Sunday, 2 November 2014

Ballet Steps: Grand Battement

In the 13th edition of my ballet steps series, I explore grands battements. These involve a throwing action of the leg and are typically performed as the last exercise at the barre, just before dancers move into the centre. Royal Ballet dancer Romany Pajdak demonstates below (note that she turns away from the barre which is a particularly complex alignment):

Grand battements are performed to the front, side and back, and have the impetus of a strong kick, but the positioning of the leg needs to be precise and controlled. Feet commence in 1st or 5th position and then one - usually the foot furthest from the barre - moves along along the floor until it is pointed (like a battement tendu) before lifting upwards. The action is completed in reverse to return to a standing position on two feet. Both knees stay straight throughout and the hips should remain level.
Arms are variable but often they are placed in 5th, 2nd and arabesque for the three directions - front, side and back respectively - of grands battements. The upper body needs to have a feeling of ease and remains still for grands battements to the front and side. The spine needs to adjust by tilting slightly forwards for grands battements derri√®re (to the back).

Northern Ballet dancers Filippo Di Vilio and Dominique Larose
Photo: Martin Bell
The height of a grand battement can range from below 90o for a young student, to 180o for more experienced dancers.  It is important when learning the movement to start with a much slower action, emphasising the use of the floor as the foot moves into battement tendu position and paying close attention to posture and positioning as the leg lifts.

Common technical problems in grands battements include raising the working hip, bending either leg, losing turn-out, over-tilting the upper body and not going through the tendu position. Grands battements to the side are particularly tricky as a strong rotational action is required in the hip to maintain turn-out. The leg should travel upwards from the tendu position to reflect the pelvic range of motion, which is usually in a diagonal direction between front and side. Only a dancer with 'flat' turn-out will be able to raise the leg absolutely sideways with the correct technique and positioning.
Grands battements may be performed in the centre as well as at the barre. Another variation is grands battements en cloche, which swing from front to back, moving through 1st position instead of closing.

When correctly performed, grands battements provide excellent training for the leg lifts required in ballet choreography. My dance teacher would always tell me to try and "hit my nose" with my foot in grands battements to the front. While this would have been by no means desirable, it did encourage me to raise my leg as high as possible!

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