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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Performance question. Is partnering enough?


mln

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Hi, parents of advanced boys and teachers,

 

My son's studio is performing excerpts from Cinderella this spring (Ashtonesque), and since my son is the only advanced boy in the program right now, he has been tapped for the role of prince. He is taller than all of the girls in the studio and quite strong for his age and has partnered many times before, but he is also two years younger than Cinderella. The pas he is learning is very, very challenging, but it doesn't involve any "dancing," that is, no leaps and turns, etc. It's very focused on the partnering. I think this is great experience.

 

But the teacher is considering cutting my son's variation (he hasn't learned it yet) so that he has more energy for the pas. I can't help but feel cheated! Negotiations are still open.... should I advise my son to push for a variation? He'll do the talking, by the way. Is partnering experience enough performance experience for a young man? The other dancers in my son's level usually dance much more than he does per performance, simply because the male roles are more limited, and I feel that cutting the variation will leave him with very little dancing time. He does have a lead role in a contemporary ballet piece and also a minor role in a modern piece in the same performance, but classical ballet is his focus. I am also wondering if the instructor can just simplify the pas a bit. I haven't watched the whole ballet yet, but I believe the main prince variation is when he enters the ball, and therefore, there would be a break between the variation and the pas.

 

Has anyone dealt with these kinds of issues? Thanks for any advice.

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What are his thoughts on the matter?

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We have more talking to do, but I think my ds would like to do the variation. He is concerned about the taxing pas, but I don't think he sees the pas as making the variation impossible. He tends to be very accepting of casting decisions, so I suspect that he just agreed with what the instructor suggested rather than thinking it through.

 

In the past, I have worried a lot about the way boys get cast in roles that involve a lot less dancing than they could do. When my son was a young dancer, this kind of casting really slowed his development as a performer. I had hoped we were past that age, but now I worry that partnering presents a new kind of neglect ("neglect" is a bit strong, I know). Is partnering sufficient performance experience? Or does a young man really need the experience of perfecting a variation or some other dancing role? I don't mean to say that partnering isn't dancing, by the way! But it's a particular kind of dancing that doesn't always make use of what he's working so hard to master in technique class. Last spring, when my ds had a variation from Copellia and was in the all-male pas from Galloping Gottschalk, he improved tremendously. You could really see the difference in his dancing and confidence. He really grew from the Snow King variation in the Nutcracker this winter, too.

 

The instructor and AD seem to be mulling over the variation and looking for input. Nothing's been decided yet, apparently.

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As a parent of a 16yo DS, I too have had these anxieties at times. That he wasn't being pushed, or shown fully or whatever. My advice to you is to not think about these things as long as (and this is an important condition), you trust his teachers and you feel that they have his best interests. I do not come from a dance background so I do not involve myself in these casting/choreography decisions. That doesn't mean I do wonder/worry/contemplate these very same questions but I don't voice them. I have watched other parents 'go there' and have never seen it work out for them or their dancers. Even when the dancer voices the concerns- the teachers know that the concerns are really those of the parents. I try to take the long view on DS's development as a dancer. Perhaps he is not learning as much performance right now but perhaps he is really working on technique or patience or discipline or...... Now if DS was the one worrying about these issues, we would certainly discuss them but in the end, we usually reach the same conclusion.

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Last Spring our company did a show with excerpts from 9 classical ballets in our repertoire. My DS was cast as Peter Pan. There was a Tinkerbelle Solo, a dance with Tiger Lily and the Indians, and a Pas between Tinker and Peter. During the rehearsal time my son was miserable and would not talk to me about what was bothering him. (He had just turned 12) On our way home from the final performance he started venting and just put his feelings out there. He felt "jipped" and his ego took a blow because by not allowing him to do a solo variation he felt like he was being told he wasn't "good enough". I believe his quote was, "Seriously!!!! I am PETER PAN and TINKERBELLE gets the SOLO???? Am I only good enough to partner? I am just hired muscle!!!" (hahaha) For 3 months he made himself miserable because he would not speak up. His father and I spoke to him and decided to have him approach the AD with his feelings/concerns. She appreciated that he came to her to discuss his feelings/concerns and they just didn't add the Peter Pan solo due to time constraints. Had she realized he felt this way, she would have added the solo for him. I guess what I am trying to say, is talk to him and see how he feels. If he feels that we would like the variation have him respectfully voice his feelings/concerns. If he only wants to do the Pas, then support his decision and when he isn't around have your moment of frustration. :-) I have found that many times I am the one who gets more irritated over things than my dancers. They take it all in stride and at times I believe MIGHT be more mature than I am about all this. ;-) Congratulations to your son! You have to be proud!

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... I can't help but feel cheated! ... should I advise my son to push for a variation?

... I haven't watched the whole ballet yet...

My advice would be to note that there is an *I* here, and not a *he*. As Clara prodded.... be careful that the desire for a variation comes from what your DS is ready for.

Also, try not to pass judgement on the ballet until you see the finished product.

 

... My advice to you is to not think about these things as long as... you trust his teachers and you feel that they have his best interests.

... I try to take the long view on DS's development as a dancer. Perhaps he is not learning as much performance right now but perhaps he is really working on technique or patience or discipline or......

This is great advice. As long as you trust the teachers, and the teachers have the best interest of your DS in mind, you should allow the process to evolve. Remember that ballet is not a race to the finish line. There is still plenty of time for your son to build strength in variations.

 

... I have found that many times I am the one who gets more irritated over things than my dancers. They take it all in stride and at times I believe MIGHT be more mature than I am about all this.

Thank you for your honesty. I think it is great that we can acknowledge that sometimes we get our emotions wrapped up in our dancer's journey. Remember that we are there to support our dancers, but that ultimately it is their journey.

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Thanks for the reminders that parents can't solve these problems and often make them worse. I'm unlikely to say anything at the studio. I'll also try to see the big picture. It makes me feel a lot better to know, however, that other parents of boys have also worried about partnering roles and whether or not they really develop or demonstrate our dancers' full potential.

I talked with ds, who was not at all talkative(!), and what I intuited is that the pas is leaving him feeling kind of insecure about his dancing overall. When you are just 15 years old and partnering with a 17 year old, the maturity difference can be a bit of a hit to the ego. She is learning the choreography and timing more quickly than he is, and he knows it. So, when the topic of the variation came up with the instructor, I don't think he was in the mind frame to say confidently, yes, I can handle the variation. Even though he knows he can handle it. Given FabFourMoms' experience, maybe he should muster up his confidence to at least let the instructor know that he'd like to try. She seems willing to teach him the variation, even if they cut it from the show. And, from my perspective, he would get almost as much from learning it as performing it.

Thyme and GTLS, I trust our instructors on a lot of fronts. They have the skill to teach and the desire to nurture, but they are also relatively new to running a pre-professional studio, and they are still learning how to lead students into the profession. Our founding AD, who has quite a track record, is still a consultant, and our current AD wants to maintain the quality of training that our founder instituted. But the transition hasn't been entirely smooth. I am sort of holding my breath, because I am rooting for the AD and instructors.

Thanks, everyone!

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Don't forget also though that partnering is a huge part of what the men do- sometimes they DO look they are only just there as 'hired muscle'. But partnering well is a huge skill. I have seen many boys who are beautiful dancers solo but partner as if their female dancer was a block of wood, or even worse treat her as if they wish she would just go away (or as if she might be about to bite them!). Confident, expressive and supportive partnering is neither easy nor does it necessarily come naturally. So don't imagine that just because your son isn't leaping and spinning around by himself that he isn't learning something incredibly valuable!

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CeliB,

 

I will keep your perspective in mind! DS gets a lot of partnering experience at his small studio, and I realize that this is a privilege and an opportunity, especially at his age.

 

I am still curious about what others think the ideal balance would be in training young men. Do they need equal amounts of partnering work, solo work, and corps work? Is there a point when a young man chooses to specialize? Can a young man with strength in one area catch up in another area as an older teen?

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If there are no other boys at the school, then he will not 'truly' learn corps work.

 

Young men should not choose to specialize in anything. They should train to be the best well rounded dancer that they can be. It is up to the Artistic Director to see the strengths of the dancer and then cast them appropriately.

 

Yes, ballet is not a race. There is plenty of time for a 15 year old boy to learn all of the important aspects of a male dancer.

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the breakdown of classes for my DS (17) is a 3 hours mens class (barre and centre) 6 days a week, and a 1.5-2 hour class which will either be partnering OR general rehearsal for a performance if theres one coming up (and of course this will commonly be PDD with partnering and a solo). He probably doesn't do much male ensemble work unless there's some in a performance and this would be rehearsed in the 2 weeks before the performance when academic classes are finished.

I think this has been the general balance since he was 15...

Having said that DS has said recently he feels that with 2 major school performances a year plus extra performances for various outreach type projects he sends too much time doing performance work and not enough time in class. I personally fleece could with more structured gym time to build muscle but I'm not an expert....

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One of our male alums, who is doing really well professionally, used to fill in during rehearsals of the girls' corps pieces whenever someone was absent. I'm sure this is something that would only happen at a small studio. But it seemed to benefit him quite a bit. I am guessing that a lot of young male dancers don't get ensemble work very often. When my son gets it at all, it is in rehearsals of contemporary pieces, which makes sense. To get more ensemble work, it might be possible for him to add a contemporary class to his weekly schedule.

 

CeliB, you mentioned that the men's ensemble pieces, when they happen at your son's program, are often rehearsed in the last two weeks before a performance. Waiting to rehearse the boys until after the girls know their pieces has happened at our studio too often, and my son finds this rehearsal pattern very stressful. But this is a topic for another thread....

 

I'm glad to hear that other parents of boys worry a bit about the balance of training (and related performance opportunities). It sounds like every ds has his own particular situation, though, with different gaps depending on the size of his studio, the number of boys there, and his physical preparedness to partner.

 

When all crises surrounding the spring performance are past, I would like to see what I can do to tweak my son's schedule and give him more equal access to the various components of training. I'd say his conditioning opportunities are fine, now, mostly because of his excellent p.e. program at school. At our small studio, he will also always have pas opportunities. His gaps are very much solo work (which has to be squeezed in after the partnering and which tends to be last priority in the rehearsal calendar) and ensemble work (the other boys are younger). We could perhaps add regular private lessons to his schedule, which I see becoming a necessity in the near future if we want to stay at a small studio. For ensemble work, I think I will talk with the AD after the spring performance to see if he has any ideas.

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Oops, a Non-Boy-Parent wandered into the Forum and a post was removed.

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