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Mel Johnson

Step of the week 4

15 posts in this topic

Of all the things we have talked about so far, motion is a required element. Here is a pose, which doesn't require any movement, but it can be moved about at the will of the choreographer or teacher. It is the arabesque, one of the most recognizable silhouettes in all of ballet, but defining it requires some explanation.

The term itself means "swash" or "curl" - a form of decoration in Arabian art (see, arab - esque). The pose must be done with the leg lifted directly behind the dancer, but that's not the only requirement of an arabesque. The line of the body must conform to and be contained within the bounds of a spiral like the interior of a seashell like a nautilus, or a snail shell. There are so many kinds of arabesque that one post can't hope to recall them all. The example is called first arabesque in the Cecchetti, RAD and Vaganova systems, and arabesque ouverte in the French school.

Try this example:

http://abt.org/education/dictionary/terms/.../arabesque.html

(Teacher's note - It don't get much better than this!)

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Lovely. And it's nice to see that she's not 'winging' either.

One other thing -- people do discuss quite a bit the potential problems of hyperextended legs, but then again, they sure can be pretty, no?

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Well, that picture shows a superb modern arabesque -- not very atmospheric, but you can sure see what she's doing.

Here's by way of supplement an example of the kind of EFFECT you can get with an arabesque --

http://www.maurice-abravanel.com/markova_a...cia_engels.html

( the fifth picture down the page)....

For me, this picture really casts a spell. It's Alicia Markova in an arabesque ouverte with "romantic" arms and the whole position "allongee," and though it's old-fashioned, I think it's really exquisite.

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That's a nice piece of dance history, especially for those who hadn't known about Markova's origins.

Regarding the picture, it looks to be a type of penche. The standing leg is only slightly turned out, if at all, and the tilt is there, although not the "6 o'clock" penche as most people envision it.

One thing I've noticed in many pictures of earlier ballerinas in arabesque is that Russian dancers appear to have the chest more forward than up. There isn't that sharp perpendicular shape we now see. Could you comment on this, Mel?

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Susan Jaffe's arabesque is just about perfect. It's so important for hyperextended dancers to get that weight really forward on the supporting leg--and she does it well. I found this picture of a studentwho, although she has quite a nice line, is too far back on that standing leg. One can imagine that she wouldn't be able to balance for very long. Perhaps the photograph was taken as she was doing a pique movement, and the shutter captured a split second before she got all the way forward.

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I agree, Jaffe's arabesque is just about perfect--a wonderful example of the lovely spiral shape Mel described that an arabesque should have. About the chest being more forward than up, from what I've read, this seems to be Vaganova's combination of the old French and Italian styles. I don't have "Basic Principles" with me at the moment, but to paraphrase, she describes the French arabesque as leaning passively forward and the Italian arabesque as keeping the body perfectly upright, which causes the working knee to bend. She advocated an arabesque that leaned forward, but with resistance; that is, bending forward to allow the leg to rise while resisting so that it didn't become a penché or "ironing board." I sometimes wonder if some hyperextended students have trouble with their placement in arabesque because they are expected to keep the back so rigidly upright. Not that we should start leaning forward as much as in former times, but allow the chest to move forward a little more to attain a curve instead of a 90-degree angle as well as better placement.

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My knees are fairly hyperextended and I admit, I always found it difficult to understand the concept of my weight being forward (especially in arabesque penchee) I assumed my weight was forward enough if I could lift my heel off the ground. Not true. It's entirely possible to lift the heel and still be very far back. I'd never tell students to "test" thier weight distribution by lifting the heel. Doesn't work for me.

Now I bring my weight quite a bit more forward and toward the "supporting side", making sure the opposing shoulder presses down. At first, I felt as though I'd fall forward, but it works brilliantly.

Hyperextended students really need to look in the mirror too, because what feels right can actually be quite off.

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That's a nice piece of dance history, especially for those who hadn't known about Markova's origins. 

There's a sentence missing from it, though - something along the lines of 'Much of this article was written by Jane Simpson and has been copied without permission from the website ballet.co, where you can see the original at http://www.ballet.co.uk/old/legend_js_alic...cia_markova.htm .'

The article about Anton Dolin on that site is from the same source. Maybe I should just be flattered!

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Thank you for letting us know that, Jane. One of the problems with the Net -- you never know whether the information is complete, accurate, or where it came from.

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Part of what makes the Romantic style, particularly the French Romantic, so tricky, is that laid-forward (allongée) placement to the arabesques. The style started to change around the 1870s, when Petipa began getting hate mail from his contemporaries for throwing "gymnastics" and tricks into ballet! And so the Romantic passes into the Imperial age. Penché still depends on maintaining a consistent angle between the "working" leg and the torso. When the torso starts to go forward, but the leg not move, then that's allongé. Ivanov used this device of going through penché to allongé in the White Swan pas de deux.

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Jane, you're just too good....

Watch out, they won't let you leave the country.

Re Jaffe's arabesque, with respect to all of y'all, I admire it, but I don't think it's beautiful.

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It's very difficult when dealing with a pose like arabesque to find the dynamics of beauty in it. A pose is, by definition, static, and doesn't necessarily carry the beauty of execution that it does when, for example, it's being moved about in a promenade, or maybe a series of penchés as in the Shades. THE most independently beautiful arabesque I ever saw, by any standard, was Nanette Glushak's while she was with ABT. Maybe that's why they had her lead off the aforementioned ghosties in their first production of that act? Forty-five in a row!

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Can you distinguish that Jaffe Arabesque from Developpee rear? Is Developpee perhaps the act of getting there (or back) and Arabesque the pose reached if it is held?

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I believe that contained in the question is "what is the difference between quatrième derrière and arabesque?" And a very good question it is, too!

The big difference between the two is that the arabesque has a spiral associated with it when viewed from the side. It starts looping at the back of the head and carries out to the front of the dancer slightly and then swirls around to the back. The visual center of an arabesque is somewhat in front of the dancer's torso in an arabesque. Arms move the visual center of the dancer from simply a torso with a leg lifted behind it. A quatrième derrière has a visual center, when viewed from the side, within the dancer's torso, or even behind it! There are no arms to balance the picture, as they are held in second, and so visually negligible from the side. Choreographically, there are variants, where various swans take a backbend in an arabesque with both arms in Vaganova/Legat 5th derrière, but then the arching torso provides a difference in visual balance. But then, too, that's choreography, when we're talking about strict academics. :thumbsup:

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