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Soft Landings 101

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Moderator's note:

A good point, worthy of discussion, suggested by bobbi on the SAB Workshop 2006 thread. Thanks to bobbi for the question and to leibling for the first reply!


I've often wanted to start a thread called "Soft Landings 101." Why is it that this young David Prottas (and, by the way many of the other young men in the class of 2006) can land so softly and yet many of today's men at NYCB are -- despite being otherwise good dancers --"clunkers"? It can't just be that the Danes (Eric B., Peter M., Helgi, Peter S, Adam, Nikolaj H) or the Russians (Rudy or Misha) have a monolopy on soft landings. Our American men (Eddie, Jacques and our own Damian) seem to know how to do this. Can someone please tell me why this young David Prottas already knows how to land softly?

I understand that Nikolaj Hubbe is becoming more and more central to the SAB faculty- could this have something to do with it?

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I doubt it, leibling, unless he teaches beginners. From a teacher's perspective, a soft landing begins with a deep, springy plié and correct use of the foot in battement tendu. As the dancer progresses, s/he learns to coordinate these two movements to produce two things: a light, "fluffy" jump (as we say over on BT4D :flowers: ) and a noiseless landing during which the dancer catches him/herself with control on the toes and balls of the feet before carefully placing the heel on the floor. And of course, all that (and more) has to happen in just a fraction of a second!

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And the demi-plié at the end, Hans! Don't forget the demi-plié at the end! :P

But Nureyev could "thoonk", too. I remember being very surprised after having not seen him in four years after I got out of the Air Force (1974), and being shocked at the deterioration which was already on its way then.

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But Nureyev could "thoonk", too.

Oh, yeah! As, by the way, can Hubbe -- even when he was a relative newbie at NYCB.

I have noticed, in recent years, that landings are becoming heavier. I can't believe it is because suddenly humans are evolving shorter achilles tendons.

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Exactly my point, Hans.

When I first heard (or more likely, read) the Balanchine quote, "Everything I need to know about a dancer is in the demi plie," (or words to that effect) I thought, "Everything???". Well, now I understand that Balanchine's emphasis was on "need to know."

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Hubbe's training emphasized the plie. the Danes got it (back) from Volkova (and continued it through Kronstam

). I don't know what level he teaches at SAB. Leibling, do you?

Editing to add: In Denmark, when Volkova came, she "reformed" (in all senses of that word!) the plie at all levels, from children in the school through the aspirants class (16-18 year olds) to the company's dancers, so a teacher can work on even a basic element at any age.

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I can tell you from seeing him tonight at Symphony Hall in Phoenix, whose acoustics were reworked during last year's closure, and where the sound of most of the women's pointe shoes was Bolshoi loud in the Balcony, that I couldn't hear Hübbe land at all.

On the other hand, I barely noticed the pointe shoes this afternoon from the very back of the Orchestra, even with full corps and demis in Theme and Variations, which leads me to suspect that it's not the part of the hall in which to hear the Symphony play.

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When I was at SAB (admittedly, this was about six or seven years ago) Hubbe taught the most advanced men's class and very occasionally the level below. At the time, intense re-training did not occur at those levels, especially Advanced Men, partly (I suspect) because the class was enormous and that sort of thing requires a good deal of specific attention to each student. Another thing that would have made it difficult was having a different teacher every day as well as the fact that most of the students had been trained in different styles before coming to SAB for a final year or two of polishing.

So I agree that it is possible to alter technique in important ways at any age; it's just that it takes a lot of time and consistent effort on the part of both teacher and student to do so--and of course I would be thrilled to hear that Hubbe has indeed changed the men's pliés at SAB for the better. :P

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I believe that Hubbe does teach advanced men. I am not around SAB very much. However, I have heard that he places an emphasis on the heel being down during the plie. This gives the dancer more control through the back of the leg, and more control on a landing. These were a couple of things I discussed with a teacher friend of mine during the last few months, so it was interesting to read that the men at SAB this year were exhibiting softer landings. I am not saying there is only one reason for this- there are probably many factors, and maybe this year there was just a really excellent crop of men.

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Just chiming in about Mr. Prottas...the name sounded familiar to me, so I did some hunting. He did in fact graduate from the National Ballet School in Toronto in 2005, so perhaps his training was somewhat different from those who came up through the ranks at SAB?? I live near Toronto so have a much better sense of the NBS dancers, have never been to an SAB performance or observed a class so I'm just honestly wondering. Someone had commented on his plies/sof landings and I wonder outloud if it's a matter of training at NBS? Then again perhaps it's just his natural ability?


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Not to get fussy, BUT -- soft landings depend on the softness of FONDU (AKA plie on one leg, like the leg you're landing on; fondu means melted, don't forget). Karsavina in her book on technique had a whole chapter on "fondu, the mechanism of the jump." Thing is, it takes more control to land on one leg (as it does just to stand on one leg), and some folks who have plenty of control landing on two feet can't do it nearly as well landing on just one. Danish technique uses a lot of jumps like ronde de jambe saute which GREATLY challenge the stability of the standing leg (straight up and straight down on hte same leg, with all this distracting fancy stuff going on in the other leg), and jetes that land on one foot and stick, with the other leg in the air -- not to mention all the beats they do, esp the ones that land on one leg, which particularly challenge the stability of the pelvis and thus the verticality of the landing -- incredible variety of all that, so they DO know how to land.

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Paul, I was actually just reading the section about ballonné (essentially a jumped battement fondu) in Kostrovitskaya's School of Classical Dance, and she mentions that:

Ballonné, repeated often, facilitates the execution of grands jetés and a number of other jumps which, at first glance, seem to have nothing in common with pas ballonné.

I think this is directly related to what you've just written, especially considering that pas ballonné à la seconde (not to mention sissonne ouverte) is a precursor to rond de jambe en l'air sauté.

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Not to get fussy, BUT -- soft landings depend on the softness of FONDU
Fussy is good; precision counts!

I am and always have been aware of Hubbe's background and training, and the reputation that goes with the Royal Danish Ballet School, which was why, when I heard him thunking -- well, perhaps only plunking -- through Third Movement (the martial one) of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, I was startled. But it was antithetical enough to the Danish landings I've come to expect to make a distinct impression.

Thanks, too, Paul, for detailing the elements that make Danish landings so famously resilient.

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How strange to see Protas brought up here-- I only just a few days ago realized that he was in New York. We both spent a year at Walnut Hill School in Massachusetts-- he was about 14 at the time, I think. I believe that his training was all local (plus summer intensives, I assume) prior to that. The next year he went to Toronto, and apparently spent three years there, then one at SAB.

I ran into him quite by chance a couple evenings ago at Fall For Dance, and I had no idea he was now an apprentice with New York City Ballet. I will add, though, that even when I knew him, he was very pliant and had soft landings. I look forward to seeing him in the ensemble of future City Ballet performances.

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