Break (Almost) Week; Reflections on Renversés and Choreography as a Process

Saturday, I spent four hours teaching, several more hours scraping paint, and two hours composing choreography before we went to a party that was actually very fun. Sunday, after acro and Acro Brunch, I spent an hour running choreography, then another hour teaching, and then untold æons (with, so really an hour and change, maybe two) standing on a ladder and painting the house while my hands froze in a chill wind in spite of my gloves(1).

  1. Note to self: wear winter cycling gloves next time. They’re wind-resistant.

As such, I opted to stay in this morning, do housework, and take evening class instead) even though I should really get back to doing Modern Mondays). 

The piece I was working on Saturday evening and a Sunday is essentially a 5-minute long comedic story ballet set to the 2nd movement (adagio cantabile) of Beethoven’s Pathétique. I programmed in a few renversés, and I realized while I worked the piece that not so long ago I wouldn’t have even thought of them. They just wouldn’t have occurred to me. 

BW and JP have really tuned up our renversés this semester, and as such they seem perfectly natural now. I put them in more or less by instinct where the music calls for them and the movement leads to them.

This is, in fact, true of a lot of movements in the classical vocabulary. Many things feel perfectly natural now that wouldn’t have a year ago. 

I think I’ve discussed my tendency to get get to the studio and instantly forget every step I’ve ever learned, then devolve upon programming a bunch of piqué turns and ronds-de-jambe (sometimes while thinking, “How do I get to the jumps?! Ack!”).  I also used to open every adagio piece with essentially the same sequence of développés and adagio turns that open Simon Crane.

Somewhere along the line, that seems to have changed.

This surprised me. Ballet is funny like that. It creeps up on you, and one day you discover that you are far more fluent in its language than you thought.

As a caveat, I must admit that I don’t know if it works this way for people who are genuinely new to dance. I think it might take a little longer in the situation, possibly. For me, the vocabulary was there but largely dormant; I could picture a dance, but when I tried to essentially run dance.exe to execute the dance, it was as if I couldn’t access the necessary files and code.

Taking class again for the better part of three years has apparently done a great deal of hard disk repair, kicking out the bad sectors and improving the connections between the good ones. The dynamic link libraries are once again accessible; the modules of code that create renversés  and cabrioles are no longer in the land of File Not Found (double cabs continue to elude me: goal one for 2017, I guess; double tours are probably goal two). 

When I go to create a piece that’s floating around in my head, I rarely lose the piece anymore. The vision and the finished dance usually match pretty well. I still mostly work phrase by phrase — visualizing, iterating, visualizing, iterating, then moving to the next phrase when the current one one seems solid, then eventually stringing them together into parts and finally stringing the parts together into a dance — but that may simply be my work style.

It also really helps to be able to remember the names of things. Makes writing them down much easier. The downside, though, is that I can now stay up till 1:30 AM listening to music and writing out choreography, knowing that in the morning it will still make sense. Or maybe that’s another upside, because it’s not like choreography didn’t keep me awake before. It just rarely turned out to be particularly intelligible in the cold light of day(2).

  1. Seriously, while working with BB, I have actually said things like: Why did I just write “effacé” there?! Éffacé what?! How? What does that mean? …Did I even mean éffacé? … Wait, I don’t think I meant éffacé.

So I’m pleased to say that this current piece, which I’ll be performing on 9th December if I can convince a couple of people to join me (there’s a second, far less technical dancing part and one brief non-dancing part), is not just a sequence of RDJs and random turns (it has arabesques, penchés, faillis, renversés, double turns, sautés arabesques, tours lent, and some other stuff, not to mention a grand allegro chase scene in the middle). Progress!

In other news, this week will largely be a break week, which means I’ll have time to catch up on household minutiae and start rehearsing “Work Song,” possibly, if everyone is available. After tonight, both dance team and ballet are off until next week. This will be a good week for reconditioning. You guys, I am weak. Between vacation and being sick, I have lost a lot of strength and stamina. 

So it’s back to eating for performance (with, of course, occasional digressions into the realm of pure pleasure) and training for … Erm,  also for performance.

And housework, because adulting never ends. 
Edit: PS – Señor BeastMode would probably like me to remind you that:

Renversé is not a turn.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2016/11/21, in balllet, choreography, fitness, work and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Lisa just got into my museum of weird corrections with this one: “Think like a fish.” About spacing, apparently. Brightened up a battle of a class…turns were poor and guess what? we’ve got a major change to the choreography three classes from showing.

    or maybe I was somehow embarrassed after seeing the Rambert do their stuff at the weekend? anyway I couldn’t fucking turn.

    • Ack on the major change!

      You may be on to something where the turns problem is concerned. Sometimes watching a really good company makes me better; sometimes it makes me so conscious of my faults that I find it hard to turn because I’m busy wishing there was a rock I could crawl under.

      Not the best turns day ever for me, either, though. Maybe there’s some kind of virus going around?

      • I know one of the turn viruses (there are several). A very strict teacher I have sometimes on friday (good old Vaganova school) make me collapsing even single pirouettes after “Hold your turnout” “arms higer” “Spot!!!!” “leg higher” . Especially when only 3 people show up…

        And turning comes in waves – I think you’ll be some weeks completely unable to turn (at least in self imagination), and come out on higher level afterwards. Happened 2 times so far to me.

      • Oh, yes! Both good points! And, of course, after a series of good obsessive-Vaganova-style micro-adjustments, one tends to struggle for a week or two (or five … or six) until the updated motor program really takes hold.

        Come to think of it, that might, in fact, be exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment, given that BW has, in the past couple of weeks, adjusted my spot, my arms, and my shoulders, and really altered my passé quite a lot. I find myself focusing hard on that in particular*, so no wonder my turns have felt insecure! One can only process so much at any given time 😀

        And the second point is almost exactly what Killer B said to me the last time I despaired over having a Bad Ballet Week, and she was exactly right — I was so busy focusing on small but critical technique changes (in other words, becoming a better dancer :P) that everything just felt really difficult.

        *There’s a lot of: Where’s my knee? Am I sickling? Are my hips level? I never had to worry about sickling or whether my hips were level when I set the toe of my working foot level with the top of my patella, because it takes essentially no effort to get my leg there.

        Adjusting everything upwards, on the other hand, suddenly means suddenly I actually have to work, so when I start to feel a little fatigued, I sometimes discover that I’m basically “faking it” — hauling my leg up by the quads, hiking the hip because I’m not really using my turnouts, sickling (which I otherwise never do) to clear the knee. (#FirstWorldBalletProblems again, heh :D).

    • Also, “Think like a fish” is indeed weird! Though, interestingly, I’ve heard the same instruction for riding in a tight pack in a bike race. Hmmm.

  2. Oh my gosh, what a coincidence – I was pondering choreographing a piece to Beethoven’s Pathetique, 2nd Movement (adagio cantabile) the other day! Such a beautiful piece of music, I’m sure you’re piece will be awesome.
    About the chorographic process as a brand-new beginner to dance, I’ll say that relatively early on (within a couple of months) I was able to have an idea of what I wanted to choreograph in my head, but my movement vocabulary that I could do without falling over was so limited that there weren’t many possibilities to actually dance them out. Then as I progressed, I was able to make more combinations possible, although they did appear quite repetitive, looking back. I totally hear you on knowing the names of things making it easier to write them out.

    • Oh, neat! I agree — such a beautiful piece of music, and one that lends itself so readily to dance. Someday I’d like to set a more serious piece to it.

      I’d also like to set the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata” and maybe the first movement of the “Waldstein.” I rather see “Moonlight” as a solo variation and the “Waldstein” as a pas de deux. Admittedly, the first movement of the “Waldstein” is wickedly fast and loooong, so it would be one very athletic dance.

      It’s interesting to hear how building choreography felt to you when you were just learning to dance — it sounds like you’re a visual thinker, too, and could readily visualize movements including those you hadn’t yet (something we share), but maybe didn’t experience the thing where ones move goes blank when you go to try to dance your choreography. If so, I think you’re one up on me 😀

      I still sometimes blank on my own choreography, though not as often or as completely as I used to.

      As for répétition … I think you may have touched on a problem common to many nascent Choreographers. I’ve definitely been guilty of that as well. I think that was one of the difficulties with the initial version of the piece I set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which I’m now considering how to re-work, keeping the good bits and replacing everything else.

      Honestly, I even think the choreography for my Adagio Cantabile is kind of repetitive, but I built it that way on purpose, so it will be easy to learn, since I won’t have much time to rehearse it with the rest of my little cast — I’ll work on an updated version later, when I have time to set it properly.

      • Moonlight Sonata was my first choreographic project ever! I’ve thought about revisiting it, since at only about 4 months into dancing when I performed it for the class I definitely did not do it justice…
        Sometimes I do blank out on my own choreography (while in the creative process, not performing, as I tend to overprepare), but not to the extent that I blank out when it was choreographed by someone else. I would say I’m a visual thinker, but the chorogrphic process itself feels almost natural as opposed to active now, if that makes sense. I’ll be listening to the music and it feels as though the choreography *happens* in my head more than feeling as though *I* am coming up with it. The only thing I can relate it to is how sometimes when I am out for a walk I get an incredible story idea and it’ll be like an entire scene from my unwritten novel will flash before my eyes. Of course, by the time I get home much will be forgotten or I’ll be too lazy – or distracted – to write it down.
        Repetition is actually kind of nice to an extent, I think. And quite impressive when done well.

      • Yes! The choreography “just happens” is exactly it! (Though sometimes I make adjustments after the fact, usually to account for things I can’t actually do reliably or transitions that look weird when I try them but would probably look great if I were Daniil Simkin or something :P). That’s kind of how writing fiction works for me, too.

        It’s so awesome that you created a piece to “Moonlight Sonata!” Also that you got to perform it for a class.

        I’m hoping the repetition in this piece will work! Come to think of it, the repetition in the music works, so…

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