Gargouillade was a trademark step for Margaret Tracey. Now, the Boston Ballet School director helps the next generation of dancers acquire this "magical little movement." Here's how.
Technical prerequisites: To prepare for gargouillade, Margaret Tracey recommends practicing petit battement battu on pointe ("particularly serré," she says) and fast double ronds de jambe en l'air, especially in the center with a relevé or a jump. In pas de chat, focus on getting off the ground quickly. Then, says Tracey, "there's hope that gargouillade will fall into place."
Rapid-fire feet: "It's helpful to have a big jump," Tracey admits. "But I've seen dancers without that who figured out the coordination and speed." Even though one leg begins, and the other follows slightly after (same deal for the landing), think about it happening together. "That's how the gargouillade looks suspended in the air."
What comes naturally to you?
My emotion onstage. I don't have the ideal ballerina body, so I have to move to prove myself. My strength is that I can work hard and I don't think it's hard; I enjoy it.
You went to the School of American Ballet after your apprenticeship at San Francisco Ballet. Did that experience change you?
Hugely. I had coordination and could do some tricks, but no basic technique. I came to the United States from Japan and hit the wall. What do you do? You have to fix it. SAB gave me confidence to be a dancer because I was able to fix myself.
Many dancers struggle with brisé, says Laszlo Berdo, associate director of the Charlotte Ballet Academy. "But once you've mastered it, it's not that difficult." Here's how he helps his students beat the brisé blues.
Hold your turnout: Laszlo Berdo says a common mistake is stepping forward on a turned-in leg in anticipation of the brisé. "You lose the support of that standing leg. Then you have no power to jump," he says. "That plié is your saving grace and control."
Create a line: Berdo notices that some dancers dégagé à la seconde instead of effacé. "It's really difficult to chase that leg into second when you're trying to move forward." He teaches brisé with an open shoulder blade. "The back arm's extension is a reference to the front leg's dégagé. Keep that energy stretching out."
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's founding artistic director Marcia Dale Weary shares how she coaches renversés of sigh-inducing beauty.
Practice it slowly: To help her students tackle renversé, Marcia Dale Weary first gives it in adagio. Take a développé to croisé devant. "Think about the shape of the right foot coming front," she says. "Show off a jewel on your heel." Pivot to effacé, then carry the leg through a high écarté, into an attitude that "circles around you. As the right arm opens, both legs bend and the left arm circles to frame your face."
Maintain turnout: Weary notices that many dancers lift their working hip in the rond de jambe. "Rotate that leg so the hip stays down and the sole of the foot stays facing front, and then carry it back without letting the knee turn over." Feel the standing leg turning out too. "Keep that knee back over your little toe."
Weary at work in the studio. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.
You've gone from Clara to Sugar Plum in one place. What made that possible?
I was lucky to grow up here, in a school that fed directly into a company, so as a child I could visualize exactly what I wanted. I think my career is due in part to being aware of how lucky I am, being grateful for it and preserving it.
What does it mean to be a "ballerina" in a non-ranked company?
It means you do it all. The last time we did Romeo and Juliet I was a harlot, and it was so much fun. If we did the same thing all the time it wouldn't be as stimulating or exciting.
A double tour, says American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo, "is the step that defines a male dancer." Here, he shares his thoughts on mastering this necessary trick.
Don't anticipate: "The takeoff is hard," Herman Cornejo acknowledges. "You want to take all your force around, and that twists your back to the side and your fifth out of place." Instead, the impulse for the rotations comes from the bottom of the plié. "Be calm to start. Prepare to a relevé, plié, and the moment the heels touch down, then you take the force."
Use your glutes: A common error Cornejo sees is "sticking your butt out and your chest forward in plié so that you're not on top of your hips. You'll never make it to the other side!" Your glutes, he adds, are "so powerful that when you engage them, it really makes a difference."
Cornejo in a double tour en l'air. Photo Courtesy Cornejo.
It's a staple of grand allégro, but tour jeté—also called grand jeté entournant or entrelacé—is not easy. Miami City Ballet School's Geta Constantinescu shares how she helps her students fly higher.
Geta Constatinescu working with a Miami City Ballet School student. Photo by Pavel Antonov, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.
Prepare with care: "Let's say you piqué arabesque on the right leg," says Miami City Ballet School faculty member Geta Constantinescu. As you chassé sideways, "that right leg has to go in back, not in front of the left leg. Many don't even notice that little mistake!" The left foot is then available as you turn to step forward onto it, going into the tour jeté.
Plié both legs generously as you brush the leg through first position, so you don't jump from just one. "Use the floor to help elevate yourself."
Be direct: Instead of brushing to grand battement devant, Constantinescu often sees dancers go through a rond de jambe or "something not very clear," she says. "What is front, where is the toe going when you toss it in the air?" She suggests practicing the brush en avant in tendu and adagio combinations, to "imprint" that pathway.
Let the arms assist: Coordinate your port de bras with your grand battement. The arms go up through high fifth as you take off. They begin to open, Constantinescu says, "right at the top of the jump."
Practice your takeoff and landing at the barre with this combination: Grand battement devant on demi-point, turning towards the barre as you close fifth to finish on the other side with the opposite leg in arabesque plié.
Think "forward": As the legs switch, think of the arabesque in the air as a "demi-penché" to create space for a greater split. "Feel connected from the lower belly to the heart center as the leg goes back," says Constantinescu. "That lifting of the sternum supports the line of the demi-penché."
Imagine you're "kicking a ball" with the front leg as the back leg scissors into arabesque, like in a big sissone ouvert. "This will incorporate that quality of split in the air."
1. Have faith in your fifth: It's hard to trust that your fifth position will give you enough force to turn. As a result, Jenifer Ringer sees dancers "lean forward, stick their bottoms out or move their front legs so they're not really turning from fifth." Try practicing a clean single pirouette without cheating. "It takes figuring out," she acknowledges, but you'll add rotations "without losing the integrity of your technique."