First, apologies for falling off the radar for a minute. The past couple of weeks have been, in a word, bizzzaayyyyyyyyy
Anyway! I’m back, at least for the moment.
Normally, at this point, my company would be a week or so into rehearsals for New Works, which is our usual first show of the year. Instead, we haven’t even started yet, because it’s #2020 and everything is CRAY.
Instead of a normal season, this year we’re doing Video Nutcracker Extravaganza! (that’s not its actual title) and … that’s it. Unless a miracle occurs.
So it’s September, we’re not even officially back in the studio until thw 28th, and I’m rehearsing Drosselmeyer all by myself. C’est “la vie 2020”, mes amis!
As ever, I’m recording video so I can fix myself. In that light, here’s an example of glaring hypocrisy in the form of me, dancing:
Okay, so: if you know that I’m mid-fouetté, here, this probably looks mostly fine at first glance. That standing leg could be a touch more turned out (okay, okay—it could be turned out at all), but the shoulders are down, engaged, and essentially square to the hips, and the lines are pretty nice.
Oh, and my feet are nice, because of course they are. They’re the only reliable part of my body. I mean, seriously, dat demi-pointe, doe. Dat arch 😍
Not too shabby, you might think.
Alas, friends! Were it but so!
Sadly, as almost-lovely as this moment is, in the very next second, I decouple my rib cage from my pelvis and failli without turning my hips all the way. Given that the next thing I have to do is run-run-tour de Basque directly across the stage, it makes for an awkward transition.
You know what the main cause of this subtle-but-powerful trainwreck is?
If you’re having trouble with arabesque, piqué arabesque, and fouetté arabesque, ask yourself, “Am I watching myself in the mirror?”
If the answer is yes:
We all want to see our arabesques, etc. We want to know:
- How high is my leg?
- What exactly are my arms doing?
- How are my lines?
Those are all good questions.
Staring into the mirror won’t answer them.
When we watch ourselves closely in the mirror, we create faults that might not otherwise occur.
We find ourselves arabesque-ing on an open hip, with unsquare everything.
We fouetté the upper body only 3/4s of the way and the hips only 1/2 way, and failli onto a parallel leg.
This is because the eyes lead the body.
If you’re ever skiing or riding a bike and find yourself inexorably drawn into the gravitational field of an obstacle, with which you then collide, congratulations! You’ve successfully demonstrated the very same phenomenon!
(Sidebar: Ugh. Sometimes it’s blisteringly obvious that I’m a child of the Participation Trophy Era and grew up with computers shouting things like, “Congratulations! You have successfully closed this file!”)
Likewise, if you find yourself riding a beautiful 20 meter circle on a dressage horse, it’s the same thing.
In the first case, you’re looking directly at the obstacle in an effort to avoid it, and because your body follows your eyes and your skis or bike follow your body, you crash into the thing you’re trying to miss.
In the second, you’re looking where you want your horse to go, and this subtly shifts your shoulders and hips in a way that tells the horse what to do. This is why good dressage riders and their well-trained horses appear to communicate through telepathy.
In the studio, the same principle applies. If you stare at yourself in the mirror, you’ll usually leave your hips and shoulders more open than they should be.
In a proper arabesque, the hips and shoulders are SQUARE and LEVEL.
- For arabesques above 90 degrees, it may be necessary to open the gesture hip slightly. This is why we first work on low arabesques: you must know the biomechanical rules in order to know exactly how much you can break them.
If they’re not, your body has to work much, much harder to maintain balance, placement, and turnout.
But, wait! There’s more! 😭
There’s another problem here.
If you look very closely at the photo of my fouetté, you’ll notice that I’m not in a crossed position. I’m in the infamous “secabesque,” with my gesture leg at like 4:00 instead of crossed to 6:00
This is because I failed to establish the position before making it move.
Just as it’s incredibly difficult to manage a clean, controlled turn from a preparation which your back leg is wide of the centerline, it’s nearly impossible to fouetté correctly if your preparation is wrong (and impossible to correct from there if you also stare into the mirror).
Here’s another example:
Technically, the Apollo jump is a variant of sauté-fouetté. While I can’t argue that this one doesn’t look impressive, I should’ve begun from a preparation facing de côte so at the peak of the jump (the moment captured here) my hips would be facing the de côte in the opposite direction, rather than en face. (In the Apollo jump, as opposed to a standard sauté-fouetté, you open the shoulders towards the audience and arch your body towards the gesture leg).
I should note that, in the case of the Drosselmeyer rehearsal pic, the fault is partly the result of not having actually decided whether an arabesque half-turn or a fouetté was a better idea here.
I have considerable leeway to modify this section of the rôle, where I’m Magicking All The Things prior to the Midnight scare scene, and I hadn’t yet clearly thought through the best way to accomplish this floaty change of direction.
The result is kind of a weird hybrid; a fouettabesque, if you will, that hasn’t decided who to be in life. I’ll have to try doing both—but not at the same time—and see which works better.
The photo proves the rule, btw, that a still shot can be beautiful even if everything that follows is it a complete mess. This is why we should try not to let Instagram get us down. With the exception of the occasional hilariously awkward trapeze video, I mostly post only things that look good, and even then, those pics don’t tell the whole story.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video tells the truth (or, well, more of the truth: video, too, can be deceptive!).
This is why I highly recommend, if at all possible, taking advantage of the powerful tool that is your smartphone’s video camera.
Record video so you won’t be as tempted to try to watch yourself in the mirror. It’s also super helpful for understanding the difference between what your body feels like it’s doing and what it’s actually doing, which can be rather startling. It won’t replace that guidance of a good teacher, but it will help you dial in your technique.
And it’ll also grant you the gift of absolutely hilarious moments like this one:
Join us next time when, I guess, we discuss how to walk off the stage without looking like either a blithering idiot (my default) or a smoldering idiot (see photo above)!
If you said, “By winding up my arms and then flinging them,” erm … really, that’s an entirely different post. I mean, I’m not sure how to break this to you, but, like…
…I mean, that might be a thing in some kinds of modern, but really, you don’t need to do that in ballet, and your teacher will yell at you a lot less if you stop.
Moving right along!
If you answered, “By turning,” you’re probably someone like me, who is much better at doing physical things than at thinking about physical things (and, like me, you might be prone to the Centipede’s Dilemma). I mean … like, to be entirely honest, if you’d asked me a while back how I power my turns, I would’ve A] done some kind of turn in an attempt to figure it out, then B] shrugged and said, “Honestly, I have no idea.”
I have since had the opportunity to discuss this in class several times, and have realized that there are several factors involved, one of which is my shoulder and back.
- Which is to say, been forced on pain of receiving The Look…
I mean, think about it. How do you a fouetté? You basically flip your back around. First it’s on one side; then it’s on the other side. Your legs just, like, basically stay where they are, though the free leg has to turn over. Neato!
- Not the en tournant/Black Swan kind. Just the, “Your toe is a key; stick it in the lock and turn it without actually doing a flip” kind.
- Sauté fouetté uses the same mechanics, btw. Ideally, your free leg should maintain a steady altitude, which looks pretty dazzling when done correctly.
The video above isn’t the best possible example, since you don’t even remotely need to be on pointe to do this and the mechanics allow you to start from a static balance (which would make for a much clearer video), but it gets the basic point across. TBH, though, I searched for like 30 whole seconds and all the other videos I turned up were for fouetté en tournant.
Obviously, it’s a given that flipping your back around is going to happen in any turn.
The funny thing, though, is that many of us never really bother to think about it. We get as far as holding our bodies together and then just … let physics take care of things, I guess?
Anyway, Mr. Reuille pointed out today (or was it yesterday?) that you have to bring your back around, and more the point, you have to imagine bringing it around faster for every single rotation within any given turn. So if you’re doing a triple, you’re not thinking, “One … two … three…” so much as, “One … two,three!”
In ballet turns, the back, shoulder, and hip travel together. (This isn’t always the case in modern turns, precisely—if you’re turning and spiraling at the same time, for example, the principle continues to operate along similar lines, but it feels very different.)
They carry the momentum of the turn—if you think about it, there’s a whole lot of mass there.
In an en dehors turn, the inside of the standing leg actively resists that momentum: otherwise, the free knee will happily collapse in towards the center, and you’ll wind up with one of those parallel jazz turns.
Which … I mean. They’re great, but they’re not ballet.
In an en dedans turn, the inside of the standing leg goes with the momentum, so the free leg resists against it. This is, I realize, another reason I’m better at en dedans turns than en dehors turns. The adduction is not so strong with this one. I’m working on it, okay?
Anyway, in either case, if you think about bringing the shoulder-hip complex around ahead of your spot, you might find that you get more and better turns.
Predictably, I do this well at some times and horribly, terribly, or not at all at other times. This is another part of the reason that my turns are so bleeding inconsistent.
- …Combined with my bizarre back-leaning posture, wacko spot, and apparently counter-evolutionary preference for falling backwards rather than forwards … is this possibly a People Who Wear Glasses Thing, or is this just me???
At any rate, I ended class only owing Mr. Reuille 5 push-ups (for hopping out of a turn), which he kindly did not collect, and in the midst of receiving a correction did a very nice fouetté from first arabesque to attitude devant that resulted in a dead stable balance. And that owed largely to just bringing my ding-dang-darn back around faster.
So, like, there’s hope for even the worst parts of my ballet technique, I guess.
Anyway, if you’re having issues with turns that wobble or wander or just don’t have enough moxie, and you’re not sure where to find more chutzpah (did you know that chutzpah can be translated as “audacity?”), maybe you could try starting with this thing and see if it helps. Assuming, of course, that A] you’re snapping your free leg to a turned-out passé and B] you’re not leaning back like certain idiots who write blogs about ballet on the innertubes.
Merde, and let me know if it works out.
I didn’t do Modern T’s class this morning because I had a scheduling conflict, so I went to M. BeastMode’s evening class today.
We were all just coming back from Spring Break, so M. BeastMode went easy-ish on us (which meant class was pretty relaxed, for me; M. BeastMode’s class at its hardest is still only about half as physically grueling as Ms. B’s Killer Class).
Barre was great. Everything went beautifully at barre. I worked on the let it happen principle, and suddenly my fondues, developpés, and grand battements were beautiful, high (or, as required, low and elastic), and really effortless.
Ditto turns, as a general rule. Fine and effortless, mostly. Turns from fifth are back; turns from fourth are trending towards reliable doubles again.
We did a quarter turn-half turn-full turn combo that was perfectly intuitive as long as you didn’t think, but went straight to Helena Handbasket (good ol’ Ms. Handbasket, heh) if you second-guessed yourself or started thinking. Mostly, though, I acquitted myself beautifully doing turns.
Ditto across the floor, at first. We did a cool combination that I am now nearly unable to remember, but it was set to a tango, and the goal was to focus on economy of movement. Since this is a thing I’m working on anyway, that was great.
Then we did another thing across-the-floor, and it just … I don’t know. There was a renversé. I love renversé, and I can do it quite well, and did beautiful renversés while marking the combination … and then, for some reason, when actually dancing it, my body kept insisting that the step in question should be fouetté, even though there was no fouetté in the combination.
I didn’t work that part out until after class, though. I just knew that something cray kept happening to my beautiful renversé moment.
This is what happens when I don’t go first and don’t mark all the way through the combo while the first group (or, in this case, groups) are going because I’m afraid of kicking somebody or getting in the way.
So, um, yeah. I shall work on that. It is getting a heck of a lot easier to pick up combinations, though (honestly, picking up almost any ballet combo seems like a breeze after a complex modern combo — not because modern is harder, but because ballet is my “first language”).
After, I ordered most of the remaining parts for our trapeze costumes (which should double for ballet stuff, later; it looks like things might be shaping up in terms of getting an adult students’ performing group together, but more on that later, as I don’t want to screw it up by speaking too soon).
Likewise, it would seem that I now have a choral performance iron in the fire for next year, which is great — not something that will require a year-long commitment, but something I’ll enjoy immensely.
So that was Monday. I’m super tired, so I’m off to bed.