Class Notes: 2 October 2018

Hello, Spartan dancers! Many thanks to everyone who braved the chilly, rainy weather (and the wasp in the studio) last night! As promised, below are the instructions to our first full-centre exercise. The exercise combines three distinct elements that we have already studied at the barre: tendu par terre, demi plié, and relevé, as well as the Pas de Bourrée, which we learned one week before. (If you need a review of Pas de Bourrée, please check out the blog post that focuses on this step technique.)

The exercise is a moderate allegro, performed in ¾ time, so it’s a bright, slightly bouncy waltz. The music is from Gladys Celeste’s recording, Music for Ballet Class, Series 8 (track #13 – Drigo allegro). This CD is available on Amazon.com and is very affordable, but unfortunately the recording is quite old, so the tracks themselves are not available online.

The motto for this exercise is the curved arm follows the working foot. For example, the arm that is held in the high position (up above the head) always follows the foot that is active in movement. So since the exercise starts out working the right foot in tendu par terre from P3 (or P5, dancer’s choice) the right arm is thus held over the head, and the left arm is held outward (port de bras position 4 ouvert, or PdB4).

Let’s begin!

  1. Standing in P3 or P5 with the right foot in front, hold your arms in PdB4 with your right arm above your head and your left arm extended out from the body.
  2. Tendu par terre two (2) times to the front.
  3. On the third (3) tendu par terre, step through in a plié to P4 ouvert (legs will be open), and open your arms to PdB2 (fully extended away from the body). Close the position by stepping flat onto your right foot, extending your left foot behind you in another tendu par terre, and closing it into P3 (or P5). Raise your left arm above your head to transition to PdB4 again on the opposite side. You will now be working the left leg, and supporting your body on your right leg.
  4. Tendu par terre two (2) times to the back.
  5. On the third (3) tendu moving backward, step back through plié in P4 (again, ouvert – legs nice and open), and close with your right foot meeting your left in P3 (or P5). Bring the arms to PdB2 (fully extended) as you move through the demi plie, and prepare for your Pas de Bourré
  6. Pas de Bourrée to the right, stepping on your left foot (which should be tucked behind your right foot in cou-de-pieds), and move your left arm in front of your body (PdB3, again – working arm follows working foot!)
  7. Pas de Bourrée again to the left, swaying your right arm in front of your body and holding your left arm outwards. Close in P3 (or P5).
  8. Tendu par terre starting with your left leg à la seconde (out to the side, “as in second position”). Follow with your right, then again with your left, so that you are completing three (3) walking tendus forward. Upon finished the third tendu, bring your arm left arm from second position up above your head. You should now be standing in P3 or P5, with your left leg in front, your left arm above your head, and your right arm extended from your body.
  9. Here, the exercise repeats itself, but mirrored – you tendu par terre to the front with your left leg, step back and do the same behind you with your right leg, and Pas de Bourrée twice starting off by moving to the left.
  10. After the second Pas de Bourrée, opens arms to PdB2 (extended away from the body), and do two tendus à la seconde walking backwards.
  11. On your third step, stop in P3 (or P5), and rise from demi plié into full releve with your hands scooping upwards into high 5th position (PdB5 en haut). Hold it for as long as you can reliably balance, then come back down through demi plié and close with your arms lowered in low 5th position (PdB5 en bas).

And that’s the end! If you feel like you are getting mixed up in your practice, start by focusing on your feet, and then gradually add the arms. Adding the port de bras (arm positions) to the tendu sections at the beginning of each phase of the exercise first, and really mastering those transitions before moving on to arms and feet for your Pas de Bourrée will help you to complete the whole exercise properly in time. It just takes a bit of practice!

If you don’t have the chance to practice at home, or don’t have enough space to work, no worries! We’ll be working on this centre exercise for at least another two weeks, as well as starting our entry into toe lifts and the beginnings of turns.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or stop me after class. I wish you happy, healthy dancing – see you next Tuesday!

~ Kitty 🙂

PS: I’ve been asked about adding video tutorials to the blog – and I’m working out how to do that. (I’m good at ballet – less so with technology…) I hope to have short videos of the exercises available by the end of this semester. Stay tuned!

 

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Class Music: Basics, 18 March 2016

Welcome back, dancers! I hope that you all had a great spring break. Today’s class was very small… perhaps everyone is still recovering from Saint Patrick’s Day?  😉

Recently in Ballet Basics we have been working on a very short adage which combines a series of tendus with slow glissades and grand rond de jambs en fondu (big circles on the floor with the support leg “melted”). We’ll be building these same steps into a faster rhythm as the semester progresses, but for now we have been dancing to a short piece from the soundtrack to the 2007 film, Becoming Jane. The piece is called “Advice from a Young Lady” by composer Adrian Johnston, and it is track #8 on the CD.

Our goal in this piece en centre is to take individual skills learned at the barre, such as the tendu and rond de jamb, and put them together as linked elements in choreography. We’ll also continue to work on putting together the motions of the arms (port de bras) and legs, and practice that until it begins to feel more natural.

I look forward to seeing everyone back in Basics next Friday!

 

 

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.

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!

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!