Observations

A few sayings that have been used over these many years, repeated often, and passed on through other dancers and students

Dance is an art form, but, it is also a craft, but first and foremost it is a discipline.

Have one discipline in your life–it could be dance. Take this discipline to guide you through the challenges that you will meet in your life. Use it as the trigger for other disciplines. If you find yourself coming from dance to acting, then use the dance discipline to move you forward in the acting world. This can apply throughout anything you choose to do with your life. But, have one discipline.

Do not call yourself an artist. Others may call you an artist, as a compliment . Do not though, take the attitude that I have heard so many dancers take–“I am artiste” This title is bestowed by others.

Choreographers are born, not trained. Having a pattern is essential, but do not adopt the patterns of another, for you will only end up as a bad imitation of the teacher. Create your own way of achieving this work. Do not paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

Ballerinas are born, not created. This is such a complex collection of prerequisites and physical needs. No teacher or mentor can see in advance whether the outcome will be that very special individual, a ballerina. It is only when after knowing that the physical side is appropriate and the drive and attention to detail is present, that a decision can be made. The proof in the end must be that such a person can do the work that is expected of a ballerina.

Pretty and dumb I fear no longer works, although it may have in the past.

The classics, so called, are only the beginning. The challenge in this day and age, goes far beyond that.

The ability to hold the audience in the palm of her hand and make them absorb her whole being is good, for a start.

The actual physical appearance is not always in line with the prescribed pattern. Ballerinas who have their own special charisma, but not the skinny, long limbed look, have succeeded.

The final judgement rests with the viewers.

Many apply, few are chosen.

Principal male dancers? They have to be trained. They do not seem to evolve. The business of being that special partner, must be learned very thoroughly. Yes, they must have their individual strengths, they must be able to dance well, in fact better than their peers. That combination of being an individual and a comfortable support person is essential. The audience must believe in that support, and the male image. There have been many male dancers who can dance beautifully–alone, but do not ask them to be that support personality.

All this has nothing to do with sexual preferences, they do not matter in the principal male dancer who has what it takes.

The use by companies of both of the above types, can nurture or destroy them. There is no reason for them to not have a long and meaningful career, so long as they have the necessary guidelines. Both are rare and valuable outcomes of the dance training. We have never created an abundance of either type.

Having worked with someone like Margot Fonteyn, I know that the complete picture has to be seen, to be appreciated. The technique may falter in time, but that inborn sense of the theatre, of music, of that special relationship with an audience, must be seen for what it has done to establish that ballerina. Margot may have had her quirks and quarks, but there was so much to be learned by working with her and hearing her background come in to full play, each day.

Toni Lander, who had such a great respect for her profession, and especially her Bournenville background. She was a tall woman, and needed a tall partner. Her greatest compliment to me personally was “David, you make me feel small”. We were the same height when she was on pointe. We had many a happy performance in her husbands production of Coppelia in Festival Ballet. In the same company, Etudes, also by Harald Lander.

Dancers must learn by watching other dancers. Do not try to copy them, you will only end up a cheap imitation. No matter how much you may admire another dancer, be your own person. Watch for more than some little way that they do a step. How do they perform it?

Always be aware of your relationship to the audience. Hopefully we all learned about angles that steps and positions should be done on. Do not forget them. You can do a step better than anyone in the history of dance has done that move, but it will all go for nothing if the audience does not see it at the angle which gives the greatest effect. Find that angle which makes your body look best. The mirror may not always tell you this, it must come from the person taking your rehearsals, or watching with a critical eye, your performances.

We have a saying in the profession–technical monsters. Oh yes, they can be admired for their technical prowess, but they tend to be a dancers performer, not an audience performer. They are usually boring to watch in truth.

The training of a dancer must be taken with care and foresight. Dance techniques can destroy a body, or create a beautiful workable instrument.

One technique that comes immediately to mind is the early days of the Martha Graham company. The women all had enormous bottoms, brought about by the fact that Martha had them working on the floor all the time. They did not stand up enough, and extend the full body in the weight bearing upright position. There were, on pain of being fired, not allowed to take ballet lessons. Wisdom prevailed, and now, unless you take ballet classes at the Graham school, you can be kicked out. No more big bottoms by the way.

Am I being critical of that modern dance technique? no, not at all, for I have great admiration for what that woman achieved with dance movement. My point is, the technique should not distort, but create a fully workable dancer.

The early days of ballet, if we can surmise anything from the early etchings of ballet dancers, created some pretty beefy dancers. The use of the technique evolved, and must continue to do so.

Someone approaching dance for the first time, should be aware of the physical aspects as well as the aesthetic ones.

 

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When we think of ballet today, we think of ballerinas, women. But such was not always the case. Like the Shakespearean times where men took all of the parts, including the female roles, Ballet was in a similar position in its earliest times.

Women had a secondary role to play, and they wore clothes that did not allow them to execute the steps that the men could.

I tell a story about how one of our steps began. Camargo, who would eventually become famous for tearing the bottom off her dress so she could do more jumps and have more freedom, was in class. They were doing a combination from txhe corner–chass»-coup» saut»-chass» across the room. They had started with the right foot. Camago became frustrated with this step and how her dress got in the way. “damned dress” and with that she kicked her left leg and jumped and turned. Thus was born the saut de basque.

If I look at the Noverre book, the drawings are of men doing steps, not women.

Once Camargo had become the revolutionary and freed her ankles, the steps and turns that had been the area solely executed by men, became part of the vocabulary of both sexes.

There was no stopping them then.

The romantic tutu was born, and thus, the era of women taking over from men.

Pointe work which was thought to have entered the picture in the 19th century, actually came about in the 18th century, as some long lost engravings revealed.

The pointe shoes which are now worn did not begin life as we see them, in fact the earliest pointe shoes, were flat ballet shoes with stitching on the end. Those ladies had strong feet.

Even up to the time of Pavlova, this happened. I have seen a photograph of a pair of pointe shoes worn by the lady. There was no block, it was stitched at the toes.

I wonder how the present generation of female dancers would fare in a pair of those.

The costume which looked more like a tutu as we know it, was used by the men in the early ballets. Louis X1V in his Sun God solo, wore something which can best be described as a droopy tutu.

The women wore dresses which had a hoop at the waist, thus some of the ports de bras which are taken away from the body, especially en bas. They were holding the upper part of their skirt.

Ballet shoes as we know them were not present when Louis danced, they were wearing a heel named after the gentleman.

I have often wondered when the “class” as we know it, actually came in to being. It was Beauchamp at the command of Louis that began the naming of those movements that we take for granted now. So was Beauchamp responsible for getting the dancers to actually train and do a warm up?

Did Louis do plies and battement tendu?

We know that in the time of Degas it was happening, but when did it begin?

The dates of when ballet toured to Russia is fairly well documented, but now—when did ballet travel to the orient? It is well and truly establish there, but how and when did the Chinese and the Japanese adopt this technique and use it?? Surely not through Communism!

One aspect of all of this, no matter what the dance form, that we have not really touched on. The music and the musicians. That is a huge can of worms.

So many composers and conductors owe their careers to their work with dance. Many of the world class conductors began their musical lives playing for class and rehearsals for ballet companies.

It is worth an investige, do you agree?