I hate adagio. Not because I don’t like to move slowly and elegantly to the beautiful and stately music that usually accompanies this exercise, but because I don’t have very high extension. I love taking class, but I usually hit a low point (no pun intended), at the end of barre and the beginning of center, when I know I’ll have to do some disappointing developpes. I try to stay positive and visualize a beautiful, high, correct extension to help me make the effort, but the reality is, my legs usually don’t make it to where I’d like them to go.
If you listen to your teachers and follow simple conditioning rules for safe stretching and core strengthening, chances are your extension will improve. However, it’s also important to remember that adagio is not all about putting your legs up around your ears. Like the tempo marking in music, the adagio exercise in class actually signifies the tempo and movement quality you should be going for, so the focus should be on line and fluidity. The other day, I spoke with Valentina Kozlova, a former teacher of mine who was a principal with the Bolshoi and New York City Ballet and now teaches Vaganova-based classes at her school. During our discussion, she said to me, “it’s very nice if you have extension, but line is everything.”
Talking to her reminded me that adagio is about so much more than high developpes—in order to actually do it well, you need to concentrate on polishing your port de bras and epaulment to achieve a beautiful, unfolding classical line that incorporates your arms as well as your legs. If you just concentrate on your legs, the adagio immediately becomes flat and two-dimensional, when it should be as multi-faceted and elegant as a diamond, with just as many beautiful details. When I remember this before adagio, my dancing always improves, and the height of my legs becomes secondary to the unparalleled feeling of your whole body moving seamlessly through the music.