Posted by Rebecca King on 02.21.2011
We hope this will fulfill your hunger for knowledge on the subject of the pas de deux. However, if you want to know more, we are working on a Question and Answer post where we will tackle all of your questions. So feel free to leave a comment here or tweet as us (@bexking or @tightsandtiaras). We want to hear from you!
If you missed Part One, click over to Henrik’s blog, Tights and Tiaras.
So without further adiue, I give you our second installment of a Virtual Pas de Deux.
How to be a successful partner? The technique behind partnering is complex, and better learned in a ballet-studio than from a blog post. But we’ll still give you some basic tips!
HL: Stability is a main factor. How are you going to help the girl be on her balance, if you are not on yours? Two feet solidly planted on the ground is always the best base.
Also, the grip is important. For any lift, specially if they go over your head (or even more extreme, off your sight of range, like if you hold the girl behind your back), you’d want to find a grip that doesn’t slip, and allows the girl to be in balance between your two hands. Usually, the further apart your hands are from the line of your body, the heavier the lift will be to perform.
Obviously, there is a factor of strength involved. To be able to get the ballerina over your head, you’ve got to be able to lift her up there. But the dynamic between you and your partner, your technique and her ability to hold her body makes an enormous difference.
RK: Over all, for the woman, I would say it is most important to find opportunities to help your partner in any way possible. To the audience, you should look effortless and light as a feather, though we all know we are not (as much as we may wish we were). However, you can make yourself seem light to your partner by really jumping while he lifts you and by giving him resistance in your body. For example, when he is gripping your waist and lifting you above his head, by leaning back and making a “shelf” with your shoulder blade, he can get a better grip on you, making the lift much more successful.
|(c) Leigh-Ann Esty|
HL: That’s a great example of how the girls can make herself easier to lift. Once you got her up in the air, the girl can help a lot by providing a good grip.
RK: The woman must also be in complete control of her body. If a ballerina is falling all over the place, this makes the man’s job much more difficult, and does not allow him to focus on more important things. Remember, his job is to make you look good, which is a hard job! No need to make it more difficult on him. This will also make him very happy and much more willing to work with you! Don’t get nervous about hitting him or hurting him. Dance as if you would by yourself, while being aware of his presence. If you get nervous, you will generally do things that take him by surprise, resulting in a failed step. Put your trust in him; he knows what he needs to do. Let go and allow him to do his job.
RK: Henrik, what qualities do you look for in a good partner?
HL: For me, the most important is that the girl is wanting to work with me. I always try to listen to my partner, and change my technique to what fits her. While some ballerinas prefer one approach to something, another may want something else. If the girl is the same, it makes working together way easier.
RK: That is my thought exactly! Hard working people who really want to work, are always a pleasure to dance with.
HL: Also, I like the “no nonsense” approach. If something isn’t working, tell me. I don’t need my partner to sugar coat things or hint to what she would prefer. If the grip is doesn’t work, tell me it’s bad, and we’ll change it. It’s not that easy to hurt my feelings, so my partners doesn’t have to worry about how they put things, you know what I mean?
RK: I do. Honesty is the best policy. If you worry about hurting the other person’s feelings, nothing will be accomplished, and no problems will be solved. Equally as important, is to make your partner feel comfortable enough to be able to have an honest dialogue with you.
HL: What about you, what are you looking for in a partner – and I mean that in the least inappropriate way possible!?
RK: I would say someone who is eager and willing. There is nothing worse than having something not work in rehearsal and feeling unable to ask your partner to try it again with you. I just hate feeling like I am inconveniencing someone. By having an eager partner, I feel like we can be more productive and really grow together as dancers.
|(c) Leigh-Ann Esty|
So on stage all of these elements look simple, but that is an illusion that we are trying to create. What are the challenges the dancers have to overcome without giving it away to the audience?
RK: I always find that the main challenge is trying to be in sync with your partner. Not only do you both need to know the choreography and have a similar interpretation of the musicality, but you need to be on the same page throughout the pas de deux. There are a few ways that each individual can work towards this goal. For one thing, it is best to be as consistent as possible: by doing each step with the same energy and the same technique each time, you are allowing your partner to know what to expect once you step out on stage. He will always be expecting the same thing from you and will then be able to help you out as much as he can. Also, as Henrik and I have discussed above, communication is key: if you are unable to communicate, your chances of success drop. And finally, giving your all to your partner: making it as easy on him as possible will quickly win him over, allowing him to better support your needs. He has a hard job to do and by helping him out, you give him much more freedom.
HL: Great advice, Rebecca! To be in-sync with your partner makes things look a lot better, alright, but it also helps a lot when it comes to the effort you put in. If both dancers put in the same amount of energy at the same places, that pas de deux is going to look smashing, just because of that! On a more personal basis, I think the biggest challenge in partnering is adapting to your partner. He or she may not be the kind of person you would normally “hang out” with, but with a little effort, and some good-will, it usually works out well. Although you don’t have to be hopelessly in love with your partner for the audience to believe what they see on-stage, it will take them but moments to realize if you do not like your partner at all. And from there, any pas de deux is spoiled, regardless of how well you dance.
A successful pas de deux performance obviously encompasses many elements, and the dancer’s rapport with each other is no exception.
RK: When I watch a pas de deux between dancers who do not relate to each other as they dance, I feel that the choreography losses a very important element. Pas de deux means a “dance for two” and when the two dancers seem to be interested in each other by taking the opportunity to look at each other, their performance is automatically elevated. Often a pas de deux is the dance of two lovers and there is nothing worse than watching two dancers who don’t even look interested in each other. When the man appears attentive to the woman’s needs as she steals brief looks into his eyes, this effect if achieved. The audience should feel as if they are witnessing a private moment, as the dancers are so lost in each other.
HL: Couldn’t have said it better myself. Also, eye contact is a great way of keeping present and understanding where your partner’s at. The audience might see an intimate moment, but it is also a tool to understand what and how you can help your partner the best, right at that moment.
RK: Most important is to understand the characters you are portraying. Of course not every pas de deux requires a romantic connection. But in my opinion, a connection of some sort is essential. When two dancers are dancing so close to one another, it is just illogical to not establish some sort of rapport.
Did you like the technical insights we provided in the first post? Here’s another “trick”, but remember, don’t try this at home!
The “Shoulder Sit”
RK: Another quite simple lift, the shoulder sit provides a terrific visual for the audience and has been utilized by choreographers for centuries. For the woman, the most you can do to help the man is to give him a big jump in preparation. Once you have left the ground, it is important to stick out your hips just as you would when sitting on a chair. If you don’t, you will miss the man’s shoulder and end up sliding down his body.
|(c) Leigh-Ann Esty|