I recently got into a discussion with a student about male ballet dancers. My student said he didn’t want to pursue ballet because he didn’t particularly care for the way male ballet dancers have to dance. Now what follows is not what you’re probably expecting. The complaint was not that they are too effeminate or have to wear very tight tights or any of the things that sometimes turn boys off to ballet. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite. My student clearly has an appreciation for the athleticism and power of male ballet dance. But he seemed to be getting at the notion that choreography for male dancers lacks the grace, artistry and dare I say beauty, of the choreography put on female dancers. This got me thinking – are there male ballet dancers that we love to watch specifically when they are not doing some mega-leap, multi-turn tour de force? Or are they only good for acrobatic tricks?
Who are your favorite male ballet dancers, and why?
Of course, there’s Rudolph Nuryev (for many the greatest male dancer of the 20th century). Here he is in Swan Lake:
We have David Hallberg in Sleeping Beauty:
If you’ve ever had the privilege to see Mikhail Baryshnikov perform live, you know he is one of the most engaging and graceful dancers there is. Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the internet is full of videos of Baryshnikov at his most powerful, massive tours en l’air and entrechats where you’d think his head might hit the overhead light fixtures they’re so high. Very few videos are circulating of him doing the more subtle choreography. If you have a 3-hour long ballet, you know he wasn’t leaping for the full 180 minutes. You’re not getting a full picture of his artistry. Certainly he danced Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty same as the gentlemen above, but I have yet to find clips of him doing those slower bits.
I will give you this from Les Sylphides. Kindly fast-forward to 11:39. Baryshnikov still has some wonderful jumps, but they are done in the way a female dancer would perform them. That is, they do not go anywhere near as high as they could if he was focusing on power instead of grace.
Here is lesser-known but very talented Yosvani Ramos in Romeo and Juliet:
Here’s Frederico Bonelli in a lovely passage from Alice in Wonderland:
Easily this blog could go on and on as an endless collection of male ballet dancer videos, so I’ll stop foraging for clips now. Trying to find examples that males are not all just about jumping and nothing else has raised other questions for me. Do we under-value male dancers performances as just a bunch of jumping tricks? Ballets reflect the times in which they are written, and as such can we expect newly written ballets to have more power-house moves from females and more expressiveness from males to sort of equal out the balance?
What do you think?