How Many Kinds of Arabesques Are There?

The answer in short? Almost infinite!

However, in Russian school, four major kinds are recognised.

The first and the second arabesques are universal.

The first arabesque is when a dancer stands sideways to the audience with his/her side to the audience, stand on the leg away from the audience with the other leg extended behind, with his/her supporting leg-side arm stretched in front and his/her other arm on his/her side pushed slightly backwards so it is not just on the side, both hands with their palms facing downwards. Both the dancer’s arm position and the leg position are open towards the audience. 

The second arabesque is with the same leg position as the first arabesque, but with the audience side arm stretched in front with the right arm on his/her side, again pushed slightly backwards.

The third arabesque is when a dancer stands on his/her audience side leg, facing corner 2 or facing the audience side corner, to the audience’s left. The position of the arms are open again, i.e. his/her right hand towards the corner he/she is facing with his/her left arm stretched to his/her side pushed slightly backwards.

If you have heard of the third arabesque as something different, it might have been what Russian’s call Cechetti’s third.  Cichetti’s third position usually refers to an arm position where both arms are extended forward in parallel but one arm (usually the arm towards the back of the stage) is held higher than the other.

The fourth arabesque is also with a dancer’s legs in crossed position as in the third arabesque but the audience side leg extended forward. In the fourth arabesque, a dancer’s shoulders are pulled across a lot further than in any other arabesques. This arabesque is half turned away from the audience, the head is turned towards the audience, emphasising its direction by the glance. This is no doubt the most difficult arabesque.

Apart from those arabesques, there are many variations of them with different arms.  Even the first arabesque can be very different from role to role. For example, the first arabesque of the White Swan is very different from that of the Black Swan, which is again very different from that of Giselle depending on the angle of the arms and the inclination of the head.

    

In short, if a dancer is standing on one leg with the other extended behind, is it an arabesque! See just how many arabesques you can discover!

     

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What is at the end of Pointe Shoes?

Do you know how pointe shoes are made hard enough for ballet dancers to stand right on the end of their toes?

Incidentally, I am asked occasionally which part of their feet dancers actually stand on while they are on pointe. Ballert dancers stretch their feet and do stand literally on the tips of their toes. Their ankles, feet and toes have to be extremely strong to sustain the weight of the whole body (no matter how slight they might be!) while dancing.

Now to the main point of this entry: What is at the end of a pointe shoe?

I was asked by several non-dancers whether there is any wood block at the end, or very thin lead inserted. It is nothing like that. The shoes have to be strong enough to sustain the weight of dancers bodies, but at the same time, pliable enough to move with the dancers’ feet so as to avoid injuries.

Traditional pointe shoes are hardened in the area around the toes – the “box” – by layers of fabric, hessian, sometimes paper/cardboard and specially formulated glue. These days there are synthetic materials that lasts longer as well.

Pointe shoes are, when they are hand made, constructed inside out and turned right way out towards the end. The special construction is not confined to the box. There is usually an outer sole, an inner sole and, between them, a reinforcing shank to keep the back of the shoes strong yet supple.

Pointe shoes are all made slightly differently from manufacturer to manufacturer. Brand new pointe shoes all smell different depending on the make; this must be due to the different formulation of the glue that is used, and it is said the recipes for the glues are very heavily guarded!

One type of pointe shoe I used to use very obviously had a piece of cardboard in the box. Another make had four inner soles stacked together. One had tiny nails that I needed to pull out in order to get them to the softness of my liking. One had stitches all around the outer sole instead of nails.

It is very difficult to find the perfect pair of pointe shoes. But when you find them, they will be comfortable, will give a beautiful line to your feet, and provide stability. As one gets technically stronger, one’s feet change as well, so it is important to make sure that the shoes still fit!

The history of pointe shoes will be for another entry!

Directions in a Classroom

In a ballet classroom, we tend to consider the mirror as the front of the stage and divide  the room into eight.

In the Russian method, they simply start from the mirror/audience as 1, and move clockwise around the room, odd numbers being the sides of the room and even numbers are the corners.

In RAD, they count the sides of the room first, namely 1 is front, then 2 is the wall to one’s right when one stands facing the mirror and so forth.

The Cechetti method is slightly more complicated.   They start in the right hand side corner and goes counterclockwise, but counting only the corner first. Then they come back to the mirror as 5 and go around counterclockwise again!

YKBG uses the Russian method version. It’s nice and simple!

Maria Alexandrova (Principal Dancer – Bolshoi Ballet)

I am not going to write her biography here. There are many extensive ones all over internet.  Just type in her name and many many links come up including plenty of images.

I saw her for the first time when I went to watch Bolshoi Ballet’s live cinema transmission in Oxford.Maria Alexadrova in The Bright Stream

It was Swan Lake, the Grigorovich version.  Swan Lake is one of the ballets I am most sentimental about.  It was the very first ballet I saw, when I was two, and it got me hooked on ballet for all eternity.  The first leading role I danced from the major repertoire, the White Swan, came from this ballet; later on it was  the Black Swan pas de deux that introduced me to my mentor; and Swan Lake was my first professional performance and my first First Soloist role at the same time …

The entrance of Odette in the second act (but labelled Act I, scene II in Grigorovich’s version) is so full of expectation. The female lead does not make an appearance during the first scene; the mood is set by the fantastic sequence with the Prince and Rothbart (I love how Grigorovich presents Rothbart! But that’s another story…). Towards the end of the scene,  the music plays so beautifully in crescendo, the Prince exits stage right, a beam of follow spot concentrates on the upstage corner of stage left then, in the midst of blue/grey scenery, a ballerina in a pure white tutu appears!

My first impression of Alexandrova was, “oh, no…” (If you are a fun of Alexandrova, please do not get cross, and keep on reading!)

In short, I did not like her at all as Odette, the tragic white swan. I did not feel any sympathy towards her character, and the only thing I could think of was that the costume did not flatter her physique in the least and I kept wondering whether her black swan was going to be better. She simply did not look like the vulnerable helpless maiden who is struck by tragedy.

Her Odile was a lot better. She was a fantastic technician. Her Odile was powerful, commanded the Prince’s attention and was convincing. However, I still was not entirely convinced by her. So when I left the cinema, I thought I would not be sad if I never got to watch her again.

Next time I saw her was another Bolshoi Ballet’s live transmission to a cinema in Oxford. They were showing Esmeralda. I must confess I was a little disappointed when I learned that Alexandrova was to dance the title role. However, I was pleasantly surprised! As a gypsy girl, full of life and love, she was very good! Her technique was very strong, but she did not really show off and instead managed to use it in order to tell the story. I was rather glad I had another chance to see her again which changed my mind about her to a certain extent.

The third time I saw her was yet another Bolshoi Ballet shown in the cinema. She was dancing the role of the Ballerina in Shostakovich’s comic ballet, The Bright Stream. She was simply fantastic!  Her technique so strong, her acting simply charming, she was charismatic. I simply loved her as the Ballerina in The Bright Stream. In the second act, her character pretends to be a man, in which she was brilliant as well. Using her very strong technique and high jumps, she was quite convincingly a dashing young man.

Since then I have watched quite a few clips of Alexandrova on You Tube and found her in other roles such as Swanhilda in Coppelia (excellent), Gamzatti in La Bayadere (fantastic), Kitri in Don Quixote (joy!). I will have to watch her Odette again and perhaps some more serious princess-type roles, but she certainly is a very talented dancer who is a joy to watch!

I admit, quite happily, that I was wrong to think that she was not good at all. She certainly is a dancer to look out for!

Maria Alexandrova as Gamzatti in La BayadereMaria Alexandrova in La Sylphide

“Would You Like to be The Tosser?”

This was said by Yuka to a male dancer during a pas de deux session.

We were practising rather complicated partnering skills where one male dancer would lift and throw a girl in the air, while the other catches her.

As one had to toss her in the air, he was the “tosser”.

The reply of this male dancer to Yuka was, “I’d love to!”

Check Your Arm Position

Have a shower!

No, this is not a joke!! Have a shower, and hold your arm(s) in the second position. If you do not have large enough space, you can do it with the first position, but it can be a little harder. Trickle water down your arm.

If your arm(s) is held in just the right position, you will feel a drop of water trickle all the way down the under side of your arm without dropping till the end of your little finger. If your arms are help with inside the elbow and palm facing forward, with shoulders nicely pulled back and relaxed, this really will happen!

There is a lovely clip of Rudolf Nureyev in class, and while he is doing some barre work, the camera puns along his arm which is held in second position. As the camera moves along his arms from his shoulder to his hand, a trickle of sweat can be seem moving down his arm and drips right from the end of his little finger!

Many of my dancers tried it and reported back that it works!

Wash Your Tights!

When you get a new pair of tights, put them through a wash before you wear them!

Brand new tights have some substance that makes them somewhat slippery and your feet will slip inside your shoes which is uncomfortable to say the least!

It also helps make tights become a little less likely to make your legs look as though they are bulging…