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On Technique

Dean Speer

Publication Year: 2010

On Technique provides a fascinating look into the careers and teaching philosophies of eighteen of the world’s most respected ballet masters, principals, and artistic directors. Author Dean Speer sat down with prominent ballet pedagogues and asked each a standard set of questions, including "What do we mean when we say someone has beautiful technique?" and "How did you become a dancer?"

Featuring such artists as Peter Boal (artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet) and Bene Arnold (first ballet mistress of the San Francisco Ballet), this volume offers fascinating insights into the nature of both performance and artistic instruction. Speer's approach reveals sometimes surprising convergences among these world-class talents, despite their varying pedagogical backgrounds and divisions.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

Classical ballet is a distinctive form of dance that embraces music and visual arts and, through its study, enriches our lives. ...

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A Note about the Use of Ballet Terms

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pp. xi-xii

The reader will notice a variation among the subjects, who sometimes use different names for the same step. One person’s “B plus” will be some- one else’s “attitude à terre.” As the teachers come from various technical methodologies (English, French, Russian, and so forth), ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

There is truth to the aphorism of wanting to thank everyone you’ve ever met in your whole life. Each has shaped my experience. If you don’t see your name here, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love and adore you—it’s just that there isn’t enough space. ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Photos are courtesy of the artists unless otherwise noted. Full information about each image is listed in each caption. A special thank-you to both Ronald Seymour and Martha Swope for their kind generosity. ...

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Introduction: Divining Talent

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pp. xvii-xviii

Ready to go try on costumes at American Ballet Theatre even before I ever got to New York as a young and very ambitious dancer, there was never a thought that I’d be writing a book someday about technique and teaching. Granted, I did arrive early at the conclusion that training students to be dancers was to be my true calling. ...

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1. Bené Arnold

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pp. 1-11

Believe it or not, I was essentially bedridden from four to nine years of age with a condition known as scrofula, which is a type of tuberculosis of the glands. They didn’t know how it would affect me mentally or physically. My grandmother and I were living in Missouri at the time, and the doctor said I should go to a warmer and drier climate, and so we moved to Los Angeles. ...

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2. Gwenn Barker

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pp. 12-21

Some of my earliest—and fondest—memories of dance took place in Lon- don, where I was born. At age six, I was too young for formal ballet classes and was enrolled in what was called Greek dancing (a.k.a. free movement). I loved this class and especially steps of elevation. Then I started ballet lessons. ...

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3. Damara Bennett

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pp. 22-28

Tatiana Grantzeva was company teacher for San Francisco Ballet when I was in the company. We had excellent directors and choreographers, but not really anyone who was a great teacher for the company, and so we lobbied hard (myself at the forefront) to get us a company teacher. We were so lucky to have her. ...

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4. Peter Boal

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pp. 29-34

For the company, I’m looking to traditions; to build on what Kent Stowell and Francia Russell have done. I plan on keeping the Balanchine repertory as an essential element of the company. I’m a big fan of Forsythe, Duato, Robbins, and Tharp. With the exception of Tharp, each of these choreographers has already been represented in small ways in the repertory, ...

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5. Yvonne Cartier

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pp. 35-45

I began dancing in my home country of New Zealand upon the advice of a doctor. Three of my toes had been accidentally cut off and then surgically reconnected when I was four. The doctor recommended dancing as the ideal exercise for reeducation. ...

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6. Karen Gibbons-Brown

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pp. 46-55

I started in ballet when my mother took me to a local dance school in Pittsburgh. She had always wanted to dance, but wasn’t allowed, and she wanted me to have the opportunity. We then moved to South Carolina, where I eventually auditioned for Nutcracker but didn’t get into the production. ...

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7. Gloria Govrin

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pp. 56-63

We lived in Newark, New Jersey, and I had a mother who had wanted to be a dancer. She was a very arts-savvy person and found a Russian teacher whom she took me to when I was only two and a half. I was lucky she was a good teacher. I next went to Fred Danieli, who had Marie Jeanne teaching for him. I didn’t get to the School of American Ballet until I was 12. ...

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8. Cynthia Harvey

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pp. 64-76

I first became interested in ballet by watching Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev on The Ed Sullivan Show. According to my mother, I could not reach the TV, but begged to dance as I tip-toed about trying to emulate Margot in Corsaire. I can’t imagine doing it any justice, and my parents must have wished that I would sit down so they could watch the masters in action. ...

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9. Finis Jhung

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pp. 77-87

I was born and raised in Hawaii and am of Korean-Scottish-English descent. I started dancing at the age of six, as I liked the wonderful old black-and-white Hollywood musicals that we used to see and decided that was what I wanted to do. I began at a neighborhood school, but never learned a proper barre that I can recall. ...

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10. Roni Mahler

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pp. 88-94

I got started in ballet when I was six. My mother took me to study with Madame Maria Yurieva Swoboda in New York City. Madame Swoboda eventually sold her school to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and I later joined the company. ...

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11. David Moroni

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pp. 95-101

I started ballet when I was 11. The family next door was involved, and I was a fairly athletic child—and I liked to jump. I loved my first class right away with my teacher, Nesta Williams Toumine, at her studio in Ottawa, which is where I’m from. Toumine had been with Léonide Massine’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, ...

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12. Dennis Nahat

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pp. 102-109

I’ve been choreographing since I was 11 and had to make up dances as a student in Detroit. I fell into it more at Juilliard. While I do work at it, it comes fairly easily and readily to me. I don’t have steps in mind in advance, although I do dream patterns in my sleep sometimes. ...

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13. Nina Novak

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pp. 110-116

Initially, I went to school very early. I already knew how to read and write by age six. The school officials thought I would be good at dancing as I was always moving. I am very thankful to have been sent to the Grand Theatre of Warsaw, which was a good school, but I had to wait until I was eight. ...

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14. Francia Russell

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pp. 117-127

I have a great interest in teaching. I didn’t have a solid foundation myself, having studied with many different teachers and their various styles. I really loved Vera Volkova, with whom I got to study for one year in London when I was 11. ...

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15. Martin Schläpfer

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pp. 128-148

My initiation into ballet is an interesting story. I was a boy from a small Swiss town where art was not a big part of growing up in my family. It was my primary school teacher, Theodor Holzer, who brought me to ice skating when I was about 12. I did ice skating as a hobby only, became pretty good at it, and was asked to join the skating club in my hometown, St. Gallen. Private skating lessons were too expensive. ...

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16. Gina Sinclair

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pp. 149-161

I was born in Brighton, in Sussex, England, 52 miles south of London. A tourist town, Brighton is on the south coast of England on the English Channel and is a city rich in history and architecture. I am the youngest of three sisters. ...

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17. Dean Speer

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pp. 162-182

Sometimes my family has the unfortunate habit of getting shipwrecked, as was the case for my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Newton Van Hagan, who in 1857, according to the family Bible, was “Lost at Sea on Central America.” His daughter, California (Callie) Van Hagan Bogue, last saw him sitting on a door of the boat, floating off, with the rest of the men, ...

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18. Sally Streets Nichols

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pp. 183-190

My start in ballet came after a childhood illness when some physical activity was recommended and dance was one of the choices. So I started with tap and baton, but was drawn to ballet at the studio of Dorothy Pring, located in Berkeley, who was once a student of Theodore Kosloff. ...

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Appendix A: Word Teaching Phrases of Peter Boal

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pp. 191-194

If you have ever taken or observed a ballet technique class, you will have noticed that teachers go beyond just giving a set of exercises. The exercises themselves provide only the superstructure upon which technique and its accompanying artistry are built. ...

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Appendix B: Biographical Sketch of Yvonne Cartier

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pp. 195-196

Yvonne Cartier’s artistic career coincides with the rebirth of theatrical dancing in England after World War II. ...

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Appendix C: Historical Note on Ethel Meglin

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pp. 197-198

Ethel Meglin did some work for the movies in Hollywood, helping Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, and other child stars. She took me and other students for an audition for the film Unfinished Dance with Margaret O’Brien. There was a long discussion about me, but the final decision was not to include me in the film. ...


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pp. 199-204

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About the Author

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pp. 205-206

Dean Speer is founding director of the Chehalis Ballet Center, Washing- ton State, and former artistic director of the Chattanooga Ballet. His choreography has been filmed for national television, and he has con- ducted many workshops for teachers. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048277
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813034386
Print-ISBN-10: 0813034388

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 54 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010