Category Archives: technical notes

A Very Brief Thought On Double Tours

Something I can’t recall just made me think about a jump we used in Orpheus. 

It was a variant on the barrel turn that traveled through the air: you launched yourself facing one direction, then tucked the knees as you turned in the air to face back where you started. That is to say, it resembled a barrel turn, but the axis of the turn was vertical (meaning that you execute it horizontally … this is all quite confusing, written out like this, isn’t it?).

The overall effect was that of gliding through space, pivoting as you go.

Which is, if you think about it, very like a tour as well, excepting the fact that tours don’t travel[1]. Or, well, they shouldn’t, and they try not to.

  1. Clearly, this is why the Tour de France is always in France[2] and not, for example, Costa Rica.
  2. The fact that it travels around France is completely immaterial, and if you disagree with me, you’re wrong, so there 😛

Anyway, I never had the least bit of trouble executing that given turny jump, which we’ll call a “floating barrel” because it amuses me. Indeed, it was quite easy enough to milk it for an extra revolution and a half, since you had a great deal of time as you sailed sideways through the air. 

What made executing that jump so painless was simply that one executed it as three basic steps:

  • launch
  • sail
  • turn

Just now, I realized that I have, in point of fact, probably been screwing myself out of a solid double tour by conceiving of it as this rather desperate one-step process:

  • jumpturnohg-d

It might, in fact, help immensely if I thought of it just as I thought of our floating barrel:

  • launch
  • then turn

I am going to have to try this. Between that and not throwing my head back (which has never improved anybody’s ballet technique), I’m hoping I’ve got this licked.

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Petit Allegr*oh!*

On the balance (see what I did there? :P), class went well today.

I felt a bit asleep at the wheel for the first half of barre, then found myself able to count with my brain but not with my feet, then finally got it all working at once, so by the time we came to center I was wide awake.

We had a lovely adage that looked like it would begin croisée right but in fact shifted immediately to the left instead—one picked up the back foot and turned the hips, devloppéed to the front, then lifted up and through into first arabesque before closing back and developpéing the front leg to écarté. From there, if I remember correctly, it closed back, shifted the facing again, extended to third arabesquefondu-ed to attitude, came around via tour lent (aka promenade[1]) just to the opposite corner, fondu-ed to allongé, came through pas de bourrée to fourth, turned en dehors, and began again on the opposite side.

  1. Killer B goes by the definitions in which it’s only promenade when partnered, which I also prefer.

I might be missing something, but it was a really nice combination. The constant shifts in facing meant you couldn’t let your body get behind you: on the first run, second side I did, and wondered why everything felt so heavy and awful. I fixed it on the repeat, and it was like magic.

The real magic, though, was our petit allegro—nothing complicated, just:

glissade
jeté
temps levée
petit assemblé
glissade
assemblé
sissone
sissone

…but the first time it felt heavy and disconnected.

Then Killer B said, “Think of each jump as preparation for the next jump,” and a little lightbulb turned on in my head.

We ran it again, and suddenly it felt light, free, and easy. I found myself inhabiting the physical memory of doing petit allegro as a kid. That, you guys, was a profound pleasure.

For what it’s worth, it’s not that I didn’t know that petit allegro should be done this way. There are many things that we, as dancers, may know intellectually without really knowing them. I hadn’t realized that I was executing each step of each petit allegro as A. Separate. Entity. Unrelated. To. The. Next.

But I was. And the times that petit allegro has felt good? Those were the times that I forgot myself, got out of my own way, and did it right anyway. The times that I let myself dance.

So, strangely enough, it seems as if maybe I don’t actually hate petit allegro. I certainly didn’t hate it today. In fact, to be honest, I kind of loved it.

We also learned how to correctly execute temps levée battu from jeté (presumably also battu): assuming that you’re not doing the weird reverse jeté that closes coupé devant, you spring off the leg you’ve just landed on, beat front as if in sous-sus in the air, then bring the working leg back to coupe as you land.

THIS LOOKS REALLY COOL.

Honestly, it’s one of things that always blows my mind when I fire up the YouTurbos and watch the Royal Danish Ballet.

In fact, here:

This clip is supposed to start at 0:55, where two of the boys break out that beautiful Danish petit allegro that always seems, to me, like a visual representation of the song of a canary. It might not start there for you (the preview keeps starting at the very beginning), but if it doesn’t, that’s where the really impressive bit takes off.

In other news, I had this very intense dream in which I smelled smoke and thought the house was on fire, but it turned out that someone was burning a stubbled field just down the road. I wasn’t myself—I was some random blond boy living in a farmhouse with my sisters, and we were all very afraid until we understood what was happening.

I woke to the persistent smell of smoke, but not “the house is on fire” smoke—more like that scent of burning dust that you get when you fire up your forced-air furnace for the first time in any given winter, but much, much stronger than usual, and much more persistent.

It turned out that what I was smelling was the bearings of the furnace fan burning themselves out.

D, fortunately, knows how to fix stuff like that. I continue to be impressed with him. In all honesty, while I sometimes enjoy lifting heavy things (like other human beings or myself), I am Not That Gay Guy. (And, yes, if you’re wondering, that was definitely a consideration when we were courting. He had me at “I can do most plumbing and electrical work myself.”)

So as I write, D is replacing the fan in the furnace that blows the hot air around so I can get out of bed with only two shirts and a hoodie on instead of with three shirts, a hoodie, and a parka (because we both refuse to turn the temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit but I’m a dancer so I get cold).

Speaking of dancers, back to the Royal Danish. There are some lovely moments in the coupled petit allegro that immediately follows the boys’ little variation wherein they’re folding and unfolding their legs in this way that is, for some reason, one of the things I love most about ballet. I love ballonés, ballottés, and temps de cuisse in part because they employ these folding-and-unfolding sequences, and so often when I catch sight of myself in class and thing, “Ah, I look like a dancer right now,” it’s in the midst of some developpé or balloné or ballotté.

If, by the way, you could use a little guidance on the difference between balloné and ballotté, Ballet Webb has a good, short article on exactly that.

Needless to say, the technicalities of ballotté are high on BW’s nitpick list. It drives him crazy when he catches us doing ballonés instead.

~

PS: I used the heck out of the “Look! A Foot!” cheat during the sissones. It worked like a charm, though then I got excited and kept sissone-ing to like 90 degrees. Mental note: CALM DOWN, IT’S PETIT ALLEGRO!!!

Look, A Foot!

I was maybe seven when I first learned how to sissone.

I assume that I learned what to do with my arms, because frankly my childhood ballet teacher was not about to let you get away with not learning the arms at all. I might not have regarded them as particularly important, but that didn’t mean I could entirely weasel out of using them, either.

Regardless, I’ve effectively been doing sissones off and on for, like, basically my entire life.

And yet!

…And yet, I persist in forgetting what the heck to do with my arms—by which I mean, really, basically everything above hip level when doing those sproingy little petit allegro sissones.

Anyway, today’s petit allegro was all about the sissones. Like:

sissone à droit
sissone à gauche
sissone
simple[see note]
assemblé (petit)
repeat
tombé-coupé assemblé (medium)
other side

On the first run, I struggled with the timing. I realized that was due to the fact that my weight was always in the wrong place—and, in turn, that my weight was always in the wrong place because I was doing the wrong freaking thing with my arms.

So I sucked it up and queried the BG, who said, “Just look at your foot–like, you’re showing off your foot, especially if you’ve got those crazy ABT feet like you do. It’s like, ‘Look, a foot!'”

Sissone

Here’s a highly-accurate technical diagram to help you out.

You’ll notice that the arms are in a configuration that is effectively the opposite of the one you use with jeté: if you brush your right foot out, your right arm will be in first (or, potentially, even en bas) while your left arm will be in something like second allongé.

This means that your body inclines slightly towards your working (in this case, right) leg, which basically gets you out of your own way, which in turn allows you to execute the choreography faster.

You guys, so much of petit allegro is basically just getting the heck out of your own way.

The other thing that this particular port de bras accomplishes is to sustain the element of surprise that makes sissone such a delightful step[1, 2].

  1. Temps de cuisse employs this same element of surprise and, unsurprisingly, essentially the same port de bras.
  2. Thisi s actually the source of the second problem I have with sissones. If there’s literally even one other person in class who has a better sissone than I do, I can’t stop being surprised and delighted. It’s very distracting.

One hopes that one will also create better-looking lines than my poor stick figure there. Ironically, stick figures aren’t always great at lines, even though they’re literally made of lines.

Also, I’mma have to admit that I interfered with my stick figure’s lines by being too lazy to draw him with any incline through the body (his shoulder’s also failing to épaule correctly). So, yeah. My bad, Danseur de Bâton.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that, for your garden-variety petit allegro sissone, the standard port de bras counterbalances your lower body.

And if you’re having trouble remembering how to achieve that effect, all you have to do is think, “Look! A Foot!”

A Note on Sissone Simple
Sissone simple has been a source of confusion to more than one dancer. It helps if you think of it not in the most frequently-used sense of the word “simple” (as in, easy: “It’s simples, silly!”), but in a more technical sense: like a simplex versus a complex.

All sissones are jumps from two feet to one foot. This variant is simple in the sense that it’s essentially a single piece: you spring off of two feet and bring whichever leg is the working leg to coupé, and you leave it there as you land on the other foot. You see it quite a lot in the Bournonville style.

Compare this with your garden-variety sissone (ouvert or firmé), in which you either plié and simultaneously brush one leg out whilst springing off the other or a spring off two feet through a soubresaut, then open one leg straight out (this one shows up in most versions of Albrecht’s variation).

Technical Notes: Cambré Derrière

Yesterday, I posted this picture of my “Itty Bitty[1] Cambré Committee” cambré derrière:

img_20171009_193603-1476583910.jpg

Now with 110% more Hair Floop

I shot it in our bathroom, and I wasn’t exactly attempting excellent technique[2], but I figured I’d go ahead and make an example of myself anyway.

  1. My usual cambré derrière is pretty deep—like, shoulderblades-parallel-to-floor deep, basically. This is, more techically, a really bad high release. My modern teacher would poke me in the ribs.
  2. To wit: it’s surprisingly hard, actually, to hold the mobi in one hand and execute  cambré derrière with the other arm en bas, or wherever the hell my arm actually was (maybe I left it in the other room?). I should at least have gone for what BG calls the “Margot Fonteyn,” with the free arm in a nice, languid romantic fourth.

You can’t see much of my back, here, but I can tell you based on the fact that my ribs aren’t locked down that I’m doin’ it rong.

rainbowdash-doin-it-wrong

Listen to Rainbow Dash. She knows what she’s talking about. (PS: I am now going to use this as a featured image for the rest of my Technical Notes series :D)

That said, I’m not going to focus on my back (in no small part because so little of it is visible): instead, I’m going to focus on One Weird Trick… erm, I mean, one key point about cambré back that I’m demonstrating all the way wrong, here, and that’s this:

Avoid The Dreaded Noodle Neck =:O

When you first start learning cambré back (formally: cambré derrière), your teacher will almost certainly tell you to bring your working arm to fifty-third … I mean third … I mean fifth … ah, feck it, en haut and to turn your face towards its elbow before you begin to bend your back.

This is not solely because it looks cool, though it does. In fact, turning the head towards the working arm serves a practical purpose—it’s mostly a preventive measure.

What, then, does it prevent?

Glad you asked. What it prevents, my gentle reader, is the dreaded Noodle Neck.

cambre-back-wrong-annotated

Just Can’t Even

“Noodle neck” may or may not be a technical term I laboriously translated from the Russian (шея лапшой … okay, okay, so I just ran “noodle” and “neck” through Google Translate and swapped the order because Assumptions About Grammar). Regardless, it’s a kind of “indicator species” fault that suggests a whole litany of problems further down the chain.

Simply put, it refers to the habit of letting one’s neck arch (or “crunch”) when performing the cambré back.

As you can now easily see thanks to my use of Ultra-Modern Technology[3], in the photograph above, my neck is definitely arched (Even though my head is turned! I’m talented, y’all.).

  1. AKA MSPain(t)

Instead of continuing to pull up through the crown of my head, I’m flopping languidly about like the heroine of some outdated romance novel, presumably waiting for the nobell laird to decide he’s had enough of murdering the MacAuleys and come ravage me instead. Or, um. Something like that.

Not to say languidity doesn’t have a place in the art of ballet. It totally does. If you’re not sure, the next time the Bolshoi does La Dame aux Camélias in its HD broadcast series, you should really go see it. The Bolshoi really knows how to get its languid on, and there’s a lot of opportunity for “languiding” (as a friend of mine from CirqueLouis calls it) in that particular ballet.

However! In cambré derrière, one must languid judiciously. It’s poor form to let the head dangle, and besides, it usually means you’re not really engaged all the way down (QV my embarassingly-splayed ribs).

Noodle Neck is also often a sign that one is attempting to initiate or artificially deepen one’s cambré by crunching the neck rather than lifting up through the full range of motion—which, in my experience, usually results from not actually knowing how to execute cambré derrière in the first place.

If you’re wondering what cambré derrière should actually look like, here:

cambre-back

Via Google; source sadly unidentified. Also, I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not the only one who makes that exact face during cambré derrière at the barre.

There may be some small measure of Noodle Neck happening, there, but overall it’s quite a good cambré derrière.

You’ll notice that our intrepid danseur‘s ribs aren’t sticking out like jocks at a fandom convention, and that you can draw a smooth arc from his hip through the top of his head with no precipitous drop-off near the top. There is no “crunching” at any point along the way—speaking of which, a “crunch” most often shows up in the lower back or the neck (or, distressingly, both at the same time). I, on the other hand, like to crunch at the point right where the ribs end, because I’m special.

Both BG and BW would, of course, yell at notre danseur mystérieux for letting his hips drift forward of his feet—but it’s better, in cambrés as a whole, to drift forward than backward.

Ultimately, although turning the head to look at the elbow is a useful shortcut when one is beginning to learn cambré derrière, only technique will prevent Noodle Neck.

What, then, is the technique in question?

Simple (HA! note that I did NOT say “easy”):

  • Lift
    THEN
  • Arc

You should not, at any point, cease to lift through the very tippity-top of your head (or, if you will, your “cheetah eyes“). Sure, if you’re flexible, you can do a full-on back bend just by flopping over backwards—but a floppy backbend is a recipe for injury in the long run. It also isn’t ballet.

“Lift,” by the way, is really shorthand for “Engage All The Things!”

Cambré derrière looks like it happens from the top of the head, but the engagement involved runs all the way down to the floor.

The action of lifting comes primarily from the muscles of the core. (Sadly, though mine continue to try, the eyebrows have little to do with it.) There is not, in fact, an invisible hook in the top of your head; rather, you’re technically pushing up rather than pulling up. It just looks and feels like pulling up. As such, I find it helpful to think in terms of lifting rather than pulling.

LWF describes the action of high-releases and cambrés derrières in terms of roller-coaster cars on a climb: the are lifted smoothly, each car drawing the next in its wake. All the cars remain connected, and they move together smoothly up the track.

You definitely do not want the lead car (that is, your head) to fall off the track. That’s a good way to get sued.

How, exactly, you wrangle all of this mentally in order to achieve the right process may vary—but I’ll be happy to blether on about the mental image that works for me (the one that I patently did not execute in the picture above):

  • Lift through the top of the skull whilst sending the weight down through the heels (or, if on demi-pointe, through the appropriate metatarsals and toes)
  • Lift the sternum (without letting the shoulders creep up)[4]
  • Keep lifting THROUGH THE CORE until there is nowhere to go but back
  1. Convincing the sternum to act independently of the shoulders is one of the most difficult challenges for many new dancers. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out an effective way to explain in words exactly how to achieve this feat of human dexterity.

Because the human body is shaped the way it is, if you try to lift UP as you send your weight down, you will eventually be forced to bend your back through a smooth curve.

It’s that or tear yourself into two pieces, which never actually happens in ballet classes. Or, well … hardly ever.

So, in review, here are some things to know about cambré derrière:

  • Connect from the top of the head right down to the flooor
  • Send the weight DOWN
  • Lift the spine UP starting from the top of the head (NOT the back of the head)
  • Allow the body to carry itself over an imaginary roller-coaster climb
  • If you notice a point where you’re “crunched” in your spine, it usually reflects a point at which you’re disengaged in your core

One last note: a really deep cambré derrière demands both flexibility and strength. If you’re bendy by nature, but not particularly strong, do not be surprised if your cambré derrière is quite shallow at first.

This doesn’t mean you’ve lost your flexibility; just that you have a good teacher who allows you to take your cambré derrière only as far as you can support it correctly.

Don’t despair. Depth will come with time, as you develop the strength to support your inborn suppleness.

If, on the other hand, you’re strong but stiff, you will probably develop greater flexibility over time, but you probably won’t be surprised if your initial cambré derrière is nothing to write home about.

Chaines: Bring The Party (Side)

At Suspend, where I train in aerials, there’s a cute shorthand for differentiating one’s dominant side from one’s non-dominant side: we call the dominant (usually right) side the “business side” and the non-dominant (usually left) side the “party side.”

This means that if, for example, you start an exercise on your dominant side, when your instructor says, “…And, now let’s do the party side!” you’ll know what to do regardless of which side is which for you (or, if you’re a giant mess of cross-dominant feels like me, you’ll just do whichever one you didn’t already do).

I mention all this largely to apologize for the fact that I’m about to lamely use the same terminology to mean “something completely different,” as it were, all apologies to Cirque Volant du Monty Python.

and-now-for-something-completely-different-1

Shamelessly stolen via Teh G00gs.

Anyway, as you all know by now, I have what one might call a chequered past with regard to chaîné turns. I have been known to refer to them as “hell turns,” “devil turns,” and “Can’t we just leave that part out?”

In short, I used to hate chaîné turns avec le feu de mille soleils(1).

  1. That’s “with the fire of a thousand suns,” for those playing along in only one language, or at any rate in a pastiche of languages that doesn’t include French.

Then I learned, or possibly re-learned, to approach them from tombé and began to make peace with them (the fact that BW makes me do roughly a billion chaînés every class probably doesn’t hurt, either: that’s what happens when you have 90 minutes and only one student).

I’ve spent the last several months tweaking things: bringing the chest forward, doing away with the swayback bit, actually spotting at the same rate I’m turning, etc. All of this has greatly improved my relationship with the much-hated chaîné.

On this past Friday, BG added a really sound correction (given to the entire class) to the mix—one very similar, in fact, to that which Killer B gave me on my grand assemblé en tournant. BG said, in essence,

Don’t let the second side trail behind. Snap it around. Think about actively bringing the opposite shoulder and hip around.

It turns out that this helps immensely—but, as with almost everything in ballet, it requires that you’ve first laid down the groundwork.

In this case, the groundwork is cross-lateral activation. If you’ve got decent pirouettes and piqué turns, chances are good that you have the groundwork in place.

It just so happens, though, that we tend to forget to use it when doing chaînés, probably because we’re too busy grumbling to ourselves about how horrible they are.

Anyway, when you consciously think about bringing the trailing shoulder and hip along with you, which you do by activating the muscles that connect diagonally across your body, not only do you prevent the annoying swayback effect, but you also get faster turns with less effort.

So, really, while the term “chaîné” refers to the fact that you’re chaining together a series of turns, you can also think about it as if you’re chaining the trailing side of your body to the leading side, or perhaps better, activating the chains of muscles that connect across your body, as you turn.

I was actually quite surprised at how immediate and clear a difference this made for me: it got me a “Good, Asher!” from BG, which is always welcome (and, for once, did not immediately cause me to forget how to walk, let alone dance).

So, basically, if you think of your business side as the side that’s leading, make sure you intentionally bring the party side along with it: because all business and no party makes Jack terrible at chaînés. Or something like that.

One more semi-pro tip: I find it helpful to imagine that something is pushing my trailing side around from behind. For whatever reason, this helps me keep shoulders and hips (and, presumably, body and soul) together.

So, there you have it. My current bit of helpful advice for chaînés, which (as it turns out) are not beyond help after all.

I may not be quite as ridiculously fast at them as Rudolf Nureyev was, but dangit, I’m improving. So there.

~

PS: I am likely to be more or less incognito for a week or so. I have a Big Thing Happening, and I’m keeping my hecking mouth shut about it until it’s done, and might just kind of keep my big hecking mouth shut period for a bit and take a break from the written variety of Social Meteors.

This Mammoth Moment

Class was decent today.

My allergies were, as they have been, off the chain—but that’s par for the course, and no small part of the reason that I bother working on my cardio. The more fit my cardiovascular system is, the less it hates me when I can barely inhale because my nose and the back of my throat are full of goop but I dance anyway.

It wasn’t flat-out the best class I’ve had recently (that was Sunday, I think), but I still feel like every single day I make progress, which is something. Even last Thursday, when my allergies were so bad I thought my head would explode and I had to beg off of grand allegro (to my great and undying humiliation), I made progress.

After class, I reviewed Siegfried’s variation. I had meant to just mark it, but instead after the first phrase I found myself running it: contretemps-tombé-pas de bourrée-glissade-saut de chat, repeat. I was watching my port de bras and my turnout in the mirror and heading back to “stage left” suddenly I noticed that I was, as the song[1] goes, “Way up in the middle of the air,” without actually trying, in this surprisingly nice saut de chat.

  1. The song in question being “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel,” a folk song which I’d never heard until I met my last roommate, who used to sing it: Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up, way up, Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air.

Anyway, that saut de chat startled the heck out of me and I landed like a mammoth, but it’s really good to feel like I’ve regained the best of my “Terpsichorean powers[2],” so to speak.

  1. Why, yes, of course I’m referencing T.S. Elliot. Also, the musical Cats.

On the other hand, I don’t recommend landing like a mammoth even on good floors. I went back to marking, though with a little more vigor than your usual mark.

I also realized that I tend to fail to bring my second leg to the party when I do assemblés in the context of petit allegro.

I mean, it’s not that it doesn’t get there. It’s that I fail to really actively transport it. Like the first leg gets on the train, but the second one has to walk to the party.

I had somehow failed to notice that … no doubt in part because when I do grand allegro assemblés—especially porté—I really snap that puppy right the heck up there. But, in case you were wondering, petit allegro is not, in fact, grand allegro, only smaller,” no matter what its name might imply. It requires its own approach (they do it like nobody’s business in Copenhagen).

But, anyway, I haven’t been really pushing the second foot through the plié and snapping it up there, and Killer B schooled me over it this morning.

So Killer B’s advice is to think of glissade-assemblé as a compound word; a hyphenated phrase like tombé-pas de bourée, (or, if you’re a guy, tombé-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné). You have to really push the trailing leg through the bottom of the plié that’s sort of the hyphen so the momentum doesn’t get lost[3].

  1. When you lose the momentum, you wind up with two separate words, one of them mumbled: “Glissade. Assemblah.”

So I tried it, and wouldn’t you know, it worked like a charm.

So that’s today’s bit of technical advice. Since glissade-assemblé is a petit-allegro stock phrase, think of it with a hyphen and pushpushpush the second leg through the plié in the middle, so when it leaves the ground again all the momentum is there.

And use your plié. And use your plié. And use your plié.

Which, coincidentally, will also stop you landing your saut de chat like a mammoth, which you will appreciate when you’re seventy and haven’t yet had to put in new knees, or so I’ve heard.

~

On Monday I found myself reading some old posts in the bath (because reading in the bath is what I would do basically 90% of the time that I’m not dancing, if I had my way … well, that and swimming in the ocean).

It was surprising to look back on where I was only three and a half years ago: to realize that, really, I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing now—or maybe just a glimmer of the idea; something that felt like the vaguest of pipe dreams, I suppose.

It was weird to read the words, “If I ever get a chance to perform,” or however I phrased it. At the time, it seemed like gift one distantly hopes to receive: perhaps if I’m really good, someone will give me–no, not a pony, but maybe a hobby horse?

Now the chance to perform is something I pursue and lay hold of with both hands and create for myself. It’s something I am beginning not to feel weird about getting paid to do, like, “Maybe if I keep my head down they won’t notice that they’re paying me money for this.”

And yet I realize, still, that in a way the chance to live the life that I’m living right now is a gift—a gift, I suppose, I’ve worked hard to be worthy of, and will continue to work hard to be worthy of, but still one that depends upon the goodwill of so many people other than myself.

~

Friday, early, we leave for the Playa again.

This year, a group is staging The Rite of Spring. I’ve never seen it live, so I’m looking forward to that. Perhaps I can find other dancers and do class with them.

As for me and my camp, we’re doing Open Barre, with Mimosas, twice. Contact improv, twice. And all the other things that my camp does, but that’s what I’m in charge of. My gift to the Playa, along with whatever I wind up feeding people, as so often I do.

My feelings are mixed about going this year. I’m working, so that’s a challenge—learning the choreography at a distance will be interesting—and I’m afraid of coming back with a respiratory infection again. I’ll have to be careful this year.

But there are always things to be learned, and what was it I was saying about learning not to constantly try to control the outcomes?

So there it is. This is the outcome right now. I’m strung between two loyalties, but perhaps it’s okay. If things work out as I hope they will in the coming months, I most likely won’t be able to go to the Burn in 2018.

Because, as D told me so many times, there is something in the world for which I will sacrifice all other things—even Burning Man, as much as I love it.

When all this is over, the desert will be there still (unless we blow up the world before then, in which case it’s all a moot point anyway).

Back to Class: The Perversity of Petit Allegro

I took class on Monday and found that, although my feet and Achilles’ tendons were still a little tight, I was mostly functional. I even got some nice turns in.

As such, I hit the studio again tonight (didn’t make morning class because D’s truck overheated, so he needed my car, and I was too late to catch the bus) feeling fairly confident about things.

My confidence was, in fact, well-placed. Class was good, all things considered—I’m still a tad wheezy, but with adequate oceans of medication that stayed under control.

Anyway, tonight’s class was essentially built around petit allegro—not that we didn’t do anything else, because we absolutely did, but the ultimate goal was to improve our petit allegro by improving our use of pliés.

When we finally did get around to petit allegro, BG gave us a very, very helpful note: if the music is fast, focus on getting down into the floor with the pliés.

It’s counter-intuitive as all heck, but it works a treat. I am one of those people who can milk a fair bit of elevation out of a jump by brushing hard and really springing through the feet, so I don’t always use my deepest demi-plié in preparation.

This is not at all helpful in fast petit allegro combinations—it just takes too freaking long, especially when you factor in hyperextended knees and really flexible feet.

Turns out that if I get deep into my demi-plié, I can actually get there faster. I suppose it comes down to employing the entire bottom of the foot—I suspect that when I’m struggling with petit allegro, my heels are probably just skimming the ground when they should be doing some actual work.

Anyway, this feels revelatory, as things do of late. I’m going to have to practice the hell out of it in order to overcome a lifetime of attempting to do petit allegro the way I do grand battement.

Anyway, that’s it for now. In short: never be afraid to get down when it’s time to boogie.

LexBallet Intensive 2017: Days 2 & 3

Tuesday, after a fairly hard conditioning class and a not-difficult-but-demanding technique class, we began learning variations.

Wednesday, after a very restorative conditioning class and a lovely technique class, we continued with them. 

The girls are doing the Swans’ entrance scene. There are only four of them, so they have a lot of ground to cover, but they already looked pretty great at Tuesday night’s brief “show ‘n’ tell” session.

Meanwhile, my variation (one of the many versions of Seigfried’s) is a challenge in the small studio even though there’s only one of me—it’s packed with big leapy bits, all of which seem to land me precariously close to the walls when I do them full-speed. Thus, I wind up doing a lot of marking and semi-marking. There seem to be a lot of walls in that studio.

Still, I was quite happy with the sauté arabesque-balancé-tombé coupé jeté sequence last night (it varies from the video we’re using as a model, which involves a bunch of revoltades, which I still am not sure how to do on purpose). Also feeling better about Bournonville jeté, although I still tend to jump through my arms. We worked on that a lot last night.

I couldn’t remember about 20 seconds of the version that C taught me (which doesn’t have tours in it), and since I was working with J last night, we subbed in some tours just because. They feel a lot better this year—I’m figuring out how to use a relaxed plié in grand allegro instead of hanging onto tension, which makes a huge difference.

To be honest, though, just having another year under my belt also makes a huge difference. I don’t have to think about choreography anywhere near as much: I’m better at remembering chains of steps, instead of individual steps. That makes a huge difference.

Likewise, even though we don’t get to do grand allegro anywhere near as often as I would like at home (especially since BW is in Europe for the summer), there are a lot more steps I can do without having to think about them at this point.

The most invaluable corrections this far have been as follows:

  • In saut de chat, focus on travel rather than on elevation (the elevation takes care of itself)
  • In Bournonville jeté, imagine leaping over a hurdle. This imparts the graceful ballon that makes it such a nice leap.
  • Also in Bournonville jeté, think about reaching forward with the arms, then opening them. This both looks better and prevents me from hyperextending my back and shoulders, which screws up the momentum of the jump and looks weird (though probably okay in modern contexts?).

The central thing I’m taking away from this intensive is that I need to focus on one idea:

FORWARD.

I used to ride a horse with whom the same basic principle applied. You had to ride him forward, or he would just slope lazily around and pretend he didn’t know from dressage.

The highlight of last night was when I came in way too hot on the first tombé-coupé and instead of the standard jeté, it turned into something spinny and impressive whose name I don’t know. It’s definitely a thing—I’ve seen it in other variations—I’m just not sure which thing. I’ll have to see if I can find it in Tarasov when I get home. 

Anyway, J said, “Ooh, that was fancy!” Sadly, since I’m not actually sure how to do that particular thing on purpose, I’ll just have to file it away for now (with revoltades) and save it for some future date.

Last year, I think I was a bit wary of speed and power. I was forever doing Albrecht’s variation as if I had a check-rein on: behind the motion, without abandon. I was too busy thinking about the steps and trying to be precise, and I was definitely a little afraid of running myself over.

This year, I feel like I’ve made friends with speed and power, and when I get out of my own way, I can harness them. Confidence goes a long way!

In other news, my adductors are pretty sore, which is okay, since they’re one of the bits that need to be stronger. My beats look better for it, though in class yesterday I kept doing jeté battu on the wrong foot (wtf?) and decided to just do plain jeté like everyone else. I should try breaking out the entrechats sixes today. Quatres were nice yesterday.

Anyway, I should go do my laundry. I’m not going to walk down there this time; it’s 3 miles round-trip.

Tonight we polish up the variations; tomorrow we get to show them off.

Sissones, Petit Allegro Style

As you may know, petit allegro is not my forté.

As such, I ask all kinds of super-technical questions, like:

PLZ HALP.
HOW DO POTEET ALLERGO ZIZZONES LESS BAD?

Fortunately, LAA’s class is small enough that she’s had a chance to really analyze my (admittedly-wack) petit allegro calzone zizzone technique, and last night she gave me two incredibly helpful bits of advice:

  • Tone down the UP!!!!
    • In comparison with barre exercises, think of it as a jeté (accent in, if it helps you keep the adductors fully engaged) rather than as grand battement.
  • Add some side (that is, lateral travel).

So let’s revisit a screencap of me doing pantones sissones:

sissones-01

I’m the one with no feet on the ground.

This is me landing a pannetone sissone[1]. Technically, this was a medium allegro combination, but it was still wildly unnecessary for me to put that much elevation into that jump (and every single other jump in that combination).

  1. If you need a quick refresher, a sissone is a jump from two legs to one leg. A pannetone is a delicious sweet bread (not sweetbread, that’s something else) from Milan.

You can see that my working leg is up there (and turned out and pointed and effing winged, holy hell).

What you can’t see is that I did this entire sissone with very little lateral travel relative to the height of the jump.

You can probably calculate the apex height of the jump with some degree of accuracy. That should give you an idea of why I’m always and forever behind when tasked with sissones in settings other than grand allegro (ideally at “men’s tempo,” which tends to be slow in order to allow for lots of elevation and ballon).

I’ve probably been doing petit allegro sissones this way for quite a while: I think, “Make it smaller,” and respond by making it not go anywhere but UP.

Technically speaking, sissones aren’t really traveling jumps (which is to say that they’re not leaps, basically). Laterally speaking, you shouldn’t go very far in a sissone—but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go anywhere at all.

If you tone down your elevation and allow for a little lateral travel, your petit allegro sissone tends to become the light, lovely little spring that it’s supposed to be, and you don’t get behind the music and find yourself receiving epic side-eye from the poor schmuck attempting to dance next to you.

When I approach them this way, I can make my petit allegro sissones small and light enough to practice them in my kitchen without fear of whacking my feet or shins on things (my kitchen is tiny; the struggle is real). Coincidentally, that also means they’re quick enough to use in those horrible, fast petit allegro combinations universally despised[2] by those of us who are built for grand allegro.

  1. Or at least despaired over…

One more thing: if your hips are ridiculously flexible like mine are, you’ll also want to think about opening  the working leg straight to the side or even a little ahead.

The flexibility of my hips lets me put my legs kind a quite far back in a turned-out second, which can make closing back to 5th to prepare for the next jump really slow and do weird things to the path of the sissone, which should be diagonal.

Coincidentally, I have to think about the same thing when doing grand pirouettes: keep the working leg engaged a few degrees forward of dead-to-the-side, or things become unwieldy because physics.

Temps-Lié: Some Thoughts

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