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Subject: ""The Case of Elisabeth Maurin"" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #2487
Reading Topic #2487
Bruce Madmin

13-02-02, 11:20 PM (GMT)
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""The Case of Elisabeth Maurin""
   my apologies for getting this up late - brain like a sieve at times.

This thread is for discussing "The Case of Elisabeth Maurin" piece in the February Ballet.co magazine. It's about the tough-minded charms of Elisabeth Maurin and the Three hurdles to reach the pinnacle of performance. The piece is at:

Hope you found the piece a stimulating read and do please add your thoughts and comments below...

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  Three hurdles... Bruceadmin 21-02-02 1
     RE: Three hurdles... AEHandley 22-02-02 2
         RE: Three hurdles... Alexandra 23-02-02 3
             RE: Three hurdles... Bruce Madmin 23-02-02 4
                 RE: Three hurdles... AnnWilliams 24-02-02 5
             RE: Three hurdles... Naoko S 04-03-02 6

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21-02-02, 11:05 PM (GMT)
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1. "Three hurdles..."
In response to message #0
I've been itching to put this up - Katharine Kanter ends by talking about the three hurdles or depths of performance...

Three hurdles

The choreographer, and the dancers, if they are any good, attempt to convey a certain type of mysterious ideas. That is the subject of ballet, and that is what makes people cry, not the story-line. As ballet happens to be physically, very difficult, there is a degree of struggle and suffering, that forces one's respect. That is the first hurdle, to master the physical difficulty, and add the element of joy. This is the level of what one might call, grace.

The second hurdle, that few dancers cross, is to get into the hard-core of the art form itself, how the particular art form, in this case, ballet, actually generates an idea, through technique, and expresses it. It is beyond grace, a higher level of abstraction, and involves a transcendental element of difficulty.

The third hurdle arises where one presses to go beyond that, into an area where all art forms and higher forms of thinking meet. One recognises the point that third hurdle is crossed, when, in a flash of lightning, there is a sudden criss-crossing of mortality and immortality. It is beyond anything to do with the steps. It is a "Beethoven" sort of domain. Few individuals in any discipline, venture over that third hurdle.

I was wondering how this might fit in with readers views of what they see and how they classify it? We talk glibly at times about good performances or amazing performances etc but how do we actually sort the performances we see - what criteria do we use?

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22-02-02, 11:05 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Three hurdles..."
In response to message #1
   I've had a shattering couple of weeks so don't want to try and say anything too profound, but a couple of thoughts have struck me lately.

1) I think that the performances that really move us often have more to do with the our, the viewer's, state of mind than with the artist's performance (given a basic level of competence etc). The degree of connection has a lot to do with the viewer.

2) I have been wondering how many dancers make it through ballet school without having the artistic core or the real musicality to make a great dancer, and who only ever had a physical fluency.

3) Pity Katherine chose Beethoven as her musical example - IMO he doesn't often reach the absolute peaks - he so often seemed in his later works to be the typical case of TTH.

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23-02-02, 07:31 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Three hurdles..."
In response to message #2
   LAST EDITED ON 23-02-02 AT 07:36 PM (GMT)

Very interesting, and good food for thought. One of the first things I read about ballet was a quote attributed to Rudolf Nureyev when very young, that "when inspiration fails, I fall back on my technique." I had no idea what that meant and puzzled over it for years. Nureyev who, for many, cleared that third hurdle was, at his best, a dancer of inspiration. There are some, though, who are perfectly content with watching dancers who are technically competent and graceful -- and some who prefer this to dancers who move into the realm of inspiration, yet may smudge the choreography in doing it, or not jump quite as high nor turn as many times.

An American philosopher named Suzanne Langer has a theory that goes to the third hurdle that's long fascinated me. It's called the theory of virtual power, and, if I can reduce it to post-size, it is this: The great dancer is giving us in the theater what the shaman (medicine man, magician, spiritual healer) gave our ancestors around the campfire, a spiritual power that connects to god or nature or whatever higher power or outside force one recognizes. He or she goes beyond technique, or anything one can verbalize, and delivers a picture straight to our brain. The dancer in the theater has the "virtual power" of the shaman, or magician. The greater the power, the more intense the experience.

That said, I also think AEHandley has a point that sometimes, at least, it's us. I've had disconcerting experiences with videotapes -- where, obviously, the dancer doesn't change a whit from one viewing to another. What changes is one's mood, alertness, what else one has seen and, also, a sharpened perception, or change in standards. An example I had a copy of a television performance of "The Dream" and, on first viewing, I was a bit disappointed at Dowell; it was filmed rather late in his career and I didn't think the dancing was as strong technically as stage performances I'd seen. I watched the tape again several years later. Either my perception changed, or Dowell had been taking lessons from Plisetskaya, a tape of whom, at her most exuberantly virtuosic, was next to "The Dream" on my shelf. (What the dancers on our videotapes do at night when we're not watching them might make another topic.)

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Bruce Madmin

23-02-02, 08:19 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Three hurdles..."
In response to message #3
I'm not sure I can really classify things when I look at my top performances - I think I have a rather muddled mind!

I do agree that ones own mood and anticipation can play a significant part. I'm always worried when I see things hyped up - or they appear hyped to me - and usually find the magic perhaps doesn't work for me.

On the other hand there have been times when I turned out to see what I thought would be entertaining performances only to find a revelation on the night. I remember a (RB) Ravenna Tucker Giselle and a Muriel Valtat Sleeping Beauty (with William Trevitt) I think and count them in the handful of stunning nights I've seen. I think I saw repeat shows but none quite matched what I got on my first night of revelation. Perhaps it was m, perhaps it was them, but I suspect it was some of each. But I remember walking on air for ages afterwards. I also know there are times when I see such a strong visual image - such invention, such freshness and originality that I physically ache with the 'beauty' of it. It was if one had been touched... Which leads into the spiritual dimension. And as if to prove its a small world only this week I came across somebody who has much studied this area and we aim to talk more.

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24-02-02, 01:51 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Three hurdles..."
In response to message #4
   The first two of Katharine's hurdles I agree with, though the second needs several re-readings before its meaning becomes clear, i.e that it is very difficult for the ballet dancer to convey the fact that what she/he is doing is beyond mere beautiful movement. But the third hurdle? 'One recognises the point that third hurdle is crossed, when, in a flash of lightning, there is a sudden criss-crossing of mortality and immortality'. Are we talking 'genius' here? I have had moments - very few unfortunately - when I am watching a dance performance and I feel my legs prickling with shock because I know I am seeing a work - or maybe just a piece, a brief flash - of genius. It doesn't have to be dance. Sometimes I get that same unique 'shock' when I am reading something or looking at a piece of visual art or seeing something in the theatre (most unexpectedly, I got it when I was seeing Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction').

But to get back to Anneliese's and Alexandra's points, the fact that I see something as a piece of genius doesn't necessarily mean that it is one; it just means that I have met that particular piece of work half-way, that I have been willing to go the distance with it and have been duly rewarded.

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Naoko S

04-03-02, 01:34 AM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Three hurdles..."
In response to message #3
   Very interesting... particularly this comment by Alexandra on shamanism.

>An American philosopher named Suzanne Langer
>has a theory that goes
>to the third hurdle that's
>long fascinated me. It's
>called the theory of virtual
>power, and, if I can
>reduce it to post-size, it
>is this: The great
>dancer is giving us in
>the theater what the shaman
>(medicine man, magician, spiritual healer)
>gave our ancestors around the
>campfire, a spiritual power that
>connects to god or nature
>or whatever higher power or
>outside force one recognizes. He
>or she goes beyond technique,
>or anything one can verbalize,
>and delivers a picture straight
>to our brain. The
>dancer in the theater has
>the "virtual power" of the
>shaman, or magician. The greater
>the power, the more intense
>the experience.

This has reminded me of a very intriguing documentary film broadcasted in Japan some years ago. It was in essence a travel programme; what was unique about it was that a traveller, who's a well-known comic writer and among the most successful work of her was about ballet, made a journey to Ukraine in search of the secrets of the form of art - or more precisely, what is the element behind an extraordinary performance which almost makes us feel that we are having an almost religious experience? (..er, in case you don't know, comics are really a big thing in Japan, available in all kinds of themes & forms; hers is a serious one.)

The propositions she made to the question before a journey was: "Every once in a while, a great performance is made possible with a help of an inspiration descended onto a performer on stage." Can this be proved right? A camera followed her travelling to rural areas of the country where she met some local folks who had close contacts with nature in their everyday life; a shaman, wood-craft maker, etc. and found that people there did believe in things/phenomena happening beyond reasons; fairy tales/folklore were very much part of their lives. No convenient answer was yielded of course at this point so she continued her journey. Then the highlight of the trip came when she visited a head mistress of the Kiev Ballet School. Once a prima ballerina of Kiev Ballet herself (her name was Tatyana Thaiakina; sorry but no idea how to spell the name correctly..), her views/comments inspired the traveller immensely. When the ex-ballerina guided the visitor around the theatre - both were standing on the stage now - a killer question was asked: Did she ever feel an existence of some spiritual beings around her whilst on stage? After a short pause she replied: "Looking back, I think some divine power was always with me while I was on stage. But the thought eluded me when I was very young... and by the time I was fully aware of it, my body could no longer respond well..." Then apparently she got so emotional and left the stage in haste.

Perhaps she may not be the first to make a 'confession' like this as Alexandra's quote from Nureyev implies. But to me it was quite a revelation - I had never previously heard ballet dancers with successful career made such remarks.

Off the track? Hope not!

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