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'Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique' by Suki Schorer, Russell Lee, and Carol Rosegg

Book review by Cecly Placenti

July 2006

Never complacent exploring the art he served, George Balanchine dedicated his life to outlining a new style of ballet in America. While still a young dancer in his New York City Ballet, Suki Schorer was chosen by Balanchine to lecture, demonstrate and teach. In her book, “Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique,” she expansively commits to print the fruits of her twenty-four year collaboration with Balanchine in a clear examination of his technique for teachers, students and scholars. Led by his example, Schorer delves deeply into her well of knowledge, discussing in minute detail crucial work at the barre as well as center work, port de bras, pointe work, jumps, and partnering. Her vivid recollections of her own tutelage under Balanchine, delivered with scores of his own remarks and witticisms about dancing, lend intimacy and authority to this extraordinary analysis of Balanchine’s legacy and will reward even the general reader with clarity, humor, and insight.

Her preface and introduction paint a delightful and intimate picture of a past generation of dance. She shows her readers the difference between the Russian and American sensibilities that first infused the art of ballet in this country, and makes us feel keenly the respect and total surrender to the art that her contemporaries embraced. Any student of dance today will likely find it bizarre that Balanchine and his fellow teachers did not allow coffee cups or dance bags on the piano, lounging with feet up on the seats in the theater during rehearsals, or hands on hips while in costume. With these examples, you sense that for the people in Balanchine’s corner of the dance world, ballet was not just a job; it was a muse worthy of reverence and respect.

Starting from the most basic point of his technique -- Balanchine’s definition of front, back and side in relation to the working leg and center line of the body -- Schorer imparts to her readers a sense of the Balanchine aesthetic and quality. In his technique, what was important was the body moving, not a perfectly placed point of completion. Balanchine’s new and different ideas on alignment emphasized his philosophy that a perfect static position was useless when a dancer began to move; more important was that the dancer be ready and able to move in any direction at any time with energy and beauty. As Schorer describes clearly, tendu front, for example, occurs right on the center line of the body in front of the navel and not in front of the hip as traditional technique maintains, readers begin to see how from the ground up Balanchine devised a technique focused on freedom, economy of movement, practicality, and speed.

Schorer dissects every step at the barre from plies to adagio exercises, and each segment encompasses the exactitude of physicality and the feeling Balanchine wanted the dancer to work toward. She not only explains how to do things, but why and with what intention. Each segment also has a box titled “Details I Often Insist On In…” which serves to grab the reader’s attention and illustrate her most important points.  They can be used as reference points if a dancer needs to go back and question a certain movement or objective.  The book is also full of illustrations, using dancers from the New York City Ballet as models, demonstrating the correct placement Balanchine was looking for.  They are another useful tool for young dancers to see the technique alongside its written description.  

As Balanchine did before her, however, Schorer lets her students know that perfection is not the goal. As long as you understand the principles and work toward them each day, your body will produce the desired result. Like a breath of fresh air in a world often mistakenly viewed with static ideas of perfection in form and function, Schorer’s book brings to ballet students and fans the idea that movement is more important than being correct; the dance is more important than the textbook picture.

Schorer wrote this book to pass along what she learned from George Balanchine. Her book is designed to help teachers and advanced dancers to understand the way he worked and the results he worked for. This book also shows non-dancers both the example Mr. Balanchine and his devoted partners set while working for an ideal that goes beyond personal self interest and the work ethic that trying to achieve this ideal entailed. It shows readers a certain way of life lived by these artists and a philosophy they lived by. In this way, it is almost a history, an appreciation. “Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique” is definitely a gift for any lover of ballet and a useful companion for teachers and students alike.

Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique. By Suki Schorer, Russell Lee, and Carol Rosegg. University of Florida Press, 2006. ISBN: 0813029775

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