Archive | March 2012

Ballerina Biographies – Marie Taglioni

 Marie Taglioni’s life touches every ballet dancer to this today. She was the first ballerina to dance on pointe. This technique was a novelty in the nineteenth century but now an essential part of ballet training. With her weightless technique and uncanny ability to balance on her toes in darned, soft-toe ballet slippers, Marie made this gravity-defying pointe work popular among ballet dancers and the audiences. However it was her talent, particularly in her signature role in La Sylphide, that inspired a devoted following and forever changed the style of ballet.

Marie was born in Stockholm on april 23, 1804 and moved with her family to Vienna at a young age. Her father Filippo was a dancer and choreographer, while her mother Anna was the daughter of a popular singer and dramatic author of the time, Christopher Karsten. Marie studied ballet in Vienna with her father, and in 1822 made her first performance at the age of 18 in one of his ballets, titled La Reception d’une Jeune Nymphe à la Cour de Terpsichore. Fanny Elssler, an Austrian ballerina born in 1810 and who would later become one of Marie Taglioni’s greatest rivals, also danced in the corps de ballet for this performance. Marie went on to dance in Munich and Stuttgart before making her debut with the Paris Opéra in 1827. She performed with the Paris Opéra for the next 10 years, with her father as her primary teacher and choreographer.

Onstage, Taglioni was known not only for her gracefullness  story ballets but also for her excellent character dancing. Marie created the title role in La Sylphide in 1832, in a part choreographed specifically for her by her father. This role became her signature and where for the first time a ballerina danced on pointe. She became known as La Taglioni. A special costume created just for her for that part is now considered to be the standard romantic tutu. She wore a form-fitting bodice baring her neck and shoulders, a bell-shaped skirt in a light, white material that ended mid-calf and pink tights. The style was later reproduced in ballets such as Giselle in 1841, choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, and Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides in1909.

Marie’s style of dance included unusual posture and port de bras, which have become an example of the Romantic ballet era. Many historians now believe that these movements and poses were originally created by her father to compensate for a deformity in her back, which could have been anything from a hunchback to a severe spinal curvature. Whatever the handicap, Taglioni became known for her very light and delicate style, with curved arms overhead, framing her face, a forward body posture with the legs in fourth position on pointe and the shoulders slightly tilted in effacé.

Marie’s personal life during her performing years was chaoic and restless. In London in 1834, she married Compte Gilbert de Voisins. Together they had a son, and separation followed a year later. Also Fanny Elssler’s arrival at the Opéra in 1834 created a rivalry for Marie’s position, and the main reason for both Marie and her father accepting  contracts at the Russian Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1837. There they collaborated on a number of ballets that premiered in London at Her Majesty’s Theatre after the were performed at the Maryinsky in Russia.

Marie gave her last performance in 1848, at the age of 44, after a 26-year career. Her retirement was short-lived, however, due to mismanagement of her funds. She was forced to return to Paris in 1858, where  she became Inspectrice de la Danse at the Paris Opéra in 1859, and  created an examination system for the ballet school. In 1860, she choreographed Le Papillon for her protégé, Emma Livry, who died tragically when her costume caught fire after brushing against the stage gas lighting. After losing her fortune during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, Marie taught ballroom dancing in London. In 1880, she moved to Marseilles, where she lived with her son until her death on April 24,1884 at the age of 80.

Ballet Center Floor – Petit Allegro

After Center Floor turns, the class progresses into Petit Allegro, which consists of small jumps. Combinations consisting of sautes, that is  jumps off of two feet, changements, which are jumps from two feet to two feet in fifth or third position, changing which foot is in front, and glissades combined with a connecting step. Sissones are also incorporated in Petit Allegro, which are jumps from two feet to one foot. Other jumps included are, jetes, jumps from one foot to the other, temps leves, jumps from one foot and landing on the same foot, and assembles, jumps from one foot where the legs “assemble” in the air. These are just a few types of steps included in Petit Allegro, there are many more to add to this list. All of these jumps except for sautes and temps leves may be “beaten.” This means that the legs close in one position in the air, then come apart again before closing in the proper position on the ground.

Petit Allegro combinations introductory steps, a step that initially introduces the combination such as, a chasse, glissade or just walking into one or more small quick jumps. It will also include a closing step to fifth or first position that will allow the combination to alternate to the other side. Petit Allegro differs from the Grand Allegro in that the movements are small vertical, darting or contained steps. Where as Grand Allegro movements use large vertical and horizontal traveling steps. Petit allegro combinations include directional changes. You will need to learn to control the transfer of weight between steps and during steps coupled with the change of direction.

Center Floor – Center Barre and Turns

Yesterday we were beginning a discussion on the Center Floor portion of our ballet class. I like to begin Center Floor work with adagio combinations, but some teachers prefer to begin center floor work with a Center Barre then proceed to adagio combination. I feel that using adagio combination first, in Center Floor work, gives the dancers a different focus instead of just a continuation of the barre that was just completed. Then Center Barre combinations can be added to Center Turning combinations like piourettes and fouttes.

The Center Barre work contains some of the exercises that were done at the barre including tendue and sometimes degage. These exercises no longer serve to warm up various parts of the body, as the you are already warmed up from the barre, but they still will strengthen you, and they are often a bit more complicated than the barre exercises were.

Center Barre gives you practice performing exercises without the barre to test balance. Performing the same exercise in these two settings, at the barre and away from it, gives you a frame of reference of how much a you actually do rely on the barre for support. Center Barre will also give you the personal strength and control you will need to perform these exercises without the barre.

Next I like to give the class a pirouette exercise, or two. These pirouette combinations can be combined with Center Barre as I talked about before or may be done separately. There are several kinds of pirouettes. The most common kind, simply called a pirouette, with the supporting leg straight, and in releve or full pointe, and the working leg has the foot pointed and placed in front of the knee on the supporting leg. The working leg is turned out. Pirouettes can be done turning towards the working leg, which is en dehors, or away from the working leg, which is en dedans.

Fouette turns are sometimes added to a pirouette combination or can be done alone. A fouette is a normal en dehors pirouette but the working leg is carried to the side before you starts to turn. Fouettes are normally done continuously.

Pirouettes are also done with the working leg held out to the side, in second or a la seconde. A la Seconde turns can done as pirouettes, a turn on a releve, or with little hopping jumps. All pirouettes can be done with multiple turns, eleven or twelve turns is not uncommon. You can see Mikhail Baryshinikov do eleven piourettes in the movie White Nights. Clean and perfectly on balance. Take a look at the video clip in the Ballet video section.

Center Floor – Adagio Combinations

Center work usually begins with an adagio combination. Adagio combinations help the dancer to get stronger, and it makes them work on holding leg extensions properly, while standing and not holding onto the barre. An adagio is also a very beautiful exercise if done correctly. One of the most famous adagios is the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty in which the Princess Aurora stands on one foot, in full pointe for several minutes while being turned by several partners and working through several positions with her working leg.

Adagio combinations will consist of slow sustained movements that continuously unfold and flow through posed, extensions and circular movements. These movements connect with a smooth transfer of weight, and balance on one foot in various positions. Performing adagio requires excellent control of many basic things happening consecutively or at the same time.

Adagio combinations demand a great deal of technique from you, the dancer. In an adagio combination, time is stretched to make the movements fluid. Often you will have to strive to create the longest possible body lines in space, the longest and fullest movement within a given time frame. Performing an adagio combination, presents a personal challenge for any dancer.

Set adagio combinations may can contain learning the classical body positions, or arabesques and developpes. This type of adagio combination is very useful in learning these fundamentals. Set adagios can also give you time to learn and memorize and refine important poses that are used throughout your ballet training. These types of adagio combinations teach the contrast of the body facing crosie, efface and en face and provide a structure for leaning to connect these movements.

Ballerina Biographies – Svetlana Zakharova

Svetlana Zakharova is a principal dancer with the both the Bolshoi Ballet and the Teatro all Scala Opera.

Svetlana was born in Lutsk, Ukraine, on June 10, 1979. At age six, her mother took her to learn folk dancing at a local studio. At age 10, Svetlana auditioned for and was accepted into the Kiev Choreographic School. Just four months later, however, her father’s reassignment in the army to East Germany forced Svetlana’s withdrawal from school. Six months later, her family returned to the Ukraine and Svetlana auditioned again for the Kiev Choreographic School. She was readmitted and immediately joined the second class, under teacher Valeria Sulegina.

In 1996–1997, she debuted with the Mariinsky Ballet , appearing as Maria with Ruben Bobovnikov, in Rostislay Zakhavoy’s The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. In 2003–2004, she accepted a long-standing open offer with the Bolshoi.

Svetlana now tours and dances as a guest with the world’s great ballet companies. She is considered one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation. She is highly regarded for her technical expertise, for her beautiful feet and for her exceptionally high extensions, as well as her great artistry.

She is married to a Russian violinist Vadim Repin, and they have one child, a daughter Anna, who was born on February 17, 2011. Svetlana returned to dancing, and performed in London on May 15, 2011, in a gala performance celebrating Galina Ulanova

Through her time at the Mariinsky Ballet she danced many rolls, here are a few:
Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; an eight minute piece of music that Tchaikovsky belatedly created for Act III of Swan Lake

The Dying Swan;
Maria (The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. Music by Boris Astafiev. Choreography by Rostislav Zakharov);
Masha (Clara, The Nutcracker. Choreography by Vassili Vainonen);
Medora (Le Corsaire. Choreography by Pyotr Gusev after Marius Petipa);
Bride (Les Noces. Music by Igor Stravinsky. Alexei Miroshnichenko production);
Queen of the Dryads (Don Quixote);
7th Waltz and Mazur (Chopiniana);
Princess Aurora (The Sleeping Beauty. Choreography by Marius Petipa, revised version by Konstantin Sergeyev. Revival of Mariu§гe Petipa’s production by Sergei Vikharev);
Terpsichore (Apollo);
Serenade (Choreography by Georges Balanchine);
Odette-Odile (Konstantin Sergeyev version);
Soloist (Poem of Ecstasy to music by Alexander Scriabin. Alexei Ratmansky production);
Soloist Part 1 (Symphony in C);
Nikia (La Bayadere. Choreography by Marius Petipa, revised version by Vladimir Ponomarev, Vakhtang Chabukiani. Revival of Petipa’s production by Sergei Vikharev);
Soloist in Diamonds (Jewels);
Manon (Manon);
Soloist (Now and Then to music to Mariusгe Ravel. John Neumeier production);
Young Lady (The Young Lady and The Hooligan to music by Dmitry Shostakovich. Choreography by Konstantin Boyarsky);
Zobeide (Scheherazade), Juliet (Romeo and Juliet. Choreography by Ltonid Lavrovsky);
Grand Pas (Paquita);
Middle Duet (to music by Yuri Khanon. Alexei Ratmansky production);
Etudes (Lander).

In 2001-2003 Svetlana was a permanent participant to the International Ballet Festival “Mariinsky”, which rewarded her with the partnership of such international stars as Jose Manoel Carreno, Ethan Stiefel and Vladimir Malakhov. She took part in the most prominent tours with the Mariinsky Theatre. On numerous occasions, she danced on the stages of The Bolshoi Theatre, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera , the Kennedy Center in Washington, Theatre du Chatelet in Paris and the opera theatre in Graz, Austria.

Svetlana’s international career began in 1999-2000. She performed the role of Medora in Le Corsaire in 1999 at Teatro Colon, staged by Makhar Vaziev. In 2000, she danced in The Nutcracker staged by Balanchine with the New-York City Ballet. In 2001, she performed in L’Histoire de Manon with the Bayerisches Staatsballett Ballet Company, partnered by Igor Zelensky. In 2002, Zakharova, partnered by Carreno, she performed in a gala concert of international ballet stars that took place at Palace des Arts in Montreal. She also participated in a gala dedicated to Rudolf Nureyev at Teatro alla Scala partnered by Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

 As a guest star, Svetlana Zakharova successfully mastered new variations of well known classical ballets. She danced four versions of Swan Lake, the title role in Sleeping Beauty and as Nikia in La Bayadere staged by Nureyev at Opera de Paris. In 2003.

During the 2003-2004 season, Svetlana joined the company of the Bolshoi Theatre, where she was trained by distinguished ballerina Lyudmila Semenyaka, who represents the Petersburg ballet school.

The rest of this contemporary ballerina’s accomplishments are to numerous to mention. At her young age of currently 33. She is the most accomplished ballerina of this era. View her video on the links page.

Turning and Spotting

Using a spot or eye mark, while turning, is an essential technique dancers use while performing turns. A spot or eye mark is also important for any type of concentration in a balanced position such as an arabesque penche. The goal of spotting is to keep a constant position of your head and eyes, to the most possible extent, in order to improve the your control and to keep from getting dizzy while executing multiple turns. Spotting also gives any movement in a group a finished look.

While turning, spotting is executed by turning your body and head at different speeds. While your body turns smoothly at a somewhat constant speed, your head periodically turns much faster and then stops, so as to steady your gaze on a single location (the eye mark, or spot). You can sometimes focus on an actual visual spot if one is available, like a picture or even a mark on the wall in the studio, but if there is no object is available, you need to attempt to end each turn of your head to a constant location. Your spot could even be another dancer, in which case the spot may move.

Spotting has several advantages:

  • It prevents dizziness by providing a fixed focus for your eyes.
  • The fixed focus also helps you to control balance.
  • It helps you to control the direction of travel during traveling turns such as chaines and piques


To practice spotting:

  1. Turn slowly in place. Find an object in the distance to spot, such as a picture or a fixture on the wall. Some dancers prefer to use a piece of black tape or a sticky note.
  2. Place your hands on your hips or your shoulders and fix your eyes on the spot.
  3. Slowly begin turning to the right.
  4. Keep your head still and your eyes fixed on that spot as long as possible.
  5. Continue to turn your body.
  6. At the point when your head must turn, whip it around and immediately locate your spot.
  7. The whipping action should be so quick that your eyes see nothing but the spot during the rotation.
  8. With the eyes once again fixed on your spot,
  9. Allow the rest of your body to follow.
  10. Your eyes must lead your body in the turn.
  11. Complete the turn by returning to the original starting position.

If you spotted the turn correctly, you should feel steady and balanced.

If you are still getting dizzy and you are spotting remember that spotting has to do with timing and the focus of your eyes. A common problem is not looking at your spot long enough before you snap your head.

 If the turn comes in the piece of choreography on the count of 3:

  • You have to be still looking at your spot on the count of 2 &.
  • If you are spotting into the mirror, you will see your face on 2 & then your face on 3.
  • The turn continues, so you will be able to see most of your back in the mirror on 2 &.
  • Think of turning as “front-front” and not as a circle.

There are cases in choreography where spotting is deliberately avoided in certain types of turns. For example, adagio turns in which should have the look is of serenity and calmness, the quick movements of the head would disturb the gentle choreography. Turns in adagio include turns in arabesque or attitude positions, where a balance is required and the turn is done slowly.

Turn Those Feet Out!

Through the ballet class the teacher is calling out to the dancers, “Turn those feet out!”  Not a ballet class is missed with out those expected words!  But, what is turn-out and why do ballet dancers stand this strange way?

Turn-out is the outward rotation of the legs and feet in your hip socket and is the most distinctive characteristic of classical ballet. Proper turn-out begins from your hip joint. The femur (thigh bone) rotates in the hip joint from the six deep rotator muscles of the hip. The muscles are called piriformis, abductor internus, quadraters femoris, gemelli interior, gemelli superior and obdurator externus, (The obturator internus and gemelli muscles rotate the extended thigh). Muscular control of your pelvis, legs and abdominal muscles are essential to maintain correct alignment of the body and to facilitate your turn-out.

Turn-out extends from the hip joints through your upper and lower legs and down to your feet, and aligns your knees with your pelvis and your foot. Your kneecap should fall directly between the second and third toes. Your ankle should be perpendicular to your foot so that your foot does not roll either inward or outward. Your vertical alignment of your hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet is maintained regardless of whether the joints are straight or flexed.

Ideal turn-out is 180 degrees. However, this degree is not always possible, Turn-out should be the your natural rotation from the hip joints, approximately 90 to 100 degrees. To maintain equal turnout on both legs requires proper alignment, squareness of the torso and centering of weight. Natural turnout will increases as you gain muscular control.

Turn-out is a primary principle that applies to all of ballet technique. During the Renaissance period ballet was performed first in the ballroom and then moved to the stage. The clothing that the dancers wore made turn-out the most efficient way of moving in all directions and assuming any of the classical positions while facing the audience, Turning-out is the trademark of classical ballet

An image that may help you to visualize and understand the principle of turning out is the Magic Spiral:

Imagine a spiral the begins from the hip bone and goes in back of the buttocks and passes over the inner thigh rotating it outward. The spiral passes behind the knee and wraps around the middle of the calf turning the calf forward. The spiral then wraps around the shin and pushes the heel forward. The spiral continues wrapping around the top part of the foot and around the toes pushing the toes to outward and back.



Development of proper turn-out takes a long time. Here are a few exercises that you can do to achieve a good turnout:

1.Sit on the floor. Bring your feet together so the bottoms of you feet touch. Sit up straight, spine tall, neck stretched, chin lifted. Place one hand on the side of your legs and press down the opposite leg at your knee. Try to get it as close to the floor as possible. Switch sides. Then place your elbows on your legs and press down both legs at the same time. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three times.

2. Lay on the floor on your back. Bring your legs straight up. Open your legs as wide as you can so they get as low to the floor as possible. Keep your legs straight at all times and keep your legs positioned over your hips. Have someone gently push on your inner thighs. Hold for 30 seconds. Release but keep your legs out. Have the person push again for another 30 seconds. Repeat three times. This can also be done alone with your “bottom” seated against a wall and let the force of gravity pull you legs down.

3. Stand in front of a mirror. Turn sideways so you are in profile. Stand in first position. Suck in your stomach and tuck your butt under so your hips naturally turn out. Hold for one minute. Release and take in a deep breath. Suck in your stomach and tuck your butt under again. Try to push your turnout a little bit further. Hold for one minute. Repeat five times, trying to push your turnout more each time.

4. Lay on your back with the soles for you feet together and toes pointed, allowing gravity to pull the knees toward the floor and opening up the hips.

5. Lay on your stomach with the knees bent and the soles of your feet together. Begin with on your elbows, constantly pressing your hip bones towards the floor. As you progress lay flat on your stomach and chest.

Proper turn-out is essential for good ballet technique…..dancers should work at this daily.