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90 degree arabesque

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There were complaints in New York (and, I think, London) as well in Washington about the high extensions and arabesques of the new generation of Kirov dancers. Like most things in ballet, there are at least two poles of opinion on this. One is: the 90-degree arabesque is not only part of the choregraphy, the whole ballet is about harmony and moderation. Therefore, extreme technique is out of place here. If Petipa had wanted virtuosity from Aurora, he would have given her fouettes. The second position is: ballet evolves. Dancers of each generation push it to the max. This is nothing new.

What do you think?

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I think a lot of people including dancers have forgotten what the stories of ballet are really about. I have seen Sleeping Beauty danced by the Royal Ballet and I have always thought that Aurora symbolises perfect beauty and grace. Therefore a perfect 90 degree arabesque to me symbolises that moment of pure perfect beauty a lot more than perhaps an arabseque waivering somewhere between the hips and the shoulder.

So as ballet will undoubtedly evolve, I hope the original meaning of the ballet itself and the characters within it will never be forgotten.


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I'm going to be wishy-washy and say that both views are correct, to a point. Ballet does evolve; to cling too closely to past practice would make dancing look stale and quaint.

Having said that, there's no reason for every arabesque to be converted to 180 degrees; and I can't really define where it's right and where it's not, except to say, as Justice Stewart said of obscenity, that I know when I see it. I realize this is not helpful.

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I think it is a question of style and costume. People wearing tutus should not expose their rear ends, especially if they are long floppy tutus that hike over their heads like lampshades. There is a place in Liebeslieder, first section, where a few dancers insist on lifting their leg as high as possible and exposing their underwear, which totally breaks the mood of the piece--later, when they are wearing ballet skirts, they can show off. As for technique changing, it has to be appropriate--no one really wants to see Giselle whack away at fouettes, though the technique has changed since it was choreographed. But the changes Petipa made in the 2nd act seem fine (of course, that is what I am used to.) But the exaggerated developes in the vision seen of Sleeping Beauty that we saw from the Kirov seemed completely to destroy the mood of the piece, and distorted the upper body. I think the exaggerated extensions should be kept to ballets costumed in tights.

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I agree, costume has a lot to do with it -- and also who the dancer is suppoosed to be.

If it's a representation of an idea -- like the spirit of fire, or, say, the phlegmatic temperament, that's quite different from some creature that has a mother and father and maybe a boyfriend....

Aurora's a fairy-tale creature, but she's also a human being -- and her dances are not about extensions but about her aplomb and charm and high spirits -- they're as much about her upper body as they are about the legs, more about upper chakras -- the heart and crown.... and to a very high degree they're about the supporting leg rather than the working leg.... Who else do we notice their supporting leg so much?

Her head positions are crucial.In her role, the eyes are very important, she SEES people... Phlegmatic doesn't see anybody).

Aurora, Kitri, most Petipa heroines, the whole upper body should seem to be rising freely and easily above whatever is happening down below.... generally speaking toe hops and other very bright quick steps should happen very easily, as with quick pas de chats, only a slight bend at the knee -- dagger-like feet, but hte knees bent no more than coupe, so the shape in the air ihas a large diamond at the bottom and the upper body is beautifully undisturbed....

HHMMMMM.... I can see I could get addicted to this site.....

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I hope so! I could get addicted to your posts smile.gif

I love your point about noticing the supporting leg and the eyes. Cynthia Harvey, who danced with the Royal Ballet and worked with Ashton on Aurora, said in an interview (with a bit of surprise) that the one correction Ashton gave her was "use your eyes more," and then he talked about how Fonteyn used her eyes in this role.

My idea of Aurora is quick and bright as well, which is why it matters to me that the dancer is properly cast. To me, Aurora is not the Swan Queen -- another outmoded notion, I'm sure smile.gif

I also agree with the comments about costume. Watching Zakharova kick, I kept thinking, it's as though she's dancing in a unitard. Ballerinas used to rehearse in rehearsal skirts/tutus. I wonder if that's gone? I also liked Xena's comment very much about dancers not thinking about the role in context -- I don't blame them. I think that's up to the coach to tell them, if the dancer doesn't figure it out on her own.

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No, they have rehearsal tutus.

It is purely a question of misguided aesthetics..... Aurora as one of the girls in Fancy Free......

I love high extensions. Aurora doesn't need them. I was happy to see that as the Kirov administration is not reining this sort of thing in, they are at least managing to tack the tutus on this tour....

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I think "Aurora doesn't need them" says it all. I wonder if part of the aesthetic misguidance has to do with touring? It happened in the 1960s and 1970s, too. On tour, a dancer may feel s/he has to do all his/her "tricks" every night, or the audiences, who only have a chance to see the company once, will think there's no virtuosity, or the dancers are below par. Again, I think the company should have the courage to say, "No, this is what we do, and we're not going to change." If they have to, give interviews explaining how pure they are smile.gif

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as regards the 1890 sleeping beauty, however, i felt that the very high arabesques and extensions were out of place, though i don't necessarily feel that they're out of place somewhere else. if the idea was to present it as much as possible as it was presented when it premiered, then the dancers, because they didn't moderate or re-think somewhat what they were doing, at least for those performances, looked out of place to me.

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y'all are so interesting!!!

And so reasonable......

Probably no-one will disagree with me that part of the fun in the finale of Theme and Variations those ROckette kick-soutenu-kick steps the ballerina gets -- I've got Gelsey on video, and it's fabulous, the energy in those, it's irrepressible -- and well, I've never seen it at City Ballet in the chiffon skirts they wear, but part of the fun is seeing the tutus get kicked. It puts me in mind of my grandmother, who every now and then liked driving over slowdown bumps at considerable speed.... my kind of girl......

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May I edit what I just wrote?

I'm sorry, my thoughts are tumbling over themelves -- does this happen to you?

Probably no-one will disagree with me that part of the fun in the finale of Theme and Variations is those ROckette kick-soutenu-kick steps the ballerina does -- I've got Gelsey on video, fabulous, the energy in those, it's irrepressible --

THough I've never seen it at City Ballet in the chiffon skirts they wear, still, part of the fun in ABT's version is seeing the tutus get kicked at this point -- it takes the ballet over the top, makes it a smash -- and THAT depends on the ballerina's personality.

In SanFrancisco Balet's version, which I know well, they wear tutus. I can still see Elizabeth Loscavio hauling off and kicking there -- it was almost stripper energy -- but by that point we were all delirious with joy anyway and WHO CARED?

Which brings me to the point I most wanted to make about Lucia Lacarra: it's not her extensions I object to -- it's the unrelenting one-note seductiveness, the lack of spontaneity and playfulness in her dancing. She's wonderful in many roles, but not everything.

The dancer I'd most contrast her with is Loscavio, who in her great roles had a power much bigger than herself, Athena-energy, so when the spirit moved her she danced as if she'd just sprung forth from he mind of Zeus.... she was was fearless, and this energy carried her, she was completely there in the moment... She wasn't safe, she danced nearer her edge than the most advanced modern dancers...

She DID make choices, she prepared -- actually Eric Hoisington once told me he didn't know HOW she managed to get so prepared.... she certainly wasn't reckless, I saw her wipe out on double step-ups in rehearsal and replace them in performance with double soutenus (thus "updating" Theme and Variations to later Balanchine practice of finishing a line of chaine turns -- I wonder who authorized that? Maybe it's actually done that way at City Ballet now?)

But at other times -- in WHo Cares?, in her solo, I've seen her forget the steps and make some up till she remembered what came next, and they were CLEVER--

It puts me in mind of my grandmother, who every now and then liked driving over slowdown bumps at considerable speed.... my kind of girl......

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I think some of it is an issue of training - even with Guillem in the Paris Opera Ballet, the thing that struck me most about the company style of arabesque during their '96 visit to New York was their arabesque went out, not up. The point was to make the longest possible perpendicular line, it seemed, and a leg above 90 degrees shortens that line. (For reference, I'm thinking about Guerin in La Bayadere) The NYCB arabesque is a different animal - it's about the looseness of the hip joint.

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Not having fantastic extensions myself, I am definately in favor of the 90 degree arabesque! biggrin.gif Really, though, it is how it is done that is important. I've seen dancers with perfectly satisfying lines at 90 degrees, or even slightly less- where you look at them and see the epitome of classical position and even breath in this static position. Then, the cranked arabesque with the leg over the head but the upper body contorted and uncomfortable to look at- what is the point?

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First off, a quick "good to see you again" to leibling -- we missed you smile.gif I noticed a few posts by you last week but didn't have much board time and so didn't comment then.

I agree with what Leibling wrote, "Then, the cranked arabesque with the leg over the head but the upper body contorted and uncomfortable to look at- what is the point?" I'd say that goes for any ballet -- if you can't do it easily, don't do it. The same thing happened, one reads, when Fonteyn added the balances (with arms en couronne). Everybody tried to do them, most wobbled -- defeating the point. I read Fonteyn quoted as saying, "It must look as easy as stepping off a bus, or don't do them," and I think that goes for any "trick."

But specifically, for me, the 90 degree arabesque in "Sleeping Beauty" is part of the choreography. (I don't mind a higher arabesque in other ballets and Balanchine is a different matter.) I just got some beautiful pictures to run in DanceView (next issue, out in April) of Zakharova in Sleeping Beauty and I would not know, without a caption, that it was from "Sleeping Beauty." I can't fault the extension; it's beautiful, there's no strain, it suits her. But it's not Aurora. It's someone else up there, kicking to the heavens. (I feel the same about the 90-degree arabesque in Shades, but I freely admit that's because that's the way the Royal did it when I first saw Shades. The Kirov, for a long time, judging by photos, does a 110-degree arabesque. To me, it looks sloppy, because it causes the hip to be raised slightly and breaks the plane of the body. But I won't go to the mat on that one smile.gif )

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