Posted by Rebecca King on 08.10.2011
Questions with Bart returns for another round! These questions were sent to me by a great lover of ballet who often comes to Miami City Ballet performances. He has a wonderful appreciation for what we do, and has a great understanding of the ballets we perform. Here is his fourth question:
The issue of speed: essential to Balanchine, but not everyone’s natural gift. How do you work on it? Does it ever come naturally? This is a subset of the issue of adagio-v-allegro. Most dancers I know are more comfortable with, and capable of greater artistry in one or the other. How does one compensate?
This question comes at a perfect time: after our successful Paris tour. Miami City Ballet Artistic Director Edward Villella, has told us several times that the Parisian audience members were coming up to him saying that they “had never seen dancing like that before.” But what is it that made us stand out? What makes us different from the ballet that Parisians are used to seeing? I am sure there are many contributing factors, and “speed” is among them.
Speed is indeed essential to Balanchine; his ballets often include quick and precise foot work. So in order to master a Balanchine rep, you must master speed. This movement quality comes easier to some than others, but that does not mean that it cannot be taught or mastered despite natural ability. There is a common mis-conception that speed is directly related to a dancers height: tall dancers cannot move quickly due to their longer limbs. I know numerous beautiful, tall dancers who can move as quickly as a dancer who is five feet tall. So I can reject that theory. I suppose this quality even comes to the average person in the form of, perhaps, speed while walking, or speed while talking. Everyone has a certain natural rhythm that their body is comfortable with.
Dancers can improve upon their fast footwork, and here at Miami City Ballet, we work on just that, every morning from 10:00 am to 11:30 am. Edward Villella teaches class each morning with a very specific style and with very specific requirements. His combinations encompass all forms of timing. For example, he might give an exercise with two slow tendus, followed by three quicker ones in the same time alotment as the first two. This makes us phrase the steps with the music in ways that are essential to our repetoire.
In the Balanchine technique, dancers are often encouraged to dance “on top of the music” instead of “behind it.” When dancing “on top of the music”, the dancer is not waiting for the next note to cue their movement. Rather, they are anticipating what comes next, thereby allowing them to be exactly on the note. When this happens, there is often a little time left to hold that position before moving on to the next. This is where “phrasing” comes in. This is when a dancer is able to play with the music and timing, making for a more dynamic performance.
Having speed allows dancers a certain freedom that is always well recieved by audiences. An element of excitment is added, that in my opinion, is essential to our art form.