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Costume sketches for Alexei Ratmansky's new "Harlquinade" for ABT. Courtesy ABT.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


ABT's New Harlequinade is Finally Here

The long wait for Alexei Ratmansky's Harlequinade for American Ballet Theatre is finally over. June 4-9, catch ABT at the Metropolitan Opera House in this bold and colorful tribute to the Italian commedia dell'arte traditions, based on the archival notes of Marius Petipa. If this trailer by Ezra Hurwitz is any indication, this new story ballet is sure to delight (fingers crossed that those dogs make their way to the stage).

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Ballet Stars

It's been an exciting few weeks in New York City with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet in the midst of their respective seasons at Lincoln Center. With so many homegrown stars in the spotlight, it's wonderful to remember the past generations of dancers who once lit up the same stages and helped shape American ballet into what is it today. One such luminary is former ABT principal Cynthia Gregory, whom Rudolf Nureyev dubbed the "American Prima Ballerina Assoluta." In this 1970's clip of her "Rose Adagio" from The Sleeping Beauty, it's plain to see how she enchanted balletomanes everywhere with her unaffected elegance.

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The Fountain of Youth might be in Italy. Alessandra Ferri may be defying all preconceived notions about the length of ballet careers, but she isn't the first Italian to do so. Carla Fracci, a former prima ballerina at La Scala Ballet and international guest artist, who started her career in the 1950s, didn't stop when convention might have told her to.

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The Rose Adagio in The Sleeping Beauty is a jewel in a ballerina’s crown: Aurora performs a series of attitude balances and one-handed S promenades with four different partners—without ever coming down from pointe. The sequence showcases the princess becoming acquainted with her suitors as they partner her.

 

Similar one-handed promenades in arabesque or attitude derrière appear often in classical choreography. What does it take to perform them? Here’s the recipe.

 

Balance And Rotation

 

Approach the promenade like a balance, as if your partner weren’t there. “Don’t think of him as a barre,” says Geta Constantinescu of Miami City Ballet School. “You have to be completely stable, and then take his hand.”

 

During the promenade, keep your standing leg rotating inch by inch in the direction of the turn. Without this active turnout, your torso will go around but your lower body will stay behind.

 

Never let your working leg droop down or drift to the side. Imagine your foot reaching up toward the opposite shoulder. This will keep your body in a tight unit, allowing for better control.

 

Upper Body Placement

 

“You need strength in your abdominals and back, but also the lats and pecs to keep the attitude squared off,” says Marjorie Thompson, former New York City Ballet dancer and director of the conditioning program at Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

 

Form an S shape with your arm and your partner’s. Your hand should be placed palm down on his hand, which should be palm up. (If your palms are vertical, like a handshake, you won’t be able to keep your shoulders down as you turn, or your body will twist out of alignment.) Keep your elbow lifted to prevent collapsing on one side of the body. Says Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga, “By keeping the elbow up, you have control and can resist your partner slightly when he starts pushing you.”

 

Pay attention to how you take your partner’s hand. The man should offer his hand first, and then the woman should relevé or piqué into position and take it. This simple movement sets the promenade up with elegance. “It’s an offering from the man,” Thompson explains. “At NYCB, we spent endless amounts of time on the presenting and taking of the hand. It can’t be like you’re taking a hot dog at a baseball game.”

 

The distance between you and your partner will vary according to your proportions, so experiment to find what’s comfortable. You shouldn’t have to lift or lower your arm during the promenade. “If you look right at each other, your hands should be between your navel and diaphragm,” says Thompson.  

 

Press your palm into your partner’s to give him resistance to take you around—but be gentle. “Allow him the flexibility to fix it if something goes wrong,” says Thompson. “Don’t hold on for dear life. Your job is just to find your balance and keep it there.”

 

If something does go wrong, signal your partner by changing the pressure of your hand on his (chances are, he’ll already know), and hold your position. In most cases, your partner will be better suited to correct the problem than you are. However, if the promenade is beyond saving, roll through your foot and bring the working leg to the floor in front of you, rather than falling back onto it. This will make the movement smooth and controlled, as if you intended to end the promenade prematurely.

 

The Aesthetic

 

A promenade is a presentation that showcases the ballerina from every angle—literally 360 degrees. Even though you must hold your body firmly, try not to appear tense. Keep your neck and fingers long and supple, your face relaxed and expressive and your chest lifted from the sternum. Above all, be confident. “The more confidence you have in your strength, the more relaxed you’ll seem,” says Thompson. Build confidence by honing your balance in attitude after class, and by practicing the promenade as often as you can. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner to spend a few extra minutes after rehearsal to work out the kinks.

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Imagine what it would be like to be Princess Aurora on her 16th birthday. Never mind the pressure to choose a suitor—think of how difficult it must be to keep composed as the center of attention. To us, Aurora has an inherently beautiful, ethereal presence. But perhaps she's like any 16-year-old girl—anxious to maintain the beauty that accompanies her every move. Ballet dancers face this challenge all the time—our minds race to maintain control so that the audience can enjoy a seemingly effortless performance.

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