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April 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Ballet Is Not Your Cardio Training: On Annemarie Autere’s Master Classes in Riga

Ballet Is Not Your Cardio Training: On Annemarie Autere’s Master Classes in Riga
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Inta Balode

With support of the State Cultural Capital Foundation (VKKF), finding time between her master classes in Vilnius and Oslo, dancer, choreographer, the creator of ballet training method BalletBodyLogic Annemari Autere visited Riga in March 18-21, 2014. She gave master classes of her method to the students of Latvian Academy of Culture (LAC), to members of Association of Professional Ballet and a body of Riga School of Choreography teaching staff. DANCE.LV Journal has closely followed the progress of these sessions and surveyed the opinions of a few of their participants. Norway-originated ballet dancer who has worked on developing her method of dance technique training for more than twenty years, after finishing her career on stage, has already visited Latvia several times before. Annemari Autere has taught master classes as part of Riga’s annual International Festival of Contemporary Dance ‘Time to Dance’, worked with LAC students, offered a master introduction to her method to ballet artists of Latvian National Opera and choreography college students in Latvia. More recently, Ms. Autere was one of the professors working for the project ‘A New Dance for a New Venue’, engendered by DANCE.LV Journal, which was held in the Latgale cultural embassy GORS in Rēzekne early in October 2013.Every one of Annemari Autere’s visits of Latvia has earned numerous very positive responses. While the BalletBodyLogic method has been created for ballet dancers in its root, it is equally valuable for the professionals and students of contemporary dance as well as for everyone who is interested to advance their knowledge of their own body. As its author indicates, the basis of this method is ‘preparation of instrument.’ It is that kind of work on the body, which enables development and strengthening of its deeper muscles, promotes understanding of its functioning and of the relation of human anatomy to energy and artistic expression. Irrespective of the dance technique, to which this method is applied, the outcome is a more expressive dance requiring less of physical tension and, therefore, leaving more of dancer’s strength and energy for the aesthetic aspect of dance. Annemari Autere’s work has been highly esteemed internationally – she is a regular speaker in conferences on dance medicine, dance methods and other themes, as well as teaches in festivals, summer academies, ballet schools and universities all over the world. Just recently, in February 2014, the Dorrance Publishing has offered Annemari Autere’s first book The Feeling Balletbody. Building the Dancer’s Instrument According to BalletBodyLogic to international reading audience. At once engaging and educative summary of reflections distilled in twenty years of work, it is available also on www.amazon.com. This edition concludes with a wide range of exercises. Meanwhile, its author started to work on her next publication before her debut book had found its way to the readership. In the context of Latvia, it is intriguing that Ms. Autere will invite several authors from other countries to contribute to this book, including associate professor of LAC Ramona Galkina who specializes in Feldenkrais method, among other disciplines. The emerging book will introduce a range of dance experts’ views on the functioning of different parts of dancer’s body in dance.

Annemari Autere tells that the 3rd year students of the Program of contemporary dance of Latvian Academy of Culture have been the most eager participants to learn about her experience. Every time choreographer and author explains her method, she also demonstrates images representing the structure of human body. Typically, students are not the most attentive lot to study them, but this group has been very interested to search them. The students’ answers to our questions of what they have gained from these classes and what novel things they have learned are also worth noting. Alise Putniņa tells us that ‘now when I know what a big part of my body my vertebrae actually is, it almost seems that I have to rethink its entire structure. And the inner muscles are my best friends now! There has been so much new!’ Alise is not alone to stress that they have been urged to think about the depth, the innermost, the deeper/inner muscles, the interior of their bodies in these classes. Mārtiņš Sprūds: ‘The knowledge comes from the depth.’ Katrīna Lapšina: ‘The fact that I know and am able to control my body from outside does not mean that I have grasped already everything from within. It is even wilder than being lost in a labyrinth without knowing your way out. Our body is wiser than our brain, but how are we to find a balance? This question has been on my mind since my first year of studies, and Annemarie has returned me to this line of thought once again.’

Several aspiring choreographers of contemporary dance have seen the classical dance with fresh eyes and, quite certainly, now they are able to grasp more of its value, to perceive more of its depth. Agate Bankava: ‘It turns out that ballet is all about movement from within as well and not only about striking visual form. With this knowledge, everything becomes logical and clear. It is a pity that for a time being there are few teachers of this kind of classical dance in Latvia. Dancers must understand anatomy, as, in the opposite case, one could compare it to computing without the knowledge of numbers.’ Rūdolfs Gediņš: ‘There is no sense to perceive classics as cardio training, that is, it would not be advisable to pump up obtusely whichever muscle is first to remind you of itself! A movement must begin from understanding and from your thought about movement.’

Such master classes widen the perception of dance, open new aspects and give inspiration for further development of oneself. Jānis Putniņš: ‘It feels like I would have discovered my body anew for myself; so much has been gained, so much new – understood; we have to go on and invest what we have gained into our body, discovering a new quality. I am convinced that the results will be seen. I have a completely changed my view of the classics now – of all its whats, hows, and whys; so simple and unbelievably complicated at the same time. In fact, there is no need to gasp and to pant, but just to awaken your dormant muscles. I am wildly enthusiastic both about her work and her theory; her method has been the one, which found way into my consciousness, I have come across another piece of the puzzle to add to my picture of understanding of what is dance.’

Annemari Autere has already been a guest of Riga School of Choreography before. That time, her class was attended by students, and several teachers participated in it as viewers. On this visit, five pedagogues of this school could acquire her method as applied to their very ‘skin and muscles.’ Annemari admits that her students were very open and interested, in general, while, of course, as a rule it is not rare that ballet school pedagogues may approach such work with quite a bit of skepticism and questions of how they are supposed to ‘apply all this knowledge to life.’ The class had morphed into a very lively discussion with a leitmotif sounding throughout it that a lot needs be changed in ballet education from its very foundation. Dance teachers told her how many difficulties they had been facing whenever they tried to introduce something novel when a strict framework of study program was in place and all over situation was fairly conservative.

The master class held for Latvian Association of Professional Ballet had interested seven of former ballet artists. Annemari relates that this had been one of the most spirited and nicest of such sessions in her experience. Former dancers, who are now teachers and leaders of their own groups of dance, were rich in experience, understanding and, above all, a wonderful sense of humor and a good deal of self-irony. Both, during and after the class, more than one flying and highly revealing expression had taken wings in the room: ‘Oh, so that’s why I couldn’t make those 32 fouetté!’, ‘No such a thing as muscles on my back, there’s just fat!’, ‘Who’s been God’s darling to receive long arms, they can do it!’, ‘I feel twice as thin and twice as light as before’, ‘I can do everything with my one leg and zero – with the other’, ‘She is made from backbone by half’, ‘We don’t know how to relax!’, ‘This will serve me well in the next seventy years of my life’, ‘And why didn’t I know this 40 years ago?’. The artists also admitted that they now understood why dancers would spend so much time rolling on the ground sometimes in their contemporary dance classes. If their backbone is correctly set as they lie on the ground, then, so it will be in the position on their feet as well. The most important conclusion is that dancers just tend to find themselves using Annemarie’s method in the course of years or maybe even decades of their creative work. However, it is possible to begin ballet training with this very essential ‘preparation of the body’ right from the start. Annemari Autere compares a typical ballet education with scales where the first three steps are usually jumped over, resulting in pain, overstraining, and lack of understanding of the body, which could be avoided. It could be avoided in case of beginning to approach the body from within in order to open it out instead of imposing the outer form by force.

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