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Hand positions in Raymonda Variations


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#1 bart

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 06:32 AM

While watching several performances of the Balanchine Raymonda Variations last weekend, I was struck by the repetition of a lovely positioning of the hands. Both arms are extended forward in arabesque, with the right wrist placed gently over the left wrist. Fingers are extended; palms were down.

It just happens that, on the same program, the same gesture was repeated once or twice, I think by the woman from His Past. However, the left hand was on top in that one.

I know that in very hierarchical societies in the past, this was a gesture assosciated with supplication (as from an inferior to a lord) Perhaps it expressed willingness to accept the lord's power to put chains around the wrists. However, the supplicant was kneeling in those situations, and the fingers were closed into a fist, palm down..

I suppose that supplication -- or subordinance -- might be a subtext in Lilac Garden. But the lead ballerina in Raymonda Variations is smilling and is very much on top of her game. (I don't recall the context in the full-length Grigorovich after Petipa version.)

Can anyone help with an explanation of the history and meaning of this gesture? Or what it'ss called? Also, where else one might find it?

#2 rg

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 08:05 AM

while i can shed no light on the 'meanings' here i can support the need to know, as i grow increasingly convinced that Balanchine chose very few of his choreographic details arbitrarily.
when he did something specifically it was because he wanted it THAT way for some reason.
to the best of my knowledge there is no demonstration/explication about this hand/arm position in crossed wrists with hands open/palms down on the one video demonstration document i know, MIME MATTERS from the royal ballet - but then again i haven't watched this in a while.

#3 Paul Parish

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 08:42 AM

Sounds lovely -- Is it the same wrist position as in Valse Fantaisie?

#4 Natalia

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 08:59 AM

The outstretched arms & hand position described by Bart does not occur in the various versions of the complete 'Raymonda' that exist (be they Petipa - Grigorovich - K. Sergeyev - Nureyev - etc.). As RG suggests, this is probably Balanchine's invention & desire. One sees this lovely move in a few other 'frothy' Balanchine works, such as 'La Source.' IMO, Jennifer Ringer is particularly charming with this move, her eyes literally sparkling as she admires whatever is on her wrist.

Whenever I see this move, I always think "the princess-debutante shows off her diamonds" as if she is admiring a precious bracelet-and-ring set given to her by a male admirer. Perhaps a clue can be found in the DVD/video 'Balanchine Essays' in which Merrill Ashley explains that Balanchine asked the girls to imagine that they are "reaching for diamonds" whever he wanted to see sparkling faces?

#5 rg

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 12:04 PM

in short: yes, the position of the arms in the caught lunges of RAYMONDA V can also be seen in VALSE FANATASIE - both versions ('53 & '67) if mem. serves.
the 'reach' for diamonds (or money or ice cream!) is a anecdote suki schorer tells about balanchine's teaching, when he was seeking real reach for allongee-accent in first arabesque and other enlivened, lengthened positions that he schooled.

#6 bart

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 12:21 PM

Thanks for your responses! Sure enough, on p. 145 of Repertory in Review there's a photo from Valse Fantaisie: Diana Adams, Patricia Wilde, and Tanaquil LeClercq all with the same arm position (though caught on camera at different stages of movement). In this they ARE looking at their hands. LeClerq, especially, might be admiring a ring from Mr. B.

Based on reminiscences by dancers like Schorer, Ashley, and (in my experience) Villella, it's clear Balanchine liked to use imagery (diamonds, helicopters, etc.) as a heuristic device to help dancers enter into the choreography. In other words: it's post facto assistance, not necessarily something that he had in mind when actually doing the choreography. Is there something perhaps in 19th century choreography that might have come to Balanchine's mind when making the ballet? Or how about the music (Glazounov for RV; Glinka for VF): could there be something in Russian tradition, perhaps from Russian folk dancing, that is being alluded to?

P.S.: the crossed wrists are used many times in Raymonda Variations, not only in the lunges. I'm not even sure the ballerina looks at them, but they are clearly her "signature" and the gesture that gives her individuality and personality. No other woman in the ballet has this movement.

P.P.S: the position like a variation on what I've seen described as "romantic-style arabesque a deux bras," although the arms are closer together (wrists almost but not quite touching) and the eyes are gazing beyond them.

#7 carbro

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 12:56 PM

yes, the position of the arms in the caught lunges of RAYMONDA V can also be seen in VALSE FANATASIE - both versions ('53 & '67) if mem. serves.

Not to mention Serenade and Mozartiana (1981), just two that spring instantly to mind.

Is there something perhaps in 19th century choreography that might have come to Balanchine's mind when making the ballet?

Given B'chine's habit of tailoring ballets to both flatter and challenge his dancers, perhaps this was a position that accentuated Patricia Wilde's charm?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar? :angel_not:

Thanks for your responses! Sure enough, on p. 145 of Repertory in Review there's a photo from Valse Fantaisie: Diana Adams, Patricia Wilde, and Tanaquil LeClercq all with the same arm position (though caught on camera at different stages of movement). In this they ARE looking at their hands. LeClerq, especially, might be admiring a ring from Mr. B.

Also -->here.. Same photo, I (too lazy to reach for RiR) presume.

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 07:34 PM

Are we perhaps discussing here the old French School arm position of arabesque la lyre, in which the dancer seems to be cradling a Grecian harp in her hands? It's a leftover from the Anacreontic period, pre-Romantic.

#9 zerbinetta

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 12:10 AM

In Act I of Sleeping Beauty, Aurora crosses her wrists to her parents. I always assumed it indicated obedience. In Act I, Sc 2 of Bayadere, Nikiya crosses her wrists to Gamzatti. That one seems to indicate servitude.

Neither of these are preceded by the reaching hands, though.

It would seem to be a versatile gesture.

#10 scherzo

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 02:10 AM

Speaking of diamonds, this position is used in the Diamonds pd2 isn't it? Definitely a 'reaching' moment there. In some contexts, for me crossed wrists are the most perfect expression of refinement, which may be relevant in Raymonda.

#11 rg

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 06:59 AM

evidently only the most random examples stick in one's mind.
yesterday, watching a clip of WRENS (from UNION JACK) there was m.calegari in farrell's role doing a kind of teasing, diving, move that ends in a smiling penchee arabesque on flat foot and, as many will likely be seeing in their own memories, she leads the move w/her hands crosssed at the wrists.
the examples, as these various posts show, could go on'n'on.

#12 Hans

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 08:22 PM

Are the palms up or down?

#13 carbro

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 08:30 PM

Down. Why? Do you have an image of the wrists crossed, palms up?

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 February 2007 - 04:17 AM

I certainly did. That's why I suggested arabesque la lyre.


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