innopac

Partnering skills

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So you’re going for a lift, but if she pliés before you’re ready, then it’s no good. You have to plié with her, and lift her just at the moment her foot is pushing off the floor, with your hands going up at the same time as her body, and so that it’s timed as perfectly, and is as easy as can be. But also the girl has to let the guy do it. Which is really hard for some girls to do, because they might get stuck with a bad partner early on and learn to do it themselves; because originally that’s what they needed to do for the show. So it’s a challenge sometimes and it’s funny to say to your partner, “Stop doing anything here, you need to let me move you,” and mainly the guy is in charge. He’s the driving force. And if the girl’s responsive to that, then ideally you’re going to find the coordination.

From Joseph Mazo's "Dance is a Contact Sport," (pp. 136-7) where he describes a rehearsal where Jacques d'Amboise and Melissa Hayden's shoulder sit lift doesn't start out so well:

The difficulty, Jacques says, is that Milly is working too hard. She is jumping too strongly, anticipating the lift, and once up, she is anticipating the action of sitting on his shoulder. Don't do so much," he tells her. "Just spring into attitude on pointe as I loft you, don't try to get yourself up or to sit." They try it again. Melissa is still trying to perch on his shoulder. "You don't have to sit," Jacques' harsh voice soothes, "Just let me put you there. Just spring into attitude." As she does, he adjusts his hands at her waist, trying her for balance the way a pinch hitter might test a new bat. "That's fine," he crocks. "Let's do it again." She springs onto her points, nothing more, and as Jacques continues the lift, she flies to his shoulder like a pet bird.

The problem was one of balance--Milly was trying to set herself for the shoulder sit, not realizing the she already was in position. That sort of thing is hard to judge while you are being carried through the air. If you think too much about it, dancers say, it won't work; if you let your body do the thinking, there will be no problem.

They do the lift a few more times, and with each repetition, Milly becomes more sure of herself. She has found her old economy of movement again. Her spring uses exactly the amount of energy needed to initiate the lift, then she holds herself erect, keeping her muscles firm for Jacques grip, and lets him finish the job she began.

Balanchine, standing with his hands in his pockets, shoes the exhilaration of the lift with an upward thrust of his own torso. "That's RIGHT," he crows. "That's RIGHT."

Generations of male dancers were likely nodding when they read this. I love that Mazo describes it as "economy of movement."

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Thanks for bringing this thread back -- I've been thinking about trust and partnering this weekend, since seeing a last-minute substitution at Pacific Northwest Ballet. The part (Benvolio in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo et Juliette) includes a significant amount of male/male partnering, in the middle of some complex traffic patterns, so there are multiple possibilities for glitches. PNB only had one dancer prepped for the role, and when he injured himself a couple hours before performance, they really had to scramble. They were able to teach a short scene to one of their corps members, but the miracle was that a group from the Monte Carlo company were coming to town, and one of them knew the part -- they managed to get him from the airport and into a costume in time for the second scene and he just went on, without any rehearsal at all. He didn't really know anyone in the company as far as I know, but he knew the work -- he's danced it for years. So he trusted the choreography, and that extended into the partnering. The only twitching I could see was in a few piece of stage business -- there didn't seem to be any trouble in the complex physical interactions. I'm still shaking my head.

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. But also the girl has to let the guy do it. Which is really hard for some girls to do, because they might get stuck with a bad partner early on and learn to do it themselves; because originally that’s what they needed to do for the show. So it’s a challenge sometimes and it’s funny to say to your partner, “Stop doing anything here, you need to let me move you,” and mainly the guy is in charge. He’s the driving force. And if the girl’s responsive to that, then ideally you’re going to find the coordination.

Yes, thank you for reviving this thread, innopac.

Arthur Mitchell has said something similar about the partnering in Agon - it works better if the woman allows herself to be manipulated, and as he also observed, today's women can have more trouble with that. :) Of course, the reverse can also obtain. In the memoirs of Peter Martins and Robert La Fosse, both men complain about a small ballerina who wouldn't help with lifts. It made for a nice airy effect but it was hell on a fellow's back.

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La Fosse also said that the women of NYCB were a lot more independent (generally) in PDD than the women of ABT.

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Gelsey Kirkland and Alicia Markova were two tiny ballerinas that were known as difficult to lift because in order to maintain the weightless illusion both refused to "push up" during a lift and wanted to make it seem like the male could just naturally lift them as if they were paper.

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Arthur Mitchell has said something similar about the partnering in Agon - it works better if the woman allows herself to be manipulated, and as he also observed, today's women can have more trouble with that.

I remember reading something a few years ago, possibly from Agnes deMille or one of her contemporaries, talking about how strong women had to be at the time since there were so few skilled male partners -- I think it was deMille, in her description of making Rodeo and working with well-trained men. It was a revelation to actually get lifted, rather than to jump and make it look like the man was doing the work.

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