Fun Fact: Ballet Class Isn’t What it Used to Be…Thank Goodness!

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I need an ice pack just thinking about this…

A ballet barre from the 1820s:

“48 pliés followed by 128 grand battement, 96 petit battement glissé, 128 ronds de jambes sur terre and 128 en l’air, and ending finally with 128 petit battement sur le cou-de-pied. One inevitable consequence of this extreme training was a sharp rise in injuries.”

– Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels, 2010, p. 129-130

Oh, and all of this was repeated in center. Yikes. Do not try at home.

Extreme Ballet Training Image Clara's Coffee Break
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image – Not a Painting of an 1820s Ballet Class, in Case You’re Wondering 😉

Ballerinas with Wings: Swan Roles

Anna Pavlova Edit 1
Created with Wikimedia Commons Pubic Domain Image of Anna Pavlova in “The Dying Swan.”

From the irresistible pull of swan arms to the allure of feathered tutus, swan-inspired characters outrank other bird roles in the realm of ballet. Here’s a throwback to three of the most famous swan roles as interpreted by past generations…

White Swan

Distilled through black and white, foregoing scenery, and emphasizing movement as the medium of storytelling, this 1970s Kirov film brings the emotional core of Swan Lake‘s pas de deux into focus with sophisticated simplicity. Odette’s enigmatic, love-him-or-love-him-not relationship with Siegfried is told through the power of musical motion with little aid or accent of acting–flowing through reserve, release, tension, ease, energy projecting outward, and drawing inward…

Black Swan

Odile actually didn’t acquire her avian identity until the 1940s…Before then she was simply a femme fatale who could be costumed in a variety of colors including red and green. But, safe to say, the little black dress makeover certainly stuck. It’s hard not to imagine that this was her signature look all along. Here’s a clip, also from the 70s, of Kirov soloist Elena Yeteyeva performing the variation and coda fouettés.

Dying Swan

“Often imitated, never duplicated”… For something seemingly simple in design–mostly bourrées and upper body movements–Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan, created for Anna Pavlova, has eluded so many of its subsequent performers. Pavlova’s watermark on the work, as seen in this 1925 film, is the translucent abandon and leaf-in-the-wind quality of her arms and upper body: ballerina grace, but with a sense of unsettled drifting.

Taglioni Tuesday

“Contemporary lithographs and portraits often show Taglioni poised in a low arabesque; she balances on an exquisitely arched foot, with her other leg stretched out behind and an arm reaching poignantly forward. It is an emblematic moment: we feel her body pulled in two directions. She wants to go, but her leg and her arm counteract each other, and instead she balances perfectly on one foot, caught between fleeting desires. The impulse is to fly, but the symmetry of the position will not allow it. The boundaries of classical technique are clear, which made it all the more interesting when she strained to escape them.”

– Jennifer Homans, “Steps, Steps, Steps“, New Republic, February 17, 2002

marie-taglioni-in-zephire-large
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Fun Fact: What is “Gisellitis”?

Gisellitis Clara's Coffee Break 3
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

What does George Balanchine’s term “Gisellitis” mean?

Robert Greskovic writes:

“Some observers choose to apply the word soft to ballet from the Romantic era. It’s not an inappropriate distinction, but it can be a trap, leading in the extreme (of both expectation and execution) to a limpness and/or droopiness that borders on the absurd. (Balanchine scoffed at a certain lugubriousness around the Old World ballet, and even created the term Gisellitis to describe the “disease”).”

Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet, p. 301

Sugar Plum Lilac Fairy?

sugar-plum-lilac-fairy-claras-coffee-break
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

The Sugar Plum Fairy’s iconic variation music once was borrowed for another famous ballet character…

“The same tinkling celesta was interpolated for the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Princess, the 1921 Ballet Russes version of The Sleeping Beauty.”

Nutcracker Nation by Jennifer Fisher  p. 20

British Ballet Students from the Era of “Ballet Shoes”

Footage of British ballet students from 1930s, the era during which the classic children’s book “Ballet Shoes” was published and takes place. Can you imagine Pauline, Petrova, and Posy among these girls? 🙂

Tchaikovsky’s Cinderella?

tchaikovsky-cinderella-claras-coffee-break
Daydream of a poster created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain image.

It could have been Tchaikovsky’s first ballet.

But, it wasn’t. It never came into being at all. Ann Nugent explains:

“In 1870 he had occupied himself with large-scale ideas about writing a four-act ballet Cinderella, though he seems to have abandoned them fairly quickly, leaving no trace of any music he may have written for it.”

Swan Lake, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. 1985, p.14

Tchaikovsky, did, of course, later compose a mini version of the Cinderella story for the wedding scene in The Sleeping Beauty.

Here’s a clip of American Ballet Theatre‘s Courtney Lavine and Calvin Royal III performing to a piano arrangment of that piece in Alexei Ratmansky’s version of The Sleeping Beauty at Works & Process at the Guggenheim.

Do you wish Tchaikovsky had composed a full-length score for Cinderella?

Odile’s Makeover

“Odile was not very swan-like at first. In 1895, she was just an enchantress in a colorful costume. Dancers started to wear black and be referred to as the Black Swan only in the 1940s.”

What Happened to Our Ballets?, Pointe Magazine, May 17, 2012

Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.