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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Balanchine Technique


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Guest Jack Reed

Lately I've had a few glimpses at this splendid new book, which doesn't seem to have been noticed here otherwise. It's written by Suki Schorer, who danced with NYCB from 1959 through 1972, during which time she also was a guest teacher at SAB, becoming a full-time member of the faculty in 1972 and now teaching ten advanced classes each week, illustrated by photographs by Carol Rosegg, and edited by Robert Gottlieb.

 

The author says, "My purpose in writing this book is to record what I learned from him about ballet dancing and teaching ballet, insofar as that is possible on paper... I have not tried to say all there is to say about an exercise, nor have I written about every classical step or movement. This is not a general syllabus for teaching balet. Rather I have focused mainly on what was distinctive in Mr. Balanchine's approach, how he wanted certain movements done, and any special considerations for music, accent phrasing, and so on. In most cases I have tried to offer the corrections that I find I have to make most often and insist on most strongly to get the desired result."

 

I have not yet found the time to read more than about 25 of its 426 pages, but I have peeked at a lot more than 25 of its 700 photographs, of Peter Boal, Dana Hanson, Deanna McBrearty (basic technique), Darci Kistler and Nikolai Hubbe, and Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto (partnering). It seems pretty obvious to me that this is a book for dancers, teachers, and students primarily. I'm none of these. For me, it will likely sharpen my eye some more and would animate my spirit, even without the effect of the many, many quotations from Balanchine.

 

She says,"...We worked and worked until every line was straight, until every arm was raised at the same angle, until we were in perfect unison. Blanchine appeared, and the ballet master proudly showed him what he had accomplished. When we had danced the passage, Mr. B paused, sniffed, and said,'Mechanical ducks! I don't want to see mechanical ducks.' For Mr. B, the energy, the life, the awareness and the beauty EACH of his dancers displayed were always more important; it was how you got to your place and arrived at a position that mattered more. This is not the same as saying that the other qualities did not matter at all; they mattered, but less.

That ballet master had lost the balance between drilling for "perfection", which can't be achieved because it doesn't exist, and working for the essential qualities while keeping alive the spontaneity, the risk-taking, the spirit, the joie. Teachers also need to keep that balance."

 

There is a "Technical Cross-Reference" by way of an index, but no guide to these quotations. A pity.

 

The book is published by Knopf at $40 but available from Amazon or SAB for less, I think.

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Guest James Wilkie

I have got a copy of this book, I got it when I was in New York in February. I am very interested in learning more about the Balanchine Technique and this book is a very clear guide to his style. I have seen the New York City Ballet a couple of times and visited SAB and I it is so good that The Balanchine technique is being passed from generation to generation it is a shame we don't do the same with our Ashton ballets.

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Oh, James, thank you for that comment on Ashton. I'm so happy that someone your age A, knows about Ashton; and B, cares about him. You give me hope for the future. (We have an Ashton Archive on the main site. Go to the magazines section, then DanceView, then the Archives, and then the Ashton Archives. There are about a half-dozen articles there on his ballets.)

 

Back to Balanchine technique, there are several videos now devoted to Balanchine technique. In the UK, the best place to get the rarer ballet vidoes is probably Dance Books, and they have a web site (but I don't know the link offhand). You can also use the Amazon.com link above to browse through their video titles to give you an idea of what is available.)

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Guest Leigh Witchel

James and all,

 

For further reading on the topic, can I suggest a few less recent books as well?

 

Merrill Ashley's biography "Dancing for Balanchine" contains a less exhaustive technical area, but a bit more on the day to day aspects of working with Balanchine.

 

Francis Mason's compilation "I Remember Balanchine" is 83 interviews that lets you understand how many faces genius is seen with. As a parlor game, try and cross-reference the interviews and see how many consistet statements you find!

 

There are many other great writers on Balanchine (the Triumverate for me is Kirstein, Denby, Croce) and I think you'll find their books interesting.

 

------------------

Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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I did try that parlor game with "I Remember Balanchine." It's like Rashomon. Hardly anyone agrees on anything, except that the original "Concerto Barocco" had a much more syncopated allegro feel and a couple of people were told by Balanchine that "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" was his favorite ballet. And a number of people seem to have had trouble understanding what he saw in Suzanne Farrell anyway.

 

I also enjoyed the book "Portrait of Mr. B". It is mostly a gallery of pictures of Balanchine at work, but many of the shots are revealing and there's a lovely essay by Kirstein,two excellent interviews with the great man by Jonathan Cott, and Denby's essay on Agon.

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Guest James Wilkie

Alexandra I am a big fan of Ashton ballets and in my mind they are the true British style, although that may upset some people. His ballets are both wonderful to watch and very rewarding to dance, particularly his ballet La Valse. I heard that there is to be a foundation set up in honour of him, a bit like the Balanchine Trust. It would be wonderful if there was because his ballets need to be preserved for future generations like myself.

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Mel Johnson

James, bless you for recognizing the importance of Ashton to all of us who love ballet, and I think you have a very strong case for saying that his was the true British style! You certainly haven't upset me, and I'm glad to hear that the information regarding an "Ashton Trust" is confirmed from another source.

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  • 2 years later...
Guest Kathleen O'Connell

For whatever interest it may have: while I was squandering my hard-earned dollars (and far too many hours) at the Strand today, I noticed that they had many new hardback copies of Suki Schorer's "Balanchine Technique" on sale for $14.95 (list $40).

 

If you live outside of NYC (or if you don't relish a trek to B'way and 12th) and you'd like a copy, you can order one online from www.strandbooks.com. But the Strand is always worth a visit (and dangerously close to my apartment) ...

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  • 1 year later...
Dance_Scholar_London

Does anybody know the book written by Suki Schorer (Balanchine Technique, Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique, Balanchine Pointe Work). I would like to know if these are books about ballet technique or does it go beyond this? :wink: They are not available in the store and there is not much information on it on Amazon or SDHS.

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Yes, these books contain Ms. Schorer's commentary on the Balanchine style, at least from her point of view. The class content was apparently transcribed during actual classes, and the interpretation of what was taught added later.

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I believe the one on pointe work came out a few years before the big Balanchine Technique volume. I have a copy, but as is often the case in my apartment, I have no idea where to find it. At any rate, the pointe book's contents were incorporated into the big technique book. That's the one to have.

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Guest DerfDude04

Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique talks about her career as a dancer and Balanchine's influence and effect on her as a person and a danceer. It then breaks down steps in the Balanchine Technique. I have read the book I think 3 times.

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  • 1 year later...

I've just stared reading this book, but I am amazed at some of the insights it has. This has already affected my dancing to make it more "real" and les contrived...amazing read for anyone who dances ballet!

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