wasn't just because of the women, but shorter women were being brought into the company to find partners for shorter men.

Link to comment

I think the throughline on the company style/company individuality question is that a corps often LOOKS more uniform than it is, while soloists and principals who emerge from the corps dance in a more individual style. (Often they were quite capable of dancing more individually from day one, but when dancing in a corps, the goal is usually NOT to stand out.)

When the company has a ballerina, she sets the company style (or ballerino; Dowell set the Royal's style after Fonteyn, Baryshnikov was a very different Mr. Ballet Theatre from John Kriza.) During the 1960s, the perception was that the Royal Ballet was a collection of Fonteyn clones, during the 1970s, City Ballet was filled with Farrell imitators. Partly this is perception, I think; we see the ballerina reflected in the corps. And partly there IS imitation. If I want to be a star, I'll dance like her. But, as is often pointed out, Farrell is only ONE of Balanchine's Muses, and very different in body type from Von Aroldingen or McBride, as Nerina and Grey were very different from Fonteyn.

I think Leigh's happenstance point is a good one, too. If there are suddenly 6 new short men, or tall women, dancers will be recruited to fit the needs of the company at that moment.

It would be interesting to get people's impressions of what the company body types are at the moment, company by company.

Link to comment

I agree that body types have become less important over time, if only because the pool of dancers and dance-goers has become increasingly diverse.

At the same time, however, I can't help noting the many exceptions in the past. As we all know a "Balanchine ballerina" must be tall, slim, and fair, with long legs, great flexibility, and a small head atop a long neck. But Alexandra Danilova, an early romantic interest and a long-time collaborator, fits almost none of these qualifications. Patricia MacBride, similarly short and plump, enjoyed a long and rewarding career dancing exclusively for Balanchine's company. Even Darci Kistler, the last ballerina personally groomed by Mr. B, is somewhat shorter and rounder (though no less talented) than the archetype.

At the same time, some choreographers have made a career of avoiding "type" casting. Robert Joffrey used to boast that his company consisted mostly of people who had "the wrong body for any other company." And Eliot Feld's career was surely advanced by the fact that he avoided type-casting the gamine Christine Sarry, winning the loyalty of a genuine star for his own company.

It would be much harder to define types today than it was in the past -- mostly, I think, because standards of training and judgement have drawn closer together over the years. Even modern dance companies seek young dancers with classical training. There are clearly differences of style, taste, and presentation among companies, but this has more to do with design and choreography than the physical build of company members.

Link to comment

It's hard for me to define the "body type" of the POB dancers, if there is any, because I don't know other companies well enough to make comparisons.

I think that there is a wider range of heights now than in the past: a dancer like Muriel Maffre wasn't accepted in the company supposedly because of her tall height, while now the principal Agnes Letestu and the premiere danseuse Marie-Agnes Gillot both are very tall. On the other hand, there also are shorter dancers like Clairemarie Osta or Laetitia Pujol. This is the same for the men, with taller ones like Jose Martinez, average ones like Legris, and shorter ones like Belingard.

Also when comparing with older photographs, today's female dancers do look thinner in general, but that seems to be a general trend for many companies... And also perhaps more uniform body types.

Link to comment

Not to disagree with the general gist of the idea that there are more body types than one, but Darci Kistler ain't neither short (I believe she's around 5'7"), nor round (she's broad-shouldered, and usually verging on too thin for her frame). I only saw Patricia McBride at the end of her career, so maybe I missed her plump period. Perhaps this shows why it's difficult to talk about body type, because people's perceptions of it vary so wildly.

Link to comment

Patricia McBride may not have been a Gelsey-Kirklandish slip of a thing, but plump? It's one word I'd never have applied to her, nor imagined anyone ever applying to her!

In the years after Balanchine's death, it was noted fairly widely that the physiques of NYCB dancers, under Martins' reign, were changing, becoming less Amazonian and more rounded with even, God forbid!, the occasional emphatic bosom.

Link to comment

I never saw McBride live, alas, but no photograph I have seen indicates any plumpness whatsoever. However, I think Arlene Croce once described her as appearing "deliciously round and rosy" in the Voices of Spring segment of Vienna Waltzes, if memory serves. Perhaps special effects were used. :)

I remember a passage in Sasha Anawalt's biography of Joffrey where he was once asked why he had so few tall people in his company, and he said Balanchine nabbed all the good ones.

Link to comment

Balanchine said he liked tall dancers because you can see more. I agree, although I do like smaller dancers as well (and from the work he did on dancers such as McBride, Kirkland, Schorer etc.., so did Balanchine). Melissa Hayden said in the Balanchine Muses documentary, that a dancer might not start looking like a "Balanchine dancer" (long legs, small head), by dancing his works the body (by use of the muscles) changes. And it was a quality of movement he was looking for.

Re: McBride -- In old footage from the 60s, McBride was less muscular and etched than she would become. But then, this happens to most dancers (and most people). The body changes, espcially women (less fat).

In addition, Balanchine's preference in body types was a label given to him by (I believe) British critics during a tour in the 50s. But when you look at some the top dancers, you see differences (Govrin, Schorer, Watts, Nichols).

Link to comment

Duly chastened, I hereby withdraw the word "plump" in all contexts related to Patricia MacBride. (The last time I heard this adjective, alas, it was from a veterinarian trying to sell me very expensive cat food.)

Let's just say that MacBride was shorter and more rounded than the archetypal Balanchine ballerina. She was no taller than Villela or D'Amboise when she rose on point, she had small but prominent breasts (she even bore a child, when such an act was regarded as disastrous for a dancer), she loves the company and its founder.

Let's just say that she didn't fit the stereotype, yet enjoyed his favor. In other words, that she proves my point about the irrelevance of body types.

Link to comment

One has to add Heather Watts as a dancer who doesn't fit the image conjured up when thinking of Balanchinian dancers. Her overall shape never gave the impression of long and lean and her feet were just ordinary (something I loved about her). But what a dancer!

Also adding my voice to the chorus who say that Darci Kistler IS long and lean - nothing plump or roundish about her. I've always kind of thought of her as a skinny tomboy.

Link to comment

I always thought hte company with the Balanchine bodies was Merce Cunningham's -- but even HE had room for great dancers who weren't particularly long-legged (such as the great jumper Ellen Cornfield).

Balanchine -- Lauren Hauser was a swell dancer, but she didn't have a Balanchine body.... and re Darci, when she was young, she DID have a very round face...... but the legs were aggressive and long...

THe only directors that were really strict about legginess were Ziegfeld' and Busby Berkeley....

Paul Taylor is worth a dissertation on his typology -- the tall motherly one, the crazy aunt, the darling little girls...

Link to comment

Paul -

I liked Lauren Hauser too, and I'm not sure exactly when she entered the company, but I think that at least the better part of her career was not during Balanchine's time, but during Peter Martins'. I'm not sure who took her into the company though (but I'm almost positive it was Martins who promoted her to soloist.)

Link to comment

oooooh, I bet you're right--

hmm, I guess that raises my estimation of Peter Martins

One thing I must say in favor of Helgi Tomasson is his willingness to use dancers as different as Muriel Maffre (VERY tall, too tall to get into the Paris Opera Ballet) and Tina LeBlanc (very very short) -- they actually alternated in the same role in Mark Morris's A Garden, and were equally wonderful -- It took Muriel much longer to get some of the co-ordination -- there's a baroque port de bras, where the arm makes a circle at the elbow in a vertical plane as the dancer steps backward into pique arabesque, that Muriel mastered much later than Tina-- but other aspects of the role were harder for Tina (making her part register when he stage is crowded with other dancers, for example -- that's easy for Muriel, because, as Balanchine said, big dancers are easier to see) and both were wonderful in it.....

We're very lucky to have Muriel -- she was magnificent as Myrtha last night; the amount of attention she gives a role, and the quality of thought she brings to it.... the arabesque promenades were astonishing, each ended with no sense of haste in magnificent penchees... her piques were utterly placed, perfectly still, she could have stayed forever...

And her head positions.... I don't know who her coach was for Myrtha, perhaps herself -- but in the first solo, the chugs in arabesque -- three chugs, pas de bourree and three more chugs on the other foot, that one -- she had the most wonderful head positions -- the first chug she was looking down at her hand, that 'Implacable Wili" look, and on the second she pulled her head back and raised her jaw-line into a nobler posture, which tempered Myrtha's harshness somehow

But the evening was weird -- the stars did wonderful things, but their effects cancelled each other out.... and for some reason Yuri Possokhov entered holding his cloak over his face like Dracula -- actually, it looked 'Arabian," with his nose buried in the elbow. There are other ways to suggest you don't want your friends to know you're doing this.... and THEN, after dismissing Wilfrid, he did first arabesque before running over to knock on the door.....

This production does embroider the fabric of the ballet with extra-pretty step at every opportunity, but THAT is not an opportunity..... and today at the matinee Parrish Maynard did not do that....

Actually, Parrish and Kristin Long were wonderful -- last night's show did not jell -- it was opening night, and all the critics were there.... today's was the sat mat and I didn't see another critic anywhere ("nobody there but the audience"), which doubtless left the dancers much freer to become absorbed in the real job of dancing in character.....

Lord they were good..... Each knows the difference between a dance effect and a mime effect, and how the two lean on each other, and how much slower the beat is for a gesture than it is a dance-move..... Kristin was .... well, she was like Mary Pickford; the performance was simple, wholly admirable.... I was in tears...

Parrish was in tears at the end.

It was like Baryshnikov's interpretation except with a different start -- Baryshnikov was from the outset a nervous wreck except when Giselle was around, Parrish is not that unstable but he's not just getting in over his head, he's following his heart for the first time, and it seems innocent enough to him.... each interruption by "his world" throws him into massive confusion, and he can't make "his world' go away like he did Wilfed..... he was in tears at the end, she made him see what he'd lost...., we all saw it...

Kristin Long is another dancer who might be made to starve herself down some before she could get IN elsewhere...... We are SO lucky to have HER.......

Link to comment

I will certainly second PP's comments on the Taylor types, and add an interesting comment on Merce.

I once had the pleasure of being part of a "Friends" events (when it only cost $40 to be a "Friend of Merce") and had the opportunity to ask him about the changing builds (and skills) of dancers.

As usual with Merce, his face lit with fascination as he noted, "They can do things we never imagined in my time." This recognition has probably led him to replace his failing body with computer simulations, to the reported dismay of his dancers, who don't always accept the computer's definition of human possibilities. But, like Mr. B, he has come to value dancers with strength, technique, flexibility and a long, beautiful line.

I'd point to another way in which Cunningham and Balanchine are similar: the effortless fascination of their best works has proved largely impossible for their acolytes to imitate.

I cannot afford enough coffee to stay awake through the earnestly pointless works of former Cunningham dancers. Mr. B's followers at least deliver music worthy of our attention, but only occasionally steps we want to see again.

But I'm showing my age....

Link to comment
Guest wastedyouth

Ballet companies still to this day do favor certain body types, i assure you. But now its more height oriented.

Link to comment

Alexandra has highlighted a key point: as the pool of talent grows larger and the number of top-rank schools increases, the tendency toward a "standard style" becomes more widespread.

The results for dance are mixed: performances at regional companies have risen to new highs, but the New York companies still lack major creative forces. So we get nothing but new (and sometime arbitrary) versions of the classics.

Link to comment

Paul Parish raises in interesting point here, in the matter of the Paul Taylor company. There has historically been little variation among the men, owing largely to the nature of the choreography. When it comes, for instance, to the famous quartet in Cloven Kingdom, no 98-pound weaklings need apply. Robert Kahn, a slightly-built Taylor dancer of the early '80s, retired on doctors' orders after too few seasons, when the strain got to his back.

When it comes to the women, however, there has always been a wide variety, which can be traced to the fact that his is a small company (16 dancers in all, as I recall), and the women's roles tend to be customized to individual talents. So he always needs a tall and imposing "Bette de Jong," a short and ethereal "Carolyn Adams," and so forth.

Given the fact that it often takes a few seasons for a new dancer to make an established role his or hers, the company suffers in times of high turnover and blossoms in times (like the past few seasons) when stability and experience dominate. Indeed, during this spring's season, I was quite willing to consign my memories to the scrapbook and cheer the brilliant dancers on stage.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...