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Steps that define a ballet character


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#1 bart

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 07:32 AM

Reading an Alastair Macaulay review, recently, I stopped to think about ... (what to call them?) ....

-- steps that are more than just "steps"
-- steps that seem to define a ballet character or epitomize a role.

Here's Macaulay's description of one such signature step, performed by the Nutcracker Prince in Balanchine's version of The Nutcracker:

The step in question is simply a pointing of the turned-out leg and foot to the side (tendu side): it transforms the leg by charging it with energy in a straight line from hop to toe.

First Drosselmeyer's little nephew does it, during the formal Grossvater Tanz, ... as does his partner Marie. Then, after battling the mice, the Nutcrcker does it, holding one of the slain Mouse King's seven crowns aloft. Finally the Little Prince does it in the moment when his Nutcracker outer husk slips off him.

[These characters]are all one and the same boy. But that tendu is an image of another transformation; it turns him from a pedestrian mortal into a figure imbued with angelic potential.

Seeing this step performed with drama and deliberation, even out of context, as in a studio, many of us would think automatically about the journey of the Nutcracker Prince from child to a kind of magical cavalier. That's a big job for a simple step. But it works.

What about other roles ... in other ballets? Are there other recurring signature "steps" -- or brief combinations of steps -- that carry comparable importance and which become indissolubly identified with that particular role?

Would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this. Posted Image

#2 Eileen

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 03:33 PM

Bart, I too noticed that portion of Macaulay's review and also thought it very insightful. I'm so glad you recalled it to me. "It transforms the leg by charging it with energy in a straight line from hip to toe." Perfectly said. I wish I had another example to offer, but I just wanted to offer my small encomium to your appreciation of the idea of a step transforming a character.

#3 polyphonyfan

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 04:44 PM

[size=4]Several come to mind in Giselle:

-[font=Times New Roman] The use of b[/font][font=Calibri]allotte in Act One[/font]

[font=Times New Roman]- The crossed-arms port de bras of Willis.[/font]

[font=Calibri]-The sort of sliding/hopping arabesques(don’t know the technical name!)which the Willis use to “slide” past each other in rows. I think Myrtha also uses the step in her solo.[/font][/size]

[size=4][font=Times New Roman]- [font=Calibri]Giselle’s breakneck-speed attitude promenade (not sure if that is the right term either!) which she performs after being turned into a Willi.[/font][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][font=Calibri]-And finally - the best for last- the tender moment in Giselle and Albrecht’s final dance together when Albrecht gently lifts Giselle in his arms as if she were a child, almost as if he was trying to give her rest from her sorrow and/or desperately trying to keep her with him. *Sigh* so lovely!!!![/font][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][font=Calibri]I don’t know how much of the choreography in our modern Giselle is original and how much has been changed or adapted over the years, but, regardless, the composite result contains a unique vocabulary which indissolubly defines the work. [/font][/font][/size]

#4 bart

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 05:48 AM

Thanks for reviving this all-too-brief thread, polyphonyfan.

- The crossed-arms port de bras of Willis.

This is an unforgettable image. I sometimes think of their epaulement, and especially the downward, unseeing positioning of the head as suggesting someone looking down into a deep pool of water. I wonder what the crossed arms are supposed to suggest. The arrangement of a body in a coffin, I suppose. But also a kind of submissiveness -- to Myrth, to fate, to their own acceptance of death.

Makes me think of another entirelyi different "submissive" set of gestures: the slave in Corsaire, as he bows to his masters. Different arm position, same strong suggestion of social role and personality.

The sort of sliding/hopping arabesques(don’t know the technical name!)which the Willis use to “slide” past each other in rows. I think Myrtha also uses the step in her solo.


I only know this as "chugging." (I believe it does have a composite French name.) A variation of this is the most memorable image of the corps in the Kingdom of the Shades scene from Bayadere. Both ballets share an eyes-downward placement of the head -- the opposite of eyes focused on the heavens which accompany moments of triumph and transcendence in other ballets.

Down-ward movements and poses make me think of Odette movement in Act II and IV. The plunges into penche arabesque (alternating with a passive cambre backwards (and downward) though the face looks upward, as if straining to get away from what she has felt.

There are also those iconic backward extensions of the arms, with fluttering hands, suggesting wings, but also suggesting surrender, or possibly hopelessness. One of the best things about Svetlana Zakharova's performance as the wicked Odile (la Scala dvd) is the way she satirizes, wickedly, these gestures in her own attempt to seduce a particularly clueless Siegfried.

#5 sandik

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 02:00 PM

[size=4][font=Calibri]-The sort of sliding/hopping arabesques(don’t know the technical name!)which the Willis use to “slide” past each other in rows. I think Myrtha also uses the step in her solo.[/font][/size]


I learned that as an arabesque voyage, but I don't have a Gail Grant to hand in order to check. Whatever the actual term, it's absolutely a signature step for those characters.

[size=4][font=Times New Roman]- [font=Calibri]Giselle’s breakneck-speed attitude promenade (not sure if that is the right term either!) which she performs after being turned into a Willi.[/font][/font]

[/size]

[size=4]I'm not sure I'd call it a promenade, since that implies a pivot rather than a hop, but I agree that step has become identified with that character and that moment in the work. (I think, though, it's in arabesque, not attitude)[/size]

It's hard to think of specific vocabulary that is so closely identified with a particular character than it supersedes all other examples, but I would add the en de hors ronde de jambes in the final section of Balanchine's 4Ts -- the Choleric dancer does a series of them with matching port de bras, right before the final buildup. They've always reminded me of someone calming the seas, or casting a spell -- she's calming everything down so that it can build up from the ground to those soaring lifts at the end of the work.

#6 Paul Parish

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 10:40 PM

There are many different translations into English of the French academic language/ Most dancers call the Wilis' arabesques voyages "chugs." Slight hops in fondu aret not much used any more, but they're effective choreographically -- Balanchine used a string of them going backwards in Tchaikovsky pdd, and of course ODILE did them in the Black Swan pdd [which has a complex connection to Tchai pas].

Back to signature steps -- Kitri does a million versions of the grapevine step, usually as Failli pas de basque -- often ending in a lunge croise leaning out over a pointed foot. The arms and head positions are as story of their own, but if we're talking teps, failli pas de basque is a big deal.

#7 polyphonyfan

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 09:39 PM

bart,

Excellent insight about the Willis port de bras and "swan arms"!Posted Image I will have to check out the La Scala Swan Lake. The creative arm movements in these ballets do seem to stray outside of the academic arm positions. I guess that the movements of the arms were the where choreographers had a greater degree of artistic freedom in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

#8 polyphonyfan

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 09:47 PM

sandik,

Thanks for the clarification about Giselle's steps. Posted Image Just curious, are en de hors ronde de jambes in the Four Temperaments just ronde de jambes like a dancer would do in center practice? I haven't seen the ballet, unfortunately.

#9 polyphonyfan

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 10:09 PM

Paul Parish,

Now come to think of it, the swans use voyages /chugs in the finale of act 2 of Swan Lake, don't they?

#10 atm711

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 03:29 AM

In the adagio section of 'Concerto Barocco'---the partnered slides into arabesque.....it has been often imitated but never with the same impact. It defines a ballet, if not a character.

#11 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 August 2012 - 04:51 PM

Polyphonyfan -- yes, of course, absolutely -- with weight and gravitas, and almost tragic feeling.


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