The Classical Line in the Dancing Body. Shape and Connections in Four Works

Bronislava Nijinska’s "Les Noces’"(1923), George Balanchine’s "Who Cares" (1970), Pina Bausch’s "The Rite of Spring" (1975) and Wayne McGregor’s "Chroma" (2006)

Essay, 2019

10 Pages, Grade: 68


Classical ConneXions

BA (Hons) in Theatre Dance 22 April 2019


Analyse the conneXions between the following four works in terms of how they give shape to and play with the classical lines in the dancing body:

- Bronislava Nijinska, Les Noces (1923)
- George Balanchine, Who Cares (1970)
- Pina Bausch, The Rite of Spring (1975)
- Wayne McGregor, Chroma (2006)

The classical line can be described as movement showing flow and extension, through smooth, streamline shapes of their well-proportioned bodies; creating symmetrical, elegant and harmonious images. Many choreographers have explored into the extent in which they can surpass these traditions, break the classical line on the body and disconnecting any stigmas associated with the classical technique, to discover new ways of communicating emotional and physical expression using movement. This can be as simple as bending the elbow, fists instead of extension of the fingers or making use of ripples through the body, as McGregor demonstrates in his piece, Chroma. Through his time of creativity, McGregor used visual games to distort the ‘normal’ shapes of the body, for example he demonstrates full rotation of the limbs. These changes to movement help to create new, innovative, virtuosic, more contemporary performances that creates both a physical and psychological connection between the movement and dancers, as well as connecting stronger with the audience. The extent to which each choreographer incorporates their own personal and cultural experiences into their work affects the style of their movement, therefore over time, new genres of dance have evolved, developed off the classical technique.

Bronislava Nijinska graduated with distinction in 1908, at the Imperial Ballet School with her successful brother, Vaslav Nijinksy, with whom she was always compared against; this acted as her motivation to create something new and unique. After moving to Kiev, Russia, Nijinska opened her own ballet school, and from that, she was inspired to begin developing her own modernist theories, catalysed by the ‘collectivist movements…before and after the Bolshevik Revolution’ (Gale Research Inc, 2002) within the Russian community. She began working with Exter, a theatre designer, who was inspired by cubism and futurism, influencing her to incorporate observations of the public into a geometric, dynamic fusion of art, focusing on movement quality, transitions and shapes rather than from gestures of everyday life; giving her piece a ‘mechanistic, repetitive feeling’ (Dawn Lille, 2011) and challenging the stereotypes of a traditional ballet. Nijinska experimented with putting hidden emotion behind the intentions of her movement, using personal experience and the principles of the Constructivist Art Movement, producing some of the first modern ballets.

Nijinska became the first ever woman choreographer in 1921, when she returned to work with the Ballet Russes in Paris. Diaghilev gained inspiration for this piece from Stravinsky’s scores (a Russian composer of the original ‘The Rite of Spring’), which connects the underlying intentions behind performance and choreography of both ‘Les Noces’ and ‘The Rite of Spring’ which would affect the movement style of the body and the extent to which the classical line is distorted . Nijinska’s creations were an interesting ‘mixture of classical Russian technique, Soviet collectivism and French impressionism’ (Gale Research Inc, 2002), distorting the foundations of classical technique; a style which was later named neoclassical. Nijinska’s choreography distinguishes against the classical line by exploring new ways of expressing emotion through the body; such as the ‘angular stoic movements’ (Dawn Lille, 2011) shown by the male dancers, or arms that are ‘held in check’ (Brendan McCarthy, 2003) whilst showing emotion through clenching the hands into fists; restricting the extension in the upper body creating a stronger, more shaped however less classical line. Nijinska also loosely incorporates the influence of folk dance into her choreography, such as Irish dance, demonstrated through the different tensions of the body movement, as the leg lines show turnout and turn-in/parallel whilst the arms can display contrasting qualities of freedom and rigidity.

George Balanchine’s technique, similar to the works of Nijinska, fell under the style of neoclassical; his training at the Imperial Ballet School explains why he was always solely focused on the technique and style of physical movement rather than exploring a complex, underlying situation. He experimented with how far he could stretch the limits of classical technique, using long-legged women with ‘proportionately short torso’s’ (Gottschild, B. D, 1996), the opposite body type to the traditional Russian Ballerina. This completely alters the stage aesthetic of the performance; however, he was very interested in the reaction of the public from this change in stereotypes. Balanchine also defined (similarly to the preferences of McGregor) that he wanted dancers showing ‘physical strength and stamina…speed…good jump’ (Gottschild, B. D, 1996) as these attributes would improve his dancers’ potential and versatility, in order to cope with the higher choreographic demands of Balanchine’s creations. He preferred his dancers to have hyperextension, which elongates and accentuates their lines; additionally, having a muscular yet lean physique would visibly show strength and power. He also structurally wanted his dancers to have definition of their bones, ribs and muscles, which would allow him to experiment further away from the classical poise, looking at more dynamic, contemporary movement.

He uses a different method of modernising performance from classical technique, compared to Nijinska, Bausch and McGregor whom mainly use neutral colours to focus the attention on the shapes created through the dancer’s movement rather than them as individuals and their costume. Balanchine’s shiny, purple costumes, further contrast the performance image away from classical traditions and enhances the dynamic, modernised, energetic choreography. Therefore, as he is less focused on creating unusual shapes from the initiations of classical technique, and more concerned with the overall tone and perception of his piece, rather than exploring deeper into the communication of emotion through the body, he may view his dancers more as individuals rather than images performing the shapes of his creativity.

Pina Bausch is significant in supporting the development of classical theatre, and interestingly took inspiration from her dancers directly; using their reactions when she asked personal questions about certain themes. This links the works of Pina Bausch and Bronislava Nijinska; whom gained inspiration from the observation of the general public and their reactions during the uproars concerning the Bolshevik Revolution. She was trained by Kurt Jooss, who himself was trained by Rudolf von Laban, therefore suggesting her inspirations may have originated from Laban’s style. Her first creative project was ‘partly anarchistic…looked for a new language…immediacy of a lost sensuality’ (Bremser, M, 1999), giving theatre a new outlook.

Her creations contrast far from the traditional light-hearted, floaty impression of classical ballet; however, as the production starts fairly timid and settled, the classical line gets more thrown away and the energy becomes more frantic as the piece develops and the storyline unfolds. The aura of the dancers’ quality is created by not only the diversity in the dynamics of the arms and powerful use of the legs, but through the manipulation of the spine and muscles of the torso. This isolation of each body part helps the emotive state of the performance, “the anguish of an arched back” and “pulsating bodies” (Manko, 2017: The Paris Review). Her extensive use of the limbs, such as turning in of the knees and shoulders to break the symmetric, positioned lines, and the impact of sound to create more dynamic, emotive movements, such as slapping, shuddering, stamping and jerking that were “herd-like” (Manko, 2017: The Paris Review), as well as choreographing in flat-footed jumps, helped to give the piece a more grounded sensation. These movements, are more effective than using the technique of classical ballet, for creating the appropriate atmosphere for the idea she was trying to convey to the audience, and embedding new emotions in her choreography as a means of expression and extension of the classical vocabulary, such as ‘wild fear, lust, despair, anger’ (Manko, 2017: The Paris Review). There are moments of synchronicity between the dancers and there are moments where everyone takes their own timing and counts to the material, suggesting that the dancers can individually influence the movement, for example, using their own emotion to determine the extent of suspension in movements; giving the piece a rustic feel, which contrasts to a production of a classical ballet, in which all timings are rigidly set and repeatedly rehearsed.

The piece focuses mainly on the relationships between men and women, where some choreography ‘reflects the patterns of masculine behaviour’ (Bremser, M, 1999) in everyday life; these gestures and natural movements can be seen to be overemphasized, suggesting that part of her inspiration comes from everyday life. Bausch also stereotypes the behaviours of the different genders by assigning the men with stronger, more abrupt lines and movement qualities, making them appear more superior and powerful, whilst the women mainly give across a sense of fear and being inferior to the men, shown through more self-contained, less extended lines. Traditional ballets presented their dancers in fairly fancy costumes, however Bausch has used plain, skin coloured outfits and dresses; maybe to draw any attention away from what they’re wearing as she was more concerned with displaying the unusual shapes and the bending of the classical line away from usual stagework. The stage setting is very natural to purposely break any stage traditions, as she tries to recreate Café Müller (1978) and also uses ‘old leaves, layers of peat, puddles of water, grass’ (Bremser, M, 1999) in order to experiment with how far she could push the limits of theatre and movement style, to create a piece that wasn’t “pretty”, and enabled her dancers to let themselves relax, and embrace freedom and character; the style which Bausch required of them in that unusual stage setting.

In Wayne McGregor’s ‘Chroma’, he intertwined psychology, science and dance; resulting in a piece of art showing fluid, innovative movement at speed, that was described as ‘dense and highly textured’ (Bremser, M & Sanders, L, 2011), inspired by individuals such as Sarah Seddon Jenner, who have the neurological disorder of AtaXia. By researching into the symptoms of the disorder: ‘loss of muscular co-ordination’ and ‘destroying speech and mobility’ (Bremser, M & Sanders, L, 2011), McGregor could experiment by making his dancers wear prisms to ‘distort their sense of spatial geography (Bremser, M & Sanders, L, 2011) to help them to physically understand what one with the disorder would feel like on a daily basis; therefore, making the piece more accurate to real life experiences. The success of Chroma through this new perception of theatre got McGregor noticed by the Royal Ballet, in which soon after, he became resident choreographer for; also, being the first non-ballet trained choreographer there. The nude costumes that are very similar for both genders give a very subtle edge to the piece, similar to Pina Bausch’s atmosphere, whereby McGregor wants the focus to be on the shapes created and the muscles/physique of the dancers rather than drawing attention to the costume; a visual technique that changes the statement of the piece.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Classical Line in the Dancing Body. Shape and Connections in Four Works
Bronislava Nijinska’s "Les Noces’"(1923), George Balanchine’s "Who Cares" (1970), Pina Bausch’s "The Rite of Spring" (1975) and Wayne McGregor’s "Chroma" (2006)
( Middlesex University in London )
BA (Hons) in Theatre Dance
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
balanchine’s, mcgregor’s, nijinska’s, noces’, pina, rite, shape, spring, wayne, line, george, four, bausch’s, body, bronislava, cares, chroma, classical, connections, dancing, works
Quote paper
Emily Long (Author), 2019, The Classical Line in the Dancing Body. Shape and Connections in Four Works, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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