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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).

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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.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Analyzing Last Night’s Class

I’ve been being lazy all morning and trying to finish Felice Picano’s Like People In History (and playing with AT&T uVerse’s Interactive Workout feature — we finally got uVerse in our neighborhood, so Denis made the jump), so I feel that I can take a few more minutes (or, you know, an hour and a half…) to avoid my homework and talk about ballet instead.

This morning, while waiting for my breakfast/lunch to finish microwaving cooking, I tried to run through some of the combinations from last night’s class, and I think I figured out part of the problem.

Besides the usual problem of putting changes of feet in places where they don’t belong (G-d bless Tawnee for noting that; because I don’t always realize I’m doing it until the next morning, and I was able to fix it a few times), I realized I made one enormous mistake: I kept sissoneing the wrong way.

So: when the combination went sissone devant, I kept going sissone derriere. The problem was in the translation: Tawnee initially gave us the counts in Ballet Frenglish, so it was “sissone front, sissone back,” etc., which is totally valid, but somehow my brain decided that “sissone front” meant that the, um, kicky leg* goes forward.

Even though I freaking well know better.

In case you’re wondering, “sissone front” doesn’t mean your kicky leg goes forward. It just doesn’t, y’all. When you sissone devant, you sissone to the front. This means that your back leg is the one that makes a pretty, pointy reachy gesture — and it does so to the freaking rear. Your front leg, meanwhile, kind of points downish, like this:

Obviously, your arms and core shouldn't quite look like this -- but presumably you have bones in your arms and spine, which makes things much easier.

Obviously, your arms and core shouldn’t quite look like this — but presumably you have bones in your arms and spine, which makes things much easier. Edit: obviously, you should also maintain your turnout. I was a bit lazy with my image modification software, apparently O.O

So every time everyone else sproinged** forward, I sproinged backward, and vice-versa (amazingly, nobody crashed, probably because Brienne, who was taking class with us, was behind me and is a genius). And somehow failed to understand why I was doing this. And, of course, having done it once or twice, I fell into Stupid Zombie Robot mode and did it a bunch of times. Seriously, there are times that I totally know I’m Doin’ It Rong, but somehow can’t stop myself***. Does this happen to other people?

And now I totally get it: my brain was still in barre mode! So when Tawnee said “front,” my brain interpreted it as it would “tendu front” or “close front” — front leg reaches — and so on and so forth.

I am actually rather pleased with this revelation, because I think it probably explains a lot of the bizarre things I do from time to time in ballet class. I definitely have a bit of language-action disconnect in general, and I hadn’t really thought about how it applies to ballet.

So, anyway. That’s something I’ll have to think about and work on.

Notes
*In sissones, the kicky leg — that’s the technical term, I am sure — is Very Important.
**Also totally a technical term.
***My first memorable experience of being stuck in Auto-Rong mode? I was maybe nine or ten and was riding Marquis, the horse that I leased, in the ring at my barn. I had just dismounted, and some loud noise happened. Marquis panicked and bolted, and even though I knew that chasing a horse was a completely stupid idea, my body automagically gave chase while my brain went, “NONONONONONO! Don’t chase him, stupid!” I literally could not stop myself from chasing Marquis. Nor could I explain the concept when my riding teacher (very reasonably) chewed me out about it; in fact, I didn’t even try.

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