"Hopping on pointe is a bit of a weird feeling," says Karin Ellis-Wentz, head of pre-professional programs at the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago. But, she adds, it's a skill advanced dancers need "because it's in so many variations." Here, she takes us through the techniques and exercises that help her students master this necessary trick.
"People have so much fear associated with arabesque turns," says Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Here, he shares images and ideas to help you confidently master this advanced pirouette. "It's a real accomplishment when you can put it all together."
Xiomara Reyes, head of The Washington School of Ballet, describes grand battement as "a very important base step that helps with flexibility, jumps and stability. It's the beginning of a grand jeté, the farthest push of your body in space and movement." Here, she shares how she works on this essential building-block step.
"In Cuba, everybody turns," says Caridad Martinez, a ballet faculty member at The Ailey School and a former principal with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Here, she walks us through the exercises and techniques that comprise "the Cuban secret" of pirouettes in general, and fouettés in particular.
Two legs in plié: The Cuban methodology teaches the fourth position preparation for turns with both legs in demi-plié. The benefits of this approach are speed and control, says Caridad Martinez. "That push of the back leg to passé, at the moment of relevé, makes it easier to generate more turns."
Finish up: For all turns, says Martinez, "we teach to finish on relevé, because that's when you really finish. Hold the position a little bit more—gluteus in and up, turn out the standing leg, open the knee and stay! Don't leave anything behind."
Spotting secrets: To find a more active torso, says Martinez, "have the sensation that you quickly bring your back to the audience." This "switch" of the torso propels you farther around, and with more energy. In addition to spotting with rhythm, try telling yourself "Back! Back!" You may find you effortlessly have the force for that extra rotation.
Round arms: "We keep the arms rounded," says Martinez of the Cuban method, though she notes that it's not incorrect to extend to allongé. She gives a simple exercise to help her students coordinate their port de bras in turns: Hold an object in your opposite hand (the left, if you are turning to the right) as you prepare. At the moment of the relevé, quickly pass the object to your right hand as you turn.
The progression: Following the Cuban training method, Martinez builds strength and coordination for fouettés systematically in class. "It's very important not to skip any steps," she says.
- Begin with consecutive relevés in retiré, both at the barre and in the center.
- "Then do that with a quarter turn, then a half. That is awful! But later you appreciate it."
- Progress to three consecutive full pirouettes, holding the leg in retiré as you plié between turns.
- Repeat the above, this time extending the working leg à la seconde with the plié between turns. Then add a beat, back-front, to the passé as you turn.
- Pirouette, plié á la seconde, pirouette is one way to fouetté. "When you have the coordination and the technique to control that, the next step is to go to the front and then seconde," says Martinez.
- Work up gradually, starting with three or four fouettés.
Options: As noted above, the working leg in fouetté may extend directly to the side with plié or rond de jambe from front to side. With rond de jambe, you have a further choice: You may relevé with the à la seconde and then turn, or open the leg in plié and relevé at the moment of the pirouette. "We use both," Martinez explains, depending on the choreography.
The twizzle: Rather than pushing off from fourth directly into a high passé, many students allow the back foot to linger on the floor as they begin to turn, causing the passé to over-cross and the standing leg to turn in. In fouetté, the consequence of this is that the working leg drops too low when it extends. "That leg does not come down," Martinez cautions. "Feel that you isolate from the hip to the knee, and keep that distance the same."
1. "Practicing balance—that is the students' homework," says Martinez. She suggests trying promenade on relevé at the barre, going en dehors with the leg in retiré and en dedans with the outside leg in cou-de-pied.
2. During fondus or ronds de jambe at the barre, Martinez works on the transition from plié attitude en avant into écarté derrière: "Extend the standing leg and get to écarté at the same time—that coordination is important when we are thinking about fouetté." Practicing attitude, as opposed to extending fully to the front, helps prevent over-crossing.
It's the complex transfer of weight that makes piqué turns en dehors—commonly called "step-overs"—so tricky. Maria Torija, director of the BalletMet Dance Academy, shares her ideas on how to successfully navigate these inevitable variation-ending turns.
What's in a name: " 'Step-over' is the American way," Maria Torija explains. But the turn has many names. "Vaganova calls it 'tour dégagé.' 'Lame-duck'—that's the English! Maybe we should go to the French. The Paris Opéra calls it 'tour piqué en dehors.' "
Walk the line: Whether you tombé front or side, Torija stresses the importance of precision in consecutive piqués en dehors. "Hold the passé until you finish the turn, and then tombé right in the path you're going, like on a tightrope." The leg doesn't extend to the front or side. That's a different step. "Tombé means you fall into it. It's a very quick motion."
The waltz turn, says Ballet Academy East teacher and Dances Patrelle artistic director Francis Patrelle, must be distinguished from a dainty balancé en tournant. Here, he shares how he encourages his students to bring "American largesse" to this luscious, sweeping movement.
Keep moving: "In the waltz turn, every step you take is forward," says Francis Patrelle. "Brush or développé to croisé en avant, then two steps on relevé—wait, don't turn yet!" In one beat, turn and brush or développé back, and then step forward again through fourth position.
"Push the walls away": Many small errors, Patrelle notes, inhibit dancers' ability to travel. "The most common correction I give is that there is no rond de jambe in your waltz turn. Find the way to make it the freest and smoothest, make it bigger, flow through it!"
Married couple and former American Ballet Theatre principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky share their advice for an essential partnering element: fish dives.
Handle with care: Holding the ballerina in the wrong place can cause her a lot of pain. "I learned that the hard way with Irina," Maxim Beloserkovsky laughs. "I suggest wrapping the right arm around her hips, feel the bones. As low as possible, because by lifting, the arm will slide up." Depending on choreography, the left arm can go either over or under the arabesque leg.
Don't splay: It's the partner's responsibility to stay as square as possible. "If I turn en face," Beloserkovsky explains, "she twists open; it's no longer arabesque, and it completely distorts the shape of the fish." Dvorovenko adds: "Then the ballerina is leaning on her side, and she can't hold the position."
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."