Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Ballet Steps: Pas de Chat

Carlos Acosta in Mayerling
Photo: Bill Cooper
I am starting a new series of blogs discussing different ballet steps - including their technique, teaching and variations.

First up is the pas de chat, or 'step of the cat'. This jump starts with the feet together in fifth position, with one leg after the other lifting up into the air and bending under the body, before landing again in fifth position. There may be a point, at the peak of the jump, where both legs are mid-air in a 'frog' position (pictured). This will depend on the style of the choreography and the height of the jump, but is something I always encourage my students to aim for.

The Royal Academy of Dance describe the pas de chat as "a light, springing step moving sideways from fifth to fifth, jumping off one foot and landing on the other foot before closing en demi-plié [knee bend]". See below for a demonstration by the Royal Ballet's Akane Takada. (Note: she has a lovely bouncy quality but does not display the 'frog' position.)
The pas de chat is one of my favourite jumps to perform, but it requires quite a lot of co-ordination that can be challenging to young children. I teach it by going through the four positions - demi-plié, one leg retiré, other leg retiré and demi-plié - which are then joined up to form a smooth jump. I also encourage students to lie down in the 'frog' position so that they can feel what they should ideally achieve mid-air.

Swan Lake cygnets performing
the pas de chat
The pas de chat features in many choreographers' works. It is a part of the famous 'Fred step' (arabesque, coupé over and under, petit devéloppé, pas de bourée and pas de chat) which Frederick Ashton used in most of his ballets. Sir Peter Wright also includes it in the grand pas de deux of his Nutcracker, where the Sugar Plum Fairy performs a series of pas de chats diagonally across the stage, lifted by her Prince.
It is known perhaps most famously (and unusually, considering it's a 'cat' step) as part of the Cygnets dance in Swan Lake (pictured), where four small swans interlink hands and perform it an exhausting 16 times in succession.

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