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We are back with another edition of Bag of Steps. This time we look at every turning trick designed to make us go “whoa” and typically reserved for the grand finale, such as in the coda from a Pas de Deux .

Turns include female and male pirouettes and their offshoots. For the ballerina they are the signature bravura step, the ability to turn in 32 fouettées being her ultimate technical benchmark. For the danseur they are powerful wizardry tools, especially those multiple turns generated from a single impulse.

Pirouette

Spin. A complete turn of the body on one foot. The supporting foot can be either on pointe or demi-pointe, with the working leg positioned sur le cou-de-pied, in arabesque, à la seconde, in attitude, etc. Legs give the impulse from a deep plié in preparatory position, arms control the turning speed and the head is the last part of the body to turn away from an imaginary “spotting” point and the first to hit the point again once the body completes the turn.

Pirouette en dedans: a pirouette which turns inwards. The body turns towards the supporting leg, so if the dancer turns on the right foot, the dancer turns to the right.

Pirouette en dehors: a pirouette which turns outwards. The body turns towards the raised leg, so if the dancer turns on the right foot, the dancer turns to the left.

A dancer from Pennsylvania Ballet demonstrates a sequence of pirouettes en dehors.

Grand Pirouette, Pirouette à la seconde (also, Tours à la seconde): Pirouette with one leg raised at 90 degrees. These are typically performed by men. Starting from fifth position with a grand battement into second position, legs lower into demi-plié to propel the turns. The arms start in second position and close in first, the right leg is raised into second with a swift movement for each turn en dehors.

Mikhail Baryshnikov does a Grand Pirouette in this video of ABT’s Don Quixote.

Fouetté

Whipped. In this step the raised foot undergoes a short “whipped” motion as it passes in front of, or behind, the supporting leg to the opposite direction. There are many types of fouettés. Here we will focus on those en tournant (ie. while turning).

Grand Fouetté en Tournant (Italian Fouettés): Starting in arabesque, the dancer goes from a deep plié into a series of relevés en pointe or demi-pointe while swinging the back leg to the front. The arms move from first to fifth position. In a half turn, the body moves away from the lifted leg and ends in arabesque (or attitude, with the back to the audience). In a full turn, the leg is held devant until the body shifts through arabesque to start the movement again with the leg swept from the back.

Yekaterina Kondaurova does a series of (full) Italian Fouettés in the Queen of the Dryads Variation of Mariinsky‘s Don Quixote. Move forward to the 1:21 mark.

Fouetté Rond de Jambe en Tournant (Russian Fouetté turns): Starting on fourth, the dancer does a pirouette en dehors and then a demi-plié (fondu) while the working leg is thrown à la seconde. While the supporting leg relevés to pointe the dancer turns bending the working leg’s knee and passing the foot from behind to the front of the supporting leg. At the start of the series the arms open in second position to follow the leg and are brought into first while turning.

Svetlana Zakharova throws a sequence of fouettés en tournant during the coda of Don Quixote’s Grand Pas de Deux.

Fouetté Rond de Jambe en Tournant (Cecchetti Fouetté turns): Instead of extending the working leg à la seconde, the dancer throws the leg towards croisé devant en l’air, sweeps it à la seconde and turns while bringing the working foot from the side to the front of the supporting leg.

Tamara Rojo executes Cecchetti style Fouetté turns in the same Don Quixote coda (adding a couple of multiple pirouettes). Move forward to 9:52 to watch.

Piqué Tours

Piqué means Pricked or Struck.

Piqué Tours en dedans (or Pirouette Piqué): the dancer steps en pointe onto a straight leg and turns while the opposite leg is brought into passé (so the turn is done towards the supporting leg).

Polina Semionova does a series of piqué turns (en dedans) en manège, at the 1:34 mark, in Giselle’s first act variation.

Piqué Tours en dehors (or “lame ducks”): the dancer steps en pointe onto a straight leg, half turns to place the opposite leg on the floor and picks up the original leg into passé. The turn is then done away from the supporting leg.

Svetlana Zakharova does a series of “lame ducks” at the 1:47 mark in Swan Lake’s Odette’s Variation.

Tours Châinés (or Tours Châinés Déboulés)

A chain of “rolling balls”. In a diagonal, straight line or in circles, the dancer does a series of rapid turns on pointe or demi-pointe. When moving to the right, the turn is on the right leg and at the end of the turn the left foot is placed on the spot where the right foot began.

At 1.21, Alina Cojocaru zips through a series of châinés (and some piqué turns sur le cou-de-pied) in this fragment of Ashton‘s Cinderella.

Note. We recommend you also have a look at videos featuring such notable “human-spintops” as  Maria Alexandrova, Gillian Murphy, Natalia Osipova, Tamara Rojo and Viengsay Valdés, not forgetting male dancers Carlos Acosta, Misha Baryshnikov, Ángel Corella and Leonid Sarafanov.

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The Mariinsky visit to London a few weeks ago and in particular the fact that they brought mime-less Soviet adaptations of ballet classics with them, generated much discussion among Covent Garden audiences about the importance of mime in ballet. When Konstantin Sergeyev revisited works such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Le Corsaire in the 50’s, balletic mime was largely scrapped in Russia as it was considered that new audiences did not need to be exposed to something as old fashioned and reminiscent from Tsarist times. The West would follow suit later on when it considered that dancing should be a complete means of storytelling with no additional form of narration.  Mime became moot.

But well performed balletic mime can be as artistic and as beautiful to watch as the dance itself. It carries forth the story, putting it into context. For instance audiences watching the Mariinsky’s Sleeping Beauty will be given no clues that the Lilac Fairy reverts Carabosse’s curse to princess Aurora by reassuring the whole court that if she pricks her finger she will fall into deep sleep but not die. Of course there is an argument that many of us will be  familiar with this fairy tale and that we do not need such level of detail in performance. On the other hand, omitting the Lilac Fairy mime means depriving audiences of one of ballet’s most moving sequences as this passage assists in developing her character, conveying a full sense of the Lilac Fairys warmth, kindness and wisdom as well as the contrast between good and evil, her calming gestures opposing Carabosse’s jerky, angry movements. All this is achieved by working the upper body, with face, arms and hand gestures that are completely integrated to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. Balletic mime is a stylish work of art.

Deirdre Chapman as Carabosse Photo: Johan Person/Royal Ballet © Source: Dansomanie

Deirdre Chapman as Carabosse Photo: Johan Person/Royal Ballet © Source: Dansomanie

Although we hardly ever see mime in modern pieces, classic works that have been preserved or reconstructed by ballet companies such as ABT, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet (the latter boasting a pure mime tradition that goes back to the Bournonville schooling) tend to contain substantial mime sequences. As we just wrote a post on going to the ballet for the first time we thought the mime basics would also help prepare you for the performance ahead. Chances are you will come across lengthy declamatory, narrative or conversational mime passages if you are going to see a 19th century ballet classic and if you know the basics you won’t be left scratching your head:

Most commonly seen mime gestures:

  • Dance

Hands circle one another above the head, the arms moving from first to third position.

Ex: in The Sleeping Beauty, just before Aurora’s solo, when King Florestan asks his daughter “will you dance for us?”

  • Forget/Think

Character touches the forehead with the index finger.

Ex1: in The Sleeping Beauty, when the evil fairy Carabosse asks the King and the Queen “did you forget to invite me?”

Ex2: in Giselle, before Hilarion calls Albrechts bluff he asks a bewildered Giselledo you really think he loves you?”

  • Die

Crosses arms in front of body in a low position.

Ex: when Giselle‘s mom (Berthe) says to the villagers “the Wilis will make wandering men dance till they die.”

  • Beautiful

Character makes a circle around the face with the palm of the hand.

Ex: in The Sleeping Beauty, before showing Prince Florimund (or Desiré) a vision of Aurora, the Lilac Fairy asks him “do you want to see something beautiful?”

  • Promise

Point two fingers, held together (like a peace sign) upwards in the audience’s direction.

Ex: in Swan Lake, when Prince Siegfried promises to Odette that he will marry her and thus break the swan curse.

And also:

  • Why – both arms open outwards towards the other character
  • King/Queen – taps forehead with hand three times
  • Princess – taps forehead with hand two times
  • I/Me – point to own chest
  • You – point to the other person
  • Love – crosses hands over heart
  • Listen/Listening – cups hand over ear leaning towards the sound or taps the face close to the ears
  • Anger/Angry – bend elbows with fists pointed towards the sky, shaking them
  • Stop – Palm out
  • Engaged or Married – Point to the ring finger

A brief mime dictionary can be downloaded from the Pennsylvania Ballet website from this link

See balletic mime in action:

  • Giselle: Berthe narrates the legend of the Wilis

Move forward to 2:30 to see the full mime sequence where Berthe (Genesia Rosato) tries to warn Giselle (Alina Cojocaru) about the dangers of  too much dancing. She will tell all villagers of the presence of Wilis in the forest who come out late at night to prey on wandering men. Note the miming of: cemetery/burial grounds (the crosses), wilis (the wings, the hand on her chin) dance and die.

  • The Sleeping Beauty: Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy

In the prologue of the Royal Ballet’s current production of  The Sleeping Beauty you can see the complete sequence where Carabosse crashes Aurora’s christening and curses her, miming the gestures: forgot, listen, say, grow up, beautiful, die. The Lilac Fairy interrupts (“now you listen to what I have to say“) miming that if Aurora pricks her finger she will sleep until awakened by a kiss from a faraway land Prince.

  • Swan Lake: Odette and Siegfried
  • Move to 1:40 to see the full mime sequence in this video of Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake production for ABT. The promise sign is mimed twice, first by Odette (Gillian Murphy) when she is telling her story to Prince Siegfried (Ángel Corella) and then by the Prince. Odette also uses mime to explain she is the Queen of the swans.

    • La Sylphide: Madge, Effie & her friends

    Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg characterised as Madge tells James’s fiance Effie and her friends their fortunes in this Bolshoi staging of La Sylphide (Move forward to 0:35). Notice how Madge predicts that Effie shall marry Gurn instead of James.

    See Mime Rehearsals:

    Sources and Further information:

    1. The NYCB website contains useful learning materials for the same Nutcracker mime sequence shown above [link]
    2. Pennsylvania Ballet [link]
    3. Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet by Robert Greskovic. [link]
    4. Ballet Mime for Little Ones via Neo Blog [link]

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    Veronika Part. Source: ABT. Copyright Ballet Theatre Foundation ©.

    Veronika Part. Source: ABT. Copyright Ballet Theatre Foundation ©.

    On one side her admirers and knight-in-shining-armour defenders. On the other those who see her as an inconsistent performer. It doesn’t matter on which side one stands,  all this debate  has helped American Ballet Theatre‘s newest Principal dancer Veronika Part become the equivalent of a ballet cross-cultural phenomenon. Other than achievements such as her success whilst still a soloist-doing-principal roles,  being hailed by London critics in the most recent ABT Coliseum season and forming together with ABT guest artist Roberto Bolle one of Ballet’s most picture perfect partnerships, Veronika has also  managed to electrify jaded ballet-goers, bring new audiences into the theatre, and bag an invitation to The Late Show with David Letterman, one of the US’s hottest talk shows, giving ballet a much needed mainstream boost, charming audiences with her grace and personality, not to mention her gorgeous face.

    Londoners had the pleasure of seeing Veronika last March before her promotion to Principal dancer. She performed here amid rumours that she might be leaving the company in the absence of an overdue promotion. The British critics fell under her spell and she wowed me too: watching Veronika as one of the three odalisques in ABT’s Le Corsaire, it was not only clear that she outshined the other two women (ABT soloists Maria Riccetto and Kristi Boone), but she also commanded the stage like few do. It was no surprise to learn shortly after Part’s London stint that she had finally been promoted.

    Product of the Vaganova machine, Veronika exhibits all the traits that  are so distinctive in Russian dancers: wonderful port de bras, a musical and plastic upper body, regal and elegant lines. She might not be so much the technical whiz as some of her ABT colleagues (like Gillian Murphy, Paloma Herrera or Michelle Wiles), nor did she get to the top as fast as her former classmates Svetlana Zakharova and Daria Pavlenko, however, as a tallish (5’8” = 1.72 m) womanly bodied dancer, she  knows how best to use her physical gifts to convey artistry: she makes you feel Odette’s pain, follow Odile’s flirtatious face and make the audience, rather like prince Siegfried, forget about everyone else on stage.

    The best description I found of what Part brings as a dancer and why she has gathered so many admirers is by Tony Mendez, a former professional ballet dancer, turned guest finder for Letterman, who is, of course a huge Veronika fan:

    Inconsistency kind of gives a dancer an edge. When I go and see Gillian (Murphy) and Paloma (Herrera), I know they’re going to be perfect… So when I see Veronika Part, there’s a little more of a human thing about her—you don’t know how well she’s going to do, and when she does really well, it’s exciting. And her beauty onstage— she’s beautiful to look at. I don’t think that Veronika Part looks like a ballerina. She looks like a beautiful woman who dances.

    Veronika Part in a Nutshell

    Born in St. Petersburg, 1978 into a family with no ballet connections. A nurse mentioned to her mother that she had pretty and long legs, so she might make a great ballerina, though before taking up ballet, Veronika trained in artistic gymnastics.

    She started ballet at age 10 after being accepted at the famous Vaganova Academy to study under the guidance of Inna Zubkovskaya.

    Veronika graduated in 1996, joined the Mariinsky as a member of the corps de ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 1998. Her first major role was Myrtha in Giselle, which she danced just months after having entered the company (January 1997).

    Veronika Part as Myrtha. Source: Broadwayworld.com. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    Veronika Part as Myrtha. Source: Broadwayworld.com. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    Coached by Gabriella Komleva she danced her first principal role: Swan Lake’s double act of Odette/Odile, but her favourite classical role is  actually Raymonda, where she drew favourable comparisons with former teacher (and coach for the role) Inna Zubkovskaya.

    In 2002, during a Mariinsky tour to New York where she received glowing reviews for her performances as the second soloist in Balanchine’s Emeralds, Veronika accepted Kevin McKenzie‘s invitation to stay in the US and join ABT as a Soloist.

    Veronika has mentioned several times that those initial years in NY, with no friends or family, made her a stronger person. Word is that she learned English while watching episodes of the popular TV series Seinfeld.

    A string of uneven performances in 2006/2007 (including Nikiya in ABT’s 2007 Paris Tour) prompted much discussion about Veronika’s stamina, technique, and whether or not nerves were getting in the way, reviews shifting between positive and negative from one season to the next (For instance, this review by Alexandra Tomalonis and this one by Gay Morris, both from Danceviewtimes).

    Her big break with ABT happened in 2007, when she was cast as Aurora in the opening night of the McKenzie/Kirkland/Chernov new production of The Sleeping Beauty. Although she still got mixed reviews for this notoriously challenging role and some questioned her technical suitability for it, she generally started to get more attention in soloist and principal roles alike.

    Despite the overall good reviews and an ever increasing fanbase, ABT still seemed reluctant to give her a promotion or to throw more principal roles at her (besides Odette/Odile, Nikiya and the Sugar Plum Fairy), so rumours were that she would leave in 2008. Luckily for her fans this never materialized and it is thought it was perhaps the appointment of Alexei Ratmansky as ABT’s resident choreographer which contributed to Veronika’s change of heart.

    Veronika performed Odette/Odile during ABT’s London tour to outstanding reviews, rekindling the debate amongst critics and audiences about her overdue promotion. Veronika was finally made a Principal dancer in April 2009.

    She is often partnered by Marcelo Gomes a tall, handsome dancer and a good match for her physique. Recently she also found another match for her “in looks” as a much commended sold out performance of Swan Lake alongside Roberto Bolle was labeled by avid fans “the best looking partnership in the history of ballet”.

    Veronika is a spokesperson for Gaynor Minden Inc. and a wearer of their pointe shoes since 2002.

    Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in Le Corsaire. Photo: Gene Schiavone/ABT ©. Source: Danceviewtimes

    Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in La Bayadere. Photo: Gene Schiavone/ABT ©. Source: Danceviewtimes

    Videos

    • A very young Veronika dances a Fairy Variation [link]
    • 1992’s 4th Year class of the Vaganova Academy. We can see her taking class together with future Mariinsky Star Daria Pavlenko. [link]
    • Veronika’s recent appearance in The Late Show with David Letterman [link]
    • Part dances the lead role in the Mariinsky’s production of Raymonda. Performance videos, parts 1 [link] and 2 [link].
    • Veronika as Odette with Marcelo Gomes as Siegfried in ABT’s Swan Lake. [link]

    Extract of Reviews and Praise

    Of her Odette/Odile

    Ms. Part, whose clean style is tinged with an intriguing blend of languor and voluptuousness (…). She offered a superbly tender and sad Odette. With eyes down, lips parted and head thrown back, she evoked a spellbound princess. Her adagio in Act II was conventionally lyrical in the best sense: she wreathed Mr. Korsuntsev’s head with her arm with the softness that colored all her gestures. Yet sharply bent forward, she was a swan maiden with a broken wing, wounded by love and fate. Anna Kisselgoff at the NYTimes [link]

    Ms. Part’s performance is always about the irreducible structural components of classical ballet. She pruned away mannerism as much as is possible or desirable to do an art form that is itself somewhat manneristic. She was technically sound, but her “Swan Lake” was not technical acrobatics; nor was it about realistic drama or animal imitation. She preserves the stylistic imprint of the role without a lot of flapping or pecking. She maintains a rare equilibrium between the linear and sculptural elements of classical ballet. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

    Veronika Part, with her broad-shouldered Joan Crawford looks, gave the most assured and intense performance I have seen from her in a major ballerina role. Her Odette, full of yearning backbends, is awash with feeling; her Odile glamorously exultant. Alastair Macaulay at the NYTimes [link]

    Part offers dancing and interpretation of a voluptuous grandeur, Odette’s tragedy saturating movement and pose, Odile’s malevolence an intoxication of the spirit that will dazzle Siegfried utterly. The role is luscious in phrasing, ever expressive, true. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

    Of her debut as Nikiya in ABT’s La Bayadère (May 2007)

    Ms. Part is a great adagio technician, perhaps the greatest in Kirov lineage since Natalia Makarova and Alla Osipenko 40 years ago. During her lamenting variation in the Pas d’Action… we saw a marvel of scale, ease, and refulgence. No one onstage today better demonstrates the Russian ideal of movement originating from the back, radiating to the extremities and beyond… She is part of an epic ballet spectacle, and her outpouring of emotion is as lush and grand as her physical production. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

    and of a more recent performance of the same role (2008)

    Ms. Part is a highly individualistic dancer who represents several traditions in addition to her own individuality. She epitomizes the Russian emphasis on legato movements, a bel canto all its own… Very few others have succeeded artistically as well as Ms. Part. She lets her height and flexibility expand, but not traduce, the architecture and poetics of classical ballet; her taste is exemplary. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

    Nikiya the temple dancer – or bayadere – was the St. Petersburg-born Veronika Part, dancing with poignant eloquence and impeccable style. Clive Barnes at the NYPost [link]

    Of her roles in The Sleeping Beauty:

    First, as Aurora

    Veronika Part’s lush, emotionally eloquent dancing as Aurora in the Vision Scene was the sole unarguably wonderful element in ABT’s new version of “The Sleeping Beauty”…The Kirov-trained ballerina’s work in the arduous first act had been admirably strong and clear. But here — seemingly impalpable, yet making it clear that she is longing for the Prince as much as he is for her — Part worked the real ballerina magic of transforming steps into atmosphere and feeling. Tobi Tobias at Bloomberg [link]

    and as the Lilac Fairy

    She (Part) reclaimed her rightful role as the Lilac Fairy, for which she’s perfect and in which she has lengthy experience. Ms. Part danced and declaimed magnificently. As exciting as the sweep and aplomb of her movement were the many shades of character she brought to the role, appropriate for a deity who should ideally encompass all the attributes that are presented to the infant Aurora in the Prologue by Lilac’s attendant fairies. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

    Clement Crisp comments on Part’s various appearances in London:

    Balanchine’s Symphonie Concertante

    …The corps was nattily exact, much given to eager smiles as if trying to jump a queue, and it was the presence of Veronika Part (as the viola’s representative) who brought the piece, and the evening, to glory. We remember her as a young divinity with the Mariinsky Ballet and the dignity and amplitude of her St Petersburg style, the voluptuous, luscious grace of her every action, pouring some noble and heady wine for us, breathed life, meaning, into her role. She was a diamond set amid rhinestones, Pouding Nesselrode as an alternative to water ices. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

    and as one of the three Odalisques in Le Corsaire, last March:

    Veronika Part appeared, a divinity in exile, as an odalisque. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link].

    Sources and Further Information

    1. Veronika Part’s Official Website [link]
    2. Profile for Kirov Ballerina Veronika Part by Marc Haegeman, from For Ballet Lovers Only [link]
    3. Gaynor Minden Dancer Profile, written by Eliza Minden and Karen Lacy [link]
    4. Veronika Part interviewed by Graham Watts. Ballet.co Magazine, March 2008 [link]
    5. A Reason to Go on Living, blog post by James Wolcott. VanityFair.com [link]
    6. Assoluta by Laura Jacobs. Dance critic for The New Criterion [link]

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