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Balanchine and Flexed Feet-- some questions


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#1 bart

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 07:06 AM

I have some questions about the various and repeated use of the flexed foot in Balanchine.

When I first saw Balanchine ballets in the early days of NYCB, I was really struck by all flexing of the foot in pirouettes, extensions, jumps. After having grown up on mostly classiscal ballet, these movements struck me as either being deliberately anti-"balletic," or witty commentaries on classical tradition. I loved them immediately. Only decade laters did I learn that frappes and other forms of flexing are part of every ballet class.

Did Balanchine take these movements from traditional classwork and put them on stage?

Was he the first choreographer to do so?

Did he ever explain what this kind of movement meant to him and why he used it so often?

What are some of the most impressive instances of the use of flexed feet in Balanchine -- or in other choreographers?

#2 rg

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 08:21 AM

random thoughts here, those who danced for and/or studied w/ balanchine will speak w/ more authority.
have you checked schorer's book? i should think she has somethings to say about all this.
my sense is that these 'choices' of balanchine's fell into the category he'd note by saying: is not school, is choreography - which is what he said when asked the 'name' of a certain jump he liked to use choreographically. in this way he stressed that such a move was not from the 'school' of ballet but from the eye/mind/imagination of the balletmaster.
arlene croce has posited that technical changes and/or enrichments to the canon come from the stage to the school not the other way around. (i believe this is expressed in a piece she wrote for a 'tastemakers' section of a magazine, the name of which now escapes me - maybe TOWN AND COUNTRY? it may be collected in her most recent collection. it was on balanchine the teacher.
robbins certainly took a shine to balanchinean flexed feet and used them variously himself.
i wonder if lifar made similar choreographic 'choices' in his ballets, similarly to his interest in the turned-in so-called sixth and seventh positions, which i believe balanchine had no use for in class per se.

#3 sz

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 08:45 AM

>I have some questions about the various and repeated use of the
>flexed foot in Balanchine. Did Balanchine take these movements
>from traditional classwork and put them on stage? Was he the
>first choreographer to do so? Did he ever explain what this
>kind of movement meant to him and why he used it so often?
>What are some of the most impressive instances of the use of
>flexed feet in Balanchine -- or in other choreographers?

Chris Wheeldon uses flexed feet in his choreography far more often than Balanchine ever did. Wheeldon's Polyphonia and After the Rain come to mind immediately....

I only know of one personal story.... Stars and Stripes...
Jacques D'Amboise often got cramps in his calves while dancing the male lead solo.... So during one of the performances, when the cramp(s) started up during a series of jumping beats in fifth position, Jacques flexed his feet in the air during the beats (his heels executing the beats) along with the usual choreography and saluting his hand to his head. Balanchine thought the flexed feet, heels beating, added fun humor to the solo, and kept Jacques' bit for future generations.

I find the most interesting use of flexed feet, at NYCB, to be the way they are used in Jerry Robbins' Cage. It gives the female creatures such a perfectly-in-character spiky-ness.

Ditto Balanchine's Sym in 3 -- oohy, gooey, but a bit spiky in the pas de deux. The music is so other worldly...and the flexed feet add a creature-ish, exotic edge.

Ditto Bugaku. Flexed feet in Balanchine's choreography here seems to be used as an extra "ginch" (at times orgasmic) affect... Balanchine through Suzanne Farrell and Allegra Kent loved "ginching" movements involving flexed angles everywhere.... though much less often of the feet. I don't think Balanchine used flexed feet that often, but when they were used they definitely had a purpose.


I'm sure others here on Ballet Talk can provide you with researched/documented info on this.

#4 Hans

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 02:40 PM

I don't know how frappés were performed at the Imperial Ballet School when Balanchine was there, but Vaganova frappés do not use a flexed foot, and in fact, Balanchine style frappés don't, either. Not sure about Legat. If I recall correctly, Suki Schorer wrote that Balanchine did not use the flexed foot at all in class, and that he used it onstage for contrast, to show how much more beautiful the pointed foot is. Not an exhaustive explanation by any means, but hopefully it sheds a little light. :)

#5 doug

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 02:55 PM

Flexed feet were used in character choreography performed by the Imperial Ballet. Balanchine would have seen these dances and performed some of them himself.

#6 Paul Parish

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 04:47 PM

Hmmmm -- sz, you may be right, I haven't seen any Wheeldon for a while -- but his flexed feet seem to me very reminiscent of those in 4 Temperaments.

#7 sz

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Posted 02 April 2007 - 06:00 PM

I haven't seen any Wheeldon for a while -- but his flexed feet seem to me very reminiscent of those in 4 Temperaments.


I'll have to watch that filmed version again (with Merrill Ashley, wonderful Bart Cook and Colleen Neary in their respective roles), but as I recall from memory, 4Ts is much more pelvis (hips) forward in its edge of choreographic style which gives 4Ts some of its brilliantly darker sexiness. I don't remember any flexed feet...

#8 sandik

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 03:17 PM

There were quite a lot of flexed feet when I was studying baroque dance, especially in gestures during jumping.

#9 HollyFusco

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 09:31 AM

I don't know how frappés were performed at the Imperial Ballet School when Balanchine was there, but Vaganova frappés do not use a flexed foot, and in fact, Balanchine style frappés don't, either. Not sure about Legat. If I recall correctly, Suki Schorer wrote that Balanchine did not use the flexed foot at all in class, and that he used it onstage for contrast, to show how much more beautiful the pointed foot is. Not an exhaustive explanation by any means, but hopefully it sheds a little light. :wink:


I never claimed to be taught vaganova, I actually came from a Dolly Dinkle schhol, but for all practical purposes, I learned frappe the Russian way: with a flexed foot right above the ankle bone for the purpose of "striking" the floor (I believe it was more about making the noise than the actual movement.)
After I moved to Miami City Ballet School, I was taught to start frappe from sur les coups de pieds for every direction, which, I found, is much more appealing. ;)

#10 Marga

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 12:02 PM

..... I learned frappe the Russian way: with a flexed foot right above the ankle bone for the purpose of "striking" the floor .....

Striking the floor with a flexed foot, which then extends to a pointed foot, is not the "Russian way", as Hans already mentioned. In character, yes, the flexed foot is used, but not in ballet class.

However, I learned to do frappés with a flexed foot from teachers who followed the Cecchetti method of classical ballet instruction. I don't know if they are still taught this way (I taught them with a flexed foot when I was teaching in the 1970s and 80s), but Cecchetti is the only method I am aware of which uses a flexed foot striking the floor in frappé.

#11 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 04:30 PM

Hey sz -- yes, Ashley and Cook are wonderful in 4 T's. That's a wonderful video.

and so are the tilted pelvises, very dramatic.

The flexed feet are less dramatic, but they're there --esp in "THEME" section at the beginning, before the variations begin --

#12 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 07:03 PM

Don't forget the sudden, completely out-of-context flex, in unison from the row of upside-down women in MONUMENTUM PRO GESUALDO, and the oldest in the existing repertory, the three muses and APOLLO in that ballet, all joined together, shuffling across the stage, heels down and toes up.


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