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iczerman

180 degree extensions...when are they appropriate?

33 posts in this topic

Bart, I think some teachers are still very conscientious when it comes to producing students with excellent port de bras and ├ępaulement, but probably not nearly as many as there used to be. Also, these skills (like all aspects of ballet technique) require maintenance. If the artistic director and ballet master/mistress neglect the upper body, even a well-trained dancer's ability will decline.

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Barbara, you raise a question that makes sense. "Control of legs" (when they are doing things other than being maintained frozen in high extension) does seem to be a problem with some of the dancers we have been talking about.

[T]hese skills (like all aspects of ballet technique) require maintenance. If the artistic director and ballet master/mistress neglect the upper body, even a well-trained dancer's ability will decline.

Hans, I put your key phrase in bold face. It should be etched on the studio walls of every dance company, imo.

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I've read (in Pointe maybe) about a way to stretch the upper hammies/groin area by placing the front leg on a chair and then somehow inching down below the parallel line. I may have the specifics of this wrong but you get the idea. What I wonder is once a dancer achieves this ultra stretched position if it's difficult to control the legs in order to keep a parallel line in a grand jete. I don't care for the look of this overstretched line either.

Yeah I completely agree with you. This form of stretching is used in gymnastics as well. Next to that, I think it's much easier to achieve the ultimate stretched position compared to a controlled position (not difficult by force, but difficult by feeling when you reached a parallel line).

I'm with bart (reply 10) about the extension situation. Most of the time to achieve that extension, the body becomes too much contorted: it breaks the moment when you see a dancer inadvertently struggling (looking at the rest of the body) while they want to achieve this extension. It's a great example, that video from Zakharova in Giselle. The moment she raises her right leg and changes it into an arabesque; she can't have her leg higher than 180 degree behind her, the changement becomes quite choppy and it ruins the flow and meaning of the adagio (indeed what Hans stated before). Ulyana Lopatkina has great extensions as well, but you can see she really thinks how to use them during the same adagio:

Ulyana Lopatkina - Giselle

Alina Somova is another great example. Although I really enjoyed her performance during the Grand Pas Paquita last new years eve, there were moments that she inappropriately kicked her leg up in the air (during the harp variation for example at 0:34 or 1:19, although now I'm looking at the video again, it somehow doesn't bother me so much strangly enough :) )! Really a shame because to me she definitely improved with her upper body and port de bras. Why do you have to show your flexibility and high kick your legs in the air? Sometimes less = more; subtle movements can even make much more impact than showing it off. That video from iczerman is the icing on the cake about that! What a delightful Myrtha to watch and indeed that subtle jump even without kicking her leg right before her nose is striking; she floats through air.

I think there are many points in certain classical ballets where a 180 degree extension isn't inappropriate; the pas de deux in the second act from Swan Lake has a lot of points for the ballerina to perform them, without damaging the 'line' of the body in combination with the choreography. I think I'm more worried about the over extension and hyper flexibility in classical ballets; with that it's more of a rythmic gymnastic show and I can't find any reasons why you would use it in a ballet.

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Giselle is a ballet that is of different age to Petipa's academic classical ballets where exhibitionist variations exist, or the tour de force often exhibited in that other dance genre neo-classicism and like Bournonville ballets, Giselle requires a different mind set of appreciation.

I am not sure that there should be fireworks anywhere in Giselle. With the right casting, the steps are a clear and intrinsic part of the storytelling whether they or a part of the original production or not and are coloured with emotion that does not need explosive execution when in the hands of ballet artists.

Amen. :)

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180 degree extensions are appropriate in class, if one can do them :wink:

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Are teachers as concerned about -- and are audiences as aware of and responsiveness to -- port de bras / epaulement as they once were? So much attention is paid to what the legs can do. It seems that few dancers today, even among the best, are capable of (or care about?) the kind of upper body movement that Fracci demonstrates in the Giselle clip above.

I feel like this is an important issue. So much of the time, it is the dancer's ability to control and use her upper body that really shows whether she is an artist. This kind of artistry takes a lot more time, care, and finesse to develop than do 180 extensions - countless times I've seen young dancers who can easily keep their legs over their heads in adagio at the barre but when they get to the center cannot really "dance." I also wonder how the superstars of today, particularly in Russian ballet, are influenced by the popularity of 180 extensions vs. artistry. I feel that because graduates like Somova are made principles so young, they don't have time to properly develop their arm placement before they are expected to perform Swan Lake. Is it just me, or has the whole idea of "working your way up through the corps" (and hence gaining valuable experience and artistry)rather gone out the window in the attempt to create hyperextended stars?

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Are teachers as concerned about -- and are audiences as aware of and responsiveness to -- port de bras / epaulement as they once were? So much attention is paid to what the legs can do. It seems that few dancers today, even among the best, are capable of (or care about?) the kind of upper body movement that Fracci demonstrates in the Giselle clip above.

I feel like this is an important issue. So much of the time, it is the dancer's ability to control and use her upper body that really shows whether she is an artist. This kind of artistry takes a lot more time, care, and finesse to develop than do 180 extensions - countless times I've seen young dancers who can easily keep their legs over their heads in adagio at the barre but when they get to the center cannot really "dance." I also wonder how the superstars of today, particularly in Russian ballet, are influenced by the popularity of 180 extensions vs. artistry. I feel that because graduates like Somova are made principles so young, they don't have time to properly develop their arm placement before they are expected to perform Swan Lake. Is it just me, or has the whole idea of "working your way up through the corps" (and hence gaining valuable experience and artistry)rather gone out the window in the attempt to create hyperextended stars?

Welcome to Ballet Talk Vaganovaballerina! Unfortunately, the answer to your question is

yes. Corps de ballet work is invaluable. However, it's the vision or mission of the person at the top of a company's org chart that determines a company's artistic trajectory. If that person has no coherent vision or mission except blind favoritism the company suffers artistically. Because of this, it may take several graduations and generations to undo the damage.

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Are teachers as concerned about -- and are audiences as aware of and responsiveness to -- port de bras / epaulement as they once were? So much attention is paid to what the legs can do. It seems that few dancers today, even among the best, are capable of (or care about?) the kind of upper body movement that Fracci demonstrates in the Giselle clip above.

I feel like this is an important issue. So much of the time, it is the dancer's ability to control and use her upper body that really shows whether she is an artist. This kind of artistry takes a lot more time, care, and finesse to develop than do 180 extensions - countless times I've seen young dancers who can easily keep their legs over their heads in adagio at the barre but when they get to the center cannot really "dance." I also wonder how the superstars of today, particularly in Russian ballet, are influenced by the popularity of 180 extensions vs. artistry. I feel that because graduates like Somova are made principles so young, they don't have time to properly develop their arm placement before they are expected to perform Swan Lake. Is it just me, or has the whole idea of "working your way up through the corps" (and hence gaining valuable experience and artistry)rather gone out the window in the attempt to create hyperextended stars?

I vividly recall Fracci's unreal epaulement and body lines--even in her dotage. (See the thread elsewhere on Fonteyn's line, with several raves in detail from people who saw her) Such care and attention was the norm in those days; now we see Zakharova, Osipova, Bouder, etc. doing nothing but gymnastics, and I vastly prefer gymnasts for that. LOL. Sure, Zakharova does horrid Guillem from hell (well that's redundant) 'extensions'; sure Osipova can jump higher than almost anyone since Kolpakova or Sizova or Ostergaard, not that she's a patch on any of those ballerinas in any other way; sure Bouder can jump and turn, but none of them have much if anything to show us above the waist. it's boring. I occasionally see a lovely port de bras from Bouder and wonder where that is the other 90% of the time? VaganovaBallerina, you are exactly correct about training in the corps; there is an incredible Barocco on tudou (Chinese site), mentioned elsewhere in a Balanchine films thread, which has a corps of all-stars, as it should be, including MERRILL ASHLEY. the corps is so magnificent and so lovely it rivals McBride in the ballerina role--also as it should. This was filmed in 73, when Ashley was already dancing mostly solo roles and had already assumed the turning variation in Who Cares? and the soloist role in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, among others--the year before she was given Theme and Variations--and she's still in the corps of Barocco. That speaks volumes.

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