Technique Spotlight: Développé

As one might surmise from the word, développé means to develop. Sometimes also translated as “to unfold,” it is a transition between movements wherein the working leg is bent (usually in coupé or passé) and then extended out from the body.

Developpe

As shown in this video from the Royal Ballet in the UK, the extension can be directly to the front, to the side, or to the back, where in the working leg can be bent (en attitude) or fully extended into an arabesque. There are three particularly challenging aspects to performing the développé correctly:

  1. Keeping control of the speed of the working leg, so that it unfolds slowly and in time with the music (commonly in adage),
  2. Maintaining proper turn-out as the leg moves into passé and then extends from the hip joint, and
  3. Keeping one’s balance as the working leg performs its full extension. The body may wish to pull forward or lean backward in order to accommodate the leg, but it’s very important to keep the core centered on the supporting leg and not allow the upper body to collapse.

How to overcome these two obstacles? PRACTICE! The development of a strong core (especially abdominal muscles, gluteal muscles and hamstrings) is the key to a proper développé, so this is quite literally a case wherein practice makes perfect. I have found that performing the développé on the floor is a great way to work the necessary muscles and improve both turn-out and height in the extension. This video shows a great exercise for developing a strong développé a la dévant (extending to the front) by working on the floor, and allowing the floor to support your back so that you can really work on strengthening the leg. You can also work on the développé a la seconde (out to the side) by laying on one side on the floor, and slowly working the extending leg into passé rétiré (keeping the toe behind the knee) and then outward.

Utilizing the barre to maintain balance while exercising can also help, so long as the dancer remains aware of posture and does not lean over onto the barre for support. It’s hard work, but it is worth is for that beautiful line (and stronger legs)!

Class Music: Basics, 19 February 2016

This seems to be the week for adage! In Ballet Basics today, we worked on développé both on mats on the floor and at the barre. For our final piece at the barre, we worked to a variation of the “Hiawatha” theme from Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony (Symphony #9 in E Minor), performed by pianist Andrew Holdsworth on the Reimagined for Ballet Classical I recording.

Happy dancing! See you next Friday.

Class Music: Intermediate, 17 February 2016

Yesterday in Intermediate Ballet we began building the skills used in the petit adage: the shorter, slower and more romantic form of choreography that utilizes techniques such as the developpé and arabesque (each of which will receive their own blog spotlight post very soon). Instead of the typical piano music, we worked instead to tracks off the soundtrack to the film Lust/Caution, by French film composer Alexandre Desplat. The first was a short piece entitled “Falling Rain” (CD track #3), and the second was “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme” (CD track #22). I love the ethereal quality of Desplat’s music – there is a soft but ever-present rhythm in both of these pieces, but each seems and feels lighter than air.

We’ll continue to build on the skills for adage in our last two Intermediate classes, as well as reintroducing the petit allegro from the Baliakhova CD – back by popular demand!

Enjoy!

(Side note: Though a rather heavy and well… risqué… film, I highly recommend Lust/Caution. I feel it’s one of Ang Lee’s best works, and embodies Eileen Chang’s heartbreaking story perfectly. Just be aware that the film’s title is extremely apropos of the subject matter…)

Class Music & Notes: Basics, 12 February 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day, dancers! I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

In Ballet Basics on Friday, we worked on a variation of this battement tendu en centre exercise, wherein we changed between performing tendu par terre in P5 to the front and the back and then moved into tendu à la second, wherein the extended foot moved directly to the side. We have also begun to better connect the movements of the lower body to our port de bras – a practice that we’ll continue to hone throughout the semester. I’ll post soon about two other technical aspects – direction and alignment – that we’ll be discussing as we transfer exercises from the barre to the centre.

The music that we worked to in Basics on Friday for centre is Mazurka #2 (which happens to be track #2) by Maria Szymanowska from Alexander Kostritsa’s CD, Three Generations of Mazurkas. (Alex is a phenomenal pianist as well as a friend of my family back home in Ohio, and I was lucky enough to receive his latest recording as a gift this past Christmas.) I find that mazurkas make for lively music in the studio – a little lighter and airier than a waltz, but not too quick (or too slow).

Enjoy! See you in class on Friday.

Art Imitating Life – Imitating Art?

I stumbled across this fascinating article through a link shared by a friend from New York City:

Misty Copeland and Degas: Art of Dance

It’s a beautiful reinterpretation of the very famous and beloved works of Edgar Degas, though what I find especially fascinating is how little the movement and technique has changed – the poses expressed by Ms. Copeland in her re-creation of the Degas paintings and sculptures are danced today much in the same way they were in Paris over a hundred years ago.

Copeland

It’s also a lovely reminder of the long history of ballet as a performance art and a collection of techniques – as well as an example of how much the ballet world has changed and diversified for the better. Beautiful, powerful, transitory and timeless all at once – that’s ballet!

NOTE: If you happen to be in NYC later this spring, check out Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

Class Music: Ballet Music CDs

Hello dancers! I was asked at Intermediate last night about the music that we use in class. I have relied primarily on two different CDs of music prepared especially for the ballet studio:

The piece we danced to en centre yesterday (10 February 2016) in Intermediate Ballet was track #10 from the Baliakhova CD (originally meant for battement frappes at the barre).

Additionally, I’ve been playing mazurkas performed by my friend Alexander Kostritsa on his latest recording, Three Generations of Mazurkas, during the pre-class warm-up period. This CD features the lively mazurkas (Polish-originated folk dances that are often found in ballet) composed by Maria Szymanowska, Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin, and Karol Szymanowski.

Enjoy!

Technique Spotlight: Fondu

chocolate-fondue-strawberry

No, not *that* kind of fondu!

As you might guess from the cuisine of the same name, fondu in French means “to melt,” and in ballet indicates that the supporting leg is performed in plié (melted) while the other leg is extended. Fondu, like tendu, is a core fundamental of balletic forms: it provides strength and fluidity between stepped movements and in push-off motions such as jumps. The difficulty in fondu is to maintain your balance (neither tipping forward nor off to one side to compensate for the bended leg) as well as to pull together both legs at the same time when completing the fondu and straightening up.

The battement fondu is a particular type of leg extension that utilizes the melted support leg. In it, the supporting leg performs a plié, whereas the extended leg moves between pointing at the supporting leg’s ankle (cou-de-pied) outward from the body. While the leg is extended, when it comes to its optimal height – whether keeping the toe on the floor (tendu par terre, as is shown in the image below), or performing a small dégagé or a higher grand battement – both legs complete their extension and fully straighten.

3battement-fondu-L-R2wRro

As indicated in this video, the challenge of battement fondu is this simultaneous extension and straightening – it takes a lot of practice to gain the muscle strength and coordination to perform the battement fondu properly, but it is worth it when it comes to performing similar tasks en centre during choreography.

Fondu is not exclusively performed as a battement – indeed, in our classes recently, we have been practicing fondu at the barre as a way to perform the grand rond de jambe, using the melted leg to support the body core while the extended leg completes its large circle. During révérence, we also perform a motion en fondu – our “Bolshoi curtsy”! The supporting leg performs a plié, while the extended leg sweeps behind the body to complete the bow.

So when performing fondu, remember: make your supporting leg like hot chocolate or cheese and MELT! 🙂

On TV: “A Ballerina’s Tale”

Tonight (Monday, 8 February 2016) at 10:00 PM on PBS (in East Lansing, it’s WKAR), there is a special presentation of the Independent Lens documentary production, A Ballerina’s Tale.

a-ballerinas-tale

This film highlights the life story of Misty Copeland, who was recently the first African American ballerina to be named principal artist at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York City. Despite a late start and a nearly career-ending injury, Ms. Copeland has risen to stardom in the ballet world and has become a role model for young dancers everywhere.

I hope that you will check out this fantastic documentary!

Pace Yourself: The Two Rhythms of Balletic Music

Ballet is a dance form that is almost always* performed to music, and there are traditionally two types of rhythms common in ballet:

Adage in French literally means “at ease.” Adage are slow pieces performed in the adagio or largo rhythm, with a focus on long lines and slower, graceful poses and motions. The arabesque is a key technique used in adage, as are fluid forms of port de bras. Adage are often considered to be the most romantic portions of a ballet, whether performed in exercises at the barre wherein one focuses more on building the strength necessary to allow the body to move fluidly and gracefully, or in the center, where it is more about storytelling and emoting with the music through the motions of dance.

Allégro (sometimes just written as “allegro,” the Italian spelling) is the opposite of adage – it is quick, bouncy and filled with movement! Allégro pieces feature jumps, spins, turns and leaps. If adage is the slow, steady breath of a ballet, then allégro is its quickened pulse or heartbeat. There are two typical forms of allégro performed en centre: petit allégro, which is a very short but very fast piece of choreography, and grand allégro, which is longer and tends to focus on big cross-stage movements such as the leaping grand jété.

The allégro rhythm in ballet should not be mistaken for an allegro in music – though both are fast-paced, allegro in ballet can be performed in a number of different rhythmic schemes (meters), including 2/4 (cut), 3/4 (waltz or polka) time and quick 4/4 time.

One might think that allegro is more athletic and demanding than adage, but actually, allégro pieces can be easier than the long, slow holds required in adage. Both are challenging, but in very different ways: adage truly tests one’s balance, strength (especially core strength!) and movement, whereas allégro tests reflexes, and leg strength – especially for all those jumps!

If ballet music interests you, I highly recommend composer and pianist Don Caron’s blog – his insights on the composition and use of music for the ballet class are really intriguing.

*There actually are ballets that have no music: some contemporary ballet choreographers have been working with silent ballet, as well as ballet performed to speeches, vocalizations and sounds, and synthetic music instead of the traditional orchestral scores. It’s a very different type of dance, but its ballet nonetheless!

Ballet Fundamentals

I was asked recently if I could post the learning list from Ballet Basics for fall semester. These are the techniques and forms that we covered from September through December 2015, many of which will be described in more detail in a technique spotlight later on:

Plié: to bend; a dip at the knees

  • Demi-plié: bending half-way at the knees – careful not to allow heels to come off the floor in P2!
  • Grand-plié: full bend at the knees – careful not to sit on your heels!

Relevé: “to rise” – lift oneself on one’s toes (the demi-pointe)

Battement: “to beat/strike” – to extend the leg out from the body, either with feet on the floor or in the air

  • Battement tendu: extension of the leg with the pointed foot kept on the floor
  • Battement tendu avec piqué: extension of the leg with quick tapping of the pointed foot on the floor (“pricking” the floor); often just shortened to piqué
  • Battement tendu dégagé: extension of the working leg with pointed foot leaving the floor up to 45°. Sometimes also called a battement jété (“jump-out-leg”)
  • Grand Battement: “big strike” – extension of the leg with pointed foot starting on the floor, moving through a tendu dégagé to a rise of at least 90° (parallel with the floor), and sometimes as high as 130°
  • Battement en Cloche: to swing the leg forward and back through tendu to grand battement, as though your leg were the striker on the inside of a bell (en cloche)
  • Battement fondu (à la développé): “melted strike out in the air” – a combination exercise, wherein the leg is extended out from a pointed foot starting at the ankle (cou-de-pied), with the supporting leg beginning in plié and then straightening up

Ronde de jambe: “to circle the leg”

  • Ronde de jambe à terre: to circle the leg on the floor (sometimes written as “par terre” – “on the ground”)
  • Ronde de jambe en l’air: to circle the leg in the air

Cou-de-pieds: “cut the foot” – a position in which the toe is pointed at the ankle of the supporting leg. Used as a starting position for different movements en l’air (in the air)

Coupé: “to cut” – an active transition step in which the foot is pointed at the supporting leg just above the ankle. The coupe step can be performed in front of the supporting leg (devant/en dehor) or behind the supporting leg (derriere/en dedans).

Passé: “passed through” – a position in which the pointed toe is passing the knee of the supporting leg. Passé retiré is the most common form, wherein the toe is pointed and tucked just under the inside of the supporting leg’s knee.

Pas de Bourrée: A quick traveling step in the allégro rhythm. Pas de bourrée begins with extension of the first leg while demi-plié, closing the first leg to the second as both transition to relevé, extending the second leg to an open position while relevé, and closing the first leg to the second in demi-plié. There are many different forms of this step, which is a core movement for crossing the stage.

Développé: “to open out/unfold” – to extend the leg outwards from the body, most often from a passé pose

Arabesque: a held position in which the body is supported on one leg with the working leg extended backwards and the knee is straight. Combined with different arm movements to form graceful extended poses.

Ecarté: held pose in which the body is opened outwards to the audience, leg extended to one side, with arms in a corresponding open position (such as PdB #2 or #3)

Attitude: similar to the arabesque, the attitude is a held position in which the body is supported on one leg, but the extended leg is bent at the knee. Often used as a transition pose between movements.

Cambré: “to fall” – bending at the waist to form a waterfall effect (either forward towards the floor, or in a back-bend); with arm in high 5th position (overhead)

Sauté: “to jump up” – a jump performed upwards in the air, landing on both feet

  • Sauté ordinaire: jumping up and landing in a single foot position
  • Sauté changement: jumping up in a crossed-foot position (P3 or P5), and changing the feet each time you land. Sometimes called an “entrechat”

Glissade: “to glide” – a traveling step in P5 where the foot slides out into tendu, and then reconnected with the supporting foot to close the position.

Pas de chat: “cat’s jump” – a small leap from one foot to the other; the feet are drawn up in plié so that the legs form a diamond in the air.