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Mel Johnson

Step of the Week 6a

33 posts in this topic

After a brief hiatus, here we are again with another venture into the dangerous world of ballet terminology.

In response to a request from Pleiades, I think we should look at the words which are used to describe body positions. However, I'm going to aim this at the audience which is Discovering Ballet, rather than the experienced practitioner, and I don't have any visual aids for this one, so bear with me.

In taking body positions, every dancer is inside his/her own personal little "stage" within the larger stage. Because there are several different ways of numbering the corners and directions of the body, I'm going to be using abbreviations for my own purposes, so we have a common reference.

  • DS=straight downstage.
  • DR=the DANCER'S OWN downstage right in relation to the audience.
  • SR=the DANCER'S OWN right in relation to the audience.
  • UR=the DANCER'S OWN upstage right in relation to the audience.
  • US=straight upstage.
  • UL=the DANCER'S OWN upstage left in relation to the audience.
  • SL=the DANCER'S OWN left in relation to the audience.
  • DL=the DANCER'S OWN downstage left in relation to the audience.

Now, for the first-timers, all this UP and DOWN business sounds a little scary, like being hauled up into the flies and back down again on a wire, but all that "up" and "down" mean is, respectively, "away from the audience, toward the back of the stage" and "toward the audience, toward the front of the stage". The "up" and "down" of it come from the days when the audience was seated on a flat floor, and the stages were tilted ("raked") in order for the floor patterns and actors/singers/dancers to be seen better. As you can imagine, this arrangement didn't produce very good sight lines for the audience, so theaters are now designed with the audience on a slant, and a flat stage! (blessed relief!)

All this stage geography is really pretty necessary to understand before we can even begin exploring croisé and épaulé and their brothers and sisters. Here are some examples of how terminology can mess us up if we aren't all in agreement as to what's where:

  • Where is House Right?
  • Where is Director's Left?
  • In the RAD, which direction is #6?
  • Where is Opposite Prompt?
  • Where is Proper Down Left Center?

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Just wanted to let you know that I'm reading avidly, and anticipating the rest!

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Good, but I'm going to need some more replies than one to continue this. When fouettés only get three responses, it makes me wonder if anybody is giving these topics any attention.

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Mel, I am definitely paying attention. As a former theater teacher, I know all about upstage and downstage. What I am curious about is the RAD #6. Now, as a non-dancer, I have figured out thus far that different schools of dance have different vocabularies, but do they also have different ways of expressing the geography of the stage? That's what I'm guessing. Please, keep on instructing! :unsure:

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OK, that's good! RAD Corner 6 is down right. Anybody else with questions on those other forms of expression, please chime in anytime!

I needed to express that each dancer forms his/her own "box" so that we don't end up with a corps de ballet that's been told to "face the down right corner" and the dancers on stage right are facing straight ahead, while the stage left dancers are sharply angled to the audience, with that angle decreasing as the file of dancers extends upstage! So, "face your own down right".

"En face" is always straight ahead onstage and in class, the shoulders parallel to the theoretical straight line marking the edge of the stage and the arms held in à la seconde for pointe tendue quatrième devant or derrière, and also à la seconde. That's with one foot pointed and on the ground to the straight front or back, and also to the side. Oddly, I don't know that I've ever run across a term for facing straight upstage, although this position happens frequently in both ballets and in class. Most often intentionally.

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would you talk a bit about what I know technically as efface and croise -- my interest is the emotional qualities that dancers and/or choreographers associate with each?

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I'm reading too... please do elaborate...

I'm assuming House Right is opposite of Director's Left?

Opposite Prompt... hmm.... I'm invisioning the prompter box... does it mean just upstage of that?

But Proper Down Left Center.... what does that mean?

I tend to hear people refer to being on quarter.... and even to refering to which panel of marley...

more more!

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OK, House Right and Director's Right are essentially the same thing, for our purposes. (The Director is sitting in the House!) There will be additional meanings to House Right if you're the House Manager, but that's outside of our realm. So, Director's Left is also House Left. Opposite Prompt is all of Stage Right. The Stage Manager's desk is traditionally Stage Left, and s/he "calls" the show from there, including feeding actors lines, if necessary. So Stage Left is Prompt side. The Prompter's Box is an opera convention, and is as far down center as can possibly be managed without the dancers falling down the hole. This has happened! And all stage directions, when written, are assumed to be "proper", that is, as seen from the actor/dancer/singer's point of view, unless specified otherwise. It's not a term you will encounter much in writing about stage, but you will run into it in descriptions of paintings, photographs and other graphics. "Black-and-White platinotype photographic print of Anna Pavlova, seated on floor bent forward, PL foot extended to PR. The sitter wears a white dress and ailiform headdress." You have to be very patient with photograph cataloguers. Down Left Center is just off-center downstage, just to the audience's right.

More tomorrow.

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Please continue on ... I'm reading too.

I don't know if any other southpaws have ever had a mishap in stage direction. It happened to me but once, but it was a doozy, and occurred transfering from studio to stage, which, in this instance, was actually nothing more than the front of a large hall (nothing elevated); we were giving a special preview performance to those at home of what we were going to do during our European tour that year.

At the start of a tango, I began with my partner 1) on the wrong side of the stage; 2) upstage instead of down; 3) turned completely around, facing the audience instead of backs to them. For the entire first part of the dance, we traveled in a semi circle to get where we needed to be. To this day, I'm mortified thinking about this. But then, you should see me back out of a driveway ... I could sell tickets, it's apparently so amusing. :thumbsup: Please tell me I'm not the only leftie that has to focus big time.

And yes, please more terminology. I like the "proper" term.

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Sure, and you don't even have to be a leftie to have it happen. This sort of thing happens when dancers are faced with thrust or arena (in-the-round) stages, and they lose track of the concept of "front".

Just remember, Stage Left is Director's/House/Audience's right, and in the western world, where we read from our left to our right, the second most powerful position onstage is Down Right. The most powerful position is Down Center, facing the audience. (Third most powerful, interestingly, is Down Center, facing straight upstage!)

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Thank you Mel, I am following this too, having been confused as Hell by it since Year One. The doubling of every term is a fatal source of confusion and I think I'll never be able to relate to it without having to stop and slowly think. But at least to work it out is a gain.

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By powerful, I trust you mean it is the position where the audience's eye is most inclined to follow. But -- I was under the impression that, at least in class, the teacher/director's eye goes towards the right (dancer's left). Yes, no? Any difference between class and stage?

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It largely depends on where the teacher watches from! I had a real nerve-wracking teacher once who used to wear sunglasses in class and watched from the side, which let me tell you, is a real mean place to view from! You can see everything wrong with placement! :D I was once able to assess that I was working with really good people in only one viewing by watching them from the side!

Anyway, on to the concept of croisé.

Croisé indicates that the leg crosses over the apparent centerline of the body when the dancer is viewed from the front. And I say "apparent" because the leg doesn't actually cross over anything. It's going straight to the front or the back, but the dancer is turned 45º to their Down Right or Down Left. And the same thing holds for fifth position. The right foot is front, the dancer faces Down Left, that's croisé.

When a dancer takes a position croisé devant, the leg seems to cross over the body in front, as explained above, and the arms are held with the upstage arm raised and the downstage arm extended to the side. In croisé derrière, the leg seems to cross over the body in back, and in some schools, the arms reverse, with the downstage arm rising over the head, and the upstage arm extended to the side. Sort of "peek-a-boo", if you don't get overly cute with it.

Croisé positions are often used for preparations and endings. Sort of a "here it comes...and there it was!" Croisé is sometimes used to dramatic effect, when used in relation to another dancer, and not the audience. Some choreographers have used it as a pose of evasion, as a liar will sometimes cover a portion of his/her face when speaking. The leg croisé to another dancer can mean a defensive position against them. On the other hand, most oftentimes croisé is just croisé! :)

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"Here it comes and there it was" is perfect. I'd never thought of it in those terms, but that is exactly the presentational feeling in a nutshell. Great turn of phrase. :D

Yes, my current instructor watches both from front and side. The latter is unnerving because he's right there in my peripheral view. Tell me, are these sadistic practices handed down from teacher to teacher? He does some wonderful quotes (in exactly the posture and voice) of his Joffrey mentors. One can just picture the young lad being addressed as he now does to us.

BTW, those croise positions (the peekaboo ones you describe) also have a certain character dance feeling to me. Hey bartender, make mine a croise and a mazurka!

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Mel,

When I was taught the 8 position tendues ... don' t have my Gail Grant handy so please over look the clumsy misspellings: croise devant; en face devant; efface devant; ecarte; a la seconde; drat.. what was the 2nd arabesque one?; en face derriere; croise derriere... there were epaulment that went with them.. and extra spiral of the back to the front in croise devant, for instance... However, in subsequent years and schools, most people seem to focus only on the hips and legs... oh sure, the arm positions are there, but the epaulment aren't. Is it Cechetti that emphasizes the epaulment? (or in other words, if I'm hunting for a teacher who works on back & shoulder inclinations, what "school" of ballet should I be looking for?)

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The 2nd arabesque one is épaulé. I'll be getting to that. And yes, there is a canting of the shoulders in these positions, which now that I know you're interested, I'll explain a bit about. It becomes very important in the tomorrow's installment - effacé!

And yes, I've been noticing a shortchanging of epaulement just generally, not just in one school! I think you have to find us older teachers or those who think of the old line as important, rather than the stark verticality we see too much of these days! :D

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Amy, Cecchetti use "épaulé" for the position that is like a second arabesque, or arabesque effacé with epaulement. However, he seriously goofed when he left out one of the positions of the body......there are 9! (He forgot écarté derrière!)

However, generally speaking, it is the Vaganova school which uses much more épaulement. Cecchetti and RAD are pretty "square" in terms of the positions.

Speaking of croisé, the "here it comes and there it was" is dead on, as that is the position where everyone will look better most of the time. The word is, "when in doubt, go to croisé"! :D

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Amy, Cecchetti use "épaulé" for the position that is like a second arabesque, or arabesque effacé with epaulement. However, he seriously goofed when he left out one of the positions of the body......there are 9! (He forgot écarté derrière!)

Thanks... "élongé" kept popping up in my mind and bocking the memory!...

I always wondered what happen to écarté derrière as well as éffacé derrière... but I figured the 8 were just because it fit evenly into the music as a tendu combination... By the way, I'm eternally grateful to your old friend Joe C., Victoria, for drilling those into us. 3 decades later and they're still riveted into my memory. Actually, come to think of it, as the class advanced, he had us putting the combination forward and inverted together back to back (ie: tendu croise devant, croise derriere; en face devant, enface derriere)... alas, my memory grays out on what how the inversion of the ecarte and epaule was handled.

And of course you're right about the Vaganova school... my vaganova teachers seem excessive about all those head positions and cambré positions at the barre... but yet they don't spiral the epaulment in croise, etc... could just be the local vaganova variant.

Mel, I'd love you to go on about use of the back. I'm sick of hearing modern dance people claim they never learned to use their backs in ballet. It's true ballet doesn't do contractions, but if it's done properly there is a tremendous amount going on in the back... it's not just stiff and upright as if in a corset (even if it once was)... it's just that most teachers these days seem to ignore the torso and concentrate on the extremities... and I'm not even going to get in to the breathing...

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Someone asked what people think of the emotional qualities of croise and efface. Croise always seemed very forceful to me, and efface seemed yielding. I liked efface better (don't analyze my character from this fact), mainly because I thought I looked better in efface, especially efface devant. But I also liked efface devant because of the feeling in the upper body -- the lifted, expansive chest combined with the feeling of reclining, almost. It gave me the feeling of stretching out on a large boulder warmed by the sun...maybe at Lake Tahoe! I still think the elongated S curve of the arms in efface devant (as I learned it) is one of the most beautiful lines in ballet.

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Thank you for all the thoughts on croise and efface and such. I also remember being taught to use a lot of epaulement. I do not see much of it nowadays, though.

Just a note on stage directions:

Here in Germany, it has taken me ages to accept that "stage right" and "stage left" are generally ALWAYS given as the _director's_ stage right and left!

Having worked mainly in ballet companies populated nearly exclusively by non-Germans (no strange thing), this never really was an issue until I started working with actors, who are almost all German or continental European.

Now I must - at my advancing age - relearn.

What are the directions in other countries, does anyone know?

-d-

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Thank you for telling us that, Diane. I did not know that, and would explain a lot about the blocking of German plays which had puzzled me. I suspect that this difference in Stage Right/Left among nations is part of the reason for all the different numbering systems for directions. Before I'm done, I'll visit those, too! :D

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This thread is wonderful! Amy, thank you so much for raising the issue of epaulment -- it's something that I constantly wonder about in the context of body position and presentation.

One of the more frustrating things as an one who came to ballet as an adult is that we don't seem to have those body positions 'drilled' into us to the same extent as children do. Consequently I struggle to remember which arms go with efface for example, rather than feeling able to create the movement and a feeling as an organic whole.

Hope that makes sense.

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A bit late, but here's some word on effacé!

In effacé, the dancer is seen very open and exposed to the audience. In fifth position effacé, the right foot is front, and the dancer faces Down Right. The head is turned and inclined slightly to the left. This is a very important character of effacé! For, when the foot points in tendu devant, the left arm goes up above the head, and the right arm is held at the side, but with a distinctive curve peculiar to this position, so that from the front there is a broad "ƒ" or "s" curve to the whole pectoral girdle. (Calligraphers love this position!) The eyes are cast slightly upward and to the left, gazing past the middle of the forearm and out into space. Part of what effacé means is "shaded", and the upper hand suggests that it "shades" the face. The upper back tilts very slightly back. The turn and tilt of the head becomes very important here, as Mme. Tumkovsky used to say at SAB, and apparently still says, "cheek is so Mr. Balanchine can come along and give you kiss." Well, maybe nowadays, his spirit.

Transfer the weight from the left foot to the right, keep the arms where they are, tilt the head the other direction, put the back just a shade forward, and you have a Franco-Russian effacé derrière.

Effacé is a very beautiful position, but it is tricky to do correctly. Even while standing still, it suggests a movement from that position through space. The lines seem to continue into infinity, here more than in any other position, in my opinion.

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O.K., picking up on this a little sporadically, as I am travelling, I have a really basic and stupid sounding question, Mel.

When you say the dancer's feet are to the front, or down the stage, while the dancer "faces" this way or that way, what do you mean? If the feet are squarely down stage, is it the dancer's hips, the dancer's shoulders, or the dancer's face which (literally) "faces" down right or down left? Or is it all three that are rearranged (hips, shoulders and face). In short, what do you mean by "faces?"

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Michael, when we use the word "faces", it just means the direction in space where something is placed, such as the body "faces" DR. This would mean that the entire body is toward that direction, but it does not necessarily mean the face at all. In fact the head is not facing in the same direction of the body except in à la seconde and à la quatrieme devant and derrière. When the body is facing one's corner, the head will be turned, or turned and inclined towards the audience.

For instance, while the body is facing the corner in écarté positions, in écarté devant the head is turned and lifted towards the downstage arm, which is in 5th en haut. In écarté derrière the head is turned and inclined very slightly downward, but also toward the downstage arm, which is in à la seconde, usually a slightly lowered seconde.

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