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4514.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:32 am Reply with quote

2004 marks the centenary of the birth of choreographer George Balanchine, which happy coincidence of two Bs suggests a thread in its honour.

4515.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:33 am Reply with quote

Balanchine was a choreographer, and I seem to recall Flash having some lovely stuff about choreography, involving knees.

4517.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:38 am Reply with quote

Though Balanchine is best known for his ballet choreography, he also worked extensively in theater and movies. He choreographed numerous musical comedies, including ON YOUR TOES, CABIN IN THE SKY, BABES IN ARMS, WHERE'S CHARLY?, SONG OF NORWAY, I MARRIED AN ANGEL, THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, THE MERRY WIDOW and THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1935 and his film credits include STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM, I WAS AN ADVENTURESS and GOLDWYN FOLLIES.

4518.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:40 am Reply with quote

George Balanchine was born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1904.

4520.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:43 am Reply with quote

Balanchine always preferred to call himself a craftsman rather than a creator, comparing himself to a cook or cabinetmaker (both hobbies of his).

4521.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:43 am Reply with quote

Yes, I do want a ballet topic so as to get in a picture clue about the choreographic notation of the hokey-cokey. Haven't started to research it yet, though.

For example, what's the history of ballerinas dancing "on point" or whatever it's called, ie on tippy-toes? Presumably this started off as a sort of circus-act novelty?

4526.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 9:52 am Reply with quote

The ballo was an Italian form of entertainment in which simple country dances were adopted by the nobility and executed by the men and women of the court.

When Catherine de Medici of Italy married Henry II of France in the 15th century, she brought the ballo tradition with her to France. Ballet was born during the 16th century as Medici devised the ballet de cour entertainment at court in which courtiers danced, sang, recited dialogues and mimed or gestured to an accompaniment of instrumental music.

The first ballet that told a story through dancing was Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, which was presented at the French court in 1581. This type of entertainment became so popular that the members of the nobility all acquired dancing masters to give them lessons in ballet.

In the 17th century, King Louis XIV of France, known as the Sun King, not only greatly admired ballet spectacles but participated in them. He had his own private dance master and he founded the first dance academy in Paris in 1661. In the academy, the ballet masters of the period took on the task of codifying the numerous steps and combinations of moves. It is these same steps that have been handed down through the centuries and form the basis of today's classical ballet vocabulary.

Ballet thus became a very popular art form. At first performances were restricted to the royal courts and the dancers were courtiers, but soon ballets began appearing on the newly built proscenium-arch stages (after which today's theatre stages are modelled). In time, learning to dance stopped being only a hobby for the nobility. Dance became a profession and dancers were trained and developed strong technique.

At first only men appeared on the stage and wore masks to distinguish the sex of the characters they played, but by 1685 women began appearing on professional stages, (some time later than female actresses, who first appeared on stage around 1660.)

In productions of the 17th century, dancers' movements were greatly restricted, not only by the masks they wore but also by heavy brocade costumes and large head-dresses and ornaments. Dancing shoes also had tiny heels that made pointing the toes rather difficult.

In the early 18th century, the great ballerina Marie Camargo shocked audiences by shortening her skirts to just above the ankle. She did this to be freer in her movements and, since she performed intricate footwork and jumps, she wanted her audience to see and appreciate her technique.

By 1830, ballet came truly into its own as a theatrical art. Influenced by the Romantic movement, which was sweeping the world of art, music, literature and philosophy, ballet took on a whole new look. Writers such as Theophile Gautier paid tribute to the female dance muses of the time who inspired flights of fantasy and amorous liaisons. The beautiful, light and elusive ballerina reigned supreme. Female dancers wore calf-length, white, bell-shaped tulle skirts. And with the introduction of the pointe shoe they began dancing on the tips of their toes.

4527.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 10:01 am Reply with quote

George Balanchine once said that if no pointe existed, he would not be a choreographer. The first documented performances with pointe shoes probably took place in England and France between 1815 and 1830.

In 1726, Marie Camargo made her debut in the Paris Opera Ballet and introduced the entrechat. At first she danced in the heeled shoes worn by others, but she soon replaced them with a flatter shoe that provided a better springboard for her complicated jumps.

After the French Revolution, dancers bagan to appear with maillots, tights named after a costumer at the Paris Opera. Flat ballet slippers with tied ribbons became the norm. These short-soled slippers with pleats under the toes were developed in response for the need for a more flexible shoe. The new slippers allowed the foot to fully extend to pointing and allowed jumping and turning. They were the foundation upon which the first pointe shoes were built.

Charles Didelot introduced the concept of a flying machine in a production at Lyons in 1794. Didelot's contraption allowed dancers to stand briefly on their toes before being whisked upward, creating the illusion of lightness as they portrayed the ethereal, unreal characters in classical ballets. When the dancers landed on their toes, their fans cheered with delight. This favorable response encouraged choreographers to seek ways for their stars to linger in an elevated position.

Ballerinas were schooled in an increasingly challenging technical vocabulary including multiple pirouettes and jumps and leaps. The attempt to dance on pointe without the use of wires was a logical next step. Dancers soon discovered that by rising higher and higher on half pointe, they could balance on the ends of their fully stretched toes. Prints of ballerinas nearly on the tips of their toes have been found, though these early appearances probobaly involved little more than briefly held poses on the tips of the toes to give an illusion of weightlessness.

In 1832, Marie Taglioni appeared on pointe in the first performance of La Syphide. Her performance introduced the use of pointe dancing as an essenital choreographic element. Pointe shoes similar to those worn by Taglioni have been preserved by private collectors. Upon examination they appear to be nothing more than soft satin slippers, heavily darned at the tip. They had no box to protect the toe and featured a flexible leather sole that supported the foot. Darning along the sides and over the toe kept the slippers in shape. They were essentially a one-sized tube of satin and leather that bound and squeezed the toes into a uniformly narrow pointe that had little relevance to the shape of the wearer's foot.

Modern pointe shoes are four ounces heavier than those worn by Taglioni, and support the foot better.

4530.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 10:12 am Reply with quote

Great stuff. Here's the question, I think: we show a picture of a male ballet dancer standing on point. He also has a rather prominent codpiece. Then Stephen asks: "What's wrong with this chap?"

A lengthy exchange of codpiece-related jokes follows, and in due course the answer is revealed as: male ballet dancers don't do the tippy-toes thing.

They don't, do they? Please tell me they don't.

4531.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 10:16 am Reply with quote

Or, rather, the answer given is "male dancers don't point" which should spark off a second round of codpiece jokes.

This is the easiest job I've ever done.

4532.  Thu Jan 15, 2004 10:45 am Reply with quote

And such fun too, eh Flash?

I googled up a couple of things about male ballet dancers and pointe:

Dear Cecil:

Why don't male ballet dancers dance on their toes? Is it something in the anatomy of the male foot, or possibly a weight distribution problem? The only answer I've received, "because no choreographer wrote a ballet calling for male toe-dancers," seems to be begging the question. Certainly Baryshnikov on his toes would have novelty value, if nothing else. --Hilda S., Washington

Dear Hilda:

I recognize that the following explanation lacks a certain je ne sais quoi, but the fact is that male dancers don't dance en pointe (or "on point," as we simple folk put it) basically because no choreographer ever wrote a ballet calling for male toe-dancers. From a physical standpoint males are perfectly capable of the maneuver.

The idea in toe-dancing, which first appeared in the 1820s, was to portray women as ethereal, sylphlike creatures, rather than as the lumbering hippopotamuses that had been the predominant female characterization up to that time. Just about the only time you'll see men on their toes is in certain Russian folk dances. I doubt male dancers are complaining--after a ballerina has bounced around the stage all night her big toe has gotta look like she pounded it with a hammer.

However. I have had occasion to see a unique ensemble called Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which specializes in--I'm not making this up--all-male drag ballet. Therein one may see not only men dancing en pointe but a host of other extraordinary sights besides. Don't miss 'em next time they come through town.

There is also , which again seems to imply that male ballet dancers only dance en pointe for comedy effect.

Wikipedia points out:

While toe dancing is usually associated with girls, there are traditional male parts, like the two stepsisters in Cinderella, where the pointe shoes are required due to the choreography of the ballet.

So the consensus seems to be that men only dance en pointe for comedy effect, because it's all a bit girly innit.

4632.  Fri Jan 16, 2004 6:51 am Reply with quote

Q: Why's it always nice to see a good turnout at the ballet?

A: "Turnout" is the term used to describe a stationary stance commonly adopted in ballet. True turnout occurs in the hips, and is reflected in the knees and feet - all of which point outwards. If you turn out your feet but keep your knees or even your hips heading in the normal direction, that's a "bad turnout".


4633.  Fri Jan 16, 2004 7:18 am Reply with quote

The ranking system of choeographic notation ("choreology") seems to be Benesh Movement Notation, which was copyrighted in 1955 by Rudolf Benesh, an accountant, and his wife Joan, a ballet dancer.

Some scholars think the ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics to notate dances but the earliest recorded notations are two Spanish manuscripts of the 15th century in which letter names for well known steps are combined with horizontal and vertical markings. Since the time of court dancing in the 17th century various methods of notating dance in written script have been attempted but they proved accessible to few.

4634.  Fri Jan 16, 2004 7:22 am Reply with quote

Very good explanation of how Benesh notation works at

5178.  Fri Jan 23, 2004 6:21 pm Reply with quote

John Cage on ballet:
The art of moving without bumping into anything unless you mean to


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