Lately I find myself morphing from captive Russian princess to doe-like nymph in heat to bodysnatching swan with the change of a studio. Ballet Russes Reinvented is upon us.
One moment I’m carving through space with swiveled hips, cobwebs between twitter-pated fingers, the next I’m scurrying around an apple orchard, flinging myself into the arms of a brave prince, or twisting my feathered soul into the body of a human-bird-hybrid. Seemingly boundless transformation abounds, but one thing remains constant: it’s all happening on the tips of my toes.
As someone who has never been fond of bourrées, pas de couru, and the like, working simultaneously on three pieces in which I traverse the stage entirely en pointe has been causing a bit of…frustration. I am far from mastering the tricky little steps Odette and Myrtha swear by, but these past weeks of pointework have certainly taught me some tough lessons about
bruised toenails using pointes wisely. I’ve shared a few below, if you’d like to hear…
- All bourrées were not created equal. Because courus en pointe are visually simple, the quality of movement must be executed with intention to demonstrate the personality, state, or mood of the character being portrayed. For example, when I’m dancing Princess Elena in The Firebird, I have three different types of couru: a light and quick one for playful scenes in the apple orchard; a luscious, romantic one for a pas de deux with the prince; and a soft, almost breathless version for a scene in which Princess Elena appears only as a “vision” in the imagination of the prince. These are all, of course, vastly different from my saunter as a sultry nymph in Dominic Walsh’s Afternoon of a Faun, which elects strong connection with the floor, hyperextended legs, and swayed hips to emphasize sensuality.
- Relax your knees and ankles, use your core. The audience perception of bourrées being done with straight knees is actually, like much of ballet, an allusion. While your knees should never bend in a pas de couru, keeping them supple (and your ankles relaxed) as you cross the stage will make for a much more beautiful, floaty travel. To counteract this softness, try paying extra attention to your abdominals and the latissimus dorsi muscle (that’s the one under your shoulder blade- I googled it so you wouldn’t have to).
- Lead with your back foot. Traveling with a bourrée en croisé across a 30-foot stage is intimidating- when you use your front foot to cover space. Push ahead with your back foot (think super over crossed thighs here), and use tiny steps (like a sewing machine). The distance will seem far less daunting, I promise.
- Ice, ice, baby. Never underestimate the power of plunging your swollen piggies into a bucket of ice at the end of a particularly couru-filled day. Painful at first, yes, but oh so worth it. Pure magic, like a reset button for your feet.
Have any bourrées tips to share? I’d love to hear them.
PS- I can’t stop watching this strange/wonderful clip of Keenan Kampa’s, um, pas de courru.