Feb 14, 2011

Bournonville (Danish School)

Bournonville technique exemplifies modest grace without apparent effort. It emphasizes brilliant petit and medium allegros but never in a showy, bravura style. It is rounder and softer –kind, not proud. It has a dancy quality that never compromises the integrity of the lithe, seamless phrases for the sake of a flashy step.

Its famous elevation, ballon, and batterie are virtues born of cramped studios and cluttered stages: there was scarcely any room to travel, so the dancers had to go up instead. The distinctive port de bras is clean and low, often more in front of the torso than in other styles –a remnant of the old French School. The arms may look somewhat held but they are never rigid; they breathe and the bras bas position has a swingy quality that, along with the use of the head, helps the dancer’s momentum.

Limiting the contribution of the arms in jumping means that the legs must be especially powerful and the plié particularly efficient. To this end Bournonville training includes long, hard endurance-building exercises that repeat not just left and right but in all orientations. The plié gets enormous attention, with fine distinctions made among various types, not just demi and grand. The grand plié as a landing from big jumps.  Vestiges of Bournonville’s mind mid-nineteenth-century origins are still apparent in the low position of the working foot in the pirouette –the skirts were too long for turning in retiré- and in its emphasis on brilliant jumping rather than on brilliant pointework.

Bournonville technique formed the basis of Danish training for many decades and is still taught in Denmark, but the Danes have now incorporated other teaching methods as well.

By Eliza Gaynor Minden – The Ballet Companion

Claudia's Note: Here is a video of some barre exercises of the Bournonville School:


Feb 13, 2011

The French School

   In the seventeenth century, under King Louis XIV, ballet teaching became standardized, its steps codified, and the five positions of the feet defined. The French School officially began in the 1660s when Louis founded royal academies of dance and of music, forerunners of the School of the Paris Opera Ballet. But even before that Pierre Beauchamps had begun to codify and standardize teaching; we continue to use his terminology.
  France produced great dancers, choreographers, and ballet masters who migrated to Russia, Denmark, and elsewhere throughout Europe. Marius Petipa, creator of so many classic ballets still performed today, is the most famous.
  The hallmark of the French School is a clean and sophisticated style –ballet with elegance, with chic. Positions are perfect every time. The cleanness comes from an insistence on scrupulous placement, on hips correctly aligned with shoulders and on legs that move independently of the pelvis. The training concentrates on port de bras and épaulement from the earliest stages. First-year students do their exercises facing the barre and holding it with both hands, sometimes doing nothing more than moving their heads properly. Claude Bessy, who directed the school for more than thirty years beginning in 1973, expanded the curriculum, adding character, mime, gymnastics, and partnering classes to traditional ballet technique.
  Admission to the School of the Opera Ballet begins with a medical examination, which now includes X rays to warn of any anatomical malformations or potential problems. It is possible to push such carefully screened students much harder, to insist on 180-degree turnout and perfect fifth positions –not something that can safely be done with the average student. Body types may have changed over the years, but the French traditions of technique and training are proudly maintained.
  Former étoile Elisabeth Platel became director in 2004.
By Eliza Gaynor Minden – The Ballet Companion
Claudia's Note: Here is a little video from the Paris Ballet School nowadays: