Sunday, 23 March 2014

Ballet Steps: Pirouette

For the eighth instalment of my ballet steps series, I discuss pirouettes, in which dancers spin on one leg. Pirouettes are typically performed in retiré position with the supporting leg straight and the working leg bent with the foot placed just below below the supporting knee (see the picture to the right).
 
Pirouettes may be performed both en dehors, which is towards the supporting leg, or en dedans, towards the working leg. There are many different preparations - from a lunge position, to 5th, 4th or 2nd, but pirouettes always commence with a relevé action, where the legs move sharply from a plié into the pirouette position on pointe or demi-pointe with a straight supporting leg.

Whilst the most common pirouette position is in retiré as I have described above, the options for placement of the working leg are virtually endless. If the working leg is extended (for example, into arabesque), the dancer's balance will, of course, be affected and the body posture will need to be adjusted to maintain balance and rotation.

Good pirouetting involves a technique called 'spotting' where the dancer's eyes remain fixed on a point at the front for as long as possible, before the head spins rapidly around to fixate on the same point again. This means that the movement of the head is very different from (and much faster than) the rest of the body. Other important points are the correct use of arms, which can be in many positions but are often held in 1st or 5th, good turn-out and maintenance of the working leg's position.

When I am teaching children to pirouette, common problems are them pushing too hard and knocking themselves off balance, failing to use eye focus (spotting) effectively and not having a strong starting relevé. It is helpful to begin with quarter turns and gradually build up to single and eventually multiple pirouettes. The most talented male dancers are able to do seven or eight pirouettes at a time.
 
Here Royal Ballet dancers Dawid Trzensimiech and Akane Takada demonstrate various different forms of pirouette, including those performed in pas de deux, where the male dancer supports his partner. In the pas de deux pirouettes en dehors, the female dancer usually prepares with a couru forward:

 
The most difficult pirouettes are performed with the working leg in extended positions such as à la seconde (lifted to the side) or in arabesque. One of the toughest demands on female dancers is 32 fouettés, pirouettes taken in sequence without putting the working leg down. These occur in the codas of numerous ballet pas de deux including Swan Lake and Don Quixote, but I will save indulging any further in the joys and challenges of fouettés for a future ballet steps blog!
 
For now, here is Trzensimiech demonstrating a typically male virtuoso pirouette sequence with the working leg raised in second position:

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