Notes on Odalisque Pas De Trois… variation 3

Known for the impressive pirouette diagonal, this variation is a favorite among young dancers at competition. This variation comes the ballet Le Corsaire, and from the Odalisque Pas de Trois. The actual pas de trois’ music comes from Adolphe Adams but the variations come Cesare Pugni. So, lets start breaking down this variation.

odalisque pas de trois

Some call it the “turning girl” variation, but this variation opens up with extremely hard grand assemblés in ecarté. The combination is glissade, grand assemblé ecarté, relevé to attitude front, allonge, tombé relevé attitude, roll down. This combination might even be harder than the prirouette diagonal simply because of the rotation/ turnout, timing and control factors.

Okay… so glissade for me is always done as flat as possible… relaxing into the plié is really going to help the take off of the grand assemblé. Meaning the first leg that brushes, keep directly side, as you close stay en face as much as you can, but over cross it because you are going to need it to travel.

Remember, you should always bring the supporting leg to the working leg in assemblé, and hold fifth in the air as long as you can, or the music tells you. If you choose to beat it, great, but for me… I just like seeing a nice, high, clean fifth position in the air. Did I mention you have to jump… you can’t do these weenie assemblés that don’t higher than 3 inches off the ground.

From here, YOU HAVE to land in a solid fifth position to get into the attitude front. Don’t do some random assemblé into attitude front… that’s not a thing. Be super turned out! While perfectly balanced, you need to allongé first, then cleanly roll down from pointe before transfering to the attitude back. Make sure when you tombé that heel is super far forward, or flatten it to the audience, and then over cross the attitude back. Ideally, your working foot should be seen on the other side your tutu, and ideally above the shoulder. You get three sets of this horrible, but super beautiful combination.

Some waltzes happen… then the famous diagonal… chassé to relevé arabesque, stepping through to fourth, and pirouettes… The hard part about this combination is obviously the turn… but it is really rolling down cleanly and closing into that fifth front to get into the chassé that kills everyone. (Check out notes on pirouettes) It is okay to do doubles, but really… after the age of thirteen… you really need to be doing triples. We can all thank Gillian Murphy for setting this standard. Make sure the last one closes fifth back so you can get into a beautiful sous-sus/sus-sous. Or you could be a baller like Natalisa Osipova and just do double tours.

As you open the back leg, cleanly roll down, heel forward. A big traveling chassé and a good grand jeté throws you as far over stage right as possible, followed by a jeté… turn it out, point your feet. The bourrés, keep your legs crossed.. at all times.. the back leg has to do the traveling.

Finally, the last diagonal of step-overs, lame ducks comes into the play. For me… I prefer lame ducks to come cleanly from fifth, meaning travel on the first step and cross tightly over with the second, and quickly replace the legs. Add the doubles, change the port de bras. Do whatever artstically makes you happy, as long as you are clean.

Character Notes: By defintion, an odalisque is a female slave or concubine in a harem. Which is wonderful that we are giving these roles to young girls. There is a lot of sex appeal to this variation, which at thirteen is mighy questionable if you ask me. But, I am not your parent, or your coach… But I wouldn’t be putting a thirteen year old in a crop top, and ask them to pretend sell their body out. You could take the sad approach, that you are sad you are being sold into slavery. Gillian Murphy did that, I think.

What does a young person en pointe look like in this variation? The problem with this variation, as I have seen in competition… and online is that most everyone… even primaries and pre-comp on flat still look terrible. But, there are many exceptions to that rule that I have seen in the glassroom and in real life… But this young girl looked pretty decent, and showed a lot of potential within this variation. I think in this video she is 13…

But even for prix de lausanne she took a different variation… Maybe because the stage is raked? Or maybe she was tired of that variation… who knows. But the difference and growth shows a lot.

And again, Odalisque… just not a variation you should be taking to competition unless you trunly are ready for that. Just because you can do some wonky turns doesn’t mean you should be taking a turning variation. Remember, these competitions are to showcase your potential, not messy technique. At the end of the day, classical ballet is about constraint, control and finessed technique.

 

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EVERY BALLET TEACHER NEEDS THIS…

a vacation… haha just kidding, no really they do, myself included… But who has time these days to go on vacation?

Now for the real post…

As a ballet teacher, I always find it hard to find good ballet music. Sure, there are a lot of great CDs out there, but sometimes the quality is not that great, the tracks aren’t long enough for longer combinations, the tempos don’t make a lot of sense, or they are just structured kind of funny. The reality is, it would be nice to have a pianist that can play by ear and understand how to play with music in correlation to the steps, but if the budget isn’t there it isn’t there. For the past couple years, I have been mixing and matching CDs together and creating my own playlists of different CDs. Some of my favorite accompanists include (Charles Matthews, Alessio De Franzoni, David Plumpton, Nate Fifield and Gill Civil) All of these accompanists are brilliant for ballet class and all for different reasons. But, my newest, and latest and greatest discovery is for VARIATIONS class. This is a must have for every ballet teacher out there. UK based Charles Matthews recently created a collection of CDs that are rehearsal versions of variations for men and women. The collection spans 8 discs but covers literally every variation you will ever need. Specifically, there is a great rehearsal version of Laurencia and his rehearsal version for Talisman. These discs are affordable through his website, and a little more expensive on iTunes, but available. The sound quality is great, and are set at great tempos for all levels of dancing. For beginners it lets the dancers focus on the steps and technique. For the intermediate dancer it allows for the dancer to explore phrasing within the melody. And for for the advance dancer, it allows for artistic exploration within all of the notes he captures from the orchestrated versions.

Another great set of music he created are his ballet class discs as a lot of the music is ballet repertory music, so it helps familiarize students with music from the ballet. It also helps them learn how to recognize music from different ballet scores. It is definitely something worth the purchase, and a great teaching tool. It is also a great companion to the Guide to Variations.

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The Guide to Variations…

a ballet education cover

You can now purchase the guide to variations in digital form for $14.99
The print edition is available as well through the publisher’s cost.
52 pages on everything you need to know about variations… Click the image above to purchase.

5 Variations To Stay Away From…

The Academy Awards have the craziest rules… It judges an entire acting performance for excellence, achievement and the craft. Unfortunately, in ballet we don’t really have that… We have the Prix Benois de la Danse and the Princess Grace awards for achievements within the art form, but nothing on the scale that judges a single performance. Ironically, as a student, we have the YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, and IBC. Granted, every competition has the disclaimer of judging for potential and excellence, but it isn’t really the same. And as we are all scrolling through Facebook watching the results for the YAGP come in… I thought I would take the time out of my drive to talk about variations… Variations are real stuff. 

What is a variation you may ask? It is actually pretty funny. Originally in music, a variation was part of a score where the the score was altered in harmony, melody, rhythm, or counterpoints… Hence why Balanchine’s Theme and Variations is so brilliant, I think. So, when composers create a score for a ballet, they leave room for Primas, Soloists and such. A prime example is the Sleeping Beauty… SOOOO MANY MANY VARIATIONS. The scores are broken down like:

Pas De Sixs: Entrance
Adagio
1. Variation 1
2. Variation 2

Or for Grand Pas De Deuxs (the super classics):

1. Entrance
2. Adage
3. Male Variation
4. Female Variation
5. Coda

Within the score, the variation of music is usually reserved as a solo. For some ballets, the entire ballet revolves around that one solo. Example: NUTCRACKER’s Sugar Plum Fairy Variation.

Now, at ballet competitions you are asked to prepare two classical variations. There are tons of ballet variations out there, and at each competition the rules may vary in what can be performed, what choreography can slightly change, or what can be altered to fit the dancer’s strengths (tempo, turns, jumps etc). So, as everyone at the YAGP is stressing over their 1 minute chance of becoming a ballet somebody, the rest of the ballet world is like…. UMMMM no. This is because a variation doesn’t grade an artist, even if you are Ashley Boulder… A ballet dancer, a real ballet dancer must be able to carry an entire ballet. A principal, must be able to carry an entire ballet in a single performance. For some, this is quite impossible… For others, it is extremely easy: Yuan Yuan Tan from SFB… she knows how to carry a ballet, is extremely musical, and every step, breath and movement is carefully thought out with intention, emotion, and musicality…

You see, ballet competitions have created this subculture of ballet tricks and ridiculous turns. Which has now translated into “star quality”… *side eye* At these competitions kids are expected to turn, jump and have leg up, as markers to grade potential. Because of this… young dancers have defaulted to specific variations… Here are 5 variations to stay away from… and the reasons why…

5 FEMALE VARIATIONS TO STAY AWAY FROM:

1. Kitri, ACT I: In the ballet DON Q, Kitri has a three variations, and each variation is spectacular for different reasons. ACT 1 though is known for two things: The sissones en attitude, which if you aren’t Natalia Osipova, you shouldn’t do to begin with… and the pirouettes in fifth traveling on the diagonal. Dancers now who are overly flexible with no ballon can make the sissones look crazy cool without getting height… And for those girls who are on their legs or wear Gaynors can add doubles, triples a crazy lame duck at the end… It’s old. Even if you add the castanets to be more musical… It doesn’t make up for the tricks… Also, it is the easier character to pull off in Don Q as you are just a playful Spanish girl running a muck, against her father’s wishes… and teenagers can relate.
1 and a half. Kitri, ACT 3: Again, from DON Q, the third act variation is usually performed by girls with banging turn out and beautiful feet… aka Paloma Herrera in ABT’s Variety and Virtuosity. The hops on pointe, and echeppes in the variation allow for everyone to see how great your feet are. The fun part? You get to dance with a fan, be flirty and coy, and have a HAH I outsmarted my parents and got to marry the poor guitar player!
2. Esmeralda: From La Esmerlada/ The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a ballet that I think only Paris Opera might perform, is a variation in which is laid out for the girls who are extremely whacked out. Plus side? Tamborine… Downside… Natalia Osipova at 17 did it, Yuan Yuan Tan did it, and now Mikko Fogarty won the IBC with it. All three women, around the same age nailed the variation to perfection. Most females who take this on are really in it for the tambourine or they are whacked out.


3. Sugar Plum Fairy: from ACT 2 of the Nutcracker… Just don’t. (I shouldn’t even have to list it… but here it is) It is bad enough we have to hear it from August to January… Do yourself the favor, and the rest of the world and just don’t do it. Professional dancers cringe at the music, despite it being one of the most unique scores of music for a ballet variation.
4. Grand Pas Classique… So, I recently was watching a bazillion variations, and I think that Grand Pas Classique is probably one of the hardest female variations… ever. Reason number one why you shouldn’t do it? Sylvie Guilliem. Done. Okay just kidding, so grand pas classic is a variation in which you can’t hide anything because of the moving on the angles the variation requires. There are no big jumps, but instead it requires perfect technique, perfect turnout and it helps if you have beautifully arched feet. Below is Patricia Zhou at YAGP Paris in 2010 (First Place in Classical Category in Senior Division). Coached by Mr. Anton Korsakov, Mme. Ludmila Morkovina, and Mr. Viktor Kabaniaev

5. Black Swan/ White Swan… From Swan Lake. So many dancers, or their parents take on Swan Lake for one reason… It’s Swan Lake. The problem? White swan you have to be ridiculously mature, and can take a really long time to develop the emotion behind the extension, and even just the face expression. Black swan you have to have really experienced life. It requires a since of maturity that comes from flirting at a bar, deceiving someone, and a sensuality no 14 year old should possess…

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