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Online Videos:"Acrobatic" Swan Lake

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China has a long history of some of the best acrobatic troupes in the world. I quote:


"The Chinese acrobatics has a long history and rich national flavour. It is one of the art forms most popular among the Chinese people. The acrobatic art has been existent in China for more than two thousand years."


Ballet is an incredibly young art in comparison.


China has recently become interested in ballet and many things Western. It is unrealistic to believe that Chinese artists would not adapt Western arts such as ballet to existing cultural traditions such as acrobatics. Such adaptation has happened every time ballet has entered a culture, including its entry into the United States. Perhaps we need to become more aware of our own adaptations.


Chinese audience may not be so distracted by these tricks because they're used to seeing them. If you'd seen a lot of dance but never seen an arabesque en pointe, you might find that distracting as well. Arabesque is a remarkable thing, if you think about it.


It is also ethnocentric to believe that whatever form of ballet one is used to is better or more artistic than the ballet being developed today in China --- especially based on a 3-minute video clip. From what I saw, I think I like it better than Cirque de Soleil (which is too over-produced Vegas-style for my tastes).


But no, this does not mean that in the future all ballet dancers will have to be acrobats as well --- just as today, modern dancers do not have to perfect an arabesque (or even a pointed foot). There will always be room for a lot of different kinds of art.


Finally, I think we should ask ourselves: if this troupe came to your hometown and promoted their "Swan Lake Ballet" and you had seen their YouTube preview --- would you go see it, or would you stay at home? Call me a sucker, but I for one would definitely go watch.

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  • Mel Johnson


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I don't see how incorporating these Chinese acrobats into a ballet company would "encourage more fans of ballet and ballet students". :)


I think the acrobatics and artistry displayed in the YouTube excerpts linked in this thread can be appreciated, but I see absolutley NO reason to graft or incorporate them into a ballet company. Just because a troupe of whatever type utilizes and interprets movements to a classical ballet music composition does not redefine that movement---or troupe--into classical ballet or even contemporary ballet.


I just mean that people who go along to watch the 'circus' aspect of it might also enjoy the 'ballet' side and be keen to see more or give it a go.


I certainly wouldn't suggest a ballet company incorporating the acrobatics (although some modern ballets pieces are quite acrobatic and I think that's fine, although I personally prefer classical), more a new 'Circus-Ballet' company and it could even provide more work for trained dancers (although only the super stretchy, unbelievably strong and very daring/mad dancers!).


We have Swan Lake etc 'on ice' which is balletic but not actually ballet and it is hugely popular so why not Swan Lake 'circus-style'? (Do you get ballets 'on ice' in the US?).

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I believe my thoughts were more in keeping with davidg's. I would prefer to appreciate the artistry and abilities of the Chinese acrobats---and however far they wish to develop/expand their art---in its own context and would NOT as an extension of the rather different art form of ballet. The ancient art of Chinese acrobatics came much before the development of the art of ballet. I would hope that in our balletomane zealousness, we can recognize and appreciate that not everything has to be included/interpretted/reduced to ballet.


The acrobatic Swan Lake in the video clip is very expressive and very beautiful. But it is its own artistic genre. How egocentric (or ethnocentric) for us to perceive it and categorize it as ballet.


And, yes, davidg, I would most probably go to see it. It would be quite an amazing production to see! But I would not hurry down to the local pre-professional schools and start lobbying to incorporate those acrobatic elements into their next performance. Nor would I be lobbying to see those amazing acrobatic/contortionist elements in the choreography presented by the Kirov, NYCB, ABT, PNB, Cincinnati Ballet, or any of the 'classical' or 'contemporary' ballet companies.

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If the Chinese Acrobatic ballet troupe came to my town, I would go see it out of curiosity. I would prefer this to the ballet-on-Ice shows the professional iceskaters do.


I also tire of Cirque de Soliel before the end of the show, except for the jokes. However, Extreme sports and Extreme dance is definitely popular right now, especially with the younger crowd.


She's not really standing directly on his head... doesn't he have a special hat on or something? That's gotta hurt!

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I guess what I am saying is... Chinese artists might very well incorporate traditional acrobatics into ballet, and call it ballet --- with or without Western approval. And of course it will be a different ballet, just as every ballet is different from every other.


I believe Balanchines Nutcracker had Chinese acrobatics in its Tea dance.

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I agree with davidg.


The Swan Lake on Youtube did look like a ballet production, unlike Cirque or the Ice shows. The difference is that it incorporated acrobatic dancing within it's choreography and production.


This may be an idea for other ballet productions: to incorporate some acrobatic stunts into its ballets in order to draw in bigger crowds and more money. hmmm

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ENB's Romeo and Juliet (2006) performance comes to my mind, there was quite some acrobatics involved, e.g. cartwheels, etc...

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I think the idea that crowds would rather see ballet with acrobats is misguided. This is cultural contextualization.


I see the acrobatics in that video not so much as cheap crowd-pleasing tricks (which is how it might be perceived in the West), but more as a way to contextualize the ballet for Chinese culture through incorporation of an ancient tradition. Crowds are used to seeing acrobatics (12,000 professional acrobats work in China). They are not used to seeing ballet. In the West, we see acrobatics as circus tricks; but in China it seems that acrobatics is much more theatrically developed --- more akin to ballet than gymnastics in the West.


Some acrobatic moves in the video were incorporated into the "pure ballet" sections of dancing (i.e. Sigfried and the swan). And why not? If you can bend around backwards and practice that as a matter of course, why stop at the point common for Western ballet dancers?


But a lot of the acrobatics --- certainly the most pure acrobatics --- seemed to come in the "Act I" street scenes and "town gatherings" of Swan Lake. This can be seen as a contextualized version of the series of European folk dances in the versions seen in the West. When you go to a street festival in China --- you probably expect to see acrobatics. How believeable would a street festival scene be without acrobatic performances? It would seem dull and foreign.


I'll bet all those Mazurkas and Polonaises have been removed from this production. Character dancing is not really ballet any more than acrobatics is, even though some (but not all) of us still study some of its techniques and rhythms in ballet class.

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To me, Western classical ballet has a certain artistic aim, namely to relate to a certain ideal of movement, which is the reason for classical ballet's emphasis on line, extension, and sense of effortlessness. It is also why in classical ballet, at least, contortions beyond a certain point are not used - because they break the line.


However, Western performances commonly incoroporated exotic elements from cultures that at the time were seen as wonderful, mysterious and exciting - from Arabia, China, India and so on. I suggest that the acrobatic Swan Lake is doing the same, "appropriating" (right word?) elements of Western culture into their performance for the same reason.


But the resulting mixture is not classical ballet, any more than putting on pointe shoes and a tutu turns someone into a classical ballerina.




NB - I stuck the word classical in front of ballet every time it appeared, as obviously there are many different styles of ballet doing different things. But if its not classical ballet, why does it use bits of classical ballet, unless it's "appropriating"?

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Jim... if the acrobatic Swan Lake were just a few excerpts inserted into an acrobatics show, then that would be akin to importing an "exotic" dance into the Nutcracker divertessiment.


But it is not. As far as I can tell, this is a full production of Swan Lake. Swan Lake is the centeral piece, in all its glory. So I have to disagree. We have to think at least in terms of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake or the many variant Nutcrackers around, as opposed to an exotic dancer phenomenon.


And there was lot of stuff that was recognizeable as ballet as well. These people clearly spent significant effort learning ballet lines, positions and movements.


So no, this is not an exotic importation of Western culture. I really think it is more an appropriation/contextualization/re-imagining of classical Western dance in a Chinese context. I think we can all afford to react with a little less arrogance at the thought of non-Westerners appropriating classical dance for their own ends. China has dominated the world's economy for most of Civilization (5,000 years) --- and it is likely to do so again in the near future. At that point, if they call it "ballet," then it really will be ballet --- no matter what we say in the West.


As for the "exotic" scenes in classical dance --- these were a product of the times. It was a time of European world domination in which Europeans were just beginning to discover other cultures in a serious way. But at the same time, it was a time of seriously ingrained European arrogance and perceived superiority. "Exotic", yes --- "respected as equals", no. I don't see China making that mistake with the West at this point.


What amazes me about ballet is how it has managed to sweep the globe, and be re-imagined in every new context it enters. The further it travels from aristocratic Europe, the more it looks different from aristocratic Europe. But beyond that, there is something about it that has universal appeal. This universal appeal is what makes ballet different from ethnic dancing or folk dancing or hip-hop dance or Broadway dance, or so many other kinds of dance. Those kinds of dance are specific to a time or a culture or both. But ballet is not, it is apparently universal. And I see that universal appeal in its full glory in this acrobatic Swan Lake.


The only other things I can think of that have such universal appeal across all cultures and times --- things that just seem to enter a culture and "stick" everywhere they go (often with major modifications that make people in the old culture wonder if the new thing is the "real thing") --- they would be Christianity, caffeine and tobacco. Hopefully ballet is better for you than the last two here.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Have you seen the Chinese Ballet Circus video? It is fascinating. Just google the words 'Chinese Ballet Circus' and it should come up.

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Mel Johnson

Actually, innumerable times. It's one reason we decided to prohibit links to YouTube. It is "ballet" in name only.

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Just checked it out. Wow! That's all I can say!!!! :o I also wonder what it would be like to have your leg that close to your head. :blink: I can't begin to imagine how strong the guy must be. :clover:

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There are actually many Chinese ballet circus videos. We had a discusson on the "Acrobatic Swan Lake" here on BalletTalk. There were a variety of opinions. I know a number of people professionally involved with ballet companies who were absolutely thrilled with it. It had a certain dynamicness that one does not see in every Swan Lake video.


Another "Chinese Circus Video" I saw (but wasn't able to re-find) involved a broadcast TV clip of the director of the Paris Opera Ballet School talking about the phenomenon backstage, while a Chinese company (the Shanghai company I think) had come to perform in France. The interview was in French, and she was explaining how hard the performers have to train to do it. She definitely had a lot of respect for the art as a form of ballet.


It's also instructional to look at traditional Chinese acrobatic performances. A lot of them really are just about doing tricks. Frankly, I think the integration of the acrobatics into a theatrical framework does the acrobatics a lot of good. It seemed to provide a purpose for the acrobatics beyond thrilling an audience with fancy tricks.

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compelling watching, but just too gymnastic-y for my liking...


anne x

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