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Technique Evolution: The Grand Pas Classique February 12, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — atlanticw @ 4:57 am
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(Note: This post should in no way be construed as a bashing any dancer. It is just an illustration of the changing ballet technique)

I recently saw on another board a discussion regarding the changing aesthetics of ballet. Specifically, examining the Grand Pas Classique.

I had never actually seen this Pas prior to seeing the discussion. However, after digging deeper (i.e. watching tons of videos on youtube) I was surprised to see how this particular piece has changed. First here is a really great video comparing several generations of the women’s variation:

I the most noticeable difference is always the extensions, but overall I would say the choreography has not changed much. I have to admit I am partial to Platel’s version. It seems very crisp and not over done.

Next, here is Sylvie Guillem. Here, she demonstrates the more modern aesthetic we are accustomed to today:

Her attitude seems more exaggerated and her battements are definitely higher.

Here is a recent version from the Youth America Grand Prix. I would say the extensions are taken to the extreme here. However, I have noticed this is necessary to place at YAGP:

Now, let’s examine the full pas:

Around 1:20, they start a series of supported turns into a balance. The male then does a tour en l’air and the female goes down on her knee at the same time as the male. You will see she struggles with the last two balances, however, this seems like a balance many ballerinas have difficulty with:


And Pali:

This balance seems to be a recent addition to the pas. This 1974 video shows the female going straight into a kneeling position prior to the male’s jump:

So it seems that this particular variation has changed over the years, just as many have. Specifically, the technical demands on the ballerina have grown. Her extensions must be higher, he balances longer.

Is this good or bad for ballet? Is the technique really improving or just changing?


3 Responses to “Technique Evolution: The Grand Pas Classique”

  1. theworstat Says:

    I think the eye changes. Yesterday I was watching a ballet video from 1981, which I’ll share here later. Part of the video was scenes from Swan Lake. The principal ballerina was Galina Mezentseva, who is usually remembered as one of the first long-limbed, rather tall and skinny ballerinas in Russia (or at that time, the USSR). Somehow I was expecting 6:00 extensions, as this was in fact filmed long after the emergence of the first Russian queen of the 6:00, Nadia Pavlova.

    So I was shocked to see 5:45’s out of Mezentseva. It took a moment to adjust.

    I think at least some of the changes/improvements seen in the videos you posted can be attributed to changes in pointe shoes which have enabled longer and more stable balances, etc. Also, probably training is a bit better than it was. But none of this accounts for the current taste for wet-noodle ballerinas.

    To my eye some of the more current ballerinas shown in these videos looked unclassical. This is another issue — the eye of many a current viewer does not necessarily recognize classicism as it has been known in the past. This may be no problem in dancing like that seen in that whiny TV show Dance Moms (where they do acro-jazz and frequently credit the girls’ ballet training for their prowess…but I’d like to amend that to say that the girls obviously know the balletic names for steps but little else about classical ballet). It is a problem in classical ballet, however, because classicism is the ABC’s of ballet. If the main protagonists do not understand it, then the art itself may be undergoing such a massive change that it may one day be unrecognizable. That’s a pretty fundamental threat.

  2. atlantic Says:

    I think everything you said is true. The change in ballet technique is a combination of several forces. Improved training and pointe shoes allow for greater technical feats. However, this has also meant there is less room for artistry when the artist is more focused on hitting that 6 o’clock than working on acting ability.

    I also have been bewildered by Dance Moms. I am unsure if the teacher knows her students have poor technique and doesn’t care, or does not understand proper technique (I would like to see some of her older dancers to really see what’s up). Either way, they young ones do not appear to have a grasp on turn out and fundamental body placement.

    To a person that does not watch much ballet, these high extensions are crowd pleasing. The average spectator may not know enough about dance to appreciate the crispness of Platel’s variation, but are wowed by the knee to ear extensions.

    How much can be attributed (or blamed) this on the “Balanchine Technique (R)” (I hate the ‘R’) ? His ballets began demanding more extreme movements with less classicism long before Sylvie Guillem came along.

    On a side note, I think I am really starting to prefer the French school. I have watched even some very recent POB stuff and they really seem to keep more of a classical style. I love the sharpness of their feet movements.

  3. atlantic Says:

    This is probably the most perfect illustration of dance evolution

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