March 5, 2012

Shady Dame at the Ballet

Holy Kingdom of the Shades! This past Sunday I got my first taste of the entrance of the Shades in La Bayadère's second act. If you're not familiar with the plot, it's the part where grief-stricken warrior Solor is tripping on opium and seeing multiple mirror images of dead Nikiya, the love of his life. The Shades, as they are called, descend down a ramp - as if from the heavens above - reapeating the same step over and over. Arabesque, plié into fourth, port de bras, step, step, step into arabesque, plié into fourth and so on..

I lost count after 24 or so, but there should be 32 arabesques for each dancer to perform. What kills me about this entrance is that you are supposed to do the arabesques all on the same leg! Lower back spasm alert! Thankfully, our teacher/dancer Mira showed mercy and allowed us to switch legs with each direction. Phew. Anyway, we are practicing purely for fun and educational value, and not in preparation of any performance. The real Shades will be stepping onto stage at the end of March, when the Finnish National Ballet re-introduces La Bayadère into its repertory.


You know, I just realised something weird and wonderful. I have seen this ballet previously only on TV and DVD: the staging by Natalia Makarova for Royal Ballet (with Darcey Bussell as Gamzatti), and a fairly recently discovered Nurejev's version for Paris Opera Ballet (view on youtube). The weirdly wonderful part: my first live experience of this ballet is now me dancing one of the Shades! Well, practicing, pretend-play-dancing, whatever. But we were in the actual National Opera's main ballet studio and there were professional ballerinas present. For me, this is as close as it will get to the real thing, ever.

And it was lovely. The music, the steps, the many arabesques - I must be in better shape than I had thought, because one day later, no muscle aches! The beautiful port de bras, the meditative quality of repeating the same steps, over and over. It was far, far from perfect, there were wobbly bits and less-than-straight knees and near-collisions with fellow dancers, but it was a beautiful experience nonetheless. After my past and recent shy encounters with Bluebird, Sugar Plum, Little Swans and Paquita, stepping into the Shades feels like I'm ready to come out of the shade.

11 comments:

  1. Great post Johanna - I'm sure it must have been fantastic to do such an iconic entrance!

    A fun fact for you. You know the Nureyev/POB version of La Bayadere? Well he personally flew from Paris to Russia (Moscow?) to collect a copy of the music and mistakenly only copied half of each page. He didn't have time to fly back and copy the other half but luckily the half he copied (can't remember if it was the top or bottom!) had the page numbers on and the muscial director of POB at the time had to 'fill in the gaps'! I think his 'filled in' version is now used for most productions...

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    1. Wow.. I can only imagine how the musical director of POB must have felt ;)

      By the way, I have just been watching the Nurejev/POB "Dancer's Dream" -documentaries. Great stuff, absolutely recommend you get hold of the DVDs! Anyway, Nurejev was apparently musically very gifted and educated - it was in fact his aim to one day be able to conduct all of his ballets!

      Thanks, Dave, for sharing :)

      P.S. It was fantastic.

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  2. Wonderful!!! So cool that you're doing this :)

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    1. Thank you, Lalatina!

      It sure is different from regular class. The fun factor is that we don't have to be perfect ballerinas to do this, we are dancing purely for the joy :)

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  3. what a lovely post Johanna! your writing captured the meditative, reflective quality of the steps. i wanna do this variation now!!!

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    1. Thank you, Shannon! Hey, all you need is lots of space. The variation itself is pretty straight forward. At least as far as the arabesquing entrance is concerned.

      Have fun with it! :)

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  4. That sounds awesome and like your doing great!

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! Maybe it's because of spring and the increasing daylight-time? Or more likely, the extra work of the past months is starting to show. Plus the awesome advice I've been getting from teachers, friends and readers alike! :)

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  5. 32 arabesques? I want to try it! Just to see if I can make it. At least they're not en pointe arabesques that slow. I think I'd be teetering all over the place. Have fun!

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    1. After those arabesques come some lovely bourrées, which I would like to do sur la pointes. But, like you said, I would be teetering all over the place with my arabesques. It's so hard to balance on flat foot with pointe shoes!

      Why don't you try those 32? It's a great work-out, for sure :)

      Thanks, Jenna, for commenting!

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  6. That's awesome! In my class we sometimes use the shade entrance music for adagio combinations (different steps of course). Even though we're not doing endless arabesques, it's neat to have the particular ballet and story in mind while dancing. Very dreamy!

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