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Step of the Week 6abody positions


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 05:17 AM

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?


#2 pleiades

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 05:08 PM

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

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 05:52 PM

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.

#4 Nora

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 06:16 PM

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:

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 06:39 PM

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.

#6 pleiades

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 07:15 PM

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?

#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 07:19 PM

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!

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 08:15 PM

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.

#9 Funny Face

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 09:22 PM

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.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 03:43 AM

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!)

#11 Michael

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 07:08 AM

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.

#12 Funny Face

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 07:26 AM

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?

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 07:30 PM

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! :)

#14 Funny Face

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 08:29 PM

"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!

#15 Amy Reusch

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 08:39 PM

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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