Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

16 petit développés


Recommended Posts

In the wonderful interview with Alastair Macaulay that Jane Simpson posted in Writings on Ballet (thanks, Jane), Macaulay describes a favorite moment in Sleeping Beauty:

One of the ballet's greatest moments, at least as I used to watch it years ago, comes from Aurora alone, in her Act Three solo variation. In the phrase I’m thinking of, she simply advances across the stage in a diagonal doing the same step (petit développé) sixteen times, while her upper body - wrists, eyes, head, arms, torso - move in a steady crescendo. (This is the bit I was demonstrating to you when we left the theater after a “Beauty” performance! I especially like it if she seems at first to be looking towards her advancing foot through the ring described by her circling hands.) Now why can that sequence be so overwhelming? Well, we're watching something grow from small to large. We're watching poetic coordination. We're watching something simple that gradually involves the entire body. And we're watching a marriage of music and dance that is remarkably subtle: If the ballerina simply matches the music and phrases her upper-body movements in two series of eight - as usually happens today - she, curiously, makes a far more trivial effect than if she goes for one accumulating series of sixteen, which is what always used to happen and which catches a larger structural point within the music. Another point is that we should feel her whole body is involved: Alfred Rodrigues, who used to play the King with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, said he saw better than the audience ever could how Margot Fonteyn’s whole back would breathe while she was doing that phrase. And the whole series shows us something about this heroine at a point of resolution in the drama. By taking something small and showing how it builds, Aurora's reminding us of all the diagonals and all the crescendi we've seen in the ballet so far. She's also showing us, now that she has been awakened from sleep to love, how she has grown within her own spirit. And, as she does this in public, she's actually telling us more than her own story. She becomes the embodiment of the whole court, the whole legend. They all slept and awoke with her; their fate rested on hers.

I took out four DVDs and looked for this passage. In the Royal Ballet's 2006 revival of Sleeping Beauty, Alina Cojocaru does all 16 petit développés without pausing. She's lovely of course, but I don't find her particularly moving just here, or see much back "breathing." Neither Alla Sizova in the 1965 Kirov release nor Larissa Lezhnina in the 1989 Kirov recording do more than a few of the steps in the diagonal. I don't own the black and white recording of the full SB (more or less) with Margot Fonteyn, but in An Evening with the Royal Ballet she does all 16, holding her arms lower than Cojocaru at first, not ringing them but creating something of that effect as she looks at her foot. As she raises her arms, she does bend her back. If I'm not mistaken she is considered to be far from her best in this recording, but while I don't find this passage ravishing (that may be my limitation), it is beautiful -- more beautiful to me than the other versions.

I'd love to hear what BA'ers think of Macaulay's perceptions. And what do you think of this passage in these and other recordings? What memories do you have of this moment by other dancers or in other productions? What impression did they make?

Link to comment

Here we go, it's at the end of this 1963 film of Act 3. Fonteyn & David Blair:


To be totally honest, while I think Fonteyn is brilliant in SB, I have to say I have some reservations about taking Maccaulay's highly personalised reading of this passage as the sine qua non for understanding and appreciating this moment in the ballet. I find his interpretation, like many old school critics', a bit precious and self indulgent. One feels almost inadequate if one doesn't see or read these moments in exactly the way we're supposed to according to critics & dancers who were there.

SB is Fonteyn's signature classical role and she's gorgeous in it, I don't argue that, it's the interpreatation of the full ballet being revealed in that precise moment that I have a bit of an issue with.

Link to comment

Thanks for posting the clip, Simon. From reading the entire interview, I don't think Macaulay would say our understanding is inadequate if we don't perceive all that he does. Whether I agree with them or not, I do very much appreciate the perceptions of those who have seen much more than I have and thought about it much more than I have. I don't read Macaulay and think 'this is the way it is," but "this is the way it can be." He offers me a choice I didn't have before.

Link to comment

kfw, thanks for the long quotation. Like you, I was impressed enough to look at a few clips (for memory refreshment).

Simon, we should remember that this is not a critical review, but a personal response to personal questions in an interview.

These 16 developpes may not be the detail that the rest of us would find as life-changing as Macaulay does. That's HIS experience. But people who love the classical arts tend to have their own versions of this experience. My own "greatest moments" have been small details, in every case. They allow me to understand why one artist moves me and another does not.

Proust made much of the "petite phrase" from Vinteuil's sonata. Because the sonata is a fictional creation, Proust cannot, of course, expect us to share his feelings about it. But I do think he is asking us to look closely at those details that move us in life and art -- in other words, to find our own "petites phrases."

Once we've found them, and learned why we value them so highly, I don't see what could be wrong about trying (occasionally) to get others to see -- not the SAME thing we see -- but why we might be so moved by them.

I've done my own physical demonstrations in lobbies and on the sidewalk. What others may find somewhat bufoonish in myself, I find rather touching in Macaulay.

P.S. kfw, you and I were typing at the same time, so i find I've said a couple of things you already said.

Link to comment
kfw, you and I were typing at the same time, so i find I've said a couple of things you already said.

You said them better. Thanks.

I've done my own physical demonstrations in lobbies and on the sidewalk. What others may find somewhat bufoonish in myself, I find rather touching in Macaulay.

Yes, it touches me too. And anytime you want to fire up the webcam and post a demonstration . . . :P

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...