So, as promised, here is the second part of my partnering post. If you haven’t read the first half (and if not, where have you been?!) then take a look here. Also, just like last time, I don’t pretend to be an expert on partnering – in fact the complete opposite – so if you want some tips from the Pro’s check out the collaboration by Tights and Tiaras and Tendus Under a Palm Tree: part one and part two.
So today I headed back to Doylestown for the second half of Ed’s partnering workshop. I was definitely excited but also a little nervous – as I mentioned in the first post, partnering is hard! That being said, I can now say that it certainly gets better! Not that it isn’t still hard, but I think with me and the girls being a little more confident (and hopefully they trusted me more) it certainly got easier, and we ended up doing some more advanced stuff too.
This week there was only Ed, Marc and myself to partner six girls, so it ended up with myself and Marc getting three girls each, leaving Ed to teach/observe. To start we did the same exercise as last week – girls in sous-sous and me tilting them side to side then front and back. The girls we much more stable this week and Ed got me to tilt a little more than I had previously. There was one new girl this week who was a little nervous to start but she soon got the hang of keeping still and trusting I had her safe.
We then went straight into a combination of bouree to fourth followed by pirouettes, passe or ‘assisted pirouettes’. After a couple of attempts I started to really feel where the girls were balanced, and Ed got me to keep their weight left when going for the pirouette which definitely helped them stabilise.
A couple of pointers came up here that were repeated a few times throughout class that I definitely found helped. First, keep the girls at around arms length. Although it initially felt to me that I had more control over the girls the closer in I was, in fact the opposite was true, and staying arms length away let me keep my posture strong (a nice strong second position), keep control of the girl and easily compensate if anything went wrong. Second, as Ed put it – don’t be afraid to manhandle a bit! I mentioned last week how my assisted-pirouettes were a little lacklustre at times and Ed got me to put a bit more force into it this week which definitely helped. The third pointer was to make sure I always returned to “home-base”: hands on hips with thumbs around her back to support her if her weight shifts back. Oh, and for you girls, skirts, t-shirts and the like are a no-no in partnering: it is easy for the guys fingers to get caught up in the strings and is much easier if you are wearing a good ol’ leotard!
Next up was some arabesque work with the girl pique-ing to arabesque promenade to a penchee promenade, then passe, devant, grand rond de jambe to a la seconde croise then to a final arabesque. This was a bit of a mental workout for me, every switch to a different pose would result in a weight shift for the girl (especially the a la seconde to arabesque), and the task for me was to slightly preempt this shift so that the changes were smooth. This was one point where keeping my arms stretched really helped, especially in the promenade. Holding the girl close resulted in me shuffling in a very non-graceful manner, whereas keeping her at arms length allowed me to effectively strut, and show the girl off for all to see.
One thing to note, that I stupidly didn’t realise to start with. When the girl is in penchee, it is nice to help her come back up by tilting her hips. On my first attempt I kind of left the girl down there and was confused why she wasn’t coming back up. Not only does the tilting help her up, but it also tells her when to rise – after all, the guy is in control!
This was also one of the points where Ed demonstrated the movement on me to help me understand what the girl was feeling. Having him tilt my hips while in penchee showed me just how much it helps the girl, and made me much more aware of my hands. I’ve also got a new found respect for the girls – it’s kind of scary trusting someone else when you are close to landing face-first on the floor. And I was only on demi-pointe!
While on the topic of demos, Ed and Marc also gave us an excerpt of a new piece ARB are doing this season, choreographed for 6 men and including a Pas de Deux between the two of them. I had seen this performed at the On Pointe session yesterday, and it is truly impressive stuff. Not only do the pair work very well together, but there are sections that are truly fascinating to watch – like Marc balanced on Ed’s thighs while he plies in second, or another point where Marc is in a one-armed handstand and Ed lift’s him from Marc’s other shoulder. If anyone lives in New Jersey, make sure you catch a performance!
Now came something new and exciting – finger turns! This is where the guy points a finger down above the girl’s head and she turns while loosely holding onto the finger to keep her balance. To start we did chaines across the floor, ending in a fondu to pique arabesque. As the guy I found that I should push down slightly on her fist, while the girl slightly pushes up. Otherwise, as with our first attempt, it is easy for the girl to lose her grip after which there is no way to reconnect while on the move. Also, something to note that seems obvious now but still proved slightly problematic – once the turns are over, the girl has to let go of the finger so that the guy can hold her in the arabesque!
Next up were more finger turns, but this time what I’ve deemed the ‘fouette finger turn’ (feel free to correct me with the proper term!). This is where the girl is in passe, right arm in high fifth grasping my right finger, and her left hand is in second holding my left. She then stretches to devant croise before whipping her leg around (and switching to passe) and turning. A lot of their initial movement comes from pushing off my left arm so it’s important for the guy to keep it strong – even giving them a little assistance. Then to stop them you catch their left hand as it is crossing your chest and ‘stretch them out’ as they finish turning. I was amazed how quickly we got the knack of this move – and all three girls were soon knocking out double – and it looks really impressive! I did get ‘told off’ for watching the girl in the mirror instead of in ‘real life';after all there aren’t mirrors on stage!
Following straight on from these turns were fouette turns without the finger – now it was up to me to give her the start of the turn from the hips. This is another case of the guy not only helping the girl, but also dictating when the turn should start. It turns out you can give quite a strong push/pull and get quite a few turns out of the girls! Oh, and girls please keep your arms in during these turns! I got a couple of bashes on the way around…
Next up was something that was really cool – the fish dive! The girl starts in arabesque and the guy wraps one arm under her hips and brings the other under her arabesque leg to meet the other hand on her far hip. Next the guy lifts her (and as Marc pointed out, the more you lift the easier it is) and she brings her ‘standing’ leg to passe as the guy steps back and kind of lunges. As the guy ,if you lift your elbows it seems to help the girl keep her back up and then make sure to place her back on her pointe. Oh, and if you are carrying the girl across stage (as we practiced) you have got to keep your chest lifted; not only does it look better, but it allows for better support.
As a bit of a break from the complicated stuff, we practiced a simple walk/run across the stage. Simple, right? As with all of partnering, it was a little more subtle than at first sight. The guy holds the girls right hand in his, and has his left on her back. This lets him once again control when the movement starts, by a little push on her back (not too hard!).
What followed was what Ed and Marc both said is one of the hardest things to master in partnering – an attitude promenade. This was done by a clasping of palms/wrists and virtually all the turning torque was from the first two fingers of both partners. What resulted was an “S” shape forming from the partners arms, and keeping shoulders strong and locked the guy walks around in a perfect circle. As the guy, it is inevitably our responsibility to match the girl’s pace, and if the girl starts to get ahead of you there is nothing for you to do but quicken your step! For something that looks so simple, it’s really hard to get right, and just because you start the promenade well doesn’t mean you’ll be able to finish it!
We finished with lifts again, heading straight into successive sous-sous’s and entrechat sixes. Once again, these seemed to have improved from last week and so we went on to our final move – the shoulder sit. After Ed had given the girls instructions in how to sit down (bums out!) we gave it a go (with Ed and Marc spotting the girl to ensure no mishaps).
To start I didn’t lift the girl high enough and she simply slid back down my chest. No good.
Next try I really made sure to lift the girl and, on Ed and Marc’s suggestion, thought more of putting my shoulder under her, than putting her over on onto my shoulder. Suddenly, bingo! It worked! There she was, resting on my shoulder and I could have kept her up there for as long as I wanted (okay, that’s not quite true, but it was surprising how easy it was to keep her up there!). All of a sudden though, shemoved slightly and the spell was broken, resulting in her sliding down my chest again as I placed her down. It still felt pretty awesome for those few moments when it worked. One note for the girls that Ed stressed – please, please, please bring your ‘standing’ leg up to attitude. Don’t, whatever you do, swing it back at all – us guys would like to have kids one day!
And just like that, class was done, and so was the two-part masterclass. Arguably I enjoyed this week more, as I felt I got the knack more, and we got to do some pretty advanced (at least to me) stuff. Overall, I couldn’t believe that in only 3 hours total we had manged to do some very impressive looking stuff – this truly felt like we were not just ‘doing’ Ballet, but ‘performing’ Ballet too. Talking to Ed and Marc afterwards it seems they thought I had improved a lot too, which was nice to hear.
I then headed to grab a Starbucks and fill in my dance journal (a good 3 pages worth of notes!). As I was just starting to write, the owner of the studio walked in, and immediately came over to say thanks again for me coming to the workshop. I assured her that the pleasure had been all mine, and told her just how much I had enjoyed it. She then asked if I was getting a chance to perform much. After telling her about Coppelia coming up she said how she was wondering if I would be interested in doing a Pas de Deux with one of the girls in their Spring gala.
Me. Doing a Pas de Deux. Seriously?! She was thinking of asking Ed to work with me and one of the girls to choreograph a Pas for us to perform if I was interested. I assured her I was most certainly interested but it would depend on when/where/how and other logistics. So as of yet there is nothing definite (I don’t think she has talked to Ed yet either) but if I can fit it in before I have to leave the US I definitely want to do this! I think the performance is scheduled after I have to leave, but I’m going to try my best to fit it in. And you can be sure that if it does come to fruition, I will most certainly be blogging all about it!
So that is the end of partnering for me – or at least for now. It’s been an intense and awesome experience, and has made me all the more determined to try and keep up the partnering in the future if possible. Surely, someone out there needs a partner?
To finish I want to share this awesome rehearsal video from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake – it shows up close some excellent partnering, including an over-the-head fish which is pretty cool. Needless to say, I can’t do most of the things this pair can do, but I thought it was cool so thought I’d show you all!
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Swan Lake rehearsals from Rob Lindsay on Vimeo.
Until next time, keep dancing!