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Any pianist who works with ballet dancers?
#2846964 05/10/19 07:38 AM
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hyena Offline OP
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Heya,

I'm doing some research (again).

This time I'm mainly curious about the pianists collaboration with Ballet Dancers.

What is it you do, who decides what you play? Also, with who else do you collaborate (in the context of ballet) do you also have to speak to the choreographer? Any info would do really!

Thanks!

Re: Any pianist who works with ballet dancers?
hyena #2846997 05/10/19 09:30 AM
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I have been playing for ballet classes a little over a year. I only play for technique/warm-up classes. Any rehearsals, they use with orchestral recordings.

For technique/pointe classes, the teachers usually give me a tempo and meter and demonstrate the dance, and I can pretty quickly either improvise something to fit the tempo and meter, as well as spirit of the dance... Or, I play a piece of classical piano rep (or a pop song/movie soundtrack, the dancers and teachers really enjoy that, actually!) that could seem to work.

There's only one teacher I play for who is rather specific about what he wants... He'll look over to me and say "Mazurka" or "Polonaise" or "Polka" or "Tango" or something like that.


Do you play for ballet dancers? Are you interested in doing so? It's a lot of fun, especially if you can play by ear/improvise fairly well.

Re: Any pianist who works with ballet dancers?
hyena #2847216 05/10/19 09:54 PM
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I did 8 years as a full-time ballet pianist in Central London back in the 70s-80s, mainly as staff pianist for various ballet schools, ranging from conservatoire level to 3-11 year-olds.

80 percent or more of such work consists of playing for technique classes. At all levels, the class is structured around a universally followed core of fundamental movement excercises, starting at the barre, then centre of room, and finally across-floor.
Junior-level schools mainly work to exam syllabuses and often provide syllabus-specific volumes of music for accompanying the exercises. Generally, teachers take it for granted that you'll be able to proficiently sightread whatever published material they hand you.

At conservatoire level, exam-syllabus classwork is the exception rather than the norm, and the pianist is entirely responsible for furnishing almost all the music for classes. For the core exercises, teachers generally expect pianists to know what particular rhythm, metre and tempo a particular exercise requires, and to be able to provide the appropriate type of music instantly. Some pianists bring with them their own collections of exercise-music, scrupulously ordered so as to avoid having to search for something apt on demand. However, given that one will be playing six hours or more per day, five days a week, being able to provide decent-quality music out of one's head - memorized or improvised - is virtually indispensable. Most teachers are pretty conservative as regards musical style - mid to late 19th Century is the main staple material (slow to fast waltzes, mazurkas polkas, marches, galops and so forth, but interspersing material from earlier or later periods makes a welcome relief from this mostly rather trite, humdrum stuff. Generally, teachers are happy with any music that's apt for the exercise; I only came across a couple (out of dozens) who were fussy by nature (e.g. they'd object if you played a well-known tune from a musical or opera, because for them it suggested something other than ballet-music - while the students couldn't care less!).

There isn't much published literature for helping ballet-pianists develop expertise. The most important tome is "A handbook for the ballet accompanist" by Gerald R. Lishka. Aside from that, the main published material for getting acquainted with music for accompanying exercises consists of official syllabus music and collections composed by individuals - Google "books ballet pianist" to explore.

Full-time ballet work is mentally and physically taxing, and not handsomely paid, so not for everyone by any means. Pianos are rarely wonderful - generally worked to death, actions never regulated by a technician and infrequently tuned. Sometimes one encounters ones that are unplayable wrecks - in which case, it's important to decline requests for your services in future, as you're highly at risk of injuring your hands.


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

https://understanding-piano-technique.com/ocportal
Re: Any pianist who works with ballet dancers?
hyena #2847249 05/11/19 01:34 AM
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hyena:

PW member "TwoSnowflakes" has been accompanying ballet classes for some time now and frequently posts about the repertoire she uses for those classes. Watch for her, or contact her.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: Any pianist who works with ballet dancers?
Orange Soda King #2847672 05/13/19 06:41 AM
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hyena Offline OP
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Thanks a lot!

Very interesting to read smile

Originally Posted by Orange Soda King
I have been playing for ballet classes a little over a year. I only play for technique/warm-up classes. Any rehearsals, they use with orchestral recordings.
-
Do you play for ballet dancers? Are you interested in doing so? It's a lot of fun, especially if you can play by ear/improvise fairly well.


Oh nice! No, I'm far from a professional pianist. I can improvise classical period music pretty decent though, but keeping the pulse while improvising is still a challenge for me.

I study design and will have to design something in relation to Ballet or Opera. Since piano is quite a large hobby of mine, I want to see if I can mix this. Which also got me interested what role a pianist would play in all this.

Originally Posted by Scordatura

There isn't much published literature for helping ballet-pianists develop expertise. The most important tome is "A handbook for the ballet accompanist" by Gerald R. Lishka. Aside from that, the main published material for getting acquainted with music for accompanying exercises consists of official syllabus music and collections composed by individuals - Google "books ballet pianist" to explore.


Thanks I'll check that book out.

Damn that doesn't sound fun though. There's nothing worse than a bad tuned piano. Hopefully they won't go as far blaming you for playing "Out of tune".

Originally Posted by BruceD

hyena:

PW member "TwoSnowflakes" has been accompanying ballet classes for some time now and frequently posts about the repertoire she uses for those classes. Watch for her, or contact her.

Regards,


Thanks Bruce! I will definitely look for her post smile

Re: Any pianist who works with ballet dancers?
hyena #2848839 05/16/19 01:43 PM
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Thought I'd jump in here - I accompanied dancers for a few years in the early 2000's (my roommates were ballerinas/modern dancers, so I got a lot of gigs through them!). I did a wide range of types, from improvisational, to classical/ballet, modern, jazz, etc.

It really is going to depend on who you are accompanying for. If it's for a class, you will likely do two things: one, you will accompany for warm-ups. This can be an on-the-fly thing and is more tempo/beat driven than musically driven. So having a wide range of pieces that cover a wide range of different beats/styles is helpful. Then, usually there will be a specific piece (or pieces) that you will be playing that they are working on - so, for example, I accompanied a ballet that was set to a piece by poulenc. You need to know the piece inside, outside, and upside down, because they will continously stop and start and you have to be able to pick up on whatever beat they so choose. That's one of the reasons it's so nice to have a live pianist instead of a recording for class - fiddling with a CD player or Spotify and trying to find exactly where you want to pick up (or rewind to) is such a pain.

I also accompanied for modern dance in which they wanted something composed for them, usually collaboratively with the choreographer, and then they would teach the dance to that composition, which is really cool to see your composition come to life. Or sometimes they would have you "accompany" them while watching what they are doing and playing to their movements. That was always fun, too, if you are good at improvising.

It sounds like you are in school. If your school has a dance department, I suggest asking if you can drop by one of their classes where they have accompaniment on the piano. It should give you a good sense for some of what the pianist does!


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