After seeing New York Theatre Ballet’s “Signatures 10” program on Saturday night, I realized how hard it is to just stand still and hold a pose onstage. These dancers did a great job of it, especially in Ashton’s Capriol Suite, a kind of modern retelling of Renaissance-era court dance.
The piece consisted of a few very balletic allegro sections, alternating with adagio sections in which two or three women in long dresses, ruff collars, and panniers promenaded elegantly with one or two partners. I found these sections more interesting than the more action-packed ones because of the complete refinement the dancers exhibited as they walked from pose to pose, which is what the choreography mostly consisted of. The poses themselves were very innovative, elegant, and sculptural, so that I looked forward to seeing what they would do next after they had finished one. However, what really struck me was the absolute stillness that the dancers were able to attain after they had arranged themselves into a formation, which they did so seamlessly that they fell into place like puzzle pieces. Their poses were so perfectly quiet that you could study every detail and be pleased by the beautiful symmetry and Ashton’s aesthetic sensibility.
Judging from my experience dancing in the corps in ballets like La Bayadere and Swan Lake, I can appreciate how difficult it is to just stand still and hold your pose in a formation onstage. It’s also hard to get the formation just right, so that it’s symmetrical, and to make sure that everyone’s arms, legs, and head are all the same height and pointing in exactly the same direction. Adagio ballerinas face this challenge too during pas de deux, as they have to make sure to hit key positions and crystallize the image for a moment or two before moving on. As with most aspects of performing, though, achieving perfect stillness and shape in an adagio pose goes back to practicing adagio in class, at the barre and in the center. It’s here that you can practice getting into a pose or perfecting your placement without wobbling or making any extra movements. You can practice this after finishing a promenade, a developpe, or better yet at the end of the combination, when you stand elegantly and perfectly quietly in fifth position.