Robles: Ballet can be both classical and innovative

Most mean well when saying that ballet is a traditional or classical art form, but somehow these terms have led others astray in their understanding of what ballet is. (Creative Commons)

Ballet has been around since the late 15th century where it first originated in Italy. From there, the art form took off and found its way around the world through different cultures. The beauty of ballet transfixes people every day and manages to excite largely diverse populations. However ballet is not simply stagnant and classic. Approaches to ballet are always progressing and changing, never quite staying in the same rigid form that many might assume.

Take The Rite of Spring from 1913. This particular production sent an uproar among critics due to its utter lack of traditionalism. Vaslar Nijinsky’s contemporary approach to the beloved art form shocked audiences at the time. His unique choreography is something of a wonder, but not unusual in current contemporary ballets. Watching this style of ballet is educational towards the constant innovation of the art form and manipulation of the “rules” of ballet.

Brad Garner, an associate professor of dance at the University of Oregon, mentioned his first introduction to such teachings. He had taken a class with Zvi Gotheiner in New York City.

“It was very non-traditional – contemporary, and it really inspired me,” Garner said.

Within Garner’s classroom there are multiple non-traditional approaches to teaching the art form. Garner uses techniques such as spine articulation, truly exploring the weight of the limbs and extreme tempo changes in order to instill a greater understanding of the movement within his students.

My personal favorite technique that Garner uses is breaking in and out of alignment. Dancers are enlightened to the relationship between the two; rather than having a simple proper-improper technical relationship, dancers develop a proper-transitional-improper relationship. Traditionally there is a right and a wrong way, but there is also the experimental way that doesn’t quite fit classic structure, and isn’t wrong either. I find this important because knowing the body and its artistic capabilities is invaluable for a dancer.

Of course there are common beliefs about ballet nowadays, one being that ballet was made for and only accepts certain body types. However this “dancer’s body” trend has only recently been followed.

Iconic choreographer George Balanchine brought the trend to life during his career due to his idealistic vision of what a ballerina’s body should look like. This phenomenon does not define ballet and of course should not discourage or exclude body types.

“Ballet is for everybody, not just certain bodies,” Garner said.

Limitations are only of the physical kind when it comes to dance. How your body was made – the structure of your pelvis, the flexibility of particular muscles and natural proportions are all important in understanding one’s personal limitations. What someone’s body looks like can only add to the art, rather than detract from it. Embracing a dancer’s body is embracing the art form.

One cannot ignore the classicism that is ballet. Most mean well when saying that ballet is a traditional or classical art form, but somehow these terms have led others astray in their understanding of what ballet is. Ballet – as old as it is – is constantly changing. It is being taught and learned in artistic, unique ways. Keeping up the tradition should not limit dancers and choreographers.

“You have to realize that when [ballet] emerged, it was contemporary,” Garner said. “Even though now it is classical, the people who started it were breaking ground. I don’t see why we can’t continue that.”

Art of any kind should not be limited by what has been done, but only limited by the imagination of what could be and is yet to be done.

In Garner’s classes he is constantly telling students to smile and relax, to allow the dancers to enjoy what their bodies are capable of. There should be a degree of happiness when dancing, the dancers are literally the art that makes dance. No matter how traditional or contemporary the choreography might be, ballet has the capability to be both and should not be limited to one in the eyes if those enjoying it.

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