The Blog @ The Barre
Tips, Tricks, and Ballet History for Ballet, Barre, and Fitness Lovers!
Written by our professional dancer instructors.
Written by our professional dancer instructors.
Watch the video below to learn how to hold your hands in ballet! Sometimes it's the things that appear to be the easiest that are the most challenging :)
Written by Robyn Jutsum
As we welcome a new year and aspire to a better, more unified, more peaceful road ahead, we are pleased to focus our attention on January’s theme, George Balanchine’s Serenade! We are thoroughly enjoying dancing through the month with our Serenade-inspired cardio ballet combos.
If you are interested in participating in this month’s virtual performance, be sure to join Jennifer for her classes on Mondays and Saturdays to learn her combo, check out our IGTV on Instagram featuring Jennifer’s breakdown, and/or sign up for our *free* dress rehearsal on Zoom on Sunday, January 24th (sign up as you would for class).
This month we will be featuring Deepa’s combo for Ballet for a Cause on Friday, January 22nd. All proceeds will go to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Learn more about Ballet for a Cause here. We are also looking forward to this month’s *free* Sips and Clips (sign up like you would for class) where we will take a look at its history and watch clips of the ballet.
Deemed a “milestone in dance history” by the George Balanchine Trust, Balanchine’s Serenade was his first original full-length ballet in the United States and is a recognized favorite in New York City Ballet’s repertoire. Premiering in June of 1934, Serenade was initially set on students at the School of American Ballet as a lesson in stage and rehearsal technique and etiquette.
Serenade is considered not only a hallmark of Balanchine’s choreographic resume but also a cornerstone of the Balanchine style of training and movement quality.
Toni Bentley noted Balanchine’s influence in a reflection piece on the ballet for the Wall Street Journal. In 2010, Bentley wrote, “He brought a kind of democracy into the hierarchical land of ballet classicism, lifting it from its dusty 19th-century splendor, and created, simultaneously, an aristocracy for American dancers who had none.”
Edwin Denby, an American dance critic, poet, and novelist of the 20th century, described the inception and delivery of this concept:
“The thrill of Serenade depends on the sweetness of the bond between all the young dancers. The dancing and the behavior are as exact as in a strict ballet class. The bond is made by the music, by the hereditary classic steps, and by a collective look, the dancers in action have unconsciously – their American young look. That local look had never before been used as a dramatic effect in classic ballet.”
Because the ballet was created early on in Balanchine’s choreographic reign, viewing American dancers performing choreography designed for them was a relatively new concept stateside.
Serenade was first performed by a professional company, the American Ballet, the following spring in March 1935 at the Adelphi Theater in New York.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48, the ballet is performed by dancers in blue against a blue background. The original set was designed by Gaston Longchamp, however, from 1941 on, it has been performed without scenery, only a blue backdrop. It is divided into four parts: Sonatina, Waltz, Russian Dance, and Elegy. As marked in New York City Ballet’s notes and credits, the piece ends on a melancholy note, with the last two movements danced to Tchaikovsky’s score in reverse order.
Although technically a plotless ballet, Balanchine himself wrote of the influence Tchaikovsky’s music has on the journey of his movement. He writes,
“Because Tchaikovsky’s score, though it was not composed for the ballet, has in its danceable four movements different qualities suggestive of different emotions and human situations, parts of the ballet seem to have a story: the apparently ‘pure’ dance takes on a kind of plot. But this plot, inherent in the score, contains many stories – it is many things to many listeners to the music, and many things to many people who see the ballet.” (“New Complete Stories of the Great Ballets,” 1968)
The Ballet, over time, has evolved. The original version did not have the four distinct movements. At one point, a pas de deux was put in. The costumes, the number of dancers on stage, and the number of sections have all been privy to alterations. As Joan Acocella writes for The New Yorker in “A Discussion on George Balanchine’s Serenade,”
“It is a story about hope. If you are young and don’t know anything or have anything, you can change that. If you aren’t beautiful, you can become beautiful.”
“New Stories of the Great Ballets” (1968) - George Balanchine
“The 101 Stories of the Great Ballets” (1975) - George Balanchine
“Apollo’s Angels” (2010) - Jennifer Homans
"The Swan" from Pilates Mat with variations for extra focus on upper back and arm strength and flexibility:
Written by Robyn Jutsum
The Nutcracker is a beloved, treasured tradition. The holiday season and December at The Ballet Spot would not be complete without a trip to the Land of Sweets by way of this festive ballet. This year, things are much different, and while we may not be able to perform or attend the ballet in-person, we are nevertheless thrilled to bring this ballet staple to life!
A brief synopsis (interpretations of the plot vary):
Taking place on Christmas Eve, young Marie (or Clara) celebrates with her family at a grand house party. When her mysterious godfather Drosselmeyer arrives, she and the other children are introduced to a variety of toys brought to life by Drosselmeyer’s magic. He brings his young apprentice and nephew along who assists in the presentation of the toys. The final toy presented is a nutcracker prince and is bestowed upon Marie as a Christmas gift. As the party winds down, Marie finds herself asleep underneath the tree but soon awakes to the rustling of mice and a tree larger than life. A battle between an evil mouse king (or queen) and her suddenly lifesize Nutcracker ensues.
The Nutcracker corrals his fellow toys to come to his aid, but it is ultimately Marie who saves him by throwing her slipper at the mouse king, knocking him out cold. As if a curse has been lifted, the Nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince (suspiciously resembling Drosselmeyer’s nephew) who guides Marie through a snowy forest and welcomes her into his Land of Sweets. End of Act I.
Act II. Greeted by the kingdom, the two enjoy performances by various divertissements--Spanish/Chocolate, Arabian/Coffee, Chinese/Tea, Russian/Candy Cane, French/Marzipan, Mother Ginger--as well as the Dewdrop Fairy and her Waltz of the Flowers along with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. After the festivities, it is time for Marie to leave and, as she bids her newfound friends farewell, discovers she has awakened. Having fallen asleep with her nutcracker underneath a back-to-normal sized tree, she realizes it was all a dream.
The origins of the fabled nutcracker prince were established by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816. Hoffmann wrote “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a slightly darker tale than what most of us are familiar with today though the premise remains: Marie Stahlbaum’s nutcracker soldier, a Christmas gift, comes to life and battles an evil mouse king before taking Marie to his kingdom. In 1845, French author, Alexandre Dumas, adapted the original story and gave it a brighter spin, “The Tale of the Nutcracker.”
In 1892, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov created a two-act ballet, The Nutcracker, based on Hoffmann’s original story, with music composed by Tchaikovsky. Petipa, unfortunately, was unable to see his contributions through to the final product due to illness, and Ivanov took over to complete the ballet.
Tchaikovsky, while writing the ballet, discovered the celesta (celeste), often known as the bell-piano for its angelic, ethereal bell-like sound. A cousin of the piano, this instrument was invented in 1886 by Auguste Mustel, and it would become the inspiration for the iconic Sugar Plum Fairy’s variation. There’s a great little feature on the celesta through The Australian Ballet, part of their “Behind the Ballet: Meet the Instruments,” which you can read here.
The ballet premiered in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia though a suite of the music had debuted earlier to positive reception. The role of the Sugar Plum Fairy was danced by Antoinetta dell'Era, an Italian ballerina, who received criticism as did the ballet. Originally, the ballet received mixed, if not heavily negative, reviews (the movement was boring, music “too symphonic,” costumes were tasteless, etc.).
In 1940, Walt Disney included Tchaikovsky’s music into the film, Fantasia, which helped introduce it to an American audience and in general, new ears. Soon after, the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo toured with an abbreviated version of the ballet, Nut, which further helped boost popular opinion of the ballet and score. In 1944, William Christensen choreographed his own version of the Nutcracker which premiered with his company, the San Francisco Ballet (SFB). You can watch the trailer for SFB’s Nutcracker here.
One of the best-known versions of the ballet is George Balanchine’s, performed annually by New York City Ballet. An in-depth look at Balanchine’s interpretation can be found through Pacific Northwest Ballet here. It was even adapted for film in 1993 featuring then-child actor, Macaulay Culkin.
The ballet has been passed down through generations of dancers including George Balanchine (who performed in the original cast at the Mariinsky as a young boy), Rudolf Nureyev, and Alexei Ratmansky. It is a longstanding tradition for families, dancers, and the arts community at large. Adaptations extend beyond the cookie-cutter classical mold, including a scene in the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular (Fun Fact: Our wonderful instructor, Ali, once danced the role of Clara for the national tour) and Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, now available on Netflix.
Dance Spirit Magazine offers a great timeline of the ballet here. And TIME Magazine includes an interesting look at ballet’s influence on American Ballet which you can access here.
Written by The Ballet Spot’s founder Eliza S. Tollett
Though I define myself as a professional dancer, I have always loved to teach. I have been fascinated by ballet teaching principles for as long as I can remember. As a kid, “play time” in my room, was actually my chance to pretend I was the ballet teacher; and as a college student, I organized extra ballet classes for my classmates in Modern Dance who wanted a little ballet advice. As a professional dancer in NYC, I took open classes from the best teachers not just for ballet training, but also for teaching inspiration.
My first teaching job was with Ballet School of Stamford, where I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both children and adults. On Wednesdays, I’d go from rehearsals in the morning with Brooklyn Ballet straight to Grand Central to catch the train to Stamford, CT. In Stamford, I’d teach children for 4 hours and finish my day with an adult Beginner/Intermediate ballet class. You’d think at the end of that day I’d be drained, but after leaving my adult ballet class, I always felt energized, inspired, and happy.
As I taught this Beginner/Intermediate class, added on some adult private lessons, and explored the adult ballet scene in NYC, I became more and more aware of some of the inherent issues associated with adult ballet. First off, there are very few working adults who have time or energy for a traditional 90-minute ballet class. Second, though a leotard and tights was not “required,” I could tell that the pressure to be in a perfect ballerina outfit was just not working for many of my adult students. Additionally, Beginner Ballet is never really beginner ballet – it’s usually far too advanced for a Beginner. But real Beginner Ballet is quite slow-paced, and not much of a workout. Finally, I disliked the way my adult students would judge themselves for not being perfect or not remembering a combination; and when I took other open adult classes, I was disappointed in the overall sense of “judgment” that fills the studio.
So in August 2017, I decided that I could solve these “problems” - I set out on a mission to create a judgment-free, fast-paced ballet class, that was really accessible to and interesting for adults of all levels from absolute beginner to advanced. I wanted anyone to be able to walk in off the street and take my class. This was the beginning of Cardio Ballet. I knew that if I could just get people to try the class, I’d be able to grow The Ballet Spot and turn Cardio Ballet into a phenomenon!
In October of 2017, I officially launched The Ballet Spot. Within a few months, it was growing. For about a year, I taught 3 Cardio Ballet classes every week in a small studio on W 72 nd Street. I still remember the first day a class was booked full – a Saturday in the summer – that was a huge milestone for me.
In October of 2018, Liz Hepp, a friend from college, approached me, saying she loved
what I was doing and wondering if I could train her to teach at The Ballet Spot. Around the same time, Janna Davis came to take class and expressed her interest in teaching as well. The next thing I new, I had two trained instructors, teaching their own classes in this unique style I had developed.
The Ballet Spot was BOOMING! It was so much fun to see adults of all backgrounds and experience levels, from all over NYC joining our classes and having so much fun.
And then in January of 2019, my husband and I decided to relocate to LA. This was a very difficult decision, but probably one of the best decisions I’ve made for The Ballet Spot. I realized that if I were to just stop the NYC classes, there would have been a lot of disappointed people. So instead, I hired three talented instructors, Jennifer Hite, Arzu Salman, and Rachel Schmidt to instruct and manage the NYC location. Together, we grew the business in NYC while I lived and taught my own classes across the country in Santa Monica, California.
Leading up to March of 2020, The Ballet Spot was taking off. We opened a second location in TriBeCa, which was building momentum, and all of our 72nd Street classes were booked full. We had added 3 additional instructors, Mary Kate Hartung, Ali Block, and Robyn Jutsum. But then on March 15, NYC shut down. We launched our first Zoom Live Stream class that same day.
We were one of the first studios to launch virtual classes in response to COVID. All of the instructors depended on income from jobs that were shutting down like dominos, and I did not want to be a part of that financial suffering. So, I guaranteed each instructor the pay they had made prior to COVID shutdown.
Since March, we have increased our virtual class offerings and also increased the opportunities for dancers to work during this crazy period of time: Robyn Jutsum is now also the Marketing Manager, Ali Block is also the Operations Manager, and Deepa Liegel, who joined our team in May, is now also the Class Content Coordinator. The team has continued to grow to include professional dancers from around the country.
Prior to March 15, we had 32 classes a month in our two locations in NYC and 24 classes a month in our Santa Monica location, all primarily Cardio Ballet. Now, we offer more than 100 virtual interactive Live Stream classes, ranging from Cardio Ballet, to Total Body Barre, Stretch, Pilates Mat, Ballet Sculpt and MORE!
It has been crazy and exciting to watch The Ballet Spot grow over the past 8 months and to meet and dance with people who we never would have met before. We now have adult dancers and dance fitness enthusiasts joining us from around the country and around the world – from India, Germany, Ireland, Amsterdam, Canada, and Australia, to name just a few.
This is only the beginning and we are so happy that you are on this ballet journey with us. Let your friends and family know about our classes and help us to grow our virtual ballet-loving worldwide community!
Written by Robyn Jutsum
We’re all about keeping our community strong and positive as we slowly inch nearer to the end of what may feel like the longest year ever. And we truly have so much to look forward to throughout November! We are welcoming Christine, our newest instructor, to our team, hosting our monthly Ballet for a Cause class on November 27th, and coming up next weekend, Sips and Clips on November 15th. With so much excitement, it is fitting that this month’s theme, Jewels, is equally as thrilling!
Jewels premiered on April 13th, 1967 at the New York State Theater. Created for New York City Ballet, the ballet is a plotless three-act ballet representing three different jewels: emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Considered the first full-length abstract ballet, each jewel’s act is set to music by different composers. Emeralds to Gabriel Fauré, Rubies to Igor Stravinsky, and Diamonds to Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
The original cast featured many iconic names from New York City Ballet:
Emeralds was performed by Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Sara Leland, Suki Schorer, Conrad Ludlow, Francisco Moncion, and John Prinz. Rubies was performed by Patricia McBride, Patricia Neary, and Edward Villella. Diamonds featured Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise. It is often noted that these dancers made the ballet what it is, brought it to life, as their persons reflected the essence of each jewel.
The ballet’s initial concept was rooted in the first production of Balanchine’s Symphony in C back in 1947. At the time, the ballet was christened Le Palais de Cristal, inspired by Balanchine’s visit to the world-renowned French jewelers, Van Cleef & Arpels.
Each jewel is described as follows by the New York City Ballet:
“Emeralds moves at Fauré's mesmerizing pace, while Rubies races like lightning through Stravinsky's jazz-inflected capriccio. With its symphonic Tschaikovsky score, Diamonds venerates the regality of Balanchine’s classical heritage.”
Balanchine specifically described Emeralds as a representation of French elegance, stating that Emeralds is “an evocation of France - a France of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume” (from The George Balanchine Trust). Rubies is a classic representation of Balanchine’s collaboration with Stravinsky. Balanchine and Stravinsky had a strong artistic relationship that has resulted in some of Balanchine’s most recognized works including Agon, Apollo, and Firebird. Diamonds is considered an ode to imperial Russia and its grandiose.
The costumes were designed by NYCB’s famed costumer, Barbara Karinska. Each act is distinct not only in music and movement but also in dress. Women in Emeralds wear Romantic tutus of you guessed it, emerald green. The women of Rubies wear ruby red leotards with attached skater type skirts that flare at the hips. The style of the Rubies costumes is very common in many of Balanchine’s ballets. Diamonds is the most classical, with the woman wearing a Classical tutu and the man in white tights.
San Francisco Ballet’s blog offers an “ultimate guide” to the ballet which eloquently breaks down each jewel. I recommend exploring the ballet further with the help of this guide which you can find here.
The ballet is highly revered internationally, and many companies include it in their repertoires. In 2017, an international production of Jewels was performed at Lincoln Center in the David H. Koch Theater to celebrate 50 years of the ballet. This production brought together New York City Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. Paris Opera Ballet’s dancers performed Emeralds, City Ballet performed Rubies, and the Bolshoi performed Diamonds. The NY Times long-time dance critic, Alaistair Macaulay wrote a full review of one of the collaborative cast’s performances which you can read here.
Balanchine repetiteur, Elyse Borne, expresses the essence of what the audience can expect from an evening experiencing Jewels. The choreographic triptych “is like a nice meal. You’ve got your appetizer, you’ve got your main course, and you’ve got your big dessert at the end, which is Diamonds.”
Join us next Sunday, November 15th at 6 pm EST for Sips and Clips, our free monthly viewing party, where we will watch clips from Jewels and discuss further its history and impact.
Written by Tristan Grannum
Professional dancers are usually known for their “out of this world” flexibility and strength. Almost every dancer at some point in their training had to work towards increasing their flexibility. Stretching is one of the most important activities an individual can do to prevent future injuries and increase overall mobility. Stretching benefits your physical health and can relieve soreness and pain of the body. If you are an active person you should never take stretching for granted.
One common misconception of stretching, is that before a ballet class or a workout a person should do stretches that push the limits of their natural flexibility. Practicing splits, or kicking your leg forcefully are not good exercises to do pre-ballet or pre-workout. Static stretching is not considered healthy if you are doing it before your physical activity. Before you begin doing a strenuous activity your main focus should be making sure your entire body is warm. Warming up is essential for stretching. Walking, jogging, jumping jacks, and planks are all exercises you can do that will help get your heart rate up, activate your core, and warm up your entire body.
Each person possesses different levels of flexibility and mobility. Some areas of the body tend to be tighter than others. Focus more time on the areas that need improvement. If you tend to be more flexible in a specific area of the body, focus on building strength in that area.
Stretching is not an easy task however it is useful and necessary for flexibility improvement and overall wellness. Always make sure you have a specific stretching plan which include which parts of the body you will be focusing on, the different stretching exercises you are going to perform, as well as the amount of repetitions for each specific exercise. If you start to feel pain during a stretch, Stop! If the pain persists consult your physician or physical therapist. Stretching can be loads of fun and with consistency, you will start to meet your flexibility goals.
Bueno, Leah. “Could A Tight Back Be Limiting Your Flexibility?” Dance Magazine, Dance Magazine, 6 July 2017, www.dancemagazine.com/tight-back-exercises-2453923313.html.
Wingenroth, Lauren. “The Dancer's Ultimate Guide to Stretching.” Dance Magazine, Dance Magazine, 20 Sept. 2020, www.dancemagazine.com/stretches-for-dancers-2639955572.html.
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.