This week's Move of the Week is a challenging plank series taught by pro dancer and Ballet Spot instructor, Ali! In addition to challenging your abdominals, this series targets your back, arms, and legs. A strong core is super important for ballet and dancing, as well as for everyday life to prevent injury, and improve posture and bone and joint health.
For more challenging and fun exercises, join Ali for Ballet Strength on Tuesdays at 5:30pm ET / 2:30pm PT and Sundays at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT as well as Ballet Strength & Stretch Thursdays at 6:00pm PT / 3:00pm PT on Zoom!
Written by Robyn Jutsum
As we enter the second half of April (already?!), we are immersing ourselves in this month’s theme, Le Corsaire (French translation of ‘the pirate’)! The music was composed by Adolphe Adam initially, and over the years, the work of Césare Pugni, Léo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, and Prince Oldenbourg have been added to the mix. Choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev (1973) after Marius Petipa (1858), this Pirates of the Caribbean-esque ballet has its ups and downs, taking you down a swashbuckling rabbit hole in 3 acts with a prologue and an epilogue.
Though Petipa’s version is perhaps one of the most recognized versions, several interpretations have emerged over the years, including Jules Perrot’s in 1858, Agrippina Vaganova in 1931, and Yuri Grigorovich in 1994. Konstantin Sergeyev’s 1973 revival of Petipa’s version is the most common adaptation that companies in the U.S. perform, however, in Russia and parts of Europe, a 1955 adaptation by Pyotr Gusev is more often performed.
This Classical storybook ballet also contains one of the most well-known pas de deux in the ballet world, the Le Corsaire Pas De Deux, even becoming referenced in the ballet cult classic film, “Center Stage.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVMt5q2Zcow (Center Stage Clip)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKOhSaYlXrA (Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdDspzkwEkY (Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov)
Beyond this famous pas, the ballet has also created some other well-known chapters that are often performed independent of the full ballet, including the garden scene or, Jardin Animé, in Act III, and the odalisques variations.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWSDX0iAyLI (DTH odalisques)
You can read a thorough synopsis of the ballet from ABT, broken down by act, here. The plot is based on the 1814 poem ‘The Corsair’ by Lord Byron. The ballet first opens on Conrad, a pirate, and his crew as they sail towards Turkey. When they arrive, Conrad falls in love with Medora, a girl being sold by a merchant and slave trader, Lankedem, at a bazaar. After Medora is sold to a pasha (high ranking Turkish officer), Conrad plans for his pirate crew to steal her back. Medora tries to convince Conrad to free the other girls that have been taken, but Conrad faces a riot as the other pirates do not want to let them free. In the chaos, Medora is recaptured and taken to the pasha’s palace. The pasha dreams of all the beautiful girls he has enslaved before being abruptly woken up by Conrad and his crew. Conrad and Medora are able to escape, however, their ship is overpowered by a storm at sea. The end of the ballet, the epilogue, leaves us with a scene of Conrad and Medora miraculously alive atop a rock, having been washed aside in the storm.
Today, Le Corsaire faces criticism for its outdated themes, sexism, cultural appropriation, and the general depiction of Middle Eastern culture and the slave trade. This is not uncommon, as other significant Classical and Romantic ballets such as La Bayadere and The Nutcracker have also fallen under scrutiny over the years for similar issues. When Boston Ballet put on a production of the ballet in 2016, Dance Informa assessed the balance between historical significance and spectacle in these types of ballets and touches on some of the issues that are embedded into the plot and production value. Here is another article that reviews ABT’s production* of Le Corsaire, pointing out the contrast between entertainment value (the lavish sets, colorful costumes, the prowess of the dancers) and alarmingly problematic themes (slavery, objectification of women, etc.).
Join us all month long for Le Corsaire-themed Cardio Ballet and special events including an exciting Le Corsaire ballet repertory class taught by ABT soloist, Luciana Paris, as part of our Stars of Ballet Series on Sunday, April 25th! You can also participate in this month’s Virtual Performance, choreographed by Eliza!
*Note that ABT and other companies have chosen to make updates (costuming, makeup, choreography, i.e.) to ballets like Le Corsaire to acknowledge the issues at hand
Follow along with Ballet Spot instructor and Radio City Rockette, Sam, as she guides you through 3 exercises for ankle agility and endurance, that you can do at home! These exercises will help your feet to feel stronger and more stable throughout an entire dance class.
Join Sam for a virtual Rockette-Style Precision Dance Workshop on Friday 4/16 at 6pm ET / 3pm PT on Zoom. No prior dance experience is needed.
Watch the 90 second video below to follow along with pro dancer and Ballet Spot instructor, Liz, as she guides you through two brief and effective exercises for ankle and foot stability. These are great exercises to do daily - with some consistent practice, you'll start to notice a solid foundation makes your entire body feel stronger!
You will need a lacrosse ball or tennis ball and something to hold onto for balance.
Join Liz for Ballet Breathe & Flow Saturdays at 2pm ET / 11am PT and Stretch Tuesdays at 6pm ET / 3pm PT on Zoom.
Here's our Move of the Week! The Scissor taught by pro dancer, and Barre and Cardio Ballet instructor Christine. This is a fabulous exercise for flexibility and core strength. Enjoy!
Join Christine for Cardio Ballet Tuesdays at 7:30pm ET and Thursdays at 7:00pm ET and Total Body Barre Mondays at 9:00am ET
Watch the video below to follow along with pro dancer and Ballet Sculpt Express instructor Quincie as she guides you through a quick and challenging move for upper body strength and power. She will offer modifications and bonus challenges so you can get the most out of the exercise no matter your level!
Join Quincie for Ballet Sculpt Express Saturdays at Noon ET / 9:00am PT on Zoom.
Follow along with pro dancer, and Cardio Ballet and Pilates instructor Deepa as she guides you through correct alignment for a Pilates Bridge to keep your knees healthy and happy. This is a quick and challenging exercise that you can do from home! She will add in extra challenges, that you can add in as you feel ready.
Join Deep for Pilates Mat every Wednesday at 6:15pm ET / 3:15pm PT, as well as Cardio Ballet on Wednesdays at 10:30am ET / 7:30am PT and Sundays at Noon ET / 9am PT all on Zoom! No prior dance or Pilates experience is needed.
Written by Robyn Jutsum
As we enter Women’s History Month, The Ballet Spot is taking Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room as inspiration for our Cardio Ballet combos. This contemporary ballet is an athletic, exhilarating, dynamic display of professional prowess, and we’re excited to introduce you to the movements and music that bring the piece to life.
In the Upper Room premiered on August 28th, 1986 with the Twyla Tharp Dance Company at the Murray Theatre at Ravinia in Highland Park, IL. Not only was this an exciting premiere, but it was also a marker for a new era of Tharp’s company. Only two years later, Tharp’s company would disband (only temporarily) and Tharp would jump on board American Ballet Theatre as Artistic Associate.
Commissioned by The Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation, the music was created by Philip Glass specifically for the ballet. On the composition, Philip Glass notes, “The music hints at things, but I tried to leave a lot of space for the dance to happen...In that way, the dancers complete it, fill it in.”
While the elements of lighting, costuming, music, etc all play a role in most if not all ballets, the lighting and costumes, in addition to music, are particularly recognizable in the ballet. The costumes, black and white striped jumpsuits that are eventually removed to reveal different variations of red, were designed by Norma Kamali. Two featured female dancers in the piece don red pointe shoes while other dancers wear white athletic sneakers. The lighting, created by Jennifer Tipton, includes designed layers of shadows, smoke, and spotlights. In fact, in 1991, In the Upper Room was awarded a Lawrence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, recognizing Twyla Tharp for choreography and Jennifer Tipton for lighting.
The ballet has no plot and is divided into 9 parts clocking in at 39 minutes from start to finish. With a cast of thirteen dancers, the energy that these nine parts exudes almost suggests different gears moving to reveal a full blown machine. There is further categorization within the cast’s footwear. Those in sneakers are labeled “stompers,” and those in pointe shoes are part of the “bomb squad.”
It is clearly an effort of many elements working together that makes this ballet as fierce as it is. The Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation does justice to this marriage of multiple factors working in tandem. It states, “In The Upper Room synthesizes choreography, costumes, music and lighting into a transcendent experience for both audience and performers.” American Ballet Theatre similarly states, “Tharp’s choreography calls for both raw power and extreme grace. Bold kinetic movements blend with Philip Glass’s propelling score, creating a transcendent experience for both audience and dancers.”
Many prominent companies have performed In the Upper Room including ABT, Royal Winnipeg, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Kansas City Ballet, among others stateside and internationally.
To get more insight into the rehearsal process, I encourage you to check out this fantastic insider piece from Dance Magazine that goes behind the scenes at ABT while preparing for In the Upper Room in 2018.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has a beautiful description that takes you through the journey of the piece in its entirety which you can read here.
Want to learn more about Twyla Tharp? Visit our Women’s History Month Instagram Highlight and visit the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s blog for their 10 Things to Know About Twyla Tharp post!
Stay tuned throughout the month of March as we highlight female choreographers and Artistic Directors like Twyla Tharp, Wendy Whelan, Tamara Rojo, Virginia Johnson, and Lauren Lovette, to name just a few. Sign up for our full weekly schedule and learn more about the classes we offer here.
Watch the video below for a 30-second tutorial, taught by founder and owner Eliza, on how to properly do a forearm plank to strengthen your entire core! Planks are a great way to warm-up for ballet class and to build the proper strength to hold positions and control your graceful ballet movements.
Join Eliza for Cardio Ballet and Total Body Barre to put your strong core muscles to work!
Watch the 20-second video below to follow along with pro dancer and Ballet Spot instructor Jennifer, as she guides you through the basics of an échappé, a fun and challenging ballet jump that is great for leg strength.
Repeat several times in a row for a cardio and muscular endurance challenge!
And then join Jennifer for Beginner Ballet on Mondays at 6:30pm ET / 3:30pm PT or Cardio Ballet on Saturdays at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT to put your legs to work :)