I am so excited to get over to Seattle so I can start taking ballet from the beautiful Pacific Northwest Ballet. I’ve spent a few summers in Seattle, some of those at a super hardcore ballet school that brought in PNB teachers, and I’ve taken class at PNB before and their space is beautiful.
In the process of packing for Seattle, I came across one of my mom’s older ballet technique books. I have a small army of these books myself, so I was eager to add this one to my collection.
First published in 1946, The Basic Principles of Classical Ballet is everything I hoped it would be. It’s your classical technical dictionary, but I was quite taken by the illustrations.
This was printed in the days when they didn’t have the camera-power to capture these movements position by position – or if they did have the technology, it was probably being used over in europe for Cold War purposes, not for dancing.
I’ve written before about how impossible dance is. Of course we do it anyway. But looking at these illustrations reminds me of this.
Look at the infamous gargouillade.
It’s not a step taught everywhere, and it’s mostly performed by ballet-ballerinas, not modern dancers taking ballet.
I remember working on it in my last semester at UI. It’s sort of like a pas de chat if your toes were also trying to be egg beaters, mid-air.
The Gargouillade – which I capitalized in reverence for the step – comes from the Italian school but survived through the French. According to the book, this step is rarely performed onstage, but it’s used as a class exercise. It doesn’t mention if this is an exercise in frustration or humiliation, but there you are.
Now, here is another example of the impossibility of what dancers try to accomplish. To do a technically proficient pas de ciseaux, you actually have to temporarily turn yourself into a pendulum. The change of the legs happens in *1* count, midair. In the above example, the dancer lands in arabesque.
Holding a technically perfect arabesque is hard enough, even in a less challenging step like a promenade. Landing in one is an entirely different challenge, but it’s not an uncommon movement.
The pas de ciseaux is a great example of ballon, which is a quality of ballet where you try to pretend like your body is full of air instead of guts and muscle. Here is a Russian (?) man showcasing a variation of the step with lovely, slow motion ballon.
I think it’s important to remind ourselves every now and again that we really are chasing something impossible. Of course, so much of dance IS possible, which we prove in and out every day. But as we all try to master our technique, it’s easy to get frustrated or even depressed at how slowly or stalled our progress comes, because it does have to get difficult and slow at some point. We’re trying to do something hard. It’s okay that it’s hard.
Keep your head up. Try to be as unflappable as this bitch down here.