8 (or 9) Ballet Body Positions/Orientations: relating to space, stage and audience
“Let us first deal with the new space we are going to journey into and occupy so as to not see it as a void and empty area, but a distinctly flavored environment.” The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique**
Last week I talked about the five positions of the feet and spatial intent, and today we’re, diving into the crystalline structure of the performance space in classical ballet and dance, how we orient ourselves in relationship to our audience, how different schools of classical ballet classify the walls and corners of the stage differently, and naming of the Body Positions of ballet.
Conception of Space in Classical Ballet
In classical ballet, we occupy the space of a theoretical cube.
If our stage is in fact a rectangle or some other shape, that can function as well, but we continue to imagine a box or square around the body at all times, with the front wall facing our audience. Part of what makes it “classical” dancing is this, formerly courtly, context, and aesthetic ideas about lines, shapes, and proportion, what forms are most appealing and what variations in pose suggest in terms of narrative or mood.
Angles, S-curves, and elongated lines, aristocratic bearing, dignity, romance, joy and playfulness, innocence, strength, grief and mourning…all of these and more can be expressed in the nuances of ballet performance and all of this emotion passes through body positions shared between ballet techniques.
We begin the study of ballet theory with the 5+ positions of the feet, but then we must also explore the body’s position in relationship to the audience, the stage, and of course to the other dancers.
Presentation of the body is important to how the self or character is expressed and how the dancer extends greetings and interacts with others onstage and also sometimes directly with the audience. Pas de deux or partnering, lines and formations, and pathways of travel are also important to choreographic expression, but more on these in the future.
Ballet Body Orientation in Theory:
At the start of her seminal book, Basic Principles of Classical Ballet**, ballet pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova shares an important diagram of the student or dancer in their practice space and onstage and explains:
“To indicate the degree of turn of the body, or the specific direction of a movement, I use the diagram reproduced here. On it: a–indicates the position of the pupil on the floor, 1–the middle of the footlight line, 2–the corner in front and to the right of the pupil, 3–the middle of the right side, etc.”
The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet: Theory and Technique** by Cyril Beaumont and Stanislas Idzikowski also contains an “Explanatory diagram for the division of the walls of the practice-room into eight imaginary fixed points,” underscoring the importance for us to have a shared vocabulary with which to relate to our dancing space. The major schools of ballet disagree on the numbering of the various walls and corners of the space (or invisible box around the dancer), but what is more important than precisely how they are numbered is that the dancers and teacher or choreographer have a shared framework.
A Few Orientations of the Body in a Centre Tendu Exercise:
Once we have a shared language about the positions in the room, whether we use theatre language of “center stage,” “downstage,” “upstage,” “stage right,” “stage left” and so on, or the numbering of the corners and walls recognized by our preferred school of ballet technique, then we can describe, create, and study the Body Positions, of which there are eight or nine, depending on which technique you’re studying, including:
- En Face (facing front): à la quatrième devant (4th front) & derrière (4th behind), à la seconde (side/2nd) – you can practice these first 3 in the “Classical Ballet Centre Tendu” video above, and I demonstrate all of the positions in “Ballet Orientations of the Body – theory,” below and practice them all “Articulate Adage,” also below
- Croisé: devant (crossed front) & derrière (crossed back)
- Écarté: devant (spread side/front) & derrière (spread side/back)
- Effacé (shaded): devant (open front) & derrière (open back)
- Epaulé (shouldered)
Adage Practicing All Classical Ballet Body Positions
For more on fundamental ideas of spatial orientation and presence, you may also be interested in Podcast Episode “003: Finding an Oriented State of Being,” or my “The Body in Space” video on YouTube.
In the future, I’ll explore the way in which Laban Movement Analysis identifies affinities between moving in the spatial dimensions with qualities and moods, all of this as choreographic inspiration, and more!
Until then, please share which are your favorite ballet body positions and shapes, and if you’re enjoying my podcast, it means a lot if you would rate and review it favorably on iTunes, or if you dig any of my YouTube videos, give those a like, subscribe, and comment, too!
** I have included links to recommend some of my very favorite books and as a reader, lifelong learner, and academic I hope you enjoy my recommendations. These are Amazon Affiliate links, and if you purchase them I may receive a percentage, cool!
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