The Blog @ The Barre
Tips and Tricks for Ballet, Barre, and Fitness Lovers!
Written by our professional dancer instructors.
Written by our professional dancer instructors.
Written by Robyn Justum:
Whether accustomed to Charles Perrault’s original fairytale, the Brothers Grimm cautionary tale (no fairy godmothers there!), Disney’s 1950 cartoon, or the 1997 Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, most are familiar with the story of Cinderella. In the spirit of pumpkin season and bringing a little extra magic to October, we are happy to introduce Cinderella as this month’s theme for Cardio Ballet!
The ballet version of Cinderella has been reimagined countless times over the years. The first documented versions date back to 1813 followed by a London production in 1822. The one commonality that most productions have is the music of Sergei Prokofiev, composed in the early 1940’s to complement Nikolai Volkov’s libretto (storyline). The premiere of Prokofiev’s composition was in 1945 at the Bolshoi Theatre with choreography by Rostislav Zakharov.
Prokofiev began his score in 1941 but did not complete until 1944 due to World War II and his work on the opera, War and Peace. He writes of Cinderella, “... I see Cinderella not only as a fairy-tale character but also as a real person, feeling, experiencing, and moving among us...What I wished to express above all in the music of Cinderella was the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince, the birth and flowering of that love, the obstacles in its path and finally the dream fulfilled.”
There were earlier versions of the ballet and earlier scores created based on the plot, including an 1893 premiere at the Marinsky Theatre featuring choreography by Enrico Cecchetti and Lev Ivanov, supervised by Marius Petipa (Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker), with music by Baron Boris Fitinhoff-Schell. The lead role of Cinderella was danced by Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani, and this version marks the first performance of a ballet in Russia to include the execution of 32 consecutive fouettées.
A few years after Prokofiev’s premiere, Frederick Ashton choreographed his own version to the score for the Sadlers’ Wells Ballet, adding a comedic layer that is often associated with the roles of the step-sisters. Ashton premiered his ballet in 1948 at the Royal Opera House, with Ashton himself dancing the role of one of the two step-sisters. Ashton’s Cinderella has been performed by many companies, including Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
Since the debut of Zakharov’s choreography, there have been many interpretations beyond that of Ashton’s. In 1979, Ben Stevenson introduced his version as a pas de deux between Cinderella and her prince. In this premiere, the prince was danced by Kevin Mckenzie, now artistic director of ABT. Stevenson later went on to premiere the full-length production with Houston Ballet and later, in 1996, with ABT. The ABT premiere included Julie Kent as Cinderella and Maxim Belotserkovsky as her prince. ABT premiered Ashton’s version in 2014, featuring James Whiteside as the prince, Veronika Part as the fairy godmother, and Hee Seo as Cinderella.
In 2012, Christopher Wheeldon premiered his own version of the fairytale in Amsterdam as a co-production between the San Francisco Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. It made its U.S. premiere the following year in San Francisco. Wheeldon is an internationally recognized English choreographer, formerly of New York City Ballet, where he was a soloist and later the company’s first-ever Artist-in-Residence and first Resident Choreographer. He is also known for his Tony-award winning choreography of An American in Paris: The Musical. Wheeldon’s Cinderella is described by Jennie Scholick as follows:
“This ballet leaves behind the fairy godmothers and talking mice in favor of a delightfully human story full of fabulous visual effects. With fantastic sets and costumes by Julian Crouch, magical projections by Daniel Brodie, and breathtaking puppetry designed by MacArthur Foundation Fellow Basil Twist to put a new “twist” on an old tale, Wheeldon updates this timeless tale for modern audiences of every age...While the ballet has some similarities to the animated classic, Wheeldon chose elements from both the Charles Perrault fairy-tale (the one the movie pulls from) and the Brothers Grimm, which has a few darker tones.”
As noted above, beyond the music, a common trait you’ll find in different productions is the emphasis on visual elements, including impressive sets, lavish costumes, and lots of special effects. In company program bills, the ballet’s production value is often described as “ornate,” “magical,” “innovative,” etc.
Other notable interpretations include Rudolf Nureyev’s for the Paris Opera Ballet (1986), Kent Stowell’s for Pacific Northwest Ballet (1994), Septime Webre’s for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (2003), and Edwaard Liang’s for Ballet Met (2015).
Written by Tristan Grannum:
Ever wondered what it’s like to take a professional Company Ballet Class? What we feel and endure physically and mentally?
A normal rehearsal day for a professional ballet dancer usually begins at 9 or 10 in the morning with a Company Ballet Class. Company Class is a daily ritual for most concert dancers. Class is the fuel we need to get through an arduous rehearsal day. It gives us a moment to brush up on our technique, it allows us to test different steps, and prepares us to “get in the zone”. The studio is your home and your colleagues are your closest friends. Each company dancer has a prescribed barre spot - a spot they have individually chosen where they feel most comfortable to take class. Some choose to have a spot near the accompanist, some near a significant other, or many choose a barre spot where they look the most aesthetically pleasing in the studio mirror.
Many dancers before the start of class have a routine that they follow. Depending on the individual, this routine may be comprised of a set of conditioning exercises (planks, pushups, stretching). For other dancers just lying on the floor in their warm-ups, resting while listening to music is their routine. The dancers you share the same barre with are referred to as your “barre buddies.” You build a unique bond with this set of dancers because each person looks at one another throughout class, either trying to figure out the exercise or just a simple facial expression to exude their current emotional state. Throughout the start of barre there are always ‘inside jokes’ among many of the dancers. It could go from someone innocently messing up the combination in front of you, to the director or ballet master/mistress making general comments criticizing the technique of the company. During many of the initial barre exercises many male dancers have push up contests while the director is teaching an exercise. You may also see a female dancer looking in the mirror fixing her hair bun with pins.
Professional ballet dancers have strenuous rehearsal days, and many incur injuries. Injured dancers usually modify a ballet exercise to their current physical ability or may just opt out of doing the entire exercise and stretch. This distinctly contrasts a typical class for a ballet student. As a professional you are allowed to determine which exercises are or are not necessary and beneficial for your body. Usually by the end of barre a majority of the dancers who were wearing warm-ups - booties, sweaters, and sweatpants - are now in a leotard and shorts or tights. Each dancer showcases their individuality through their dance attire - Some dancers follow the classic dance attire style and others go against the norm and wear unconventional dance outfits such as athletic shorts, scarves, or colorful tank tops.
At the start of center several female dancers change from soft ballet shoes into pointe shoes. Again, the decision to wear pointe shoes for center work depends on each individual dancer’s needs that particular day. Center work allows the dancers to move large in a musically dynamic way, akin to how they would dance in a rehearsal. Professional ballet dancers are not as confined to their technique in center work as they are at barre - they are allowed artistic freedom while still presenting a suitable professional level of technique. Dancers usually converse with one another in the back of the room as they wait for their group to do an exercise. There is sense of camraderie in the studio as a fellow dancer executes a step beautifully, and a sense of supportive competition for their colleagues.
Company class usually ends with a grand allegro or a grand pirouette exercise. These exercises bring out the best dancing of every dancer in the company. You see female dancers execute difficult traditional male steps, male dancers jumping with great ballon, and an elevated performance quality from everyone. At the culmination of company class you thank your accompanist and teacher and suddenly you are ready for your rehearsals.
Written By Robyn Jutsum:
So you’ve heard us hype up this month’s theme and introducing clients to contemporary ballet. And The Ballet Spot team is so thrilled that the month of September has been inspired by the fierce hallmark of William Forsythe’s choreographic resume, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.
But as much as we love dancing with all of you, we also wanted to share some context for this ballet, its roots, and trajectory from inception to today.
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was choreographed by William Forsythe and premiered in 1987 with the Paris Opera Ballet. The original cast was comprised of the étoiles, the stars, of the company, hand-picked by Rudolf Nureyev. These dancers were selected for their collective ability to release their inhibitions and push themselves to their limits as athletes and dancers. Among the original cast was Sylvie Guillem, who rose to the top of the ranks at Paris Opera Ballet, later becoming a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet in London and is still today recognized as an icon of not only the ballet world but the dance community at large. Alongside Guillem were dancers Isabel Guérin, Laurent Ilère, and Manuel Legris. The variations and pas de deuxs of this ballet are named after its original cast. Since its premiere, dancers who perform this piece will dance, for instance, the Sylvie part or the Isabel part.
With music by Dutch composer, Thom Willems, this ballet has stood the test of time and is considered a powerhouse piece. It requires athleticism, incredible stamina, and attention to detail not only in choreography but musical phrasing and relationship to the other dancers on stage. It is seen as a contemporary masterpiece that transcends the traditions of classical ballet and is performed by companies around the world.
On the ballet, Forsythe has written, "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is a theme and variations in the strictest sense. Exploiting the vestiges of academic virtuosity that still signify "the Classical," it extends and accelerates these traditional figures of ballet. By shifting the alignment and emphasis of essentially vertical transitions, the affected enchaînements receive an unexpected force and drive that makes them appear foreign to their own origins."
Described in the notes of Doug Fullington for Pacific Northwest Ballet, Forsythe’s choreography is “athletic...a union of classical ballet and modern dance—a bold regeneration of the academic dance vocabulary.”
In the ballet, dancers pull off their supporting leg, manipulating and pushing their extensions, making quick and almost instantaneous directional changes. This is not to mention their interactions with the other dancers. The use, and specific use, of the hands, is paramount and intentional not just in this particular ballet but in Forsythe’s choreographic vocabulary as a whole.
In further understanding of Forsythe’s perspective on choreography, his following words speak volumes, "Choreography is a language. It is like an alphabet, and you do not need to spell words that you already know. The meaning of a language is determined by the context in which it appears. The most important is how you speak this language, and not what you say "
Wendy Perron of Dance Magazine writes on Forsythe as a choreographer, “Forsythe's choreography is a layered experience, both kinetic and intellectual.”
Something perhaps less known about In the Middle is that while it stands on its own, it is also the second act of a larger four-act ballet, Impressing the Czar, choreographed by Forsythe. Impressing the Czar had its premiere the year following In the Middle, in 1988, by Ballet Frankfurt and is considered a postmodern ballet. For those unfamiliar with typical dance programs, a company may do a “mixed bill” in which In the Middle may be performed among other pieces. Alternately, a company may present a storybook (i.e. Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty) or full-length ballet in which the audience will see one larger piece unfold rather than multiple.
William Forsythe is recognized for his work with Ballet Frankfurt (1976-2004) and the Forsythe Company (2005-2015). He trained at the Joffrey Ballet School and later went on to join the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany. In 1976, Forsythe became the Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer and in 1984, he became the director of Ballet Frankfurt. Today, he is known for his more recent work with Boston Ballet and English National Ballet as well as Paris Opera Ballet. He is also a professor of dance (ballet and choreography) at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
Welcome to The Blog @ The Barre
This is your go-to Blog for tips and tricks for ballet, barre, and fitness lovers, written by current professional dancers. We will cover everything from ballet history, to stretching best practices, the life of a professional dancer, current events in ballet and fitness, effective ab and glute exercises, and MORE. Whether you're an avid ballet enthusiast, a barre-lover, or just looking for new ways to stay in shape, keep a look out for our weekly posts with lots of useful information to keep you inspired and active in your fitness journey!