Guest Blog Post – What Does Ballet Vocabulary Really Mean (by Catherine of shinava.net)

Hey everyone! It’s been a while (sorry!) but I’m super-excited to have a guest blog post! The awesome Catherine (@catoucat on Twitter) of shinava.net, has written an amazing post about the true meaning of ballet terms. Catherine, who I take class with here in San Francisco, has created this must-read guide on the french meaning of terms such as cou-de-pied and pas de poisson, and has thankfully let me put a copy up here (it was originally posted on her own blog here). So without futher ado…


If you have already danced ballet (or maybe other dances which use the same vocabulary) you already know a lot of French without knowing!

I am a French ballet (recreational) dancer, and I am amazed how people from all around the world share the same vocabulary. They can attend any ballet class in any country without knowing the local language, and still can understand the instructions. See by yourself: a class in London Royal Opera House for World Ballet day 2015, it’s full of French terms! (with a strong accent, though)

But do you know what ballet term mean? For instance “fouetté” is not just a quick turning movement, it is also associated with food and sometimes nasty activities? Here are the litteral translations of most common ballet terms, you will see there’s usually a logic or full of imagery meaning.

Positions and directions

The first vocabulary you learn is the five basic positions, which are called “first, second, third…”. Maybe you recognize for some of them the numbers “one, two, three…” in French, which are “un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq”. Add a “à la” (to the) and it becomes a direction.

positions

Regarding directions, those additional words give an indication on the way the movement should be executed.
En-dehors and en-dedans are probably the most common ones, they litteraly mean “”towards outside / inside””. The goal of a ballerina/ballerino is to be “towards outside”, so hips and feet trying to go escape outside!
Dessus and dessous (over and under) refer to how the feet should close in reference to the standing leg. You may also hear “en remontant” and “en descendant” (going up, going down) in the center, they refer to the stage which used to be inclined towards the audience. “En remontant” means therefore “going up (in direction to the back of the stage)”.
Ouvert and fermé (“open” and “closed”, with an additional “e” when it comes with a feminine noun) refer probably to the legs at the end of the movement (e.g. “sissone ouverte”).

prepositions

Finally, the French terms about body position also use basic position words in French: devant (in front), derrière (behind), écarté (apart, or separated, the leg is to the side in diagonal and the furthest from the standing leg).
The next ones also make sense: épaulé (shouldered) tells you have to show your shoulder (therefore not be “en face”, which is opposite). In croisé (crossed), your legs must be crossed. And in effacé (faded, or shy for a person!) you must look a little behind, as if you were shy.

bodypositions

Barre exercices

The first terms of barre exercices (during pliés which are bent movements) mean litteraly half-bent (demi-plié), big-bent (grand plié), tilted/inclined (penché, like in “penché en avant” which is inclined towards the front), raised or elevated (relevé), and finaly arched (cambré, which is mainly used when we talk about somebody’s back).

barre1

Then come the full of imagery terms!
During jetés you must be sharp and quick as it means “thrown”. Imagine you’re throwing away your leg!
In frappés, ballet teachers usually say you have to brush the floor. Actually you want to brush it and also do it with anger since it means “stricken”. The floor must be struck by your foot…
A fondu is “melted” (like a chocolate or a cheese fondue). Both your legs must be bent and soft like melted cheese.
A battement (small or big, “petit” or “grand”) is a “beat”. And battu is “beaten”. Then again your legs are involved in a battle and must beat each other, or beat the air.
Finally, tendu is simply “stretched”.

barre2

Cou-de-pied is “neck of the foot”, not to be confused with “coup de pied” (kick with the foot). Many people think it means kick since they are both pronounced the same way and cou-de-pied is never used in French besides in ballet.
When you do battements en cloche it means like a bell. See a bell swinging from left to right? Yeah, that’s it.
Port de bras is just “carriage of the arms”, it just means you mustn’t leave your arms unsuported!
When you do a rond de jambe, it’s a “leg round/circle”. Ever wondered why it is called that way? I’m still wondering! (you really do half a circle…)
Coupé is to be cut, so you try to cut your ankle with the toes of your other foot…
Retiré (foot to the knee) means “wirthdrawn”, although I often hear “passé” (passed) abroad.

barre3

Center exercices

Now let’s go on with center exercices. Ever heard you have to jump during a glissade? Some French teacher would argue it means to “glide” so you must stay close to the floor (“this is called a glissade, not a jeté!” once said a teacher).
Then tombé is “fallen”, so just think of tumbling and finish on one foot.
Assemblé is of course “assembled” since you assemble your legs in the end of the step.
Chaînés mean chained (easy one), but déboulés (which is their more commonly used name in France) means tumbling/rolling. For instance a rolling rock on a hill will “débouler”.
Balancé means “rocked”, sometimes you can also hear “balançoire” which is a swing.
Chassé means “chased/hunted”, so imagine a running deer?
As of échappé, it means “escaped”. Each of your feet tries to escape in a different direction then, weird.

center1

Temps levé is an “elevated time”, and temps lié is “linked time”.
Then come the weirdest terms: a brisé-volé is litteraly a “flying broken” (brisé = broken, volé = flying). I can definitely see what is broken (legs, after trying brisé de volée for a while), and that it ”should” be flying. However I think they mispelled the name of this step, and it should be called “the step of the hell”. What is a brisé-volé? [See this video
We say fouetté when we talk about a cream or Zorro. Yes fouetté means “whipped” so use your leg to beat eggs or whip the air!
A piqué is something sharp and quick, since it means “pricked” (you can be “piqué” by a mosquito, or a needle for instance).
The term promenade is maybe the most ironic one. It means “a walk / a stroll”, and not “stay balanced why turning slowly in a very uncomfortable position” :)
I like failli, it means “almost” like in “I almost made that huge jump but in the end I decided to just slide into 4th en avant”

center2

Last but not least, all the “pas de” (step of). You can immitate a cat (“pas de chat“), or a horse (“pas de cheval“), and even a fish (“pas de poisson“).
However you can also try to walk like a Basque (“pas de basque“), who is a person from a region between Spain and France.
If you drank too much you can also do a “pas de bourrée“! Actually “bourrée” is an old dance but it litteraly means “drunk woman/girl”.

center3

I hope you learnt some new French meaning and you will remember them at your next class!


Thanks to Catherine for such an awesome post! Were you surprised by any of the meanings? Or do you have a favourite term? Let us know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep on dancing!

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Cinderella – three days to go!

This is going to be a quick blog post – written in a coffee break between PhD work (I’m “writing up” my thesis at the moment – lots of work!).

I can’t believe it, but I’ll be performing in Cinderella on Sunday! It’s suddenly appeared out of nowhere – it seems like yesterday we were just learning which roles we’d be playing (for me: Dance Teacher in Act I and King in Act II). Continue reading

Live Cinema Relays – Yay or Nay?

Over this last year I’ve been to see 7 cinema relays: two Sleeping Beauties (Royal Ballet & Bolshoi Ballet), an Esmerelda (Bolshoi), a La Sylphide (Boslhoi), a Romeo and Juliet (Royal), a Swan Lake (Royal) and a Nutcracker (Royal). Now the year is coming to a close I thought I’d talk a little about the virtues and pitfalls these relays provide – are they a good thing or not?

The Pro’s…

So what are the benefits of a cinema relay?

I think one of the best bits of a cinema relay is the sheer convenience of them – I can see an internationally renowned ballet company within a ten minute walk of my flat! It’s true that Bath gets the occasional ballet or dance company at its Theatre Royal (Rambert Dance Company and BalletBoyz have both visited recently) and I happily travel to London and Birmingham to see the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, and Birmingham Royal Ballet. However, I’ve never seen the Bolshoi Ballet live (although hopefully that will change when they visit London this summer!) and this is an affordable way which doesn’t require a train ticket to Moscow!

At a more essential level, whilst back home (in rural Northumberland) for Christmas I have seen that the nearest town (with a population of only 8,000) will be showing the Bolshoi’s La Bayadere in January. For a town that would never have a touring ballet company visit, and is 50 miles away from the nearest cities (Edinburgh and Newcastle), this is a great way to allow locals to experience the magic of dance. It is also a way for children at the local ballet schools to see inspirational dancing of the highest quality.

Another benefit of the cinema relays is the added insight they give into the ballets and the performers. Whilst the Bolshoi has the charismatic Katerina Novikova presenting (offering interviews with dancers and directors) the Royal tends to get the Principals to introduce the piece. Both offer you a glimpse “behind the scenes”, whether watching the dancers warm up on stage or an insightful video showing the preparations. For example, the Royal Ballet had some fantastic video showing the corps de ballet and principals preparing for the demanding Swan Lake; you can watch the whole playlist of videos below:

Having multiple cameras spread around an auditorium, cinema relays often let you watch from the best seat in the house. For the large corps de ballet sections you can have a elevated view to see the intricate patterns, but for key emotional moments or impressive Pas de Deuxs you can be right up close to the action. I think this was best demonstrated in the Royal Ballet’s broadcast of Romeo & Juliet last year. It is no secret that I am in love with MacMillan’s masterpiece, and consider it the greatest ballet ever created. I had already seen the cast involved with the relay at the ROH, but found the relay probably more powerful. The scene where Juliet decides to go see the Friar for the sleeping draught was stunning; a close up of Cuthbertson’s face allowed you to see a single tear run down her cheek which would have been missed by most of the auditorium. I am thrilled to say that recently Opus Arte announced that the Cuthbertson/Bonelli Romeo & Juliet will be released on DVD in Spring 2013 – I’ll be first in line to buy one!

Cinema relays are also, generally, reasonably priced. At around £15 for a ticket they are a little pricier than a regular cinema ticket, but are cheaper than opera relays (the Met relays cost £30 a pop at my local cinema). Whilst the ticket is more expensive than the ones I get at the Royal Opera House (usually around £4-8), once you factor in the cost of travel it works out much cheaper (and way cheaper than a flight to Moscow!).

The Con’s…

So it can’t all be good, can it?

One of my biggest problems with cinema relays is an artifact of the benefit of multiple cameras. With a relay, you often have no choice in where your attention goes. Recalling the Romeo & Juliet relay, there is a particular moment in the opening scene where Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are drinking from a jug; Malvolio knocks it as Benvolio drinks and the trio laugh at this little prank. It isn’t a key moment, but one of my favourite parts and the lightheartedness is a great contrast to the tone of the ballet as the story progresses. However, in the cinema the cameras chose to concentrate on the harlots at this point and it was missed entirely – a small detail but something I’d have liked to have seen.

Another big complaint among my twitter followers is the noise at cinema recordings. I haven’t had any trouble with this, but others have spoken of fighting the munch of popcorn, slurp of fizzy drinks, and the adjacent screen’s action movie to hear the relay. One thing that does bother me is that the relaxed atmosphere seems to make it more socially acceptable to talk during the performance, especially during the orchestral overture (although I’ve had people talking during the Act II introduction of Swan Lake at The Met and the ROH too). Personally, I feel the overture is part of the performance, a chance to appreciate the stunning orchestra, and a way to set the mood so don’t talk during it, ever.

I was always worried that the cinema wouldn’t feel ‘special’, but I personally find the ‘magic’ of live ballet comes through well in the relays, albeit slightly diluted, although others disagree. One amusing problem with cinema relays is the awkward question of whether to applaud or not. As the performers will be unable to hear the applause people are unsure if clapping is appropriate, resulting in a half-effort smattering of applause. I’m still unsure what the ‘correct’ protocol is, but I personally tend to applaud great performances: the dancer may not hear, but it is a way to show my appreciation.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Although cheaper than a trip to the ROH or Bolshoi Theatre, it still isn’t a particularly cheap night out. I invited one of my friends who enjoys opera to come to see La Sylphide, but he declined when he saw the £15 price, saying he would prefer to buy a ballet DVD instead: perhaps what seems cheap to a balletomane isn’t so cheap for someone who is unsure if they will enjoy the performance. There are ways to make it more affordable however: Odeon offers discounts for its Premiére Club members, and the ROH have recently had promotions with Patisserie Valerie and the Telegraph offering “2-for-1″ vouchers.

Verdict…

So, in summary, I think cinema relays are fantastic! They allow a wide audience to see ballets and dancers that are completely new to them, as well as letting them re-experience ones they already know. They are an affordable way to see ballet from the best seats in the house and, whilst sometimes the camera angle might not be exactly where you wish, they offer an unparalleled view of world class dancing. The insights offered in the intervals make it a truly great afternoon/night.

On top of this, you simply cannot deny the growing popularity of these relays. Last season, Romeo & Juliet was the Royal Ballet’s most-watched live relay since their inception (watched by over 16,000 people in 150 cinemas across the UK) and their recent Nutcracker screening was the 2nd most watched film in the UK that day (behind The Hobbit), The Mariinsky are also offering a live 3D Nutcracker this holiday season and there are repeats of the Bolshoi and New York City Ballet versions at various cinemas. I know of at least six companies that are offering, or have offered, live relays over the last couple of years: the Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, New York City Ballet, and Nederlands Dans Theatre. Here’s hoping more join in the future – which companies would you like to see at your local cinema?

Until next time, have a very Merry Christmas and festive Holiday Season – and keep on dancing!

Review: Rambert Dance Company – Labyrinth of Love

Rambert Dance Company is thought of as one of the UK’s top contemporary dance company and with their latest Labyrinth of Love tour it is easy to see why. I saw them when they came to visit Bath and also had an opportunity to hear a short talk by their Artistic Director Mark Baldwin and observe Company Class.

Labyrinth of Love

Choreography: Marguerite Donlon, Music: Michael Daugherty

The eponymous piece of the quadruple bill is about women throughout time or, rather, men’s relationships with them. The score was led by Soprano Kirsty Hopkins, masterfully singing various poems, who provided a constant female presence on stage – interacting and influencing the men throughout. As the dancers flirted with ideas of relationships and gender control, their costumes grew more complex and various imagery appeared on large screens in the background. At times this was rather striking – a Georgia O’Keeffe-esque Orchid set alight; rain, or perhaps teardrops, turning to diamonds and then stones.

With regards to the choreography, I particularly enjoyed the physicality of the male sections and overall found the piece, almost ironically, to be more of a showcase of the male dancers than the women. One section I particular enjoyed was “Liz’s Lament” (based on Elizabeth Taylor) and although the line “I see myself being handed from man to man” was taken a little too literally, the section culminated in a superb solo by Pieter Symonds. In fact, Symonds was the only female to replicate the physicality of the male choreography, echoing Dane Hurst’s earler solo; perhaps a suggestion of a modern strong woman? There was another moment of feminine strength when a dancer walked along a line of men placing her feet on the palms of their hands, completely in control.

The piece certainly gave me a lot to think about and a line from the opening segment stuck with me afterwards:

Yet that which must my troubled sense doth move //
Is to leave all, and take the thread of love.

Dutiful Ducks

Choreography: Richard Alston, Music: Charles Amirkhanian

Set to a beat poetry soundtrack this piece was a short showcase for a single male dancer (Dane Hurst). Little recurring motifs such as an entrechat six, entrechat quatre made the piece rather playful, yet sharp slaps on the arms kept it grounded and real.

Exciting and fun, yet serious, this showed what a high-calibre dancer Hurst is. Leaping and bounding about the stage with sharp changes in direction, all eyes were on him and the audience was gripped. One small movement in particular stood out: his glissades à la seconde to a fondu had such a juicy quality that I sat in awe. Superb.

Sounddance

Choreography: Merce Cunningham, Music: David Tudor

Having never seen a Cunningham piece before, I was unsure what to expect by Sounddance. To say it was an eye-opening experience would be a gross understatement.

Dane Hurst in Cunningham's Sounddance (Photo credit: Chris Nash)

By deconstructing ballet technique to concentrate on ‘movement’ rather than ‘dance’, Cunningham appears to ask you to consider the dancers not as people, but as entities. A lone dancer (Otis-Cameron Carr dancing Cunningham’s original role) starts the piece and gradually eight more join him, their top halves blending into the backdrop to subvert your eyes to their legs and footwork. Whilst the ‘music’ was effective (I believe anything more melodic or musical would have broken the power of the piece) it wasn’t exactly to my taste (a woman in front of me spent the entire piece with fingers in her ears).

There were some truly stunning moments in the choreography during the piece: the first unison motif (two chassés à la seconde followed by a brisé) with our solo entity still an outsider; a slow melding of bodies into a seething mass of limbs; a dancer doing successive entrelacés down the center line as others weave around him.

Watching their company class earlier (lead by an ex-Cunningham dancer) you can see how strong the dancers are at this style. With many having a deep balletic base they throw themselves into the piece, unconstrained by narrative or inhibition. Artistic Director Mark Baldwin spoke at a pre-performance talk about how Cunningham encouraged dancers to “own” the piece, and the Rambert dancers do just that. Personally, my stand out performance of the night and a definite sign I need to see more Cunningham.

Elysian Fields

Choreography: Javier de Frutos, Music: Alex North (adapted by Christopher Austin)

Taking inspiration from Tennessee Williams, de Frutos takes us on a journey to the American South. The curtain raises to reveal a large ring traced out on stage, surrounded by a mismatch of chairs. At times this evokes ideas of a wrestling ring, at others a confessional circle at a support group.

The opening solo (by, I believe, Symonds) is of the latter form, with the character of Blanche Dubois recalling the tale of discovering her husband’s homsexual affair and his subsequent suicide. With a sense of urgency she dances her anguish, whilst recorded dialogue plays. As the piece continues she reprises this solo thrice, Symonds speaking over parts of the dialogue until, finally, she recites the entire thing without the recording. Throughout the piece small snippets of live dialogue by the dancers (or recorded clips by former Rambert dancers Goddard and Nixon) remind us that these are very human characters. However, I feel the spoken stage directions take this concept slightly too far and verges on pretension.

If de Frutos is to be believed, all of Williams’ work is about wife-beating and sex. This allows the company dancers to demonstrate their physicality (something I had noticed in the company class) to great effect. Stage slaps are followed by dancers slamming to the floor, making the preceding violence all the more shocking. The repetition of the violence and anonymity of the dancers, however, makes us almost blasé by the finish. We only ever identify Blanche clearly, with other dancers inhabiting indistinct roles. Overall I enjoyed Elysian Fields, but do feel that it could do with either shortening or greater character development as its power becomes diluted by its conclusion.

A fantastic showcase for the dancers of Rambert, this quadruple bill is an interesting and varied evening of dance. It is clear why Rambert has such a high-profile status in dance and I can’t wait to see more of the company in the future.

Did you catch Rambert on their current tour? What did you think of the pieces? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep dancing!

P.S. As a bonus, here is a clip of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancing Sounddance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Goddesses, Wheat, Jewels and more!

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!

Me and my three gorgeous partners in Pas des Déesses

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?!

Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz in the NYCB Coppelia Wheat Pas de Deux (Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik)

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

Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin in Balanchines Coppelia (San Francisco Ballet, Photo credit: Erik Tomasson)

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!

A day of ballet…

If you follow me on twitter (and if you don’t, just click the little “Follow” button on the left there!) then you’ll know that I have been a bit stressed with work at the moment (which has resulted in a backlog of blog posts to write – the next few might be in a weird order while I finish them all!). Trying to write an academic paper in 10 days resulted in me getting minimal sleep and potentially having to miss a rather fantastic day of ballet I had planned in London. Well, luckily I managed to get enough work done beforehand to make the trip to the big city and I am so ridiculously glad I did!

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So what was in store for me? Well first up was a workshop run by the BalletBoyz! This was a chance for adults with a minimum of 1 year’s training to take a class with the BalletBoyz Ballet Master, James, at Sadler’s Wells (where the Boyz would perform later that evening a similar programme to the one at Bath I saw). When I first heard about this I immediately emailed to register and so arrived at the Sadler’s Wells stage door at around 9:30am (we’ll not discuss the 5:30 wake up to get there from Bath in time).

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Quickly getting changed I headed up to the Ashton studio – it’s an amazing space to dance in and I found myself wondering how many dancers had practiced there in the past. Talk about inspiring! James introduced himself and once everyone had arrived we started class. There was only 7 of us, which was great as it let James give out personal corrections, and for once the number of guys outweighed the number of girls! Most of the dancers had been dancing for many years (I think everyone except me had started at age 3 or 4!) so I felt a little out of my depth towards the end of center but I loved every second. I just hope James didn’t mind me being a little less experienced than everyone else!

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The class itself was amazing and James was a truly superb teacher. All throughout he concentrated on keeping ‘natural alignment’ and making sure we were ‘dancing’ – not just doing the technique. This was emphasised when we did things like leaving the barre mid-combination to do an attitude balance and promenade before returning for a higher (russian style) attitude at the barre.

He also concentrated on the idea of ‘opposition’ and that the body works with opposing forces. This idea and image really spoke to me and although I couldn’t put the ideas into practice straight away (stupid body not doing what I tell it to) I felt more balanced and on my leg than probably ever before.

And then in the center there were some really cool combinations and one step in particular stuck out for me. It wasn’t complicated – a waltz into a coupé turn – but it was one of those moments where I truly felt I was ‘dancing’. One of those moments where I forgot about worrying about the steps or technique and could enjoy the feeling of moving through the space. One of the best feelings in the world!

So with the masterclass finishing it was a very quick rush to the Royal Opera House to watch Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg perform Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. This would be my first time seeing the Royal Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, as well as my first time seeing the amazing Cojocaru and Kobborg. Needless to say they did not disappoint in the least! I can’t really put into words just how special the performance was, but here’s a selection of my tweets after the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also got to say that the performance reminded me just how much of a genius MacMillan is. I think a true testament to his skill is how natural he makes dance seem, it’s truly amazing choreography (the balcony scene may be one of my favourite segments of a ballet ever).

Alas, after the end of Romeo & Juliet, still wiping a tear from my eye I had to do some work (in a nearby coffee shop). Somehow I was able to concentrate enough to get my proofreading done (although all the tweets reiterating how amazing everyone had found R&J kept distracting me!) and finally met up with @OperaAndMe for dinner before she headed to see the controversial new production of Rusalka at the Royal Opera House. If you are interested in opera then you should definitely check out her blog!

I was also headed back to the Royal Opera House, but this time downstairs to the Linbury theatre to see Ballet Black perform. First up was Together Alone, a new work (all the pieces were freshly choreographed) by the Royal Ballet’s Jonathan Watkins and skilfully danced by Sarah Kundi and Jazmon Voss. I loved the idea that a couple can never quite be truly together, which was represented by the fact that Kundi and Voss rarely touched each other throughout the piece, often coming close but not quite close enough.

Following this was a solo by Rambert’s Jon Goddard (who I saw when they toured to Bath) called Running Silent, danced by Kanika Carr. Although I’m not usually keen on contemporary pieces that concentrate on floor work I really enjoyed this piece. This may have been thanks to my elevated viewpoint (I wonder if those level with the stage saw much of the floor work) and the engaging performance by Carr. Described in the programme as choreographed for either a male or female, I would love to see the piece again performed by a man to see the contrast.

The final piece of the first half was Captured by Martin Lawrence. This piece for four dancers, set to a Shostakovich string quartet, was my personal highlight of the evening. It was intricate and emotionally complex, raising many questions about the relationships between the four dancers. In particular, Cira Robinson was a revelation – she exuded confidence and fire that was paired with some truly stunning lines. A delight to watch.

This made it even more galling to have to leave at the interval (thanks to engineering works on my trainline) and so miss Robinson as the lead in a new work by Christopher Hampson called Storyville. All reviews I have read confirm that it is a great piece and Robinson dances it with great skill.

So that was my amazing day in London! I wanted to write the post while it was still fresh in my mind, so my next post will (hopefully) be about my performance last week (spoiler: it was awesome!). The paper deadline is tomorrow so I’m hoping to get back on top of my blog posts once I’ve caught up on some sleep…

Until next time, keep dancing!

Review – American Repertory Ballet, Douglas Martin’s Inaugural Season

On Saturday 5th March I attended a performance by American Repertory Ballet to celebrate Douglas Martin’s Inaugural Season – Douglas took over as ARB Company Director last year and the company has gone from strength to strength under his leadership. With a core of around 16 dancers it performs a variety of works from traditional works to fresh new choreography.

So, who is Douglas Martin? Well he trained at San Jose Ballet School before being picked to study at the American Ballet Theatre School. He then was a Principal at the Joffrey Ballet where he danced a range of roles, including Nijinksy’s La Sacre du Printemps and danced on PBS Dance in America. He then moved to American Repertory Ballet where he danced as a lead before taking the Ballet Master position and later Company Director. More importantly, he’s my Ballet teacher! He has taught me from when I first started Ballet, and in fact my other teacher at Princeton Ballet School, Edward Urwin, is a dancer with the company. I’ve tried to be impartial with my review, but I definitely had extra excitement when seeing ARB perform – I couldn’t wait to see what Douglas had done with the Company after seeing the dancers around Princeton Ballet School and at the ARB On Pointe sessions.

Our Town (Ch. Phillip Jerry, Co. Aaron Copland)

First up was Our Town, a piece based on Thornton Wilder’s play of the same name. This was originally choreographed on Douglas Martin and Mary Barton (Douglas’ wife, and ARB’s Ballet Mistress), and they placed the piece on ARB dancers earlier this season. It follows a girl, Emily and the town she lives in. Emily (Barton’s original role) falls in love with George (Martin’s original role) and they have a child together, before Emily’s untimely death. Emily then wanders back through her town, seeing how she had touched the people in her life, before accepting her fate.

Wow, was this piece emotional! You know those first ten minutes of the film “Up”? And you know how heart wrenchingly sad they were? Well this was just like that but in Ballet form. I’m willing to bet at least half the theatre was in tears my the end (I had a few tears welling by the end myself) especially when George walked off carrying his son after Emily’s death.

Brittany Fridenstine and Marc St-Pierre in Philip Jerry's Our Town. (Photo: Valerie Ford Photography)

Brittany Fridenstine danced the role of Emily and gave a glorious performance. She poured so much heart and emotion into it, you felt like you were taking the journey with her. Her partner was Marc St-Pierre dancing the role of George and they made a lovely pairing. They truly conveyed a feeling of young love and when they held hands for the first time they caught perfectly the sense of nerves and anticipation.

My favourite scene was a sequence done entirely to the sound of rain and thunder. The simplicity of this backing heightened the dance sequence although the music by Copland during the rest of the piece was great backing too. The depth of brass in the music gave a sense of suspension, and it included the magnificent Fanfare for the Common Man. All in all, a marvelous piece that I’m looking forward to seeing again in the future. And make sure you bring tissues!

Ephemeral Possessions (World Premiere, Ch. Douglas Martin, Co. Samuel Barber)

Douglas’ premiere piece was a complete triumph. Set to Barber’s Adagio For Strings, it was a piece for 5 couples, with the lead couple Michael Crawford and Michelle de Fremy. Starting as an intimate duet, the piece swelled and ebbed increasing to the full complement of ten dancers at the end of the first movement.

As the piece continued, the dancers worked both as a unit and in their individual pairings – blending seamlessly their movements. Throughout, there was a distinct feeling of grace and beauty. Douglas’ choreography seemed to truly inspire the dancers to a stunning performance, just as I am sure the dancers inspired Douglas during the choreographic process.

There was a fantastic movement between Crawford and de Fremery which took my eye: she turned in passé on pointe and as Crawford span her she pliéd and straightened her standing leg. I don’t know why, and I’m not entirely sure I’m describing the movement correctly, but it just looked awesome – especially with the pair flanked by the rest of the company.

The staging was simple – blue costumes on a blue background, and Barber’s music (the full 10-minute version) was a great accompaniment. At a recent “On Pointe” session with Martin at Princeton he spoke of how, when choreographing, he listens to the music repeatedly until it “tells him the movement”. I think he certainly captured the essence of the composition in his choreography.

I think what pleased me most about the piece though, was that it was definitely Douglas’ work. Taking class with him every week I’ve got a feel for his sense of humour, outlook on life and personality – and the entire piece spoke of this. Great work Doug!

Folia (World Premiere, Ch. Patrick Corbin, Co. Francesco Geminiani)

The third piece was another premiere – this time by Patrick Corbin (who has his own company CorbinDances). Along with Douglas’ piece, this had been the subject of an ARB ‘On Pointe’ session, which talked of the structure of the piece: one set phrase that is repeated en terre, with turns, en l’air, in retrograde and combinations of the above.

This certainly appealed to the mathematical side of my brain, but moreover I was excited to see a piece choreographed just for the men of the company – a showcase of male dancing.

It would have been very easy for Corbin to produce a very straightforward and almost stereotypical piece with lots of acrobatics between the men. What he created, however, was something that managed to convey the strength and physicality of the performances, yet at the same time retained the artfulness. The curtain lifted to the men of the company stood with their backs to the audience, muscles tense and a sense of anticipation in the air.

Starting with the main phrase, we were transported with the music (which was surprisingly passionate) as the phrase built and receded. There was a stand-out solo by Alexander Dutko, starting unaccompanied in a single spotlight, whence we glimpsed the depth of the main phrase.

This led to a solo by Edward Urwin (another of my teachers at ARB) where he performed the whole phrase then it’s retrograde at lightning speed. Marc St-Pierre then joined him on stage for a fascinating Pas de Deux between them.

Again, it would have been easy for Corbin to make a ‘standard’ Pas de Deux, but instead what followed was a different and exciting interplay as both dancers corrected and placed each other – both taking on roles as the precise controller and the malleable mannequin. One particular move I found impressive involved St-Pierre standing on Urwin’s thighs in a second plié before launching over Urwin’s head – great stuff.

As the piece continued we saw how cleverly Corbin’s phrase had been constructed – the phrase fitted so well to it’s retrograde and variations that it became a testament to Corbin’s genius. And then it finished with the single phrase again, bringing us back to our initial moment and leaving us with a sense of continuity.

Glazunov Variations (Ch. Kirk Peterson after Petipa, Co. Alexander Glazunov [Raymonda])

To finish, the company performed a collection of variations from Glazunov’s Raymonda. These took the form of collective partnering, individual variations and single duets.

To begin, our five princes led their tutu clad ballerinas out for the initial variation. What followed was a tour de force in classical technique and form. With instantaneous changes between the different sections, it was a marvel that the dancers survived this piece, never mind with such flair.

Stand out performances include Audra Johnson performing a devilishly flirtatious variation that reminded me of the Siren in The Prodigal Son. She was partnered by Marc St-Pierre (who truly seems born to partner) who performed his own impressive variation. We saw fun variations from the women of the company, and a technical variation from the five men – in sync while performing turns, tours and more.

The pace was kept up unabated to it’s thrilling finale which led to a well-deserved standing ovation for the company, including a substantial cheer for Mr Martin’s arrival on stage.

Overall, this was triumphant night for American Repertory Ballet and Douglas Martin. Personally, I felt it was especially a showcase for the men of the company, both the dancers and Douglas – is showed Douglas’ depth and creativity and the dancers’ unquestionable stamina and skill. Not to detract from the women’s performances (all of whom were excellent) but to even think of  performing in four consecutive pieces tired me, and yet the men gave both an artful and precise delivery throughout the entire evening. Bravo!

ARB will be holding their gala this coming weekend; unfortunately I will be back in England and so am unable to attend. However, they will be performing again in May (at the Mason Gross School of Arts), when I will certainly be attending. I do urge you to make it if possible, if it is anything like the inaugural performance you will be treat to a fantastic night of dance!

Until next time, keep dancing!