Do you call the pirouette position passé or retiré, or do you use both? What about the term élevé? Do you use it? Have you ever considered what these French words actually mean?

"Ballet terminology is somewhat subjective," says Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School. "Often there is no definitive way to say something. What's really important is to create a picture in the minds of your students so that they will do the step you're asking the best way possible. You can split hairs forever over this stuff!"

Another thing to keep in mind is this, says Lukens: "For the French, ballet terms are seen as verbs or action words, and to non-French speakers they're seen as labels for the movements."


Tendu Everyone in the world who knows ballet understands what you mean when you say, "Four tendus front," but the French say dégagez four times front. Dégager means "to disengage." You dégagé the leg to the front, side or back from a closed fifth or first position to an open position. You can dégagé to the floor, at half height (what Americans commonly know as dégagé) or at full height. Tendu means "stretched," so the French may command in class, "Dégagez à terre avec la pointe tendue.

Penché Pencher means "to lean." I was watching a class at the Paris Opéra Ballet School and the teacher told the students, "Penchez en avant et relevez-vous." What do we envision immediately? A penché in arabesque and a relevé onto demi-pointe in arabesque. But the teacher was simply saying, "Bend the body forward (with both feet in first position) and recover."

Passé Passer means to pass the foot from front to back and vice versa. If the foot remains in front, where are you passing to? With pirouettes: If you're in fourth position and you bring the back foot to the front for an en dehors turn, that can be seen as a passé, but if you are in fifth with the right foot front and you lift it to the front of the knee to turn, that would properly be called retiré, which means "withdrawn." In ABT's curriculum, for consistency and to avoid confusion, we use the term retiré for all pirouettes, because you withdraw the foot no matter what position you begin from.

Tour jeté The French call this movement grand jeté en tournant and post-Vaganova teachers call it grand jeté entrelacé. Claude Bessy, former director of the Paris Opéra Ballet School, says that "tour jeté" makes no sense and that entrelacé does not pertain to the movement unless you do the movement with beats.

Élevé My biggest pet peeve is the use of the term élevé to describe a relevé without the use of the demi-plié. When I asked a former dancer from the Paris Opéra Ballet about this term, she looked at me with the most curious tilt of the head and asked, "How does élever pertain to ballet? I élève my glass for a toast, I can élève chickens," which translates as "I raise my glass," or I can "breed chickens," "but there is no élevé movement in ballet." The translation for élever is "to raise, bring up, breed or rear." The reflexive verb se relever means "to raise oneself, to get up," so when you do a relevé with straight knees, that's just what you say.

Did you know?

Entrechat literally means "between cat." All we can suppose is that the term came from French masters distorting the Italian word intrecciare (sounds like intrecharay), which means "to interweave, interlace." But who knows!

Sauté is the past participle of the verb sauter, "to jump." So when we ask a student to do 16 sautés we are asking the student to do 16 "jumped."

The Conversation
News
Ma Cong in the studio with Tulsa Ballet. Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Without him we wouldn't have The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. But how much do you know about Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the man behind classical ballet's most recognizable music? Did you know that the Russian composer hid his homosexuality for much of his life? He also struggled with depression; there's been speculation that his death in 1893 was in fact a suicide.

Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong dramatically recounts his life in a new full-length ballet titled Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music, premiering March 29-31. If you think a story ballet about the most renowned composer of story ballets set to, yes, a Tchaikovsky score, is a bit meta, you wouldn't be wrong. But considering the renewed importance of LGBTQ rights in society, it's a ballet perfectly timed to our era. In Russia, censorship still asserts that Tchaikovsky was not gay. The subject also calls to mind backlash surrounding an LGBTQ-themed work at Louisville Ballet just last month.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less