Men and the state of ballet

The ballerino, a term which has long gone into the woodwork, in fact the male equivalent of the ballerina.

The requirements of this side are quite different, and have gone through many more changes. At one point in history he was just the person who carried the ballerina around. He was not really important.

When one considers that in the earliest history of the ballet, the male was the most important person; things did, and still do, change.

Like in the plays of Shakespeare where all roles, male or female were taken by men or boys, the first ballets in Italy, placed the male as the dominant. The costumes worn by the women did not allow them to dance the kinds of things that the male could.

It was, as is now termed, male chauvinistic.

In answer to that term I say, “do not call me a male chauvinist when I work in a profession that is dominated by the female gender”.

There are many excellent male dancers. They are marvellous when they work alone, but do not ask them to work with the ballerina. They are bad partners. Either they have never learned the craft of partnering, or they have no desire to share the limelight with their opposite.

Partnering is an ART. It must be learned thoroughly, or it does not work.


So many male dancers have not given the partnering side of life the correct priority. They go through the motions, only waiting for their moment in the sun.

With this attitude, they destroy the total picture.

Without that capable, well trained, sensitive male principal dancer, the total picture, changes. He is a necessity.

In truth, the choreographers are the ones who can keep the art of partnering alive. So long as they keep challenging the male dancers. Given that said choreographer has been there, and learned his or her trade to the fullest.

Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty and Giselle and Nutcracker will not die. You canít get rid of them, they exist, and will continue. The ballerina roles are for the audience, the centre, but, that principal male dancer is the one who keeps the performance running smoothly.

The attitude by male dancers to those roles is what keeps it all alive.

So–possible male principal dancer–find yourself a male teacher who has been through the whole gamut of dancing and partnering. Leave all thoughts of preferences outside, they have no place in this world of ballet. Give the audiences what they expect.

For all of the people who have stated, and will state, that ballet is dead. Think again. It is alive and well, and not about to be replaced by another dance form. The other dance forms have no history as yet.

In a hundred years, perhaps a new dance form will rise from all of this, but the ballet will remain as the guide.

History is a reference point, to be used and learned from, not, that which should now be discarded. Human beings have an uncanny ability to make the same mistakes over and over. Learn not to do this, through history; and always keep those aspects which are useful and necessary.

Everything old is new, became a password for a time. It again points to history.

It is essential for dancers to have a sense of “what has been” Not necessarily, “who has been” although in this day and age we can see, on video, “who has been”.

I spent an evening with a small company many years ago watching films of Anna Pavlova. The dancers thought she was the funniest thing they had ever seen. After the films I asked them to try some of the moves that Anna had done. They could not! It made them at least become aware of the fact that we are not so much more superior than she was. They learned from the past.

There are no films of Nijinsky as reference points, but I remember vividly talking to a male teacher who had worked with Nijinsky. He said that Nijinsky could stand in fifth position, do a demi plie, then a changements and jump to the height of his knees. “see if you can do that David” I was asked. I did, and I could, jump as high as Nijinsky. Related to the size of my body and my legs. It gave me a reference point as to what this man had been capable of. It gave me history.

I remember talking to people back in the early fifties about ballet and performances. Several times I received the same comment “well you see, I saw Pavlova dance”. That dancer made an impression upon people that remained with them for the rest of their lives. It did tend to insinuate that Pavlova was the be all and end all of ballet, and that nothing we could do could approach it, but at least the awareness of the impact was there, and had lasted.

Will the generations bring such comments in the future?

Both Kyra and Bronislava told me that I had the same kind of elevation and movement that Vaslav had. I saw them in different locations and under differing circumstances, but it gave me a reference point, not a big head.

I acquired some months ago a book called The Open Mind by Dawna Markova, PH.D. (no relation to the ballerina of the past).

The sub-title is “Discovering the six patterns of Natural Intelligence”

This book invites you to embody your learning through a series of what I call practices. Not exercises.

“I decided to use the word ‘practice’ after watching Richard Kuboyama, my Ki-Aikido sensei(martial arts teacher), perform an exquisite rolling movement across the padded floor of the gymnasium. I had been attempting to do the same movement for half an hour, but all I had accomplished was a reasonable imitation of a gooney bird trying to get out of its own way. I asked the Sensei how long it had taken him to learn that movement. He replied quietly, ‘Learned? Oh I have not learned it yet. I have only been practising it for 18 years.’

“My mind began to untwist itself, as it usually did when he spoke, and I asked him how much longer he thought it would be until he learned how to do it. He put one gentle hand on my shoulder and blinked his brown eyes several times, before replying, “Dawna, I will never learn it. I will always just practice it. Thatís all there really is in life, you know. Just practice.’ ”

I felt that it applied itself to life, but also very much to the subject at hand, Dance.

Some might find this a fruitless approach, yet there is something which tells me that it is the only way to approach dance, the same as the sensei said” thatís all there really is in life, you know. Just practice.”

Thus I take the perfectionists to task! Does that mean that one day you will perform this move or dance, perfectly every time , when the state of perfection has been reached. I think not! It will still need some “practice”.

Surely the barriers in every day life, teach us that this is a truism.

There is a great deal of truth I fear in the statement that we are the victims of fad and fashion.

What is in today, may be out tomorrow. We are such fickle creatures, and in fact are swayed but the most stupid and inane things.

Dance has suffered as much as the rest of the world.

In the twenties the word “MODERNE” was used a great deal. It replaced :KITSCH: which indicated an object or subject which was out of kilter with the times, old hat, or on the contrary, unacceptable.

That was the reaction to Modern Dance when it appeared, it became Moderne Dance. It took time to drop that added “e”. The term moderne has disappeared, unfortunately. Shame , for it has its uses.

Fad and fashion has destroyed the line between, traditionalists and adventurers.

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