CriticalDance Forum

New Poll!
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Author:  Dean Speer [ Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:54 pm ]
Post subject:  New Poll!

Some might say that you can never have enough -- for either students or performers, while others may lament that we're sacrificing artistry.

Another way of looking at the question is to take a example of virtuosity: Are 32 fouettés quite enough (thank-you), or what is too much of a good thing? I recall seeing the Kirov a few years ago where one pas de deux after another was presented -- each with 32 fouettés in the coda. After awhile, I felt a bit numb.

Or is this a "salt and pepper" question? They are fine each by themselves but are better together.

Author:  ksneds [ Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:49 pm ]
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Excellent question.

I would say there certainly is - just this past week I saw the SPBT with Irina Kolesnikova and was lamenting the pushing of technique over artistry. She's a very competent dancer, but both her style and the staging of the ballet combined to push the technique at the expense of the story.

I've often wondered if the proliferation of ballet competition for teenage (and - eek - younger) dancers is increasing this problem. Instead of spending time in the studio working on good technique and getting stage experience in professional productions, it seems that many young dancers are spending a great deal of time preparing for the competitions. And the competitions tend to have a limited rep of the big pas de deux, so it's the 32 fouette kind of tricks that win the medals.

It's not that the experience is all bad, but I wonder if young dancers learn more about artistry and how to combine technique with artistry when they are spending less time on competition pdd and more on getting to perform with professionals. Seeing professionals rehearse and perform is a great learning experience as is performing alongside them.


Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:56 am ]
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Funny, but I always admire Kolesnikova's artistry before her technique.

Author:  LMCtech [ Mon Feb 25, 2008 1:27 pm ]
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I think it's possible to train the heart out of a dancer. In other words, they are so focused on technique that they are cold and clinical. I find Julie Kent to be a bit like this. I am usually more moved by a dancer who can find a balance of clean technique and emotionality.

Author:  ericajones80 [ Tue Feb 26, 2008 8:06 am ]
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in my mind its all a matter of balance...your technique has to not distract from the story and vice id say yes

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:23 am ]
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Interesting discussion and I agree with those who emphasise the need for more than just technique. Maybe it's like the proof methodology in Maths whereby you establish necessary and sufficient conditions. Thus, technique is necessary and high standards in this respect are admirable, but without the sufficient condition of artistry, the "technique only" approach is sharply limited. I can think of a number of technically expert dancers who I avoid for this very reason.

I sometimes say of dance: "It ain't ice skating." That is, a performance may be acceptable but not outstanding from a technical point of view, but triumphs because of the artistry brought to the performance. A recent example where both aspects soared into the stratosphere was the Pina Bausch "Rite of Spring": extraordinary emotional intensity and precision ensemble dancing to rival the Kirov.

I share the concern of those who feel that competitions can place too much emphasis on technique to the detriment of artistry. So, while I wouldn't say that a dancer can have too much technique, I would agree that a high degree of artistry is also needed to make an outstanding dancer.

Author:  bayadere27 [ Thu Feb 28, 2008 3:17 pm ]
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Funny, I wrote an essay on this very subject, which I've pasted below. My vote is yes, there is such a thing as too much technique. I chose to gripe about Paloma Herrera--the most expressive feet in the world, the least expressive face in the world.

The grand pas de deux from Don Quixote is one of today’s best-loved pieces of classical ballet. It is overstuffed with tricks that can electrify even the most cynical—or the most ignorant—observer.

It is a terrific vehicle for the part of dance that is easiest to appreciate: technical virtuosity. When executed well, the pas de deux goes down slickly, easily; it appeals to our laziness by telling us when to applaud.

But it is not friendly to artistic interpretation. Most often danced in excerpt during gala productions, it relies on showmanship rather than strength of character for momentum. Even the most ardent ballet enthusiasts have trouble locating where the dance falls in the ballet’s plotline—or remembering exactly who Kitri and Basil, its dancers, are. Removed from their context, they become two-dimensional, simply “Spanish”—a term that is illustrated by little more than a snap of the wrist or a lifted chin.

It takes a great artist to rise above the limitations of this thoughtlessly ostentatious pas de deux, to do more than “go down easy.” I was hopeful that Paloma Herrera, dancing the role of Kitri in American Ballet Theatre’s performance of the work on July 12th, could be that artist. And there were moments—as when Herrera, after neatly completing six whip turns, extended her perfectly articulated foot to the side—that were truly beautiful. Technical powerhouse that she is, however, she performed like a wind-up toy—her eyes glazed over, her hands cocked in an irritatingly crude parody of flamenco dance. Ultimately she was not able to transcend the constraints of the choreography, because she is not, as this particular evening demonstrated, an artist; she is simply a singularly brilliant technician. But both Herrera and Don Quixote are still—as the violent ovations following the performance indicated—audience favorites.

Why are today’s dancegoers preoccupied with mindless technique? Because they think of the ballet stage as an alternative to the sports arena. Our culture worships the athletes of the sports world—and appropriately so, if, as some have dryly suggested, sports have become the closest analogue we have to popular religion. Dancers are certainly athletes; the 12-minute Don Quixote pas de deux requires at least as much strength and stamina as does a set in a professional tennis match. But dance is not, as countless teenage ballerinas have been informed by their field hockey-playing peers, a sport. Sports can occasionally achieve a level of artistry; Michael Jordan’s particular grace comes to mind. But art is incidental to sports, a lucky accident, whereas it is a definitive quality of dance. The ability to interpret a dance artfully is what makes a dancer a dancer, rather than an exquisite machine.

Many ballet schools, in an overenthusiastic tribute to the cult of the dancer-athlete, have begun to place greater emphasis on technical perfection. Students are often required to take three ballet technique classes daily, but are almost never offered classes in dance history—a subject critical to the performance of classic ballet roles, and to the interpretation of new ones. Even “variations” classes, in which students learn brief solos from famous ballets, have become exercises in simple technique. When learning Giselle’s first-act variation, young dancers are almost never told that the solo immediately precedes Albrecht’s betrayal of Giselle and the girl’s resulting madness and death—orienting context that should affect the way they approach the dance’s sweetly delicate choreography. The students learn only the steps, and strive only to execute them perfectly—the way a gymnast works to perfect her routine. Is their thoughtless dancing still beautiful? Certainly. But is it art?

The performing arts, in which people act as instruments, are uniquely affected by this confusion between technique and artistry. When two creators are involved in the art-making process—a choreographer and a dancer, or a composer and a singer—the evaluation of the resulting product is complicated, especially when that product uses a medium—ballet, or opera—categorically described as “art.” Take our current example: The Don Quixote pas de deux, despite its limitations, has rightfully been classified as “art” since its premiere. Marius Petipa, its choreographer, crafted some truly eloquent moments. And since ballet itself is steeped in royal tradition—even the most modern interpretation of ballet technique preserves its courtly demeanor—many regard any ballet performance as art by default. Herrera’s ability to interpret Petipa’s choreography beyond flawless technical execution could be seen as only the third layer, then, of an already well-decorated cake. Is her performance of an acknowledged choreographic masterpiece, employing her dazzling ballet technique, artful—even though her own take on the choreography is coldly artless?

Herrera’s fans think so. They enjoy “world-class” dancers, just as they appreciate “world-class” baseball players: people who get the job done in a straightforwardly impressive way, whose talent is easy to judge objectively. But they would have been puzzled by Kyra Nichols’ famously subtle take on “Vienna Waltzes,” a ballet with few technical demands. Nichols was not a technician; but like all great dancers, she used her head as well as her feet. And as a thoughtful dancer, she would have left them not only with beautiful images, but also with beautiful thoughts—thoughts that would have required digestion, required an attention span extending beyond the doors of the theater.

They—or, more honestly, we—are becoming increasingly attracted to things that are easily processed and evaluated, that have a definitive “best.” We like players who win; we like businesses that make money; we like dancers who can do six pirouettes. What we are becoming uncomfortable with is the subjective—which defines art—because it is difficult. We don’t want to think, as art forces us to do, because thinking is effortful. And as the world becomes increasingly mechanized, increasingly digitized, increasingly effortless, we are starting to believe that watching a dance performance, like watching a televised football game, should be effortless, too.

Delight in beautiful form is justifiable; impeccable technique is an intoxicating thing. But it is not enough to sustain the world of classical dance—unless we are willing to sanction the transformation, already begun, of stage into stadium.

Author:  gamzatti 76 [ Tue Mar 04, 2008 1:25 pm ]
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In my opinion, there is.
I think that , for example, Sylvie Guillem is in this way.
There is as too much technique when the technique is the only thing visible, when expression has gone...

sorry for this no- english, i am fench.

Play for fun the barbie girl game

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sat Mar 08, 2008 4:55 am ]
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I think the question isn't about technique -- which is not quantifiable. Someone who does 64 fouettes doesn't have *more* technique than someone who does 32 fouettes. They have more strength or stamina, but technique to me is the WAY the fouette is performed -- whether there are 32 or 64 of them -- is the foot pointed, is the leg turned out, are the arms in position, whatever it may be in the case of a certain step.

So I guess the question is technique versus artistry (the direction that this thread has taken). And we have to be careful about assumptions in both areas.

LMC, you mentioned Julie Kent. I remember reading a review of Julie Kent when she first joined ABT and she was deemed cold at that point, when she was all of what, 20 years old or so? I saw her dance then, and thought the same thing -- pretty lines but that's it. If, in the ensuing years w/the company she became better artistically, it bore no relation to her technique; likewise i do not believe her technique improved at the loss of any existing artistry, which was never her strong point to begin with.

My point is that technique and dramatism are not interdependent. Technique is rarely "lost" at the expense of gained dramatism. Typically a dancer's technique is refined over the years and they usually either gain in dramatic talents, become better at acting and expression in the process, or not. I can't think of any examples of someone who lost technique drastically in their early professional career (granted, all dancers' technique fades with age, unfortunately the human body is fallible).

Bayadere27 I really enjoyed your essay, thanks for sharing that with us. You have some excellent points that I hope members of the dance community will pay attention to. The survival of the *art* of ballet (not the sport of ballet) depends on it!

Author:  LMCtech [ Mon Mar 10, 2008 12:03 pm ]
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Back to Julie Kent for a minute.

I actually think she has gained technique over the years. When she was young, she was quite sloppy relying on talent and youth. She is much cleaner now. But her technique overshadows her artistry as Catherine observes. This may not be as I said due to too much technique, but not enough artistry, so I take her back as an example. She probably isn't a good one.

Author:  gaeadea [ Fri Apr 18, 2008 3:10 pm ]
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I say that there is not such a thing as "too much" technique, because I don't think necessarily the two are mutually exclusive.

When you say that someone has "too much technique," what you're really meaning is that she doesn't have enough artistry. If her technique stayed at a very high level but she also began to put more expression and thought into her movement, suddenly she no longer has "too much technique."

I think that the main issue for me is this:

If a dancer has beautiful artistry but so-so technique, she can still be enjoyable to watch (to a point, of course). If a dancer has perfect technique and so-so artistry, she can be quite a bore... but the problem is clearly not with her technique.

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