Category Archives: video
If you are a dancer, or you have a partner or friend or loved one who is, you already know: we dancers are incredibly critical of our work.
So to watch a video in which I’m dancing and think, before I’ve thought anything else, “That was good!” is a big deal.
Anyway, today I finished a week-long summer intensive session in which I (GASP!) actually talked to people I don’t know and, like, made some friends ❤ This was a really lovely group of dancers, and I would happily dance with any of them again any time.
We learned and performed (via livestream and for a small audience outside the big window of our studio) a brand-new piece choreographed by Ashley Thursby-Kern and Theresa Bautista, and when I watched it, I found myself thinking, “That was good!”
Not just their choreography, or the performance of my fellow dancers–but for once I was able to look at myself and think that.
It wasn’t perfect, of course, but ballet never is. And I think that we did rather a fine job learning and polishing it in the span of five days.
Anyway, for the moment, you can catch it here, with an introduction by Ashley, who is a thoroughly lovely human being:
I’m trying hard not to list the shortcomings I do see in my own performance here. It’s enough to know what I could have done better and will do better next time. It’s enough to look at myself dancing and say, for once, “That was good.”
We’ve still got a long way to go before we can say the Pandemic is really under control, but little by little life is finding a way. I’ll be adding things to my calendar soon (possibly tomorrow, though it’s our anniversary, so who knows?).
- Ahhhhh … 90s Kid references.
So, anyway, I’m doing some things—some live-in-person, some virtual.
One of those things is this great little ballet that Leigh Purtill of Leigh Purtill Ballet Company is creating on a group of dancers spanning the North American continent, “Circus of Worldly Wonders.”
Since my own career spans the continents of ballet and circus, I’m all in for a circus-themed ballet … And so I created this little video exploring a bit of the entwined histories of circus and ballet:
I hope you’ll enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed making it! 💖
I don’t post video all that often.
Originally it was because A] I didn’t shoot video all that often and B] when I did, I usually couldn’t stand to look at it and didn’t want anyone else to look at it, either. (Or, well … sometimes also because the decent video I had was typically rehearsal video from someone else’s piece, and I didn’t want to post it without permission.)
Now I just rarely post video because I rarely think of it. I share clips to Insta on the regular, but more often than not they’re clips rather than entire pieces.
Anyway, today I was scrolling through my phone’s camera reel and happened to watch one of my movement research videos from March, when I was beginning to work seriously on the piece that originally became “January Thaw,” and is now just “Thaw.”
And in the process, I found the video below, and discovered that I loved parts of it: the weird parallel developpe that was originally part of this piece (I vaguely recall deciding that, because it had to transition into a turned-out arabesque followed by a penche, I should replace it with a normal developpe); the lovely precipite in the middle that was later eclipsed by a series of arabesques (at least, I’m pretty sure I decided to keep the arabesque version); this moment when I unfurl from a contraction in a lunge; these insane floating turns that reminded me that I can, in fact, turn beautifully when I bother to make the effort.
- Some of them are decidedly off-plumb, but they somehow wind up being beautiful anyway. *shrug*
There are flaws, of course. I’ve decided not to itemize them. I know they’re there; you know they’re there–I won’t gain anything by nattering on about them, so for once in my life, I won’t.
Anyhoo, the music, to which I own no rights whatsoever, is Alexandra Dariescu’s aching rendition of Chopin’s Prelude #4, Largo, E minor (Op. 28:4) on Chopin/Dutilleux, Volume 1, Champs Hill Records, 2013.
You can find it on Amazon and probably everywhere else, because seriously. This recording is so good.
Anyway, here’s the video. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
In ballet, as in life, there are things you know that you know, and things you know that you know but maybe kinda don’t really know.
- …And also things you know that you don’t know, and things that you don’t know that you don’t know, but … ugh, let’s just start with the stuff we supposedly know. I’m too tired for the, like, epistemology of epistemology right now.
Like, you know that what you do at the barre is important. Foundationally important. Literally everything in ballet, your teachers tell you, is founded on the work you do at the barre.
…And yet it can actually be kind of hard, sometimes, to really feel what that means.
If you’ve been dancing for more than, like, five minutes with good instruction, you’ve probably heard the maxim that everything in ballet is essentially an extension of plie and tendu (some add rond de jambe to the mix; others argue that rond de jambe can be included in the “extension of tendu” category … I think both arguments have merit, so That’s Another Post).
If you’ve been dancing for more than five years with good instruction, you’ve probably experienced that idea directly often enough that it has taken on gut-level meaning.
You have learned to feel that your grand battement is just a tendu at maximum amplitude; that a waltz turn is just a bunch of plies and tendus strung together; that even a double tour is basically a plie that stretches with a lot of oomph.
That does not, however, always translate directly to the complex movements you do once you leave the barre. Knowing with your brain is not the same thing as feeling with your body, etc.
And this is where video comes in.
I think I’ve written a couple of times about the thing that makes video such an exceptionally useful tool for me–specifically, my proprioception is weird because of Ehlers-Danlos, so I can’t always actually feel what my body is doing relative to itself. Video is the best tool I’ve found for figuring out the difference between what I feel like I’m doing and what I’m actually doing.
Sometimes, though, it’s also a goldmine for technique.
Case in point, this:
I’ve been trying to make my body sort out the relationship between the Bournonville grand jete and … to be honest, basically everything. I mean, like, yes: of course I realize that it’s a prime example of “it’s just tendu and plie, but with a little chutzpah,” but somehow I still feel like my execution always cuts a corner somewhere.
The reason that I feel that my execution of the Bournonville jete cuts a corner is that it does.
I’ve been so busy thinking about Bournonville jete being a leap that I’ve been completely overlooking the fact that the leap will take care of itself if you DO THE REST OF THE TECHNIQUE CORRECTLY.
Functionally, this means that instead of brushing and pressing my leading leg and using the combination of that kinetic energy with the potential energy stored in the plie of the second leg, I’m sort of frantically flinging my first leg and throwing my body after it, taking off before the leading leg can do its job (which is to set the height of the leap and then STAY THERE–that’s where control comes in), and generally bungling the entire procedure.
I’m flexible, so I come closer to getting away with it than someone would who can’t just throw a leg wherever, but it’s still not good enough.
(Ballet: it’s always easier when you just do it right, and somehow that never ceases to be completely shocking.)
So, the picture above isn’t technically of a Bournonville jete. It’s technically a picture of … erm. Some kind of enormous cloche? I’d honestly have to go back and watch the video again; my brain is so cooked right now I don’t even remember which exercise it was (it was before grand battement and after degage *shrug*).
When I watched this video, I instantly and powerfully understood that this picture is HOW YOU DO a Bournonville jete, or really any grand jete, and make it count.
- Okay, full disclosure: my upper body shouldn’t start this far back in an actual grand jete, unless I want it the leap to travel straight up I guess? But that’s actually one of the things I need to fix in my grand jete: I often leave my body behind, costing myself both travel and elevation.
What I do remember about this moment was that it was a cloche through from back to front, brushing strongly through first and pressing the leading leg up (as if against a weight: that was JZ’s main correction for me on Thursday–which, by the way, is exactly the main thing I’m focused on improving in my dancing as a whole).
On the first side, I’d relied (as I always do) too much on momentum and not enough engaged strength: I threw the leg (to be fair, jete literally means “throw”) in a way that meant I was no longer in control of it. My leg was on one journey, and my body was on another–their destination was the same, but for all intents and purposes, the leg was taking the early express train and the body was taking a slightly later local. That makes it kinda hard to keep the movements connected, you know?
JZ said to me, “Less momentum; more strength–like lifting a weight with the working leg.” I applied the correction on the second side, and this was the result.
Even though I’ve done an exercise specific to grand jete that uses this motor pattern–done it in a few different schools, in fact (my childhood studio, LouBallet, the Joffrey, LexBallet, pretty sure Naples Ballet)–I’ve somehow never connected the exercise that I was doing in JZ’s class on Thursday with grand jete.
And yet, there it is. If I sprang off that deeply-loaded right leg, I would … well, okay, in this case, I’d crash directly into the wire storage rack that’s like two centimeters from my left foot o.O’
BUT, if I did that in, say, a proper ballet studio … okay, and if I kept my back a bit more lifted … the result would be a lovely grand jete. The position I’m in doesn’t really need to change (except for the fact that my upper body needs to be a little closer to my free leg); I would just need to kind of … let go of the ground. Just add a little spring. And then sustain the leading leg by pressing it up, as if under a weight.
- In case you’re not familiar with the distinction, the Bournonville grand jete is done with the back leg in attitude. Obviously, for the … other version, I’d need a little more spring, to get that back leg all the way straight.
- I love that analogy, because it summarises everything I love about the way Roberto Bolle moves: his movements are always at once contained and free; controlled and fluid. There’s always a sense almost that he moves against the resistance of a thicker atmosphere than the one most of us inhabit. The idea of pressing into a weight helps me think about how to achieve that feeling without becoming tense and unfree.
Somehow, the video that yielded this picture has helped me understand what I am and am not doing correctly when I do grand jete. (And, in fact, that I’m doing almost everything in grand jete incorrectly much of the time, although sometimes I get it right by accident and something beautiful happens.)
It might’ve taken me another five years to figure that out otherwise, because it’s incredibly difficult to see yourself doing a grand jete or any other large, complex movement (trying to watch yourself in the mirror screws up the body mechanics). I certainly get corrections on my technique all the time (that’s just life as a dancer), but video makes it easier to sort out what all those corrections aim to impart.
In short: if you haven’t tried shooting video of yourself in class, I highly recommend it.
Obviously, in a normal class, you should ask permission first and make sure your classmates are okay with it (my experience has been that they’re usually either like, “Sure as long as I never have to look at myself in it XD” or “OOH YES CAN I HAVE A COPY PLS????”).
Likewise, video alone won’t replace the guidance of a good teacher.
But for me, video has become a critical tool for analysing my own movement and figuring out how to improve it.
At least, once I got over the natural desire to bury my head in the sand and never watch myself dancing again ^-^’
Sometimes, when he takes class with us, BG stops after barre or skips the repetition of an exercise and sneaks in some video recording.
Some of us grumble about it—generally, folks who don’t want to see themselves on the program’s Facebook page (BG is very conscientious about honoring their wishes)—but I’m grateful for the videos.
The thing is, no matter how hard you try, you can never really watch your own turns (by way of example: the same can be said for entrelacés and so many other things). At best, you snatch glimpses of them. It’s hard to really get a sense of how things look so that you can correct accordingly—and how things look often differs considerably from how things feel.
Likewise, video allows a real sense of progress: you can compare last year’s video, last week’s video, this morning’s video and see where you’ve improved, where you really haven’t, and where perhaps you’ve picked up a bad habit.
- Dancers, like horses, catch “vices” from one-another sometimes.
Anyway, BG posted a couple of videos yesterday that I found very useful.
In the first, L and I are doing soutenu turns at the beginning of an exercise. It was surprising to see how much more vertical the axis of my turn has become.
BW has given me so many soutenus; it was in his class that I first noticed that I was allowing my shoulders to fall backwards (or, really, that I was arching my back away from the turn). I’ve been working on that very consciously for months, so it was nice to see how well it’s paid off.
I think I’m still just a shade behind the vertical, but that’ll come.
The second video is a waltz: T, L, and I—generally the more advanced segment of this class—dancing together in a lovely little triad.
I’m much happier with my balancé than I was even a few months ago, though I think T’s épaulement is prettier than mine. Same goes for the waltz turn: I think one of my arms looks a little wonky in this video (I failed to carry my elbow), but I’ve managed to pull a lot of slack out of my spine, which allows me to reach through my legs more effectively.
My turns, on the other hand, are a bit Meh. I prepare with too much slack in my lumbar spine and my free leg slightly less than fully turned out, which means I’m doing extra work to pull the turn up on its axis. This is a profoundly useful bit of intel, as it explains one of the reasons I don’t have reliable triples back yet: my core isn’t quite there—or, at any rate, my use of my core isn’t.
This exercise ends with piqué arabesque, and BG managed to capture the moment when I remembered L’Ancien’s physical correction to my arabesque in our adagio. It’s funny to watch: I remember recalling L’Ancien’s question and pulling myself together, and that it made me late exiting the arabesque but felt good.
In the video, I don’t manage to get my leg and my back as high as I did in L’Ancien’s adage, but it’s a cool thing to remember a mental self-correction and to see it after the fact.
I’m not sure this will work, but here are the videos:
(Gave it a test run. You don’t have to log in to Facebook to watch these, though the dialogue sort of implies it. Just tap or click the video itself to hit play. I’m not sure if they’ll be viewable outside the US; international permissions can be weird.)
Anyway, class tonight, but today I’m basically taking it easy until then. Just going to wash some dishes and cook some food.
*Now with music!
When you’re a kid, you might experience adults as mostly functional, mostly giant walking disasters, or some combination of the two—but you probably don’t experience them as people quite the same way you experience yourself and your friends as people.
- There are some exceptions: my riding instructor was one of those rare adults who are phenomenal at connecting with kids on a very human level without being a total wishy-washy pushover, which you can’t be when you’re teaching 50-pound 7-year-olds how to handle half-ton beasties front-loaded for panic.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. It so happens that kids and adults in most of the Western world move in fairly separate spheres, and that the developmental worldview of childhood tends to be a bit solipsistic for entirely developmentally-appropriate reasons.
But, anyway, the upshot of this is that an awful lot of us reach adulthood without having the faintest idea how to, like, adult.
…Which is evidenced by the fact that “adult” is now a verb as well as a noun.
I think maybe this wasn’t always the case. Like, up until pretty recently, people were pretty explicit about training up a child in the way he (or she) should wash the ding-dang-darn dishes for crying out loud (and turn down that racket).
Then my generation came along, close on the heels of Gen X but a bit more computer-y, learning from day one that we were supposed to, like, Follow Our Dreams and self-actualize our unique snowflakitude, but also learn math and science a whole lot, and how to do things with technology, and also how to ballet or football/soccer or handegg or violin or speak seventeen languages or be a Mathlete and a representative in the Model UN or pwn all the Mock Trials.
In short, we were so busy getting a First-Class Education and becoming (in many cases, anyway) Well-Rounded that we never had time to absorb some of the critical secrets to Adulting.
Like, to be honest, COFFEE.
I’m just gonna admit up front that even my Mom will tell you she’s almost never sick. I think germs are just way too scared of her. I remember her being actually sick exactly once during my childhood, and it was totally miserable for about a week, and she confirms the same.
HOWEVER. Given that she worked a billion hours a week and sang in at least one choir at any given time and was (for several years) also working on a Master’s degree and somehow found time to design, plant, and maintain an absolutely lovely garden and did at least some of the carting around of a ridiculous kid who somehow thought it was a good idea to jam ballet and horses and gymnastics and choir and skiing and ice skating and the violin into any one week … anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my Mom was almost certainly crazy tired at least part of the time (though she also has the “can sleep any time, anywhere” super power).
And, somehow, I never quite grokked how spectacularly helpful coffee can be in those circumstances.
At least, not until now, when I’m definitely ill but probably on the mend, and I can’t stand the fact that there are three days worth of dishes piled up in the kitchen, but also not sure I can just plain stand long enough to wash them, because frankly one of the major symptoms of Whatever I Have (probably yet another sinus infection) is knock-you-on-your-keister fatigue.
I don’t usually drink COFFEE after noon, because frankly it’s a terrible idea if you’re already a night owl but you’re also a dancer and you regularly have to be able to function in class at 9 AM. In fact, I usually drink exactly one coffee per day, in the morning, less for the caffeine (though that helps when I’ve had to take a sleeping pill, because see above re: night owl) than for the ritual of it.
However, when one is definitely not well enough to go to class (blargh) but also not ill enough to remain in bed without going crazy, one cup of coffee will help one wash some dishes.
So there it is. COFFEE is tasty, but—used judiciously—also one of the secrets of adulting.
I feel like I really should’ve figured this out before.
It’s probably not a secret at all to vast legions of people my own age and younger than my own age who are simply less, like, insular. I am also the kind of idiot who insists on using a hand-cranked kitchen mixer partly because the electric ones are fecking loud, partly because my inner hipster finds it satisfying, and partly out of sheer cussedness, so draw your own conclusions.
But, anyway, I guess this is a thing I know, now. If you need just a little help adulting, a cup of coffee might do the job. So there you have it.
Anyway, if you came for teh balletz but you’ve had to sit through my long digression into the magic that is COFFEE, my apologies. Anyway, here comes the bit with teh balletz in.
A couple weekends back, I shot a bunch of video of balances on the BOSU balance trainer at Suspend. I posted a couple of them to the Instas, then promptly failed to get around to uploading them to the YouTubes so I could toss some music in and easily post them here and critique my own technique.
Belatedly, I have now uploaded a handful (which is to say, three) videos and slapped a little music on them. The actual soundtrack of gleeful cackling from people working on stuff nearby was pretty amusing, but also pretty distracting.
Now they’re running loose on the Tubes. Sort of. (Okay, so they’re currently unlisted, because people like to be mean—by which I do not mean ‘critical, but fair,’ but instead ‘douchy jerks’—in the comments, and I’m mean enough to myself for about five people, thanks).
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the first one:
…This one hasn’t been on the Instas yet.
Here, I’m working left, which is currently my stronger side balance-wise—which is to say that my right leg is better at the “supporting leg” role and my left leg is better at the “free leg” role.
- L’Ancien favors these translations from the Russian over the usual English “supporting leg/working leg” dichotomy: he points out that the supporting leg, really, is the one doing most of the work, and says things like, “And which leg do you imagine flamingos think about?”
If you watch closely, when I first step onto the BOSU trainer (and then promptly step off), you’ll notice one of my most constant and worst ballet habits: I lead with my freaking hips, like I think I’m on a catwalk in Milan or something.
Ballet is not a catwalk in Milan, you guys.
The shirt I’m wearing (half my costume from Death Defying Acts) makes it hard to see, but at the very beginning my sternum is behind the point of my hip. This is so problematic (and, on the BOSU trainer, so bleeding obvious) that, at 0:05, I step back down so I can basically fix my entire approach.
If you pause the player at 0:07, you’ll notice that I’ve corrected pretty reasonably. I haven’t really turned on my turnout yet (it’s easier to mount the BOSU trainer, then turn on the turnout), but I’m much more squarely balanced over my supporting leg.
At the same point in time, you can also see that my knee is roughly over the arch of my foot: I’m shifting my weight towards the ball of my foot on the supporting side by shifting through the entire leg as well as my body. This allows me to keep my hips level from side to side (at 0:10, I actually tap them with my hands to remind myself to stay level and pull up).
Given that I’m still working in kind of a half-baked turnout, the passé balance that follows is pretty decent. You can see me actively resisting the urge to pull up and back (one of the things that makes passé easier for me than coupé is that you typically bring your arms up to third/en haut, which—as long as you keep your elbows lifted—helps keep your weight forward).
I also correct the height of my passé in the midst of the balance—it still wouldn’t be high enough for BW, and neither would my relevé, but in this video I’m still getting used to the BOSU trainer, here, so I’ll give myself a pass on those. It’s high enough for just about any application, anyway, and lifted correctly from behind and beneath, allowing for increased height without a hip-hike.
It’s when I begin to extend that things go a bit pear-shaped.
The legs themselves are rather nice, I think: I carry the working knee up and out, as one should, and though I lose a couple of degrees and wind up at full extension just a little above ninety (for a split second), the overall mechanical process is fine.
I totally fail to adjust my upper body to counterbalance the weight of my leg, which is considerable (the average human leg apparently weighs 40 pounds, which is nearly 1/3 of my entire weight). This actually has a lot to do with the loss of elevation on my extension: any extension requires a fair bit of counter-balancing, and those above 90 degrees require quite a bit more counter-balancing than we tend to realize.
Usually, we effect the counter-balance by shifting the weight away form the free leg. Often, this means performing the complex ritual of simultaneously pulling towards the free leg (to engage the muscles that will help it stay up) and away from the free leg (to counter-balance its weight).
In this video, I do absolutely nothing to counter-balance my free leg. I’m thinking too hard about keeping my weight forward, and so I fail to shift it back just a little. As soon as my free leg begins to move through croisée, I am powerless to resist the pull of gravity, and it “knocks me off my leg,” as we say.
In this case, I should have allowed my shoulders to open slightly in opposition as my arms transitioned to allongé. This is accomplished, more or less, with the breath: you breathe in and allow the breath to lift your sternum until it can’t go any higher, so it has to go back a bit, and while this happens you stay engaged so you don’t turn into a sway-backed cow.
Instead, I kept them exactly as they were.
While, to be honest, I find that fairly impressive in and of itself (I’m forever doing crazy stuff with my upper body and actively, rather than passively, putting it where it shouldn’t be), it’s not very effective if you want to balance that extension.
So there you have it.
Also, rather a nice sustained passé balance (or, well, technically retiré, since I’m not really changing my leg from back to front; it seems that way, but really it’s an artifact of mounting the BOSU).
What works best, here, is the lower-body transition into the extension: I keep the hip open as I extend, rather than allowing it to turn in, then extending from parallel. Also, it blows my mind how flat-out steady I am through much of this. Placement: it works.
What doesn’t work is the failure to counter-balance the extension, which in turn costs me both the height of the extension (which I begin to lose immediately) and the duration of the extended balance. Also, my free-side hand:
I do finish my rather graceful emergency dismount with a nice, deep, turned-out, knee-over-toe plié, at least, though I immediately let go of my turnout as I swing my right leg around and step toward the camera.
Next time: a comparison of two first arabesques, followed by a comparison of two penchés (one that kinda works; one that kinda knocks me off the BOSU).
- This is probably sufficiently obscure to require some explanation. Basically, it’s a play on a translation of the motto on the Great Seal of the State of Connecticut, which translates literally to “He who transplanted sustains,” but “endures” is close enough).
- Maimonides didn’t write this, but maybe he should have.
I started a post about last night’s class, well, last night, and then I got too tired to finish it, so it’s currently a draft on my tablet and I don’t feel like going to get my tablet.
Last night turned into another Private Men’s Technique Class, during which I summarily discovered that one does not, in fact, have to do grand allegro to be completely exhausted at the end of Men’s Tech. BW’s gloriously murderous barre is quite demanding enough to do the job.
In a nutshell, classical men’s technique is essentially about two things: power and endurance. It can be summed up via the famous equation:
…What do you mean that isn’t a famous equation?
Power allows you to do the grand allegro pyrotechnics that pretty much define the vast majority of men’s variations in the classical repertoire. Your grand jeté entrelacé isn’t going to look anywhere near as impressive if it doesn’t get off the ground, and as for double tours, you can’t even do them if you don’t basically launch yourself into space. You won’t have time. Disaster (or at least an ungraceful exit) will ensue.
Endurance allows you to get though demanding variations without A) dying or B) flopping around like a distressed fish wrapped in a damp rag (you guys, this is NOT a valid way even to do fish jump). It allows you to still
not drop lift your partner in the next bit of the grand pas de deux and to not collapse under your combined weight.
Power requires strength. BG mentioned to us today that we’re sort of designed around gravity, so even though the idea in classical ballet is to look like you’re defying gravity, you do it by employing gravity. Still, if you’re going to launch yourself off the floor, you need power to do it.
Your plié is all about giving yourself to gravity; loading the springs. Your launch is all about pushing down through the floor, right to the center of the earth, fir(ing) all of your guns at once (to) explode into spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace.
Endurance requires … erm … endurance. Right. Just pretend I wrote something more intelligent than “x = x.” Move along. Nothing to see here.
What I mean, really, by “endurance requires endurance” is that endurance itself is a pretty complex entity.
First, there’s cardiovascular endurance: no point in being strong enough to do all the things in the Slave variation (or Albrecht’s, or Bluebird, or…) if your heart literally explodes halfway through, or if you can’t get through it without puking because you can’t breathe.
Next, there’s muscular endurance, which I’m sure has some fancy technical name that I can’t recall right now. Basically, that’s the kind of endurance that surrounds the question, “How many times can you launch and catch your own weight (multiplied, as needed, by whatever forces apply at various points) before you have to lie down for a while?”
This is the kind of endurance that you can think of in terms of “reps to exhaustion” or “reps to failure.”
This second kind of endurance depends quite a bit on power: like, really, you need to be flat-out strong enough that the variation you’re doing doesn’t lead to failure—indeed, you may very well need to be strong enough to manage it in the context of an entire ballet.
This is, in a way, kind of like riding a mountain stage in the Tour de France. Mountains have this annoying way of being multiple kilometers in height, and involving multiple climbs, and you don’t get to stop at the top of a given climb.
The race keeps going, and so do you, until you get to the end of the stage (or until you spectacularly crash your bike and are summarily scraped into the team car). Until you get to the end of the stage, you have to keep stomping those pedals, or at any rate turning the cranks.
Most full-length classical ballets are only 2 to 3 hours long, and not a Tour-stage-esque 6 hours long (though nobody ever suggested a mere 6-hour cap to the Sun King). On the other hand, ballet never lets you sit in the peloton and just turn the cranks and recover. Not even when you’re in the corps.
Power alone will get you through a single run of a variation in isolation, but add the rest of a 2-hour ballet, and unless you have some serious endurance, you’re seriously fecked.
Last night was more about endurance than about power, though it was also about power, because holy fondu, Batman. Mostly, it was about the “reps to exhaustion” kind of endurance and the “attitude devant for a million counts” kind of endurance.
(It was also about TOES, because BW’s class is always about my toes.)
It was a “stretch your leg up to your ear, hold, fondu the supporting leg, hold, stretch, hold, drop your arm and see if you can maintain the extension for an additional million counts” kind of day(3).
- Regarding which, you guys: this was an exercise in “well, hey, THERE’S a thing I need to fix.” Because, seriously, I haven’t figured out how to do antigravity above about 100 degrees a côte, even though my range of motion theoretically allows for it.
My foot got achy before we made it to jumps, so we called it a night and did a stretch-n-kvetch session in which I learned that, like me, BW really can’t use cycling to cross-train for cardio. Like mine, his quads go crazy too easily.
I know I’ve said this before, but this is one of the reasons he’s such an effective teacher for me: we share some of the same Ballet Problems. One of them is being the elusive kind of unicorn that actually does pile on the muscle rather too easily.
Today, I managed to haul my hinder out of bed and make it to BG’s 10 AM class, where I found my body surprisingly willing to do things, possibly because last night we skipped jumps and stretched instead.
Because BW’s barre is usually even harder than Killer B’s barre, barre didn’t feel difficult(4). Last night we did circular port de bras in sus-sous, so when I opted to do a straight forward-then-back port de bras in sus-sous, it really didn’t feel like much of a challenge.
- Except for the part where I failed to acquire a significant portion of one combination because I was busy reflecting on body mechanics, and then the whole class had to start over. Sorry, guys.
This time, possibly because I didn’t take modern class in the morning first, my foot agreed to make it through the little jumps to a very nice grand allegro. That makes twice in one week, which is great.
That said, I found myself overthinking one of the transitions and, as such, screwed things up completely going left.
I did it three times to the left, though, and eventually got it more or less sorted.
Regardless, it was very much a case of, “What do I do with all these legs? Aaaaaugh!”
In fact, though, I think the combination I liked best today was a weird little petit-allegro brain-teaser that went something like:
coupé to slidey thing avant
…and continued around the points of the compass counter-clockwise, though the slidey thing never traveled backwards (so I guess it skipped “south,” and just went “north-east-west-north”). The main challenge is remembering which way you did the slidey thing most recently, so you don’t do the slidey thing in the same direction twice and cause a traffic accident.
I’m sure there’s a name for the “slidey thing” somewhere in the great lexicon of ballet, as it’s a thing that occurs in choreography, but I don’t know what to call it, so my apologies there. It’s sort of a coupé-tombé to second or fourth with the trailing toe gliding across the floor. Hard to describe, easy to do(5), and really quite pretty.
- YMMV. I also think renversé is easy, and apparently people disagree in droves about that. That said, I didn’t always think reversé was easy, but once I got it, I got it.
Anyway, that was class today. Very-nice-but-perplexing grand allegro; unusual and satisfying petit allegro.
Oh, also, I keep forgetting to post this video. I think I keep looking a little lost (which is terrible, given that it’s my own freaking choreography >_<), but given that I had a fever, it could have been a lot worse.
Also, that weird sort of attitude balance near the end? That is HELLA HARD on crash mats, y'all.
I’m launching a series of post on the details of technique. It’ll probably consist primarily of steps I’m struggling with, so take it with a grain of salt.
I find it helpful to write things out in an effort to get a grip on them. These aren’t so much instructions (though if they work for you, awesome!) as observations.
Tombé-coupé-jeté is a subset of coupé-jeté en tournant (if you do jazz, you might know this as a “calypso,” if I understood my classmate correctly).
As its name implies, it’s a compound step. The elements are:
- a tombé into a
- turn at coupé
- that lends its rotation to a jeté
Some form or another of coupé-jeté en tournant shows up in men’s technique a lot—QV Le Corsaire’s famous (and famously-hard) Slave variation, the Pas de Trois from Swan Lake, a whole bunch of stuff in Nutcracker, etc, etc.
Coupé-jeté pass starts at ~1:20 This guy knows what he’s about.
Also, I like the way he moves.
The tombé version is the one I’m concerned with here.
I’ve been wrestling with making my tombé-coupé-jeté consistent on both sides so I can use it in choreography without having to think about it (because thinking is basically death to my ballet technique; it makes my brain overheat and crash).
The basic mechanics, traveling right, go like this:
- Tombé onto the right leg.
- Bring the left leg to coupé while executing a turn en dedans.
- Your arms help to provide momentum for the turn.
- Don’t leave your body behind!
- Transfer weight onto the left foot. Your left leg will be in a demi-plié.
- Simultaneously, grand battement the right leg just as you would for a plain old vanilla jeté.
- Spring off the left leg.
- For men’s technique: tombé to second (you get a bigger jump, and men’s technique is basically be distilled into How To Get A Bigger Jump).
- I realized today that I kept tombé-ing to something like 2.5ième. Bleh.
- It works a lot better if you actually really do tombé to an actual 2nd.
- The turn happens in the coupé.
- NOT in the tombé.
- NOT in the jeté*.
- *The remaining momentum from the turn will cause the jeté to rotate slightly, but if you think of the turn as being in the jeté, you’ll inevitably add a rond-de-jambe, and everything will go right to Hell in a hand-basket.
- I tend to start unfurling my working leg at the wrong point in this turn. DO NOT DO THIS. It throws everything else off, and also results in a wobbly flight path.
- The right leg sweeps STRAIGHT OUT, as in grand battement, avant or to 2nd (I’m not actually sure if one is correct and the other incorrect; I didn’t think to ask JP).
- The working leg does not rond.
- I repeat, the working leg DOES NOT ROND.
- I find that it helps to think “Grand battement!” rather than “Don’t rond!”
So let’s think about how this all works on the right.
- The tombé loads the right leg, providing impetus for the turn just as the plié does at the beginning of a pirouette.
- The arms come together to add to the momentum of the turn as the left leg snaps to coupé.
- The body has to stay connected—the shoulders and hips must travel together—in order to execute this movement well. This is true for all turns, but especially true for coupé-jeté en tournant.
- The coupé builds momentum that will allow the jeté to sail along a curvilinear pathway.
- At the end of the turn, the weight is transferred to the left leg in demi-plié. The right leg sweeps straight out to initiate the jeté.
- The jump lands on the right leg. It’s possible to move right into another coupé-jeté en tournant or into another step entirely.
Here’s what I tend to do wrong when doing tombé-coupé-jeté en tournant.
- I tombé into some weird 2.5iéme kind of position instead of a clean 2nd.
- I fail to keep my hips and shoulders together.
- I try to come out of the turn at coupé to soon.
- I sometimes snap the leg up as one would in saut de chat instead of sweeping it straight up.
- I rond the leading leg in the jump to compensate for exiting the turn too early.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I did do about a million slow-motion coupé-jetés on my living room carpet while trying to work all of this out.
Anyway, now I know what I’m doing wrong, so I should have a better time getting it all sorted.
In the meantime, here’s a really good video that demonstrates coupé-jeté en tournant. I should probably note that I’ve only watched it with the sound off, so I have no idea what it sounds like 😛
In which Ballet Theater of Indiana identifies “The Nine Insufferable People You Meet Auditioning.”
Got to “the intimidation stretcher” and just about died. Yup, that’s me (though it’s usually unintentional, like, “Welp, not sure what to do with myself right now,def don’t want to make eye contact with with strangers, soooooooo… *attaches leg to head*”).
Sorry about that.
I should get back to homemakering now.
On Sunday, I banged out what turned out to be a kind of very rough first draft of the choreography for an upcoming Lyra performance that opens with a bunch of ballet.
I video-ed the initial draft choreography and discovered that, at least for me, video is a really useful tool for the choreographic process. It let me analyze my own dance from an audience perspective (only one: the person sitting at the corner of audience R, heh), which in turn helped me figure out what worked and what needed to change.
Today, I worked the ballet part again, and I think I’ve resolved some of the problems I ran into with the first draft — particularly the excessive repetition and the fact that I’d boringly choreographed everything down the same diagonal and back.
I didn’t record video today, but instead wrote the choreo down by hand. This is progress; I used to have trouble doing that because I couldn’t always figure out what to call intermediate things.
Now I just write “step through in coupé” (or short-hand “step thru coupé) or whatever best describes the action if it doesn’t have a really discrete name.
Also, I no longer get my Eighty-Seven Cardinal Directions of Ballet confused (thanks to Company B), which makes it soooooo much easier to write out the instructions.
I just realized, though, that for some reason I dropped one of my favorite sequences (your traditional:
pique arabesque – chassée – tour jeté – something else
…So maybe I’ll put it back in on the next iteration, with or without the interesting little pivot that kept appending itself to the landing of the tour jeté.
That said, I also added a tombé – pas de bourrée – glissade – Pas de Chat Italien into a balance à la seconde.
This iterative process feels very comfortable, which surprises me.
As a choreographer, I’m apparently quite happy to just bang out a very rough initial draft.
By contrast, as a writer, my initial drafts tend to feel pretty finished because I work into the diction and sound and feeling and imagery of the writing so much.
This means that my initial drafts as a writer take foreeeeeeeeevar, while an initial choreographic draft can be accomplished in a few minutes for a short piece (obviously, you’re not going to choreograph a 3-act ballet in 10 minutes, unless each act is like one minute long).
I think we have another Open Fly session tonight, so I might shoot some video of the second draft of my choreography, and possibly also the lyra choreography, if I’m feeling up to it.
Maybe this time I’ll remember to bring an external speaker so I can have video and sound AT THE SAME TIME!!! O.O
I think I will, in time, post my various iterative videos here. I haven’t ported the first two (both first-draft videos, but recorded in two separate phrases) over to the YouTubes yet, though.
In other news, yesterday’s rest day went well, and I learned that one of my favorite dancers and instructors is also an incredibly good cook. Like, somehow, in the midst of teaching and rehearsing and generally being amazing, he also found time to make two really good pie crusts from scratch and fill them with amazing savory pies also from scratch.
I already knew that he was a really lovely human being … only, now I’m not so sure that’s accurate.
Specifically I am not entirely sure he’s actually a human being; he might really be a unicorn in elaborate biped drag.