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Partnering and Lifts


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#1 innopac

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 11:16 PM

In Ballet Talk for Dancers there is a post by Mel Johnson about lifting in ballet... "And Bob is really correct about practically any male dancer being able to press-lift any female dancer. In partnering, the woman works just as hard as the man. "

My question is how does the ballerina work to make the lift easier for her partner? In Karsavina's memoir she writes of being advised to cut her nails. :dunno: What other things are important?

#2 vrsfanatic

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 04:13 AM

The woman must hold her body very strongly in order for a man to be able to lift her. The body must be light, and I do not mean weight at all, not rigid. This is only accomplished by training. Also, a very strong jump is required. Most partnering is about coordination of movement and timing. The two dancers must be on the same page or nothing will work.

The physical size of a woman has little to do with how easily she may be lifted, just as the physical size of a man may have no bearing on how strong he is. :dunno:

#3 bart

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 04:44 AM

Last night at the Joffrey, two men held a woman over their heads for a sustained period. One supported the lower legs, one the shoulders (I think). She had to hold her body rigid with no support at her center. Then they lowered her to the floor, as if dead -- literally, a "stiff."

I was impressed! (Alas, so many things were going on onstage that I didn't see how this lift was actually accomplished.)

#4 87Sigfried87

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 06:16 AM

The woman must hold her body very strongly in order for a man to be able to lift her. The body must be light, and I do not mean weight at all, not rigid. This is only accomplished by training. Also, a very strong jump is required. Most partnering is about coordination of movement and timing. The two dancers must be on the same page or nothing will work.

The physical size of a woman has little to do with how easily she may be lifted, just as the physical size of a man may have no bearing on how strong he is. :dunno:


Perfect! you mentioned everything!I once had a partner for a modern pas de deux who was not very thin but jumped so much that I had less problems in lifts than with other thinner partners.And then if a girl doesn't keep her abdominals strongly or her back compact it is very hard to do even a simple promenade...coordination is very important in lifts such as the ones taken from jumps.The single second is fundamental.From the male point of view I'd say that a good partner is not just the one who lifts well but also the one who is very sensitive towards the woman.You have to feel and understand how to hold the partner,guide her body to the right position or axis.This is the most difficult thing to learn about pas de deux.

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 09:10 PM

One hand lifts ( :thumbsup: ) usually impress me...

#6 bart

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 04:58 AM

And then if a girl doesn't keep her abdominals strongly or her back compact it is very hard to do even a simple promenade...

As a non-dancer, I had personal experience of this. During a demonstration by professional dancers, I was called up -- as one of the few adult males in the room -- to promenade the ballerina on pointe and in arabesque. I started off to the right, went too far, almost toppled her over. Again. And again.

It was quite embarrassing, though I suppose it made the lecturer's point -- which was the same as dancerboy87's. :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :tomato:

That single experience convinced me -- a ballet-goer with decades of viewing behind me -- to pay a LOT more attention to the mechanics of what dancers were doing. And, eventually, to begin taking class myself.

Does anyone else -- from either a dancer's or non-dancer's perspective -- have favorite (or unfavorite) lifts? Any ideas of how to do them? Or not to do them?

#7 JMcN

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 05:44 AM

As a tone-deaf, two left-footed none-dancer, I have come to realise over the years that some of the spectacular high lifts are much easier for the dancers than some of the very low lifts twisty lifts. I think this is because the lower lifts may place more strain on the lifter's back.

There are added complexities when someon like David Nixon choreographs a piece where the male dancer is on his knees the whole time (Bess, You is my woman now from I Got Rhythm). Some of my chums thought this piece looked odd but I just fell in love with it. Goodness only knows what it does to the male dancer's knees.

I have seen La Fille Mal Gardee many times and have occasionally seen dancers be a bit precarious in the one-handed bum lift in the fields scene. I suppose, however, I had taken it for granted that most partnerships accomplish it till I saw POB last summer where one dancer did not attempt it - using 2 hands but the other did. Subsequently reading reviews I discovered that there was only Mathias Heymann who had done this lift and that at only one performance.

I have seen many mixed fortunes in Giselle over the years with the ironing-board lift in Act 2. Again some dancers have not even attempted this. When it works it is breath-taking.

I've never seen anything like the way the Cuban National Ballet dancers get into the over-head lift immediately prior to the swan dive in the grand pas on Don Q. When I saw them perform it in London two years ago, I was rendered speechless! I am looking forward to seeing if the RDB do it in the same way when I see them performing Alicia Alonso's production in Copenhagen in April.

A personal favourite is not so much a lift as a landing from a lift. This is in David Nixon's Madame Butterfly. At Pinkerton is gently setting Butterfly down from over his head she is performing walking movements as though she is coming down stairs. It sends shivers down my spine every time I see it. I think it illustrates the point that the set-down from the lift is just as critical and can make the dancer being lifted look as though she is floating (or, if it doesn't work, is a fairy elephant!).

Another favourite section of mine (if it classes as lifts) is in the brothel scene in Manon where Manon is passed from man to man and does not touch the ground.

Do lifts have technical names or do people make up illustrative names for them as I have tried to do?

#8 Ray

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 05:47 AM

And then if a girl doesn't keep her abdominals strongly or her back compact it is very hard to do even a simple promenade...

As a non-dancer, I had personal experience of this. During a demonstration by professional dancers, I was called up -- as one of the few adult males in the room -- to promenade the ballerina on pointe and in arabesque. I started off to the right, went too far, almost toppled her over. Again. And again.

It was quite embarrassing, though I suppose it made the lecturer's point -- which was the same as dancerboy87's. :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :tomato:

That single experience convinced me -- a ballet-goer with decades of viewing behind me -- to pay a LOT more attention to the mechanics of what dancers were doing. And, eventually, to begin taking class myself.

Does anyone else -- from either a dancer's or non-dancer's perspective -- have favorite (or unfavorite) lifts? Any ideas of how to do them? Or not to do them?


While it may sound counterintuitive, I've always found that the hardest lifts for men are the "low" ones; those repeated slow jete lifts in Barocco are a killa, as are the repeated lifts of the four corps couples framing Choleric near the end of 4T's, in which you have to lower your partner very carefully on pointe, and pretty fast, and then lift her again from that on pointe position (she can't help you much there). But any lift where you can really get "under" your partner's back and then, in a coordinated effort of her jumps and your thighs, lift your partner high and lock your arms (or arm) is most satisfying--and often audience pleasing. Also fun are shoulder sits where she has a running start (Nutcracker pas) or pirouettes into a fish dive (not a lift, really), where it feels like you're tripping your partner. More timing than strength.

One image I think of (ahem, thought of) in promenading a woman on pointe is holding a coffee cup in a moving car: the closer you hold it into you, the more likely you will get burned.

This thread has reminded me that I miss partnering; even if I were to return to ballet class as an amateur, I'll never again have the feeling of collaborating with an expert athlete. (Dirty secret of male dancers: despite the often rabid emphasis on men being taught by male teachers--this hides a cluster of assumptions and anxieties--many learn most about partnering from female partners, who are often not only good at it but have figured out how to articulate it to bumbling, self-absorbed boys.)

#9 carbro

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 12:46 PM

I've never seen anything like the way the Cuban National Ballet dancers get into the over-head lift immediately prior to the swan dive in the grand pas on Don Q. When I saw them perform it in London two years ago, I was rendered speechless! I am looking forward to seeing if the RDB do it in the same way when I see them performing Alicia Alonso's production in Copenhagen in April.

You mean with Kitri facing the wings in stag position, then flipping after the toss to face the other side in the fish dive? This was standard when ABT performed Baryshnikov's staging of Don Q. It is mighty spectacular, isn't it?

One image I think of (ahem, thought of) in promenading a woman on pointe is holding a coffee cup in a moving car: the closer you hold it into you, the more likely you will get burned.

I love it!

Dirty secret of male dancers: despite the often rabid emphasis on men being taught by male teachers--this hides a cluster of assumptions and anxieties--many learn most about partnering from female partners, who are often not only good at it but have figured out how to articulate it to bumbling, self-absorbed boys.

I can't remember which of her partners said/wrote it -- probably Villella -- but the fellow recalled how Violette Verdy frequently asked exactly how he performed some partnering maneuver or other. Not surprising, from Verdy.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 06:01 PM

Once a male dancer gets his arms fully extended and locked, then it's all downhill from there. What's tough is going slowly from on the floor to just off the floor and sloooowly up to the top of the lift, then just as slowly down. Same goes for lifts where the man can rest his upper arms against his torso. Lifts there are just curls, but it's very fatiguing to do if your arms are supposed to be away from your body. Kirkland and Baryshnikov had a battle about this. She wanted him to keep farther away from her, and this way puts a lot of strain on the shoulder muscles. Catches hardly count at all. They're really pretty much timing.

And there are ways a dancer can make herself practically unliftable. I should know, I've danced with several of them. Later I found out about this little old lady who had a vaudeville act where she dared any of the strong men in the audience to pick her up and move her in any way. She never budged from the spot. She had discovered just how to adjust her center of gravity so that she wouldn't go anywhere!

#11 innopac

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 07:03 PM

And there are ways a dancer can make herself practically unliftable. I should know, I've danced with several of them.


Is it partly when the dancer is tense or afraid of being lifted? A bit like when you ride on the back of a motorcycle?

#12 Ray

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 07:26 PM

And there are ways a dancer can make herself practically unliftable. I should know, I've danced with several of them.


Is it partly when the dancer is tense or afraid of being lifted? A bit like when you ride on the back of a motorcycle?


It can be--tension can make lifting as hard as not enough "pulling up."

#13 innopac

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Posted 14 January 2010 - 12:53 PM

Here is a youtube on partnering that I enjoyed and hope you do too.

Pas de Deux: The Dancers' Perspective
Principal Dancers Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette give us a view of the wedding pas de deux from "The Sleeping Beauty" from the dancers' perspective.
2009 New York City Ballet

#14 Henrik

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 02:42 AM

@Ray:
As a professional dancer riding a motorcycle, I find your comparison pretty good!
Lifting a girl that doesn't want to be lifted, is kind of like curving on the bike if your passenger doesn't lean with you - both people has to want to do it, or it won't work :clapping:


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