CriticalDance Forum

Polonaise and Mazurka
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Author:  djb [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 8:59 am ]
Post subject:  Polonaise and Mazurka

This is a pretty esoteric topic. I decided to put this post under Ballet because I'm speaking of these two national dances as they are performed in the classic ballets.<P>Have any oldtimers (i.e., people who were watching dance in the 50's and 60's, or earlier) noticed that in productions of the classics that contain polonaises and mazurkas, the basic steps of these two dances are increasingly being performed to different counts than they used to? (I'd say that they are simply being performed incorrectly, but maybe dance is like language and increased usage eventually makes the new form acceptable.)<P>The most blatant difference I've seen was in the Polonaise in the San Francisco Ballet's <I>Sleeping Beauty</I>. Instead of doing the brush step on count 3, as it has, to my knowledge, always been done, the brush count was on count 1.<P>In <I>The Leningrad Legend</I>, the documentary about the Kirov narrated by Makarova, Makarova talks about the importance of character dancing in the Russian companies. She says that when she set <I>Swan Lake</I> on the Royal Ballet, nobody knew how to do a mazurka correctly, so she decided to leave it out, "rather than have it danced badly." At first I thought this was just some sort of Russian chauvinism and she didn't like their style, or something. But then I saw a video of the Royal Ballet's <I>Swan Lake</I>, and sure enough, they do the mazurka with different counts than I learned from Russian-trained teachers. The Russian counts, by the way, are the same as the counts that I learned from folk dance experts teaching the original folk version of the mazurka.<P>The way I learned it, and the way the Russian companies do it, and the way other companies <I>used</I> to do it, is like this:<P>step pause hop brush hop (step on 1, pause on 2, hop-brush-hop on and-3-and)<P>The way I saw the Royal Ballet, SFB, and some other company that I can't recall now (maybe NYCB?), do it is like this:<P>step hop brush pause hop (step-hop-brush on 1-and-2, pause on 3, hop on -and)<P>The second way makes for a much less smooth figure. Since the music of most mazurkas also accentuates the second beat of the music, putting the stressed brush on the same count looks like Mickey Mouse-ing.<P>Your thoughts?<P>By the way, I think that if Makarova didn't like the way the Royal Ballet did the mazurka, she should simply have taught them to do it the way she wanted them to do it.

Author:  Basheva [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 9:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

...and being the Royal Ballet, they are certainly educable Image

Author:  djb [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 9:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka


Author:  Dean Speer [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 12:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

Character dancing, in some instances, could be done better in this country for sure! One of things the RAD is really excellent about is the correct teaching of character work. So, some may want to check this out.<P>There is more than one correct version of the Mazurka but the one you describe is the one that I remember one of my first, serious ballet teachers giving us. I personally like the one that steps on 1 (sometimes into a low arabesque), hop and heel tap on & 2, and then brush on 3. I recall learning at least three versions over the years but could not replicate what they are exactly now.<P>I remember Mr. "C" (Willam) lamenting on how when he saw then current Ballet West men do character he, "...wanted to throw dirt on them!" as they were not earthy enough. He gave some of the most tough and wonderfully incredible character classes. (I was kindly advised in advance by other teachers and friends that I had to learn Mr. C's mazurka, which they showed me.)<P>I like to think of character work in ballet as one of the three ballet-stool legs: technique, pointe, and character. And all three are needed to make your dancing even. (Men - substitute in "guy" work for pointe!) Character has a different feel, and it is and should be more down into the floor, weighted, and "earthy."<P>My guess is that the current version you've seen is easier to both do and teach, and as time is a premium, it's probably left too much as a afterthought, somewhat like a step-child (pun intended).<P>There are companies out there that do do these steps correctly and with great authority. PNB is doing "Sleeping Beauty" again at the end of its season, so I'll have to check it out!<P>Musicians might disagree, but I like to think that of the three most commonly used 3/4 metres in ballet, in waltz the emphasis is on count 1, in mazurka on count 2, and in a polonaise on 3, with each form being a little slower and majestic.<P>If any reader out there in cyberspace gets the chance to study character dancing, do so and be sure to video it if you can! I was very lucky to have character with Ivan Novikoff (1899-2002) who trained at the Kirov/St. Petersburg prior the the 1917 revolution. He taught us all the most marvelous character steps and dances, including their Russian names, and darn if I cannot recall most of this work today. If only we had video then.<P>You've obviously inspired me with your topic; I'm off now to put on my character boots! HEY clap, HEY clap, HEY clap...<p>[This message has been edited by Dean Speer (edited August 01, 2002).]

Author:  djb [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 12:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

I wonder where the mazurka variations come from, since the original dance looks like the Russian version, minus the turnout. There's tiny bit of a social dance-type mazurka shown in <I>Backstage at the Kirov</I>, in a black-and-white silent film sequence near the beginning of the video. There's no music, but you can see the relative timing of the steps.<P>Another gripe I have is the tendency to make waltz steps bouncy, especially balancés. I can remember so clearly practicing balancés over and over in class to get them smooth. The most difficult to get rid of was the little lift off the floor between counts 2 and 3 in the balancé. But I see that mistake often in SFB performances. Tsk!<P>Seeing the polonaise with the brush on 1 was the most irritating to me, because it was the equivalent of changing a waltz from "oom-pah-pah" to "pah-pah-oom."

Author:  djb [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 1:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

Dean, I just went into an uncarpeted area at work (it's been a very quiet day) to try the mazurka you described, but I can't really picture it. Anyway, while trying the two versions I've seen, I suddenly realized that my knee, which I injured a couple of years ago and on which I haven't been able to bounce at all since, has become well enough to actually do a mazurka! I'm so happy, I wouldn't even mind doing it with the brush on 2!

Author:  senior [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 1:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

It's been almost fifty years, but I still hear Eleanora Mara screaming at me to get it right. She was Russian, at Eugene Loring's American School of Dance in Los Angeles, and she taught what as is described as the way the RB and SFB do it.

Author:  nancy [ Tue Jul 30, 2002 4:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

Congratulations, djb, on getting enough bounce back to do a mazurka!<P>The mazurka I learned was almost the same as yours, but I learned that you always start on "3-and" instead of on "1" and that you end on "2." So:<P> ME/ YOU (I think...)<P>"3" = brush/ brush<BR>"&" = hop/ hop<BR>"1" = step/ step<BR>"&" = pause/ pause<BR>"2" = hop/ pause<BR>"&" = pause/ hop<P>I know what you mean about the Polonaise. I have seen it in recent years with the brush on "1" but I can't tell you where. It felt very strange to watch it that way. I always picture that third count as the time when the music says to brush your skirt out of the way. It doesn't work musically when you do that on "1."<P>(My chart did not print out as I had planned, so I'm trying an edit to see if makes any more sense.)<p>[This message has been edited by nancy (edited July 30, 2002).]

Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Jul 31, 2002 12:13 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

Just to put the record straight, Makarova has NEVER produced Swan Lake with the Royal Ballet. I believe she was probably referring to a Swan Lake production for Festival Ballet (now known as ENB).

Author:  djb [ Wed Jul 31, 2002 8:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

Then it wasn't clear. Maybe she only said that she set the ballet in London, and I assumed it was the Royal. In any case, the Royal Ballet polonaise that I saw did have the brush on count 2. I suspect the Festival Ballet/ENB teaches it the same way as the Royal Ballet does.<p>[This message has been edited by djb (edited July 31, 2002).]

Author:  djb [ Wed Jul 31, 2002 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

I just watched the mazurka from Act 3 of <I>Sleeping Beauty</I> on the <I>Evening With the Royal Ballet</I> video, to see how they used to do it. Oddly enough, some people did it with the brush on two, and some did it on 3. When the mazurka couples started, it was a bit hazy, then they settled into 2. I noticed that they also didn't use turnout, the way it would be done as a folk dance (except folk dancers brush on count 3). But the pas de trois women -- Georgina Parkinson and Merle Park -- definitely did it on 3, with turnout. Maybe there was an intentional distinction between the way the character dancers and the classical dancers performed it.

Author:  wordfox [ Thu Aug 01, 2002 8:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

I think this discussion needs to be viewed in the context that both of these dances, and most all character dance, is meant to reflect the folk cultures to which they are related. And these cultures did these dances in a recreational and social setting.<P>I studied folkdance before ballet, and initially was very protective of the "correct" way of doing dances, as taught by credible teachers. THEN, other teachers from the same country came along and taught the same dances differently with the disparaging comment that "Oh, THAT's the way they do it in (insert another village name here)"<P>The fullest expression of this came when one teacher from Yugoslavia taught the same dance twice with a six month interval. The first time was early in the morning after a very late night of partying; the second in the midst of an evening party with lots of wine on hand. One version: heavy and plodding; the other - light, airy and full of bounce. Hardly recognizable as the same dance, but obviously "correct" because of who was demonstrating it.<P>Both the Polonaise and the Mazurka are Polish folkdances. Both were first "gentrified" and incorporated into European Royal courts. Both were later taken and changed by the ballet world and given classical versions. Although we can talk about how it might have been done at a given time in a given production, I think it is somewhat presumptuous of us to decide that one is the "correct" way and others are not. <P>The people that actually dance these as part of their lives would probably be rolling on the floor in laughter at all of the versions we have danced on stage.

Author:  djb [ Thu Aug 01, 2002 10:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

As I stated in my initial post, I was referring to these dances as they occur in ballets.<P>As to whether or not you can call one version or another "correct," would you consider doing a waltz step with the "down" step on a count other than 1 to be simply another way to do it but still correct? <p>[This message has been edited by djb (edited August 01, 2002).]

Author:  harrietcavalli [ Thu Aug 01, 2002 11:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

I am very grateful for Dean Speer's nice words, but I must take exception to what he wrote about my opinion on the accents in waltzes, mazurkas, and polonaises. It is impossible to be so cut and dried about musical emphases in dance forms, and I am fairly sure that I did not convey that impression in my book. It may be possible to safely state that the emphasis is always on "1" in a polonaise, but I think the emphases always change in waltzes and mazurkas.<BR> I totally agree with the majority opinion about the way steps are currently taught to mazurkas and polonaises: somehow the true character and correct replication of these steps is almost always lost these days. And I am convinced that, if they were taught in conjunction with the music by a reasonably musical teacher who is respectful of tradition, they would be correct. Choreography that is intrinsically musical defines and illuminates the music. Too often music is considered background noise, when its true purpose is to help and support and enhance dance and dancers.<P>------------------<BR>

Author:  wordfox [ Thu Aug 08, 2002 1:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Polonaise and Mazurka

"As to whether or not you can call one version or another "correct," would you consider doing a waltz step with the "down" step on a count other than 1 to be simply another way to do it but still correct? "

Actually, there is a Cajun variant on the waltz that DOES put the down count on a different count - 3 instead of 1; also making that third count the traveling count.

All I am saying is that ballet was initially an adaptation of other dance forms to a new venue with a different purpose. It was dance evolving. In this case, it might be that the step is changing because it isn't being taught correctly, OR it might be that by changing the step a whole new "dialect" of movement is being opened up - - evolution.

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