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Posts Tagged ‘Technique’

This is the first post devoted to small jumps, the main components of what is known as petit allégro. Used in training they assist in the development of musicality, coordination, and quick footwork (stressing the use of the lower leg) while onstage, they are widely used in variations and/or character dances in full-length ballets, most prominently in Bournonville.

Soubresaut

A straight up jump from fifth, with both legs and arches extended. Starting from a demi-plié to gain impulse, the dancer springs into the air, being careful not to brush one calf against the other. In some schools, this may also be a travelling jump, ie. the dancer moves from its original departure point.

Temps de Poisson (or Sissone Soubresaut)

Means “fish movement”. This is a particular form of soubresaut in which the dancer bends its back at the height of the jump, feet placed together and pointes crossing to form a fishtail. The dancer lands in one leg in demi-plié (fondu) with the opposite leg stretched back in the air. This step, also referred to as sissonne soubresaut, are the distinctive soubresauts in act 2 of Giselle:

Bolshoi’s Nelli Kobakhidze performs a series of sissonne soubresauts in act 2 of Giselle. Move forward to 6:27.

Temps de L’Ange

If while performing a sissone soubresaut the dancer’s legs are bent in attitude, the jump becomes known as temps de l’ange.

Échappé sauté

It literally means a “jumping, escaping movement”. The dancer starts in fifth position and jumps to finish in a demi-plié in second position or fourth position, with both feet traveling in equal distance from the original centre.

Changement

A jump where the feet change positions. The dancer starts in fifth position and jumps straight up and down, getting impulse from a plié and changing feet in the air to land back in fifth, opposite foot in front.

Royale

It is a type of changement where one calf beats against the other before the feet change position to land in fifth. Because of this it can also be referred to as changement battú (ie. battú=beaten).

Here is a masterclass in allegro, featuring all the steps above described, although all of them – not just the Royales – are beaten, meaning that the calves touch before landing.

Johan Kobborg as James in Bournonville‘s La Sylphide. Notice the échappés around 1.20 (with a beat) and royales everywhere.

Entrechat

Stands for braiding (or interlacing). It is a straight up jump from fifth, in which the dancer crosses its legs rapidly while in the air by switching opposite fifth positions.

Each crossing counts as two movements and depending on the landing, one can have even-numbered entrechats (landing with both feet in fifth) or odd-numbered entrechats (landing on one foot), thus:

  • Landing on both feet: entrechats deux, quatre, six, huit, dix.
  • Landing on one foot: entrechats trois, cinq, sept, neuf.

Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg does the famous series of entrechats-six in the coda of Giselle Act II. Move forward to the 5:07 mark.

Pas de Chat

Means “Step of the cat”. The dancer starts in fifth position and the front leg is lifted through retiré as the other leg pushes off the floor and is also raised into a retiré. The first leg lands first, with the second leg following to close in fifth.

The Cygnets (small swans) in Mariinsky’s production of Swan Lake doing a series of pas de chats in a diagonal around the 1.36 mark. There’s also a series of entrechats-quatre before.

The Russian Pas de Chat is a variant of this step in which both legs are positioned in attitude derrière rather than retiré

Mariinsky’s Maya Dumchenko does some Russian Pas de Chats at 0:17, while dancing the Paquita 4th Variation.

Glissade

A small jump which is mainly used to power a big one, or to connect another step. Starting from fifth position, the dancer does a demi-plié and springs slightly upwards. Front leg glides along the floor towards second position, the whole body traveling towards this extended leg, while the back leg glides onto fifth position, so the dancer is again in demi-plié, ready for the subsequent step.

Glissades can be done in all directions (en avant = forward, en arrière = backwards, à la seconde, etc.), with the feet changing accordingly when closing into the final plié.

Assemblé

Assembler means “to put together” or “to assemble”. One starts from fifth position and plié. The back leg slides off to a 45 degree angle battement (beating) on the side, while the front leg (now turned supporting leg) pushes and extends off the floor. The working leg closes in front fifth position, with both legs coming to the ground at the same time. Done in this way, the assemblé is said to have been executed dessus (from the back to the front) but can also be done dessous (from the front to the back).

This step does not travel, ie. the dancer remains in its original position.

Paris Opera Ballet dancers Emmanuel Thibault, Nolwenn Daniel and Mélanie Hurel do assemblés around the 0:33 & 0:40 mark in this beautiful pas de trois from Paquita. Look out for glissades at 1.29 & 1:35, changements at 2:53 & 2:57, entrechats at 4:30 & pas de chats at 4:38 & 4.40.

Brisé

Brisé stands for “broken”. This step is like a “beaten and travelled” version of the assemblé. It can be done en avant and en arrière: en avant, the dancer starts from fifth, back leg brushing in effacé devant and supporting leg pushing from the floor to beat the other leg from behind and front, finishing in fifth position (demi-plié), body arched towards the front throughout. En arriére, all positions are reversed (now the working leg is thrown to effacé derriere), body arched towards the back throughout.

Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru (with Johan Kobborg) in a series of brisés in a diagonal, at around 4:52 in this Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux.

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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In this post we continue to look at some of the big jumps that have historically filled the vision of many choreographers and which continue to fill the eyes of an audience. Our focus is on a set of common jumps, which tend to occur in almost every classical variation rather than on the flashy jumps which we already covered in Part 1.

Tours en l’air

Propelled from a deep plié in fifth position, the dancer jumps, making a complete turn in the air, switching feet and landing back in tight (closed) fifth position.

ABT’s Daniil Simkin in a variation from The Sleeping Beauty, where he executes some tours en l’air around the 1.07 mark.

Tour de force

A bravura type combination of tours en l’air, pirouettes and spins. A true feat of technical prowess.

ABT’s Angel Corella does a tour de force in Ali’s variation of Le Corsaire (move to the 0:52 mark)

Poisson

Literally meaning fish, it is a jump where the legs are crossed in fifth and held tightly while the back arches throughout its execution, as in the following image:

NYCBs Gonzalo García in Poisson form. Photo: Paul Kolnik, NYCB ©. Source: Danser en France

NYCB's Gonzalo García in Poisson form. Photo: Paul Kolnik, NYCB ©. Source: Danser en France

And here we see the jump in action:

Legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov does poisson jumps in his diagonal of cabriolés during Albrecht‘s variation in act 2 of Giselle.

Saut de chat

Also called a développé grand jeté. The working leg passes through retiré and is thrown forward into a développé, so both legs end up extended forming a 180 degree angle.

Paris Opera Ballet’s Aurélie Dupont does some saut de chats at the beginning of Gamzatti‘s variation in La Bayadère.

Grand pas de chat (This step is also called Russian pas de chat or Pas de chat jeté)

As in a grand jeté the dancer starts by throwing the first leg into a grand battement but then pulls the second leg into passé and lands on the first leg, with the second joining in fifth or in an arabesque. Alternatively the dancer may throw the first leg as in a saut de chat (see above). As this step was frequently used by Balanchine, it is also informally known as “Balanchine’s jump” (see the entrance of Stars and Stripes or Theme and Variations).

NYCBs Miranda Weese doing a grand pas de chat, supported by Damian Woetzel. Photo: Paul Kolnik / NYCB ©. Source: Voice Of Dance

NYCB's Miranda Weese doing a grand pas de chat, supported by Damian Woetzel. Photo: Paul Kolnik / NYCB ©. Source: Voice Of Dance

And here we see the jump in action:

Legendary Kirov ballerina Alla Sizova doing some grand pas de chats in Medora‘s variation of Le Corsaire

Sissonne

This jump, from both feet onto one foot, looks like the action of crossing blades in a pair of scissors. The jump starts from fifth position and lands on the leg which the dancer jumped from, leaving the other leg extended in dégagé (pointed toe extended off the floor at 45 degrees, a la seconde or en arrière).

Grand Sissonne Ouverte

This literally means “big open sissonne. One jumps high from a deep plié in fifth position, landing on one foot in a pose such as attitude, arabesque a la seconde, etc. It can be performed en avant, de côté or en arrière. A video of this step is available here [link].

Sissonne Développé Assemblé or Sissonne Doublée

This is a compound step which starts with a sissonne ouverte de côté (see above), followed by a coupé and an assemblé. It can be done as part of a series, in which one travels in one or more directions.

Mariinsky’s Vladimir Shklyarov does a whole series of sissonnes. Starting at 3:00, he does a Grand Sissonne de côté, assemblé, sissonne doublée and repeats (There are also some beautiful tours en l’air on 3:23 and a tour de force around 3:25).

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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This post is devoted to big jumps, usually the territory of  male dancers, though some of them are also done by ballerinas. These tend to draw gasps and applause from audiences (after all, some of them are extremely hard!) and comments in dance reviews. Given there are plenty of jumps in the ballet syllabus, we will focus first on a small subset. As usual, our intention is not to teach but to pass on general knowledge and illustrate the movements with words, images and video links.

Grand Jeté

This is probably a jump that features on most ballet performances. Jeté means, literally, thrown. In this step the dancer throws each leg at 90 degrees (and opposite directions) while jumping. It is usually preceded by a step like a glissade to gain momentum, followed by an arabesque position or attitude.

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg doing parallel grand jetés. Photo: Bill Cooper - The Royal Ballet ©. Source: Dansomanie

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg doing parallel grand jetés. Photo: Bill Cooper - The Royal Ballet ©. Source: Dansomanie

When grand jetés are done around the stage in a continuous sequence, as is typical in a classical male variation (note the princes’s variations in Swan Lake & The Sleeping Beauty), they are usually refered to as Jetés en manège.

Jeté Entrelacé (or Tour Jeté)

A grand jeté done in a circle. While the dancer throws the front leg, the body turns and the second leg is thrown to the back.

Here Dutch student Marijn executes a beautiful entrelacé.

Cabriolé

A step in which both legs are beaten in the air. The dancer starts with a grand battement and the leg that is underneath follows and beats the front leg, sending it higher. The dancer lands on the leg underneath. If there are two beats, it is usually referred as double.  This step can be done from any position of the body (devant, derriere or à la seconde).

The Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg executes a couple of cabriolés, in the Don Quixote variation.

Saut de Basque

This is a travelling jump. The dancer starts with a grand battement à la seconde, and the body turns, while the pushing foot folds into the other leg, positioning itself in a coupé position (that is, in front of the ankle) and landing in fondu.

Here Houston Ballet’s Randy Herrera does a saut de basque at the end of a sequence of turns.

Barrel Turns

This is a very flashy bravura step. The dancer turns in the air, throwing one leg to the back in attitude to lead the movement, while bringing the other leg along.

The Royal Ballet’s Carlos Acosta does a series of barrels (around the 1.53 mark), in this extract of Le Corsaire, with some saut de basques at the beginning.

The “540”

A variation of the barrel turn where the body turns 540 degrees. The throwing leg stays in the same position, while the other leg moves over it. This daredevil, not-your-everyday-jump is usually reserved for galas.

Here Mariinsky’s Denis Matvienko does a couple of 540’s in the coda of Le Corsaire.

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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Continuing from the previous edition of Bag of Steps, where we looked at the eight positions of the body from which all the various steps are executed, we are now going to see how these eight positions are integrated with the dance:

All dance steps stem naturally from the alignment and position of the body, so it is not that the dancer will stop in effacé devant, for some seconds, as they might do in class and then proceed with a particular step. That would turn a solo/variation into an assortment of poses or, to borrow from Clement Crisp’s description of a very slow paced adagio, a “game of statues.” But even with the dancer’s body in constant flow during a variation, one can still try and identify the key positions adopted. This is actually a fun exercise (at least for us!), as we demonstrate below.

We have taken two video fragments, both featuring Royal Ballet dancers: one from the Lilac Fairy variation (The Sleeping Beauty, Prologue) as danced by the joyous Marianela Nuñez, and another from Giselle (Act II), danced by the ethereal Alina Cojocaru†. We have pasted them together and tagged the positions in parts where we think they can be clearly spotted, so lookout for six of those eight positions previously described.

Note that while the diagrams in our post had dancers executing the positions from the leg tendu a terre (“stretched” on the ground), Marianela and Alina are getting into their positions with the leg en l’air (lifted working leg).

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† Copyright from the videos belongs to its respective owners.

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In ballet there are eight positions of the body from which all the various steps are executed. All the different schools of ballet use them, with slight variations from one to another (and some methods incorporate more positions or variations, but we are not going to be picky, since our aim is just to get familiar with the terminology). In fact, we mentioned one of the positions (effacé devant) when we discussed Balloté, so we thought it was a good idea to present them here, since they are used all over the place. These are:

  1. Croisé Devant
  2. Quatrième Devant
  3. Effacé Devant
  4. à la Seconde
  5. Croisé Derriere
  6. Ecarté
  7. Epaulé
  8. Quatrième Derrière

Let us start with some French vocabulary 

Devant: To the front
Derrière: To the back (close to the rear)
Croisé: Crossed alignment
Seconde: To the second position (lateral)
Ècarté: Separated or thrown wide apart
Effacé: Shaded
Epaulé: Shouldered (so when people talk about épaulement, they really are referring to the position of the upper body starting from the shoulders and the upper back)

Now one creates positions mixing the different components. Let us explain them carefully

1. Croisé Devant

Standing at an oblique angle to the audience (facing a corner), the leg nearer to the audience is the working leg and is extended in fourth position, pointing on tendú (=stretched) to the front. The arms are placed in (open) fourth position, such that the lower arm is on the same side as the extended leg.

2. Quatrième Devant

Facing the audience, the working leg is extended to fourth position, pointing on tendú to the front, with the arms in second position (open) and the head facing the audience.

3. Effacé Devant

Standing at an oblique angle to the audience (facing a corner), such as that part of the body is hidden. The leg further from the audience becomes the working leg and is extended in fourth position, pointing on tendú to the front. The arms are placed in (open) fourth position such that the lower arm is on the same side as the extended leg.

4. à la Seconde

Facing the audience, the working leg is extended to second position, pointing on tendú to the side, with the arms in second position (open) and the head facing the audience. It is also referred as à la seconde en face.

5. Croisé Derriere

Standing at an oblique angle to the audience (facing a corner). The leg further from the audience becomes the working leg and is extended in fourth position, pointing on tendú to the back. The arms are placed in (open) fourth position such that the lower arm is on the same side as the extended leg.

6. Ecarté

Facing any corner, the leg nearer to the audience becomes the working leg and is extended in second position, pointing on tendú to the side. The arms are in (open) fourth position so the highest arm is on the same side as the extended leg. The head is raised slighlty and turned toward the raised arm, so the eyes look into the hand.

7. Epaulé

Standing at an oblique angle to the audience, the dancer stands in arabesque facing one of the corners (the working leg is the one closest to the audience and is extended to the back in fourth position). The arm closest to the audience is extended forward, and the head is inclined and turned towards the audience.

8. Quatrième Derrière

Facing the audience, the working leg is extended to fourth position, pointing on tendú to the back, with the arms in second position (open) and the head facing the audience.

All these positions can also be done with the working leg en l’air (extended without touching the floor). And since these explanations might seem a bit confusing for the inexperienced, here are some drawings exemplifying the above descriptions:

The Eight Positions

The Eight Positions of the Body

Further Information: Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

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The Balanchine method is not a syllabus for training per se, but the term is generally applied to describe the method of teaching dancers at the School of American Ballet (the school associated to New York City Ballet), preparing them  for the specific requirements of the Balanchine repertoire with its focus on very quick movements coupled with a more open and freer use of the upper body.

George Balanchine. Copyright of its respective owner. Source: Wikipedia.

George Balanchine. Copyright of its respective owner. Source: Wikipedia.

In order to describe this training method, we need to talk about the man behind it, George Balanchine, Russian dancer and choreographer who settled in New York in the 1930’s to establish and pioneer ballet in North America, and mastermind of a new stylistic movement within classical dance. Balanchine trained at the Imperial Theatre School in St. Petersburg and started his career as a choreographer for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes where he created  successes such as   Apollo and The Prodigal Son.

During his term at Ballets Russes he started to develop his own neoclassical ideas in dance. Unlike many of the other dance movements in vogue at the time which sought a  breakup from classical ballet structures, Balanchine borrowed from advanced classical ballet technique and heavy pointe work. In fact, Balanchine often cited pointe work as one of his main career motivations. He also believed that dancers should be able to be communicate without the need of mime or any other narrative aids, so he set about creating abstract, or rather, plotless pieces in which dancing was the focus. In other words, his ballets are not usually based on a narrative (a characteristic of the 19th century ballets, think Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake), although he was still concerned with the integration of dance and music.

When invited by impresario Lincoln Kirstein to settle in America, Balanchine was given full creative freedom for his balletic enterprise, so he was able to create and train a company of dancers “purpose built” to meet the demands of his unique style. In 1934 he founded the School of American Ballet and in 1948 he established (together with Kirstein) New York City Ballet. He was also involved in the design of NYCB’s headquarters – the  Lincoln’s Center New York State Theatre – designed by Phillip Johnson.

Balanchine was a classicist at heart and his fondness for clarity of movement and physical stature goes back to his roots in the Russian Imperial ballet schooling. He looked at ballet as an art for elegant, tall and articulate individuals. Therefore, his concept of an ideal stage was bringing the dancer to the forefront, like a “2D” canvas in which his ballerinas could move, rather than the standard deep opera house stages in which the dancers became miniaturised.

For Balanchine, movement had to be open (arms wider, everything stretching) as to maximise the space and he was fond of deep lines, sharp positions and strong technique in the petit allegro (combinations of small jumps and quick steps). This is why he favoured dancers with long limbs, slim bodies, great flexibility, turnout and (hyper)-extended legs, all this at a time when these aesthetical/physical values had not yet reached the mainstream in classical dance.

At the level of basic technique, the arm positions tend to be more open, less curved and dramatic, often “broken” at the wrist (e.g.”Balanchine arms”), there are deep pliés to accentuate the jumps and preparation and arabesque positions tend to be uneven. For example in other systems, pirouettes are done starting from a fourth position in a deep plié, with weight distributed in both legs. Here, all the weight goes into the supporting leg, with the working leg stretched out as in a lunge. In the arabesque, an open hip towards the audience is preferred, with very dramatic arms:

Pacific Northwest Ballets Jordan Pacitti in Agon. Photo: Angela Sterling ©. Source: The Seattle Times.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Jordan Pacitti in Agon. Photo: Angela Sterling ©. Source: The Seattle Times.

The position of the body and arms is then used to give the illusion of having a longer arabesque line. It is said that Balanchine took all this ideas from Jazz and that this kind of movements naturally suited those with long limbs. He also had specific ideas as to partnering, favouring a more dynamical role to the male dancer in pas de deux.

In short, Balanchine taught his dancers to make use of more space on stage through length and speed, and this tradition has continued not only in NYCB but in other companies with direct links to Balanchine such as Miami City Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

To better understand his stylistic approach, let’s compare the following photographs of NYCB and the Royal Ballet in Jerome RobbinsDances at a Gathering.

First we have NYCB (from left, Yvonne Borree, Rachel Rutherford, and Abi Stafford). Notice how the arms and the torsos are held.

NYCB in Dances at a Gathering. Photo: Paul Kolnik/NYCB ©. Source: ArtsJournal via Bloomberg News.

And a photo of three Royal Ballet principals in the same pose (from left, Alina Cojocaru, Tamara Rojo and Sarah Lamb). See how Tamara’s and Sarah’s torsos are inclined to soften the position, and of course, the arms.

The Royal Ballet in Dances at a Gathering. Photo: Bill Cooper ©. Source: Danceviewtimes.

There is clear difference in how the dancers hold their arms and their upper bodies. The look feels more contemporary in the first picture, while it is much softer in the second. The overall effect can be better understood when looking at live performances, but we think these examples give the general idea.

Inversely, there is an ongoing debate amongst critics as to how Balanchine dancers fare when performing the classical repertoire given that the natural lines of their bodies are dramatically different as demonstrated in the above pictures. What is undeniable is that Balanchine was a dance revolutionary and innovator, with a heightened sense of aesthetics and that he brought a bag of new ideas into ballet.

Famous Balanchine Ballets we Love:

Serenade, Symphony in C, Jewels, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, The Four Temperaments, Apollo, The Prodigal Son, Theme and Variations.

Sources and Further Information:

  1. International Dictionary of Ballet. St. James Press, 1993.
  2. Wikipedia entry on Balanchine Method.
  3. The George Balanchine Foundation [link]
  4. George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker by Robert Gottlieb (2004). Harper Collins. ISBN 0060750707.
  5. Keeping the Balanchine Legacy. Interview with Edward Villella by Elinor Rogosin for Dance Universe. [link]
  6. On Balanchine Technique by Suki Schorer (1999). Knop. ISBN 0679450602.

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So this is the first entry of Bag of Steps. You see, we think that one doesn’t need to have been at ballet class to enjoy ballet. However, it is always nice to be able to recognise some steps and to compare how different dancers perform them on stage to give a different meaning to a story. Given that we’ve been enjoying the Giselle run at the Royal Opera House, we thought it was a good idea to start with a step featured in the first act (in Giselle’s first variation), the Ballotté.

Ballotté means tossed and it is a jump . One starts from fifth position and jumps so the front leg develops from coupé dessous (cutting under the heel of the supporting foot and springing into the air, landing with that foot) into a straight leg position to the front, while landing on the back leg (with knees bent) and repeating by jumping back into a coupé dessus (cutting over the supporting foot) and extending the leg backward. All the series is repeated simulating a swinging movement. The body is positioned effacé (45 degrees so the legs are open and not crossed) and it is inclined backwards or forwards with each change of weight. The jump can be performed travelling forward and backward or on the spot.

 

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more about “Ballotte on Flickr – Photo Sharing!“, posted with vodpod

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