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New Ballet Technique Standards - for better or worse?


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I'm starting this topic as a ballet watcher feeling disturbed about some of the "things" the latest generation of ballerinas do on stage. I don't know whether these are the new standards of classical ballet technique. I hope some of the professional dancers and teachers here may comment on that. Russian ballerinas have been dancing like these for at least one decade now. And recently I started to see some English ballerinas do it as well.

 

Oversplits in the leaps (grand jetes), 180 degrees lifting of the leg, 180 degrees penche or even an oversplit in the penche...
Are these the new standarts of ballet technique or it just started with some extremely flexible young ballerinas one or two decades ago? When they talk about these ballerinas in documentary films most of the times they refer to them as ballet wunderkinds (being spotted in ballet schools for their extreme flexibility and immediately hired by big ballet companies and very quickly promoted to principals.).

 

Two of the ballerinas I don't really like are Svetlana Zakharova and Alina Somova (because of their extreme flexibility and showing this off on stage like it's the best thing classical ballet can offer). They don't look like ballerinas to me, they look like puppets.

 

I don't like the oversplits in the leaps at all. It doesn't look balletic to me. It might be suitable for rhythmic gymnastics but nor for ballet. This is my personal opinion.

 

180 degree lifting of the leg...I might have been taking classes for only 3 months but in the very first class my teach told us that the ballerina's torso should always have stood straight.
When I see a 180 degrees lifting of the leg, the torso always gets curved. I have watched many ballets filmed 20 or more years ago  - and 160 degrees lifting of the leg and a straight torso looks much more beautiful and natural to me.

When I watched Zakharova dancing the Rose Adagio (where there are many liftings of the leg), she always lifted her leg very high (180degrees). Half of the Rose Adagio I was watching her panties and the bottom side of her tutu. Not pretty at all.

 

About the penche... previous generations of ballerinas were doing 160 or less degrees lifting of the back leg on the penche. A 180 degrees penche (I've heard one ballet teacher in a documentary calling it 6 o'clock penche) looks fine and beautiful to me. It doesn't ruin the classical look of the ballet. But an oversplit in the penche looks awful.

 

Last month I saw live the notorious William Forsythe' ballet "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated". I didn't want to go because I had seen the ballet at home and I hated the music. But a friend of mine talked me into it. Surprisingly to me the ballet dancers managed to pull the technique off quite well. I even liked the ballet. It was like the evil and naughty twin of the classical ballet to me. This ballet definitely 'colors outside the lines' with everything it has. The music, the choreography, the costumes, the extreme flexibility and outstanding technique of the dancers needed made me perceive something new, something that extreme that made it an incredible ballet. I was shoked and impressed at the same time. It really is a masterpiece I agree, one of the 'ugly'  and "twisted-minded' masterpieces.
Seeing this ballet made me think that oversplits and pushing the technique outside every possible limits had their place in some contemporary ballets like Forsythe's. But not in all contemporary ballets.
 

About the classics and the classical ballet... for me the oversplits ruin the classical form.

 

How do you ballet watchers/dancers/teachers feel about that?

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ChocChip - thanks for posting about this!  There was a thread that covered some of these points on Doing Dance recently:

 

http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/3129-how-technique-has-changed/

 

I said on that thread that I preferred traditional choreography to be performed in the traditional way.  I think it looks much more effective as it was originally envisioned rather than with the current legs behind your ear type of thing.

 

I don't mind extremes of flexibility if it is how the work has been choreographed.

 

What does anyone else think?

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Would we consider touching up the Mona Lisa to make her look more modern  - some purple  eye shadow perhaps - or better yet - a tattoo?  It doesn't matter that Leonardo is not here to protect his creation.

 

If a choreographer wishes to create dance with hyper flexible use of the body -so be it.  The audience will decide to embrace it or not.

 

But to turn a classical ballet into  something the original choreographer would never have done is a travesty.  While it is true that a ballet like Swan Lake has changed over the years - sometimes of necessity because sections of the original choreography has been lost - any "new" choreography necessary to fill those holes should at least be within the original style of the ballet.  Here, too, the audience will decide to keep buying tickets or not,

 

I do wonder if someone who buys a ticket for Swan Lake would stop buying a ticket if penchés were less than 180 degrees?

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Thank you spannerandpony and Janet for the threads ! I am going to have interesting reading for the next few days. :)
Some ballerinas do show off their exceptional flexibility on stage.
What does drive me angry is that their exceptional flexibility does not melt into their dancing. They make it stand out above everything else. :(
 

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Would we consider touching up the Mona Lisa to make her look more modern  - some purple  eye shadow perhaps - or better yet - a tattoo?  It doesn't matter that Leonardo is not here to protect his creation.

 

This is the perfect quote!

:)

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Quite agree with you about the oversplits, CC - really ugly, in my book.  And I really hate having to look at the ballerina's crotch because extensions are so much higher than they used to be - and the costumes were designed for.  AFAIC, obviously technique is going to move on, and we can't expect Classical works to be danced at the same level of technique - if that's what you call it - as 100 years ago, but I do feel that some attempt at least should be made to approximate the style in which they were created.

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obviously technique is going to move on, and we can't expect Classical works to be danced at the same level of technique - if that's what you call it - as 100 years ago, but I do feel that some attempt at least should be made to approximate the style in which they were created.

 

I agree with you.

One example:

La Scala did a complete revival of Raymonda two years ago.

http://friedemannvogel.com/news/2012/8/30/raymonda-at-la-scala-milano

"The production is a reconstruction of the Petipa Version from 1898 which has been revived last year with huge efforts and painstaking research of original notes, drawings and images. It really feels like time-travelling..."

 

La Scala's Raymonda and Bolshoi's Raymonda - two completely different ballets. Starting from the plot/ libretto...

Apparently what we think Raymonda's story is, is not the story of Raymonda at all.

 

 

 

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I agree with you, ChocChip, and I am saying that, even though I respect hugely and admire the extreme technique. I do like a 170 or 180 degrees leg for example (160-170 in classical ballets, 180 in contemporary perhaps!!)

Maybe what some dancers forget in all this technique show-off and in this run for "more is more", is that some extreme postures do not look nice to the public. 

And what is designed to look beautiful (the angle of an arabesque showing the length of the leg and hiding the bottom, the height of a leg, the curvature of a back...) ends up looking grotesque if it is pushed to extreme flexible levels.

That said, in contemporary dance, I think you can indulge more in extreme extensions, and more extravangant body-undulations. The outfits in contemporary dance are also normally there to just about cover the body with a layer of colour and to let the movements speak.

 

A little photo of a beautiful 6 o'clock!

 

sylvie-Guilhem.jpg

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Talking about high extensions... Today I watched a short video with Natalia Osipova dancing a variation from Esmeralda when she was 17 years old. I had never seen such monstrously high arabesques. I don't want to post a link but if you copy and paste this

"Natalia Osipova at 17, Esmeralda variation"

in YouTube the first video on list will be the video I am talking about.

I went through the video a few times and paused each time she did the arabesque to check what angle it was - at the first arabesque her legs did a 180 degree angle, and at the second and third - 170 degrees perhaps.

 

I being a ballet watcher feel frustrated watching such incredible but inappropriate technique. I can't imagine how bad the professional young ballet dancers feel watching these over-stretched ballerinas and wonder how are they gonna get this.

 

For me classical ballet is art that makes me feel "my soul reaching for heaven" not "my body reaching for heaven".
But we are all different and have different opinions. Some people are fond of the the high extensions.

 

 

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I've just had a look at this clip and about 10 others of the same variation - all at competitions.

 

I would say that her flexibility looked the most extreme but presumably the variation is taught this way for, at the very least, competitions as all the clips I watched featured the same very high kicks at the tambourine.

 

I think it looks fine, tbh, in the context of the competition but it depends on how this technical ability is translated to a company performance.  One of the clips I saw is of Alys Shee who joined BRB last Autumn.  She is certainly fitting well into BRB and does not flash her technique inappropriately!

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Talking about high extensions... Today I watched a short video with Natalia Osipova dancing a variation from Esmeralda when she was 17 years old. I had never seen such monstrously high arabesques. I don't want to post a link but if you copy and paste this

"Natalia Osipova at 17, Esmeralda variation"

in YouTube the first video on list will be the video I am talking about.

I went through the video a few times and paused each time she did the arabesque to check what angle it was - at the first arabesque her legs did a 180 degree angle, and at the second and third - 170 degrees perhaps.

 

I being a ballet watcher feel frustrated watching such incredible but inappropriate technique. I can't imagine how bad the professional young ballet dancers feel watching these over-stretched ballerinas and wonder how are they gonna get this.

 

For me classical ballet is art that makes me feel "my soul reaching for heaven" not "my body reaching for heaven".

But we are all different and have different opinions. Some people are fond of the the high extensions.

 

In that video (as Janet notes, BTW that was gala celebrating the 190° anniversary of la Scala ballet School, not a competition) she is also beating the tambourine over her head with the opposite foot (keeping a good hip line, it must be said).

The video is 7 years old and has been watched almost 2 million times and it’s still watched around 5000 times per week. Every other day a comment stating “the best Esmeralda ever” is posted, something I don’t agree with even if I think that the performance was incredibly charismatic for such a young girl (eve more charismatic was her other piece Liturgy).

It’s strange to think that she is doing only one jump and relatively small by her standard in that variation, anyway that video has a huge success among young people and that says a lot about the impact of a certain type of virtuosity.

Few years later I’ve seen Osipova ending Dulcinea variation in the wings because she was not able to moderate her hops on pointe, something that can generate a laugh the first time, but not the second, nevertheless she is one of the most interesting and electrifying dancers of today. I cannot say the same of many other hyper extended gymnasts presented by ballet companies.

Some ballet companies and ballet dancers seem to think that the audience is just looking for extreme gymnastic and virtuosity and not for artistry. I feel a lack of attention to details and refinement: some performances are just obtuse as their angles.

Anyway the worst thing I’ve seen on stage is not a hyperextension but the perennial out of mouth tongue of a recent Royal Ballet acquisition: the most annoying bad habit I’ve ever seen and I cannot believe that a major ballet company is allowing it on stage. Another sign of the superficiality of this time.

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"Anyway the worst thing I’ve seen on stage is not a hyperextension but the perennial out of mouth tongue of a recent Royal Ballet acquisition: the most annoying bad habit I’ve ever seen and I cannot believe that a major ballet company is allowing it on stage. Another sign of the superficiality of this time".


 


Annamicro, I saw that too and frankly was disgusted. It's vulgar, tout court. Someone should let the "recent" acquisition know. Seen it done in Twitter photos too and it really does not suit an RB dancer (nor any dancer), they must uphold the high standards of the Company and this should also be reflected in their off-duty behaviour (or at least keep such behaviour private and not publish it for all to see!).


Professional dancers must set high standards - on and off stage - for all other younger dancers and dance students alike. Just as high profile football players must set an example for their young football fans. 

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Nina, you raise an interesting point. A lot of dancers, at the RB and elsewhere, are on Twitter and Facebook and, like many young people (you can tell I'm middle-aged!), tend not to self-censure when it comes to putting stuff online. In a previous era silly or embarrassing remarks or photographs would have been circulated among a small number of people and quickly confined to history; today they remain as a permanent, public record. I'm sometimes put off by some of the things that dancers post on Twitter (I don't look at Facebook) and I wonder whether the companies have any rules or policies about social media. However, what is the balance between requiring dancers to be "ambassadors" for their companies at all times and allowing dancers to live their private lives and express themselves as they wish once they are off-stage? IMO (but I am a Luddite,) there is something to be said for dancers not sharing the minutiae of their everyday lives and casual opinions with the world. As far as I am aware, neither Alina nor Marienela are on Twitter. Having said that, it's nice to be able to see what your favourite dancers are up to (professionally) and, of course, to be able to show an interest in what they are doing and congratulate them personally when they've danced well, or got a promotion or an award or a new role.

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Anyway the worst thing I’ve seen on stage is not a hyperextension but the perennial out of mouth tongue of a recent Royal Ballet acquisition: the most annoying bad habit I’ve ever seen and I cannot believe that a major ballet company is allowing it on stage. Another sign of the superficiality of this time.

 

annamicro,

Could you please explain what this is supposed to mean?

I tried to imagine how it would look like but I couldn't. If you have some picture of it at hand it would be best.

Thanks!

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... she is one of the most interesting and electrifying dancers of today. I cannot say the same of many other hyper extended gymnasts presented by ballet companies.

.

 

I agree with annamicro. I like Natalia Osipova too. She is trilling and flashing and vigorous. She is a typical trained Russian ballerina but she doesn't quite have the typical Russian look. And she is a rebel.

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Nina, you raise an interesting point. A lot of dancers, at the RB and elsewhere, are on Twitter and Facebook and, like many young people (you can tell I'm middle-aged!), tend not to self-censure when it comes to putting stuff online. In a previous era silly or embarrassing remarks or photographs would have been circulated among a small number of people and quickly confined to history; today they remain as a permanent, public record. I'm sometimes put off by some of the things that dancers post on Twitter (I don't look at Facebook) and I wonder whether the companies have any rules or policies about social media. However, what is the balance between requiring dancers to be "ambassadors" for their companies at all times and allowing dancers to live their private lives and express themselves as they wish once they are off-stage? IMO (but I am a Luddite,) there is something to be said for dancers not sharing the minutiae of their everyday lives and casual opinions with the world. As far as I am aware, neither Alina nor Marienela are on Twitter. Having said that, it's nice to be able to see what your favourite dancers are up to (professionally) and, of course, to be able to show an interest in what they are doing and congratulate them personally when they've danced well, or got a promotion or an award or a new role.

Aileen, I completely understand your point and to a certain extent yes it is nice to interact with one's favourite dancers. I am in my (very) late twenties so not middle-aged but I still find it a vulgar habit no matter what. As a professional you have a duty to uphold the standards and image of the company you work for (be it a Ballet company, a bank or a school). It's a matter of professionalism. Yes, my contemporaries are all on Twitter and FB and don't think twice about posting images of themselves but they should learn, if they are in the public eye, to impose certain rules on themselves (if Directors or Company Managers don't do it). Sounds old-fashioned? Perhaps but I am all for it. There is already enough trash out there on TV and in magazines. Rant over.

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Nina, social media have blurred the distinction between the private (in the sense of behaviour, thoughts, images etc which it is only really appropriate to share with a small number of people - if at all!) and the public domain. The problem is that it's all too easy to post without thinking and once the comments or images are up it's very difficult to take them down. Mind you, it's not just the young who have misused social media with catastrophic consequences. Sally Bercow springs to mind, and there is a cautionary tale involving a would-be mayor of New York in today's Times.

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Pulling tongue out as in "concentration" or "rude gesture"?

 

I know loads of people who show the tip of their tongue when concentrating.  As it is probably a reflex action, if I am honest I could not tell you whether I do so myself or not!  I know my Dad  did - we used to tease him about it something wrotten!

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Like ChocChip, I love In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, prefer a 160-degree penchée in classical ballet and dislike oversplits, but I do want a near-180-degree split in grand jeté, slightly less for the men. It used to be just the stars who were allowed these but now we are used to it I expect it of all the corps as well.

 

Going back forty years, a friend defined the difference between the Royal Ballet and another company of the day as “The Royal Ballet don't fall over ”. Everyone can fall over and even the best sometimes do – didn't Balanchine say something along the lines that it shows they are still trying for more – but I rarely see it nowadays.

 

On the other hand, my first viewing of the Royal Ballet in the Bayadère Shades scene was in 1982 when Nureyev staged it as a one-acter and I don't think I saw as many wobbles then as I did recently (admittedly few and at the end of the run), though memories can be rosy and the presence of the man himself in the wings a powerful incentive to perfection.

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The Royal Ballet is very far away from me to watch live performances. Unfortunately :(
I have never ever seen a ballet dancer pulling their tongues out. Probably my screen is two small. I've seen only two productions of RB, both with Alina Cojocaru - Giselle and Sleeping Beauty and I loved both of them. Alina is one my top favorite ballerinas. She's just so perfect for these roles. I thinks she will still have that innocent look even when she turns her eighties. She is my favorite Aurora ever!

Pulling tongues out sounds really disgusting as described by annamicro. No matter the reason, concentration or not, it does seem to look disgusting.

 

Grand Tier Left, all present male principals and first soloist from Bolshoi and Mariinsky do 180 degrees on their grand jetes in classical ballets. It looks really beautiful. But they don't do oversplits. They look athletic but they all dance with style and elegance. I can say most of the ballet I watch is Russian.
I don't know what is going on with the RB male dancers.

 

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