Tag Archive for Ballet

Do You Have a Plum?

In teaching ballet to adults, I don’t expect the new beginners to know any terminology or basic concepts. They are, after all, new. However, I am surprised with the former dancers who are not even a little bit familiar with them. I chalk this up to the American dance studio style of teaching ballet, which has a lot of demonstration and individual correction, but not much explanation of the concepts behind the dance. One of most important concepts (if not THE most important) is aplomb. Are you dancing with aplomb?

This is a plum.

This is a plum.

When I say this to my students they smile uncomfortably and blink at at me. I’m fairly certain they think I’m talking about a plum.

In English, we are most familiar with the word aplomb meaning to have confidence, composure or self-assurance. Certainly ballet dancers need that. But that’s pretty vague. How do you teach self-assurance? And that’s not really what we’re getting at when we talk about aplomb in ballet anyway.

It’s not?!

ballet-alignment-2Nope. Because ballet terminology isn’t English. It’s French! And aplomb comes from the Middle French “a plomb,” which means “perpendicularity” (merriam-webster.com). Focusing on this notion of aplomb as perpendicular is going to help you stack your anatomy correctly; instead of having to muscle your way into maintaining a pose or position you simply line it up perpendicular to the floor and gravity works for you instead of against you.

 

building-blocksThink of it this way: If you are stacking blocks and one or more of them are just a little off the center line, it’s going to be hard to keep them from tipping. But if all the blocks are lined up so that the stack is perpendicular to the floor it’s much less likely to topple.

 

Ballet First PositionThis concept applies to standing on two feet, one foot, on the ball of the foot or tips of the toes. There is a line, perpendicular to the floor, that goes from the crown of your head down your sternum and then ends up in the middle of whatever your foundation on the floor is (e.g., between your heels in 1st position, the middle of your instep standing on 1 flat foot, etc.). When you understand this concept you can self-correct a whole host of errors. You cannot sit into the hip of your supporting leg because your line will no longer be perpendicular to the floor. Your balance will improve greatly for anything that requires you to stand on one foot. That means cleaner arabesques and more solid pirouettes. Interestingly, once you start mastering finding your aplomb on one foot, it won’t really matter what your other leg or arms are doing. You will feel solid and secure in your stance, and that will give a lot more freedom to what you can do with your other limbs.

 

Male Ballet Dancers – Power AND Grace?

filipov[1]I recently got into a discussion with a student about male ballet dancers. My student said he didn’t want to pursue ballet because he didn’t particularly care for the way male ballet dancers have to dance. Now what follows is not what you’re probably expecting. The complaint was not that they are too effeminate or have to wear very tight tights or any of the things that sometimes turn boys off to ballet. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite. My student clearly has an appreciation for the athleticism and power of male ballet dance. But he seemed to be getting at the notion that choreography for male dancers lacks the grace, artistry and dare I say beauty, of the choreography put on female dancers. This got me thinking – are there male ballet dancers that we love to watch specifically when they are not doing some mega-leap, multi-turn tour de force? Or are they only good for acrobatic tricks?

Who are your favorite male ballet dancers, and why?

Of course, there’s Rudolph Nuryev (for many the greatest male dancer of the 20th century). Here he is in Swan Lake:

We have David Hallberg in Sleeping Beauty:

If you’ve ever had the privilege to see Mikhail Baryshnikov perform live, you know he is one of the most engaging and graceful dancers there is. Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the internet is full of videos of Baryshnikov at his most powerful, massive tours en l’air and entrechats where you’d think his head might hit the overhead light fixtures they’re so high. Very few videos are circulating of him doing the more subtle choreography. If you have a 3-hour long ballet, you know he wasn’t leaping for the full 180 minutes. You’re not getting a full picture of his artistry. Certainly he danced Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty same as the gentlemen above, but I have yet to find clips of him doing those slower bits.

I will give you this from Les Sylphides. Kindly fast-forward to 11:39. Baryshnikov still has some wonderful jumps, but they are done in the way a female dancer would perform them. That is, they do not go anywhere near as high as they could if he was focusing on power instead of grace.

Here is lesser-known but very talented Yosvani Ramos in Romeo and Juliet:

Here’s Frederico Bonelli in a lovely passage from Alice in Wonderland:

Easily this blog could go on and on as an endless collection of male ballet dancer videos, so I’ll stop foraging for clips now. Trying to find examples that males are not all just about jumping and nothing else has raised other questions for me. Do we under-value male dancers performances as just a bunch of jumping tricks? Ballets reflect the times in which they are written, and as such can we expect newly written ballets to have more power-house moves from females and more expressiveness from males to sort of equal out the balance?

What do you think?