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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Contemporary Ballet Companies

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  • Clara 76


  • balletbooster


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  • Dance_Scholar_London


Do you want Australian companies? I'd recomend Sydney Dance Company - all classically trained, and Graeme Murphy has remade/adapted several classics (Swan Lake & Nutcracker, for example)

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Thank you for your response, Mel. I did not think that "lack of pointe shoes" disqualified certain companies from being classified as ballet. I know that there are many, many companies which perform ballet on flat. NDT was not on the list Amy Reuch's list of contemporary ballet/modern companies. Would you just label the company as ballet and neither classical nor contemporary? NDT is a company which has been recommended for my dd and she is seriously considering it. She loves Kylian!

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With its history of Hans van Manen and Jiri Kylian, among others, it's distinctly a ballet company, using neoclassicism as an organizing point, even though much of the repertoire is not en pointe. Bear in mind that both Ashton and Balanchine made ballets in bare feet or in soft shoes.


Mmheh, absolutely true. This is where boundaries get fuzzy. I feel that dances done in soft shoes or bare feet can often be classified as "contemporary ballet", but if pointe shoes are worn it should ONLY be classified as such. I'm not making much grammatical sense here, am I?!? Apologies... :blink:


But, as I said before -- good dance is good dance, and I'm just happy watching it! Or dancing it, too. I feel lucky to be starting out my dance education and, hopefully, career, during a time when such innovative choreography is taking place. I do both modern and ballet, and every time I see all these companies doing both, I feel grateful that I won't have to pick between the two to get a job!

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I think it is also important to note that just as many classical companies have a number of contemporary pieces in their repertory, there are many contemporary companies that also have quite a few classical pieces in their rep. Also, while many contemporary companies do a great deal of pointe work, that is not to say that they do not also do some pieces in flat or character shoes (as is also the case for classical companies).


The fact is that the lines between a classical and a contemporary ballet company are pretty murky these days in lots of cases! I have noted that some people use the terms 'modern' and 'contemporary' interchangeably and this causes lots of confusion, as there is usually a vast difference between a modern dance company and a contemporary ballet company! :thumbsup:

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These lines truly are blurry. IMHO the type of shoe can vary and the technique can still be identified as classical. For example some classes are all on pointe, others include technique shoes for barre before center. Does this mean the classes, or the dancers for that matter, are not representative of ballet? Also note that Alonzo King's LINES Ballet had no pointe work at all in their recent '06 fall home season.


In a college dance department, I know of at least one thoroughly (training and technique) modern choreographer who simply decided "to put a piece on pointe". The resulting dance remained modern technique, and the use of the feet (even in pointe shoes!) remained primarily modern. Some moves were actually very difficult to execute in pointe shoes. I had never heard of this before in the classical world, and thought it might only be considered a possibility by (certain) modern choreographers. Conversely, I know a modern choreographer who criticized a contemporary ballet piece for being too light and lacking substance. The choreographer reccommended taking the piece off pointe to give it more 'weight' :shrug:


This summer at a major ballet SI, students learned a piece originally choreographed for a modern company but created by a classically trained choreographer. The dance was performed without pointe shoes by the modern company in its original version. For the SI final performance, the piece was performed by the students on pointe as a contemporary ballet, so I was wrong about which choreographers make which choices.


Both my dds have commented that some teachers' classes and certain choreographer's pieces are not well suited to pointe work, although they work fine in technique shoes. Surely there is something beyond the type of shoe that defines ballet. Clearly the line is a blurry or shifting one. If we define ballet as "classical dance" technique, and then distiguish between classical and contemporary ballet, even if we can reach an internal consensus, will we be able to explain it to anyone outside the ballet world? Since ballet technique is considered fundamental to so many other dance styles, these dancers (and choreographers) will usually have had ballet training. This guarantees the line will be blurred.


I would be particularly interested in what dancers and choreographers consider the crucial definition of "contemporary ballet." In addition, once we add in Artistic Directors as well as marketing professionals, with their concerns for filling 21st century theaters with large audiences, now what constitutes the essence of contemporary ballet in their minds? I would also be interested in teachers' opinions as I have heard several say that performing exclusively or primarily contemporary ballets may cause dancers' classical skills (and the ability to perform the classics) to weaken.


I'll stop here because I am starting to confuse even myself, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that these are all real life examples I have observed first hand. :blink::wacko::thumbsup::rolleyes::)

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You're right, 2dds. The line is very fuzzy.


Classical Ballet in its traditional form, is specific, codified, and passed down through generations.


Classical Ballet has characteristics that separate it from Contemporary/Modern/Neo-Classical works.

Classical Ballet consists of only the classical ballet vocabulary as it has been passed down through the years.


Frequently, Classical Ballets involve a story line, and have a Corps, Pas De Trois/Six/Quatre, Variations, Pas De Deux with the 2 main characters (which includes each one performing solo) and a grand finale. An exception to the above might be Fokine's Les Slyphides which, at the time, might have been considered fresh and new (read: contemporary). This is because of the depiction of emotion and use of inspiration as opposed to a strict story line, yet the Classical Ballet vocabulary is clear and it is an amazing example of composition in the Romantic style.


Neo-Classical also uses the Classical Ballet vocabulary, but with a twist. A flexed foot here, a turned in knee, a bent wrist there, but typically done en pointe to classical music. Less usage of story-telling as well.


A definition of Contemporary that fits for our purposes here is: 1. existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time. To me this would mean that most works that use a large percentage of the classical ballet vocabulary, whether en pointe or not, but created in more recent times (perhaps, 50 years), would be called Contemporary. This includes re-workings like the all-male Swan Lake.


Modern, in my opinion, is easier to quantify simply because it follows a similar path to Classical: It has its own syllabus drawn from Duncan, Graham, Horton etc.; it is danced barefoot or with a cloth shoe of some kind, but never en pointe. However, it is my understanding that the word Modern over in Europe, would equate to my definition of Contemporary.


To add further confusion, we must also realize that when some of our most cherished Classical works premiered, they were considered shocking and innappropriate. Swan Lake was booed. So today, when we are watching new works by new choreographers, it is possible that 200 years from now, they will fall into the Classical Ballet category.

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Thank you so much Clara 76 for bringing some clarity. :lol:


When looking at a body of work or a dance vocabulary, we get past the type of shoe to something more essential. I like this approach, and it helps me understand beyond the footwear...


I also agree it is clearer and more possible to identify what would be considered classics, less easy to pin down contemporary (especially if, in the long run, it turns out like the originally unpopular Swan Lake!)

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Here are my definitions:


1. Classical Ballet Company -A company which performs only the classics. Are there any that still exist?


2. Ballet Company - ABT, Kirov, Boston, NYCB, etc., etc.


3. Contemporary Ballet Company - Alonzo King Lines, Cedar Lake Ensemble, Complexions, etc.


4. Modern Company - Graham, Limon, etc.



Where would companies such as Mark Morris fit in? How important is it to categorize or define these companies? Don't mean to add to the confusion!

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Mark Morris tends to favor classical music, and his movements are based upon the classical ballet vocabulary, so I would classify his company as Contemporary Ballet.

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I believe Mark Morris doesn't like to classify his company as anything other than "great". There was a quote from him in the NYTimes recently mentioning that, and he was quite adamant about it! :rolleyes:


- Meggy

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Yeah, I know so :flowers: , don't tell him!!

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Here are a few more:


Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal

William Forsythe Company

Les Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo

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I don't believe in making big distinctions between "classical" and "contemporary" ballet. "Classical" does not mean "traditional." The ballet vocabulary is classical by definition --- length, turnout, verticality, emphasis on form, etc. The term "classical dance" is more descriptive than "ballet," but pretty much means the same thing. I believe dance must be understood in terms of these classical elements, as opposed to whether or not it is traditional. If something uses ballet vocabulary and is done en pointe, then it is certainly classical dance.


For this reason, Swan Lake and other Russian classics, Dhiagalev's Ballets Russes and anything by Balanchine are all classical dance. Yes, there are many differences between those three sets of works. But they share the same core classical elements --- verticality, formality, length, turnout. These elements were first fully applied to ballet (as opposed to architecture, music, etc) rather late in the game --- in late 19th century Russia. (That's why we laugh when we see some of the poses used in the Romantic period, it's so "un-ballet" by today's standards). Balanchine further developed classical principles and futher emphasized them, and made the legs even more long and visible and well-working, as compared to the late 19th century Russians. So he can be seen as an evolutionary step for classicism. I find the Ballets Russes to be fascinating, and Balanchine danced for them early in his career as well. So there's a direct line from the late 19th century Russians to the Ballets Russes to Balanchine in America.


Whereas the vocabulary defines classical dance (aka "ballet"), modern dance is defined more by a mindset, a lack of set vocabulary. This has also evolved into some "un-classical" principles --- weight instead of lightness, off-center movement, use of gravity, etc. But none of these principles is universal in modern dance --- really, "anything goes". It's important to note that modern dance is almost as old as classical dance (maybe 30 years younger) --- it began its development early in the 20th century. Modern dance has its roots in a reaction to classical dance.


The pointe shoe is so central to classical dance because it pretty well enforces most of the core classical principles --- length, turnout, verticality. Yes, you can use the pointe shoes completely differently and "knuckle under" as we heard recently. But that's not really considered safe. Normal, safe use of pointe shoes drastically cuts down on one's options for types of movement. For this reason, the use of pointe shoes almost defines the existence of classical dance.


Yes, you can do classical dance without pointe shoes. Men do it all the time. And I saw a supposedly modern dance company that for the most part was just doing classical dance without pointe shoes. It gets kind of weird with the guys promenading the women all the time on demi-pointe (ouch).


The use of classical music has little or nothing to do with classical dance. The music used in our traditional ballets is all romantic, not classical --- the classical period was done and over around 1830 after Mozard, Hayden, etc. But dance in its essense is movement, not music. You can have dance without music, but you can't have dane without movement. Dance will always be defined by its movement.


Some choreographers de-construct classical dance. When you do this to any serious extent, you really do end up with modern dance. Modern dance began as a deconstructive reaction to classical dance. So just using some deconstructed classical vocabulary does not make one ballet. It's the mindset. Mark Morris is considered to be squarely part of the modern dance universe, and his "Hard Nut" is considered to be not a Nutcracker --- really a modern dance deconstruction of the Nutcracker. A lack of willingness to classify himself does not change these facts.


Similarly, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is clearly modern dance. Not only does it de-construct a traditional ballet --- it also uses a vocabulary common to much of modern dance. So whether viewed by its movement or its attitude, it is definitely modern dance. And it follows in a long modern dance tradition of deconstruction of and reaction to classical dance.


The use of pointe shoes is sometimes more a practical issue than anything else. Classical dancers are used to performing soley in pointe shoes. Sometimes ditching the pointes would require more time re-training than one has to rehearse a dance. Thus, the pointe shoes are used even though in an ideal world that dance would have been performed on flat. I've seen this happen more than once.


Summary: classical dance refers to a vocabulary with foundational principles. Modern dance is a mindset. Deconstruction of classical dance leads directly to modern dance. This has nothing to do with music. I have no need for the term "contemporary ballet".

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To further complicate this subject, at North Carolina School of the Arts there are two completely separate dance programs: ballet and contemporary. The contemporary program is actually a modern program. Aside from taking a ballet class a couple of times a week, this program has absolutely nothing to do with ballet, no performing on pointe (or even in technique shoes) and a separate faculty is employed to teach all contemporary classes. I think this interchange of terminology is pretty common, at least in the US, and it leads to all sorts of misunderstandings and assumptions regarding what is meant when one talks of contemporary dance. :wallbash:

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