On my last trip to Spain I managed to get the DVDs of Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet (Rojo/Acosta) and a Marinsky Swan Lake with Lopatkina (for the amazing price of €13!!).
I have seen this R&J live, so the first one I chose to see was Swan Lake. Once I got over the fact that it wasn’t Zelensky and Makhalina (my first ever ballet tape, it died after so much use), I realised that there was something missing. I couldn’t put a name to it until the white swan pas de deux. It was the eyes…
It was a general thing, but the swans especially didn’t express with their eyes. Of course a DVD, showing the dancers from that close, is not exactly forgiving. And of course the eyes wouldn’t be noticed like this on a big theatre performance. But it came to my mind that they were looking more for the emotion from the shape. They were using positions and movements that they know give out the feeling needed, they are read like this by the audience. (There are lots of really interesting articles on the reading of emotion, I think they could be a really useful tool for choreographers).
On the opposite side, I feel, are dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba. Often criticised by the technique purists, the Cuban express with the whole body, bringing the feeling from the inside. Sometimes this sacrifices a bit the shape, probably because of the strength of the emotion?
So we have the emotion coming from the outside in, or coming from the inside out.
Personally I prefer the emotion coming from the inside, it is more true and it shows so on stage. But I don’t think technique should be left in a secondary place.
Mastering the technique when letting the character take over is what really makes a dancer. And we have so many good examples of this! (and so many in Royal Ballet, close by!).
I feel this is only a first thought on the expression of emotion, and there will be more coming. Any opinion on this matter will be more than welcome!
And for those a bit picky, this is not intended as a critique to any of the dancers. I trained with both Russians and Cubans (more with the latter), and love both companies. It is just a bit of food for thought!