Pirouettes and a Fouette Story

The pirouette…a much abused step of the choreographer! So often one has the impression that a choreographer is either at a loss for a step to fill in some music or believes the audience will lose intrest unless she supplies a group of stunts to keep it awake. So enters the pirouette. This essential skill for a dancer, has led to a very exaggerated emphasis on the ability to spin, and though used in the proper context, pirouettes are  exciting to watch. I am not suggesting that pirouettes make the dancer, I am suggesting that they be placed in the proper portion of a choreographic piece. It is interesting that when you give a group of very young dancers a piece of music to just improvise to, seventy five percent of  them will spin and spin and spin!

The most famous series of turns in ballet choreography is the normal insertion of  thirty two fouettes in Swan Lake, Act III. Dancers performing multiple turns like this was perfected at the end of the 19th century, in the ballet school at Milan, Italy and were brought to Paris and then to London. The ballerina Pierini Legnani (1863 -1930) had been executing this series of fouettes for several years before she performed them as Odile in the first Leningfrad performance of Swan Lake in 1895. While performing thirty two fouettes, is the accent on the fondu or on the releve?  Those of you who are working on this turn need to think about it. Balance depends on it.

Successful turning relies on  a knack of timing. Several technical aids are required and ” rules” need to be observed, but mostly balance is the key ingredient to a perfect turn. When a pirouette is taken from fourth position plie, the weight begins center and then transfered to the front leg upon releve. The heel of the supporting foot must remain on the ground during the preparation in order to make a strong releve. So often in pirouettes from fourth the front foot is seen to turn in just before the turn begins, causing a misplacement of the hips while turning. The turning poition must be arrived at as soon as possible. For example when turning from fourth position the back leg needs to snap into poition immediately and not wait until the body has made half a turn and then lazily join the supporting leg. The pointed working foot should be placed in front of the supporting leg just below the knee, a little lower for beginners. The spine should be held as straight as possible and the pelvis not tilted. This can be avoided if the hips are squarely placed directly over the supporting foot and the raised knee is well turned out. The shoulders must not be pulled back, they should be widened and aligned with the hips. The head must be horizantal and focused on a “spot”. The head must then turn sharply and return to that exact “spot”. The arms should always remain in the given poition for the entire pirouette. During the preparation, the front arm should be slightly crossed over the center line of the body to permit a strong swing.

Naturally a pirouette is greatly helped by a natural knack and lack of fear but pirouettes, or any turn, even a  fouette can be acquired by diligence and strict practice.

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