So I realise that I haven’t updated for a while about how my performing and suchlike is going – that’s because I’ve been so busy with it all! Since January I’ve learnt a Pas de Quatre completely, performed it twice, am currently learning two pieces and soon will hopefully be learning a few more (including some new choreography)! Phewf! So here’s a run down of what I’ve been up to!
Pas des Déesses
This was the first piece I learnt with the ballet group and I’ve performed it a couple of times now. It is a Pas de Quatre for one guy and three ‘goddesses’ fighting for his attention – sounds fun, right? There’s an opening segment where I promenade the three girls and do a couple of assisted pas de chats (one Russian, one normal). Then we each have a variation (mine includes lots of grand jetés en tournant) and a closing segment by which point my character still can’t seem to decide who to pick so just picks all three girls. Awesome!
We’ve performed it a couple of times now at some charity performances. The first was at a local hospital’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit and the second at a residential home for people with dementia and learning disabilities. Obviously neither had a dedicated space for ballet so we had to modify the choreography a little – the first had a huge column in the middle of the room (wouldn’t want to kick that!) and the second was a really small thin/long room (so I nearly kicked one of my ‘goddesses’!).
They both went really well though and I thoroughly enjoyed performing for an audience. The two groups seemed to really appreciate us dancing for them and we got lots of reaction. In fact, while at the first performances some of the dancers mentioned how last year one of the patients had smiled for the first time since their accident when they saw the group perform. Yet more proof how magical ballet is!
Coppélia – Wheat Pas de Deux
Then a few weeks ago we started a new piece – the wheat Pas de Deux section from Coppélia. I had been picked to be Franz, Laura (one of my ‘goddesses from the Pas des Déesses) would be Swanhilda and she would have 12 ‘friends’.
If any of you don’t know the story of Coppélia then you might be wondering what wheat has to do with ballet. In this segment Swanhilda is doing that well-known(?!) test of shaking a piece of wheat to see if her boyfriend is truly in love with her. If she hears a rattle, he’s faithful and her soulmate. If it doesn’t then he’s a cheating cad she should ditch at the earliest opportunity. Makes perfect sense, right?!
The choreography itself is really nice, set to the most gorgeous piece of music with a sublime solo violin line (see the embedded playlist near the end of this post). Whereas in Pas des Déesses the partnering mainly involved just arabesque pomenades (or attitude promenades if we don’t have much space!) this is ‘full-blown’ partnering. Starting with a one-arm attitude promenade it then has finger fouetté turns, penchées, a ‘high-five’ one handed penchée, assisted pirouettes and even a shoulder sit! And all while Swanhilda holds a piece of wheat in her hands – just to make our lives that little bit more difficult…
The shoulder sit in particular took a bit of practice. To start with, Laura didn’t really realise she had to jump as well as me lifting (she’s new to partnering too). With that sorted we were finding that although I could get her to shoulder level reasonably easily I couldn’t really get her ‘on’ my shoulder. We think we’ve sorted it out now, I was rising to early: I need to plié when I lift her but then wait to stand up until she is up there on my shoulder. It’s surprisingly hard to get the coordination right!
So the opening section is me and Swanhilda dancing together whilst her friends look on. After getting some very biased opinions from her friends, she decides that she can’t hear the wheat, throws it down at my feet and storms off stage. I pick up the wheat, give it a shake and hear a definite rattle (it’s been there all along I reckon) so run after her. Following this is a really nice section for Swanhilda’s friends, after which she re-enters with a bit of a chip on her shoulder which is a bugger for Franz but makes for some great dancing! I also watch on, taking the mick out of the girls at certain points and have a little solo for 8 bars where I’ve been told to fill it with “jumpy stuff”…
It’s a lovely little section and we’re hoping to put together a mini Coppélia suite – we’ve already got the Mazurkas, Swanhilda’s Act 1 variation, and a section between Swanhilda/Coppélia and Dr Coppélius.
Sleeping Beauty – Precious Stones Section
Another little ‘suite’ we’re putting together at the moment is the “Precious Stone Fairies” from Act III of Sleeping Beauty. It’s not always in every production (for example The Royal Ballet don’t have it but Paris Opera Ballet do and ABT used to) but it’s for four women representing different jewels and one guy who represents ‘gold’. As the dude I enter with Ms. Diamond, have a variation, a pas de deux section with Ms. Diamond then return back for the finale where I dance with all four women (woo!) including a highly amusing section where I ‘consider’ each one in turn, decide they’re not good enough and pretty much just chuck them to the side!
It’s all really fun but also really hard. We haven’t started any of the group bits but I’ve been working on my variation for a while now and it’s by far the toughest thing I’ve done in ballet. It’s a beasty 1:45 long and by about 30 seconds in I’m absolutely knackered! I’ve simplified things (toning down numbers of beats for the most part) but it still includes royales, entrechat trois’s, tour assemblés, grand fouettés followed immediately by adage fouettés, grand jetés en manége, grand saut de basques en manége and it finishes with a grand battement to á la seconde, brought in to a retiré then down to relevé fifth. I don’t even get to come down from relevé when the music stops!
It might sound like I’m complaining but I’m actually relishing the challenge. Without pushing myself I’ll never improve and I’ve now learnt the choreography I’m working on making it look good. I can mark the variation along to the music but can’t do it ‘properly’ at full-speed. Hopefully with lots of practice I’ll get there…
Here’s a clip of the closing segment of the Jewel Fairies from the POB version. Although Nureyev altered the choreography a little it’s still close to the original Petipa (I believe) and is close to what we’ll be doing. I’m looking forward to throwing those girls around!
Brand New Pas de Deux
Next up is something that’s rather exciting. Sat in the pub after ballet one week (a post-3-hour-class-and-rehearsal pint is possibly the best thing in the world, by the way!) one of the girls mentioned that she’d been planning on choreographing a new pas de deux (to some modern music) and wanted to know if would be interested in dancing it with her. So she wanted me to be part of creating a new piece? I think I might have scared her with how quickly I said yes!
We haven’t started working on it yet (been too busy with Coppélia and shows) but hopefully we’ll be starting soon. I’ve never seen the choreographic process ‘in action’, never mind being an actual part of it, so am really excited to see what it’ll be like. And by the end of it I’ll have another piece in my repertoire.
My own piece – Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, Second Movement
Talking of choreography, I’ve been working on my own piece; working on it in my head at least. You’ll have probably noticed in recent blog posts and on twitter that I’m a little bit obsessed with Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, in particular the Second Movement which is entitled “O land of gloom, O land of mist!”. It’s such an emotive piece of music and it is, in my eyes (or rather ears), crying out for some choreography.
As such, I’ve been working on some ideas and currently have some (theoretical) choreography to the last 4 minutes of the 11 minute long piece. It’s a Pas de Quatre for two couples: one relatively young and playful, the other older and more restrained. I’m unsure yet to the specifics but I think they represent the same people at different stages of their life. Walking through a wood they stop for a moment to rest and get swept up in some dance. As the piece concludes (the bit I’ve choreographed in my head) their love for one another overcomes them and they dance filled with passion, expressing their eternal devotion. Finally, they take each other’s hands and stroll off into the dusk, leaving the glade in stillness.
Or, at least, that’s the idea! Like I said, this is all theoretical and I haven’t actually worked with any dancers yet. I’m still waiting to hear back about the summer course I applied to, but it includes some choreography sessions so hopefully I will be able to work on it then. If not, I might bring it up with the ballet group and see if some other dancers would be willing to let try some parts out on them.
Coppélia – Wedding Pas de Deux
I said earlier how we were building up a little Coppélia suite. Well a while back one of the dancers in the group asked if I’d be interested in doing the Coppélia Wedding Pas de Deux with her. I was a bit flabbergasted – why would she want to do it with me?! My technique is obviously not great and she is quite a bit better than me (a HUGE understatement). But she asked me anyway and I said I’d love to, as long as I’m good enough. As of yet we haven’t started working on it as we’ve both been busy learning other stuff.
Whereas the Wheat Pas de Deux is a couple of minutes of proper partnering, this is a full blown classical pas de deux. That means a full opening adage partnered section (with a gorgeous violin line accompanying throughout) followed by individual variations and a coda to top it all off. The girl who asked me is pretty damn amazing (she recently did a Kitri variation from Don Q that left me speechless) so I want to wait a little until I’m a bit better so I don’t look ridiculous next to her. It’s a little intimidating but hopefully in a little while I’ll be able to give it a go. I’ve been working on my Finis Jhung “Boy Ballet Dancer” DVD and covering some “guy moves” with the ex-Pro after class (my tours en l’air are currently at 1 and a half turns!) which is definitely helping.
I’ve embedded a playlist below that includes the music for both the Wheat Pas de Deux and Wedding Pas de Deux from Coppélia. I’m sure you’ll agree it really is stunning music – let’s hope I can do it justice!
Breaking News! Petruchka
While I was writing this post (literally!) I received an email from the ballet group saying I should start working on a new solo! It’s going to be a section from Petrushka which, as far as I know, is about a doll from a carnival show. Although he’s a puppet he also feels human emotions, is imprisoned between shows by his owner and is in love with a ballerina doll. Unsurprisingly for a ballet there is no happy ending, Petrushka gets killed by a rival lover of the ballerina and rises as a ghost to haunt his former owner until the end of his days. Happy stuff!
The music is by Stravinsky and I’m hoping to adapt some of the original Fokine choreography to make a nice little solo. Much like the doll in Coppélia there’ll be a bit of flexed feet and jerky movements to really get into the doll-feeling. Should be fun! Here’s a clip of the Bolshoi Academy doing the first scene from Petrushka:
That’s it! (I think…)
So that’s all what I’ve been up to! I’ve learnt one piece fully, performed it twice, am currently learning another two pieces, will hopefully be starting to learn another three pieces soon and might even do some of my own choreographing if I can find some time! On top of that, I’ve found another couple of local adult classes which brings my weekly tally up to five (my RAD Intermediate class, two before rehearsal with the ballet group and these two new ones). Oh, and I guess I shouldn’t forget the whole Computer Science PhD malarky… I like to keep myself busy
Are any of you readers performing? What pieces are you doing? Pop a message in the comments box below to let me know!
Until next time, keep dancing!