When one goes into the studio one stands on the shoulders of those who came before. This is the wonderful tradition that we have in ballet. When I enter the studio to teach, make choreography, or to dance I carry with me, in the fiber of my being, aspects of all those teachers, choreographers, and colleagues with which I have worked throughout my career. There are three however that deserve special mention since I carry them more near the surface as I work. I am sure that without the fortuitous arrival of each of these fine gentlemen in my life, I and my work would be vastly different.
I was adrift --- nothing in my dancing was working --- the relationship with my previous instructor had taken a turn for the worse --- I was restive. My friend Dianna Warren said, "Go to the class of Vladimir Davidov. I think you'll like him." With that suggestion my world changed. I fear I was blithely oblivious that he was the only Vaganova Institute/ex-Kirov Ballet dancer teaching at that time in New York City. Prior to my study with Vladimir my training had been a hodgepodge of various methods and approaches with more contradictions than consistency.
With Vladimir I found a way of approaching ballet technique that worked with my body rather than against it. With him I found how to dance from the inside out, rather than trying to make superficial, contrived shapes and sequences of movement. Many considered him and attitude problem in tights. Many highly skilled accompanists absolutely refused to work with him. He was barely verbal in his way of teaching. I always attributed that to English being his second language, although other Russian dancers I encountered often quipped (in very good English) that "his Russian is no better than his English." Dance is after all a non-verbal mode of communication. Vladimir let the enchainments he gave do the speaking. In retrospect, I think the reduction in verbosity led me away from over analyzing and helped me "get out of my own way." With him I found the freedom to construct geometries (classical and non) with my body and the security to move dynamically and efficiently.
When I was first asked to teach I was told, "You can do it. You know what Vladimir does. Just do that," So simple to say, yet so difficult to do. Many years and thousands of tendus later, I am still constructing my classes based on what Vladimir did. I have grown and matured as a teacher and always seek new stimuli to keep me progressing. My demeanor in class is not at all as his was. I have yet to master his way of getting one to make a correction through "a grunt and a glare". Regardless, I unashamedly strive to structure my classes like Vladimir did.
I first became aware of Ramzi in the class of Ali Pourfarroukh at the New York Conservatory. At the invitation of another choreographer, I performed as a guest with the Ramzi el-Edlibi Company somewhere in New Jersey --- I think it was at a university but the name escapes me. My introduction to Ramzi's work was at the dress rehearsal. What I saw was a revelation --- especially a piece danced by Ramzi and Azmara. What I saw was a beauty of line, a complexity of rhythmic structure, and an absolutely stunning energy. I remember thinking, "I would love to do that --- but could never do it." Before long I found myself a member of Ramzi's company and engaged in one of the most interesting, challenging, and fulfilling segments of my career.
I was not an Oriental Dancer --- I was not a Middle Eastern Dancer ---- I was not a Belly Dancer. I was a ballet dancer with some Graham training. Ramzi took great time and care to train me to be able to realize his particular choreography. Having come from the Lebanese tradition of Wadea Jarrar and Abdel Halim Caracalla, his style was a well balanced amalgam of traditional Middle Eastern dance and Modern dance positioned firmly on solid foundation of ballet technique, We regularly worked side by side in the ballet class of Vladimir Davidov. Rehearsals often took on a collaborative and conspiratorial tone as together we built the intricate footwork of the 3/4 section of the Sama'i, reworked --- yet again --- the Sorceress pas de deux, or played with phrases for pieces yet to be created. I still regret that we never got to complete the Turkish Bath piece.
Learning myriad ways to clap. Learning to deal with complicated rhythms. Discovering that true strength and control comes ultimately from being able to release. Unearthing the "archeology" of ballet steps while watching the folk dancing by the statue of Poland in Central Park. All of this gave new facets to my dancing and more texture to my ever evolving aesthetic. I believe that I danced even the Classical repertory differently informed after my experience with Ramzi. I receive great joy any time I am able to expose my students and audience to concepts that had their formation during this heady time.
Hal De Becker
I met Hal when I moved to Las Vegas. I quickly became devoted to his class at Backstage Dance Studio. His classes were well structured, always challenging, and infinitely danceable. From the outset we shared an approach to the work that was unique. Although he had a few years seniority over me, upon comparing backgrounds we found that we had worked with many of the same teachers and dancers along the way. We shared a confidence in the reliability of the Vaganova method while also being open to innovative and wide ranging choreographic approaches. He is the first American I met who possessed a similar love of and respect for the works of Maurice Bejart.
We could drill down to the rudiments of a step, the variations in an attack, or the nuances of phrasing and musicality. We shared a love of and respect for the history of dance and both consider this knowledge a necessity in an informed artist. Hal was ever so generous --- loaning me books and videos from his extensive personal library. I take great delight however in being the one first to expose him to the Jiri Kylian masterwork Petite Mort. Over (sometimes too much) champagne, and often with colleagues Larissa Soloviava, Ella Gourkova, and Sergei Popov, we could spend hours discussing the relative merits and short comings of various stagings, choreographies, and interpretations.
A dancer could be considered lucky to encounter Hal at any stage of their career or training. I believe that I was exceptionally lucky to find him when I was in a precarious transitional phase --- moving incrementally away from performing and acquiring skills with which to eventually direct, produce, and stage works.
Statement of my Teaching Philosophy:
I dedicate my efforts to helping build the dancers and the dance audience of tomorrow,
I believe that one most fully understands the art form as currently practiced by understanding whence it came. The essence of understanding the history of dance is to place the technical and aesthetic development of the art in the context of place and time. To view the art as it was affected by and affected the political, social, technological, and other cultural events of each era of its evolution. I believe that a clear methodology of traditional ballet teaching is more effective when informed by scientific principals derived from Geometry, Physics, Anatomy, and Kinesiology.
I teach based on the Vaganova methodology. This is a choice based on experience. Having been exposed to other methodologies as a student and working dancer, I always felt that I progressed more, both technically and artistically, and became a more secure and artistically versatile dancer when under the tutelage of Vaganova teachers. I feel this technique is the most adaptable to physiological variations, creates secure and versatile artists and is on the whole the more saleable technique.
I believe that everyone needs creative art experiences in their lives. That these experiences should be available to people as consumers --- attending a performance --- and also as participants. While the rigor and attitude needed to train a pre-professional student for a possible career or to maintain a professional dancer for the stage is most likely extreme for the recreational dancer, that in no way invalidates the experience of the recreational dancer. Dance engages one in the intellectual and emotional realms as well as the physical. Challenge, struggle, and perseverance toward a goal are rewarding at any time of life. So, while the needs of professional, pre-professional, and recreational dancers differ, all are worthy of my investment and best efforts as an instructor.