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Step of the Week 6bHow high?


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 December 2003 - 07:45 PM

Which is the only correct answer to the teacher's order, "Jump!" :blushing:

But this isn't about how high a jump is, it's about how far off the floor the working foot goes. There are all sorts of names for the places, no matter whether it's front, side, or back.

If the whole foot is on the floor, it's à terre. If the toe is on the floor, it's pointe tendue. If it's just off the floor (15º), it's dégagé. If it's at 45º it's demi-en l'air, or demi-hauteur. If it's at 90º, it's à la hauteur, and if it's anything above that, say 120º or 135º, it's just said to be "extended".

#2 carbro

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Posted 03 December 2003 - 08:42 PM

When I was taking class . . . well, let's just say Fourth Front never saw 90 degrees, and a la seconde might, on a very good day. But that's beside the point.

I was never told but somehow assumed that in a 45-degree extension, the heel of the working leg is at the level of the knee of the supporting leg. Is this correct? :blushing:

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 December 2003 - 08:47 PM

The heel, yes, of course, depending on the length of your femur. I figure for my legs that the foot is calf high. Some schools have a 60º extension simply called en l'air, that's definitely knee high, but I don't hear that term used much any more. Mostly in conjunction with ronds de jambe en l'air.

#4 vrsfanatic

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Posted 04 December 2003 - 03:07 AM

Nice subject! :blushing: Vaganova School uses, toes pointed to the floor, toes at 25 (battement tendu jete, battement frappe), toes at 45 (mid-calf, rond de jambe en l'air, battement fondu), toes at 90 (hip level) and anything above. I have also heard at least one Russian teacher (straight out of Vaganova Teacher's course) using 35 for fondu. She says that is what she was taught in methodolgy, but all of the written material references 45, as I was taught in methodology. As Major Johnson has already stated it really is an individual issue depending upon the various lengths and shapes of legs. What is important is that the legs are all a uniform height and that the students/dancers are able to accomplish a skill as required/requested by the teacher/ballet master or director. :wub:

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 December 2003 - 04:05 AM

Yes, indeed! :blushing:

It is a basic skill of a ballet master to be able to coördinate dancers and extensions so that the Shades all look wonderful in their developpés to écarté, and so forth, and that the students in "Konservatoriet" do harmonious and historically accurately-placed extensions (low by today's standard).

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 December 2003 - 06:19 PM

Now for those positions that everybody has different names for, the positions of the foot when it's off the floor, but still in connection with the supporting leg. A basic position of this matter is the one a lot of people have called B+ - attitude derrière à terre. standing on one foot or the other, the working foot rests on the ground behind the dancer, with the toe in contact with the floor just at the front of the vamp. This position can be taken en face, croisé and effacé, but as always, if you do it effacé, you better be perfect about it!

Now, as to cou-de-pied: some schools teach this position (which means "neck of the foot") wrapped around the ankle. The difference among schools is as to whether the foot is lifted fully from the floor, or whether the toes ONLY are flexed and resting on the floor. I've seen some teacher teach the whole foot flexed, but never have seen any writings that authorize this flex. RAD authorizes an unwrapped cou-de-pied position in front called "petit retiré". In the back, almost everyone agrees that the heel only touches the supporting leg. There is no such thing as a "coupé position" - coupé is a step.

Next up the leg is calf-high, or demi-retiré. "Retiré" means "withdrawn". Some schools also refer to this as demi-raccourci - half-shortened. Sometimes this position is seen in Romantic ballets as a pirouette position, so the ballerina's legs may be seen beneath the long skirt.

After demi-retiré, what's left but a full retiré? This position touches the little toe area to the little dimple just underneath the kneecap. This is also called raccourci.

Highest up of all, and most difficult to get right is the Russian tire-bouchon position, where the point of the toe just touches the notch at the back of the perfectly-turned-out knee. Neither this position nor the preceding is called "passé"! That's an adjective, and it means that the foot keeps moving through the position no matter what else is happening.

#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 04 December 2003 - 09:09 PM

Russian tire-bouchon position, where the point of the toe just touches the notch at the back of the perfectly-turned-out knee


My current Vaganova teacher uses tire-bouchon to refer to the sort of attitude front one might use before whipping a fouette... or one of those whipped rondes de jambe (the ones that go sort of from demi attitude front sort of through both ecartes and back down to demi attitude back -- or the reverse) (yes my technique includes mostly "sort of" positions these days! But honestly I don't know how to clearly describe the path of the leg in those high whipped rondes de jambe)... she very clearly doesn't use it to mean anything that could be confused with retire... and it's apparently something different from attitude front... she only uses the expression when the attitude is followed by some form of ronde de jambe... using "attitude" at all other times.

I remember one teacher (alas, his name escapes me... Peter something, I believe he danced with ABT around about the time Victoria was there, or else was in teh original cast of Carousel, can't quite remember) used to give retire back as a clearly wrapped position, like a very high sur le cou de pied... I've never encountered anyone else asking for this, but it did really work our muscles... Have you seen this?

But the reason I came back to this post is the "how high" question... I understand there was a time when it was thought very vulgar to raise the leg above 90 degrees... and so, it seems like a reasonable question to ask about performing works choreographed under those morays... I wonder if performing a work using old fashioned extensions would force one to focus one's interpretation differently... perhaps emphasizing upper body carriage more? Would the piece just look boring, or would it bring out a different charm?

#8 vrsfanatic

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Posted 05 December 2003 - 03:16 AM

The term tir bouchon, when used according to the Vaganova program as it is taught today in methodology, is different from other Russian schools and perhaps even from the early years of Vaganova training. It actually is a higher retire than front or back, but the toes are pointed to the side of the knee, on the knob! It is taught in the fourth year of study. In this year it is studied only with the toes to the side of the knee but when done in later years as a turn from a big pose to another big pose it overcrosses the knee front and back. In the pre-Vaganova years I believe that this movement was something similar to an attitude front but I am not really clear on it. I just know that when I speak with a generation of teacher...generally those in their 60s and up, the movement is one thing and when I speak with those of my age group the movement is another. I cannot find it in any written material as I was taught the movement in methodology but I know this is what I was taught.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 December 2003 - 03:31 AM

And three answers for you this morning, Amy: I agree with vrs, in that an older generation of Vaganova teachers uses it differently from ones my age, although I encountered the term in a Legat school.

And yes, I have seen a wrapped sort of retiré - it was given in class and used choreographically by Leonide Massine. He used to give petits battements sur le genou in class as a regular part of his barre.

And again yes, when an older work like Giselle comes along, the use of high extensions OUGHT to be forbidden, and the use of the upper body made more of, it's a part of the Romantic ethos. "Can you stick your kneecap in your ear in à la seconde? You can? Good for you, now don't, because this is "Flower Festival" pas de deux." Many ballerinas seem to be able to throw high extension into inappropriate roles either from their own innocence or ignorance, or that of the ballet master.

#10 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 05 December 2003 - 05:42 AM

vrs, in my early training with an older Legat teacher he used the term tire bouchon for a sort of overcrossed attitude devant. I never did totally understand that position or why it would be used, as it was most unattractive, however, he would put it in class every once in a great while. I have never had it since then, and that was a loooong time ago!

#11 Amy Reusch

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Posted 05 December 2003 - 08:39 PM

Interesting... thanks!

My current Vaganova teacher is at my estimation within 5 years of 40 (though I couldn't tell you on which side), but she was primarily trained as a character dancer... so perhaps that would account for the generational delay (is character training akin to being "off in the provinces"?)? She always calls what I would call a "saute arabesque", a "sisson"... so I'm often confused until she demonstrates... we asked her about it early on, and she swore she double checked with Alla Osipenko who was teaching there at the same time, so we just ignore and deal... but it is confusing.

My apologies for the spellings... I wish there were constantly available button that would launch your wonderful glossary in a seperate window!

#12 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 05 December 2003 - 08:43 PM

Amy, that is a bit strange, since a sauté, or a temps levé arabesque is a jump from one foot to one foot, and a sissonne is a jump from two feet to one foot. :wink:

#13 vrsfanatic

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Posted 06 December 2003 - 04:17 AM

Not to lead you astray but, yes, a saute is a sissonne stage form, to a Russian, taught in the 2nd year of study. It is only done in 1st arabesque at 90 degrees with supporting arm in 3rd allonge and the working arm in 2nd allonge.

As for tir bouchon, a character dancer/teacher may not not know this academic term for this movement. The usage I have described is one taught at first in the 4th year of study but as the students progress (on to other teachers, remember the upper level teachers tend to be the more celebrated teachers who have not studied methodology, therefore the term could possibly retain its usage from generations ago) the term is used interchangably with the other described movements. The placement of the toes at the side of the knee while turning is of great importance. It is used when turning from pose to pose, it is also referred to many times in various other movements which seem to be more of the attitude front at 45 and 90 degrees in the upper classes. Remember there is no such thing as attitude front in the Vaganova school. I do not want to start a debate, just to remind those who have interest. Tir bouchon is also used(this I learned in the US from a non-Russian) standing enface, developpe right leg side onto demi-pointe (or not), turning en dehors or endans, overcross the working leg front /back at the height of the knee while swiveling around in a deep demi-plie with the body inclined at first toward the knee side ways, 1/2 turn and then away from the knee sideways 1/2 turn. The turn finishes on demi pointe in a big pose. It also can be done from any pose to any pose (this I learned in Russia).

Maybe what is most important is that we all learn and accept the different terms and their usages. Students need to know them all and remain open minded to whatever changes they must make. :P Actually I should add that to the list of reasons why I enjoy Ballet Talk so much! :thumbsup:

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 December 2003 - 04:42 AM

Interesting difference in usage for sissonne. And no, it's not arguable, it's just something that is.

And 'way down deep, it's always bothered me that the human body can't make an exact opposite cognate of the attitude derrière in a devant. I can see Vaganova's logic, I think, in not including an attitude devant in the system. It's a developpé devant that doesn't make it to straight. Some choreography requires you to stop there, just as there are things that stop in "passé"!

And another BIG yes to students (and we are all students) keeping the mind open, and being able rapidly to adapt to unfamiliar technical, stylistic, or choreographic conditions! :thumbsup:

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 December 2003 - 08:43 AM

I wish there were a constantly available button that would launch your wonderful glossary in a separate window!

It's not quite as convenient, but you can always bookmark these threads, if you think they'll be helpful. I'm glad that readers are able to use these efforts in classroom and theater. :thumbsup:


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