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School of Cleveland Ballet: teaching adaptability.

School of Cleveland Ballet was founded in 1972 in a city with cultural roots. In the grand days of impresario Sol Hurok's touring dance companies, Serge Nadejdin's Russian Imperial Ballet School on Euclid Avenue was the rehearsal base for artists such as Argentinita, Fokine, Mordkin, and all the Ballets Russes. Later, New York City Ballet's Herbert Bliss directed the school. Women's groups sponsored the prestigious Cleveland Orcestra, the Cleveland Museum, and Cleveland Institute of Music (Eleanor Frampton taught modern dance there).

The tradition continues. Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath (until 1984) have built the School of Cleveland Ballet into a professional training program that provides 50 percent of Cleveland San Jose Ballet members.

DENNIS NAHAT: You know--speaking of teaching--in the recent past students sought out a teacher here and there for some specific reason. But that's no longer economically viable, nor necessary. Now study in one school is broader. Having confidence in one's teacher is still vital, but schools today must offer a wider spectrum of study--in the style of European academies with many dance-related subjects. This is important in preparing dancers for the many kinds of choregraphy they must perform in today's companies.

As artistic director, I look for a dancer who moves naturally, innately, without artifice; one who is schooled, but not in a specific methodology. My work is quick--so I don't like feet that plod around--and it's linear, so I like to see a sense of line. Mainly, I want an elastic body with an elastic mind--someone who will perform in any style because dance has many ways of expressing itself. Style doesn't mean mannered. It's an individual economy of movement that is elegant, expressive, free, and adaptable. That's asking a lot. But when I make myself clear as a director, I get it. And there's no "marking" in rehearsals. The correct style. of a ballet has to be constantly practiced until the movement is deeply correct, not assembled for a performance. And you have to know how to choose the right style for a dancer--so many of them have not seen the great classics and don't know what you're talking about. That leaves a lot of explaining to do. But it's wonderful when you see results, and worth every bit of the extra effort. If dancers like moving, then I can do something with them.

THREE SCB TEACHERS TALK: Suzanne Lownbury (former principal dancer with Cleveland San Jose Ballet), Gladisa Guadalupe (schooled in Puerto Rico and School of American Ballet, member of Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas and Cleveland San Jose Ballet), Ellen Costanza (studied at American Ballet Theatre School, principal dancer Cleveland Ballet).

LEVEL I (8- to 9-year-olds in two weekly classes). We start the children on the floor where we teach them to stretch their feet and legs and to sit up straight. We watch for possible physical problems such as curvature of the spine, weak ankles, or poor coordination. Although the concentration span is short, we can estimate a child's interest in dance and rhythmic awareness, as well as assess the child's ability to follow directions. Discipline is established with patience and consistency.

LEVEL II (9- to 10-year-olds in two weekly classes). This level builds on proper alignment and adds movements requiring coordination in rhythmic changes. Jumps, hops, spatial awareness, and the eight areas of the stage are emphasized. There is room for improvisation. All movements from Level I are given at a faster tempo.

LEVEL III (10- to 12-year-olds in three weekly classes). Here we introduce basic ballet technique at the barr, working in parallel and turned-out positions expressed in correct terminology. The relationship of torso to upper body, head, and arms in included in all movements.

In addition, preparations for turns, various ports de bras, adagios, and diagonal combinations are incorporated into center work. A sense of performing is encouraged when the combination is understood. Performance opportunities occur with the company and in studio productions.

We talk with the children to make sure they know the meaning of class terms and see if they understand the music, story, and roles when they are in a performance, such as The Nutcracker. (By the way, we do that production with one hundred child as mice.)

LEVEL IV (13- to 14-year-olds in four weekly classes). Expanded vocabulary and complex combination are added. We push a bit at this point to challenge their minds and bodies. This is a transition level in which it is hard for us to tell if the potential that was exhibited earlier will continue to grow. Interest in dance may wane at this point or may become kindled. It is difficult when parents want to know if a teenage student has enough talent to become professional. We must be honest with the parents and admit it if the student lacks talent. Nor must we give hope to a child with a body type that fits no form of dance. At the same time, we have to allow for the unexpected. There have been dancers who perksevered and turned their lives around--but that's rare. In our experience, there are no children who are without talent for some future aspect of dance; otherwise they would not stay in the school very long. But even if the student should need to consider another profession, there is still no need to eliminate dance from their lives. Quite the contrary, the rewards and advantages are still there, even on a less intense level of practice. There might be some regret or feelings of being left out, however, when classmates go on the higher levels. What they have gained in dance can be turned to advantage in a dance-related or other profession.

LEVEL V (14 to 17 years and up). This advanced class in the level from which we lose our dancers to the Cleveland San Jose Ballet and other companies. At this moment six dancers have been taken from this class for the company. The others will probably find a place somewhare through auditions.

BOYS' CLASS (taught by Dennis Nahat, artistic director of the company) includes several levels. There is the usual lack of male dancers, but we manage to have one boy in each level. MTV, sports, and health clubs so heavily promote their physical activities that dance has difficulty--without an Astarie or a Kelly or many traveling companies to set an example--in attracting boys. Parents are uninformed about dance for males. Even when they learn about the opportunities in dance, the high income offered in sports tips the scale in that direction. This is true everywhere and causes a great loss of undiscovered talent.

PARENTS are the biggest problem when they want to experience through their child something they missed. Instead of enhancing their own lives, they live through their children. This is totally unrealistic and obstructs the pace of our training. They place a heavy burden on the child.

METHODOLOGY in this school is not fixed upon any one of the reorganized systems--such as Cecchetti or Vaganova. We have found through the years that in order to be contemporary we must incorporate the best of the methods into your system.

Because it is rare for today's professional dancer to be in a company that does not have a varied repertorie--from nineteenth-century classics to contemporary dance--we emphasize that stylistic differences are important to the integrity of a work and that dancers must master whatever is required in its performance. Then, too, by being able to adapt to more than one methodology we feel that dancers have more choices in finding a compatible outlet for their individual talents--they are not locked into just one method. Within our own company the repertorie changes from year to year and requires dancers to master new movements. Nahat, with his modern dance and ballet background, expects his dance to consider movement as movement without categorizing it.
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Author:Horosko, Marian
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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