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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Different Ballet styles explained


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I was originally trained by a former French dancer. My teacher in college, a former Joffrey principal dancer always said that she could tell I had French training. I would certainly not say that "softer" means less athletic or that the port au bras is "different" from any of the other styles-ok, maybe the same position is called one thing in the French school and another in the Cecchetti school, but the postions and carriage of the arms physiologically are the same.


In an old documentary that was hosted by Natalia Mararova called The Ballerina and broadcast on many PBS stations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she compared several dancers and their styles. I remember(the VHS tape that my father took great pride in making for me while I was away at college is now in such poor condition I cannot watch it), Sylvie Guilliem was the featured dancer displaying the French technique. She danced the female variation of the Grand Pas Classique from Raymonda. Every step was performed with clarity and with an attention paid to correct positioning of the epaulement, direction changes distinct but not jarring.


I think in regards to port au bras, one thing to consider is the historical significance it has to the French society. Ballet gestures were originally designed to be a form of ettiquette among the elite. Dignitaries from European countries who came to court did not necessarily speak the language and thus, the maneuvering of the upper body was a communication system for them to "speak" to one another very politely and frequently to negotiate contracts. I think that perhaps French dancers have been trained to be very clear about their port au bras and epaulement because of this, knowing that very slight differences in even, say, a lowering of the chin, speak a different message to whomever the intended audience may be.

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Victoria Leigh

When looking at a company, in a large ballet, it can be a bit more difficult than when looking at individual dancers or smaller works. However, I think that some styles are distinct enough to be quite recognizable, and a great deal of that does have to do with the port de bras and épaulement. I can usually spot a students' prior training in the first couple of minutes of class! There are other things besides port de bras, of course, but that usually shows up first and very quickly!


Looking at a company like ABT, though, is very different from looking at a company where all the dancers come from the same training, like Kirov and Bolshoi, Royal Ballet, NYCB, Royal Danish. I think the POB might be just a bit more difficult to discern immediately, although I think if we saw more of them it might be easier. We don't see the Royal Danish that often, either, but the Bournonville style is certainly distinct.

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Victoria Leigh

Yes, I believe they do now.

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