Tag Archives: beast fouette

Learning to be expensive with Katherine Healy

14 Sep

It’s no secret that I have a penchant for gems and precious stones.  Oddly enough I don’t care much for jewelry, but I do have an endless fascination for the gems themselves.  I think it has something to do with the idea of taking something that occurs naturally on Earth, and refining it with manmade techniques to show off an inner brilliance.  It’s a lot like ballet actually…taking a raw talent and refining that person into a finished dancer.  And like dancers with the most pirouettes or biggest jumps, it’s not necessarily the size and cut of a gem that draws me in, but color, history and other qualities that give the gem character.  For me, the ultimate shiny is the Hope Diamond.  I’ve mentioned getting to see it at the Smithsonian earlier this summer and I’ll admit, as a nerd I found it really inspiring, and have been doing some reading on its history.  And to reaffirm my nerdiness, I also found out that the Hope Diamond will be getting a new setting (voting for the new Harry Winston design just recently finished, although the winner has not been announced and yes, I voted.) slated to go on display in May 2010, and beginning this fall and until that debut, the diamond will be on display as a stand alone gem for the first time ever.  It’s exciting for fellow gem-geeks so be sure to check out it out this year.

The Hope Diamond...the holy grail for magpies

The Hope Diamond...the holy grail for magpies

WHAT in Billy Elliot’s name does this have to do with ballet?  Let. Me. Tell. You.  The diamond was donated to the museum by heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, who purchased it from the Cartier brothers.  Cartier should be a familiar name to people with money, and Louis Cartier was the smart cookie of the three and was very influenced by Diaghilev’s Orientalist designs for the Ballet Russes.  The author of the book I read proposes that the designer the Cartier brothers hired to fabricate the Hope’s current setting was a famous jeweler named Charles Jacqueau who also conceived many of the Cartiers’ Orientalist jewelry settings.  Jacqueau drew inspiration from the Ballet Russes’ previous season and designed the Hope’s setting to be worn as a head ornament in a European Orientalist version of an Indian sarpanch.  The Hope will eventually return to its original Cartier setting next year, and isn’t knowing that Les Ballet Russes played a part in its immortalized design nifty?

Doesn’t it seem like the influence of the Ballet Russes extends to just about everywhere?  A dancer I admire in particular is Katherine Healy (now Katherine Healy Burrows), and people would think she had quite a charmed life.  Born to a wealthy family, her early training came in the form of coaching by Vera Nemtchinova of the original Ballet Russes, and also trained at SAB.  She was the subject of a book A Very Young Skater and starred in a movie Six Weeks, with Mary Tyler Moore and Dudley Moore as a young dancer dying of leukemia.  She made her rounds through competitions, winning the silver medal at the 1982 USA International Ballet Competition, which was actually televised due to her popularity (took a spill during the Don Q pas de deux…oops!) and in 1984 became the youngest winner at Varna.  The accolades don’t stop there…she got a senior principal contract at the age of fifteen with the then London Festival Ballet, even being selected at age sixteen by Sir Frederick Ashton himself to do the title role in his production of Romeo & Juliet.  She returned a couple of years later (apparently there was a lot of resentment from other dancers with the company…eek!) and enrolled at Princeton University, graduated and went back to dancing, as a principal for Les Ballet de Monte Carlo and the Vienna State Opera Ballet.  After seven years, she retired from dancing and went back to figure skating in professional shows (she had given up figure skating much earlier to focus on becoming a ballerina).  Ayayay…that’s a lot, and still a disservice to everything she has accomplished.

Unfortunately, things weren’t always so rosy.  For everything ballet gave her, it seemed to take as well, and at one time she even referred to ballet as a gift…as in, the German word for poison.  But I found her a joy to watch, especially when she was younger and unfettered by the hardships she had been through later in her career.  The talent was always obvious, and she was a naturally gifted turner (and a lefty like me!), often throwing five/six/seven pirouettes in a series of fouettés.  Sometimes she would do pirouettes a la seconde in attitude as Medora or Diana, and she also did the beast fouetté for Don Q in Varna.  There’s a video of her doing the Corsaire coda, where she completely smoked her partner who only managed triples, while she did a couple of sevens.  Her codas are fun to watch because you never know how many pirouettes she’ll throw.  She had some huge jumps too, like approaching the Osipovasphere in a series saut de chats in the Diana and Acteon coda or double saut de basque en manege for Corsaire.  There’s a ton of footage on YouTube, most of which has embedding disabled (here), but a simple search for Katherine Healy will turn up a wealth of amateur videos of her doing classical repertoire, Ashton’s Romes & Jules (with a video of the curtain call with Sir Ashton himself!), videos of her private lessons with Vera Nemtchinova, and footage of her just practicing by herself, doing all kinds of jumps and pirouettes (doubles a la seconde on pointe, four or five attitude turns en dehors, which I think is one of the witchiest pirouettes out there).

Here she is at the 1982 competition, where she fell and cheerily laughed it off:

And the aforementioned Corsaire coda where she shows the man who’s boss:

However, I have to say what I find most interesting and recommend as a must view for all is a lengthy interview about her extensive training.  She also gives some really interesting advice on pirouettes and fouettés, elaborating on specifics of Balanchine technique, like the preparation, and drawing the arms in close instead of leaving them in first.  I find her insight in thinking about doing a fondu instead of a plié particularly enlightening, as well as having the working leg developpé-enveloppé instead of rond de jambe.  So make sure to check this channel out if you’re having trouble with those movements!

The Beast Fouette

7 Aug

I’m writing this entry as I watch TV, because one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, Clue is on.  Of course I own the DVD and could pop it in and watch it sans commercials, but it’s exciting to me that someone decided to broadcast it.  Just goes to show that a true classic never dies…and how can anyone forget one of the most memorable moments in the history of tap dance:

Anyway, do other dancers out there have a certain move that they’ve always wanted to learn?  I always say that there’s the big two that ballet dancers aspire to, which is thirty-two-fouettes and a six o’clock penchée (maybe two and a half…temps ciseaux is a popular one too).  Incidentally, I am not one of those people.  As much as I would love to have those things and I still aspire for bigger and better, but I don’t obsess over numbers like thirty-two, six o’clock, triple, etc. because it’s more important to me how a movement feels and how it’s executed.  This is one of the reasons why competitive swimming was such a bore for me as a young lad…shaving off milliseconds gave me no fulfillment in life (which is a pretty depressing conclusion for a ten year old.  Dark times).  Not to mention swimming is sooooo repetitive…can you imagine just doing tendus for eternity just so you could say you had the best tendu of all time?  Thankfully, ballet has much to offer and satisfies the appetites of those of us who can’t stand monotony.

People who get too caught up in quantities and big tricks can’t truly enjoy being in the present, and to me, the best way to improve technique is to really live in the present.  But I’m about to sell out because I have found my MOVE.  I have never, in my entire life wanted to be able to do something as badly as I want to do this:

The extraordinary, the unthinkable, fouette en relevé/pointe.  I’m crazy about it.  It’s beautiful to me how lifted and supported Viengsay is through her back and torso, and how free her leg is and lifted from underneath to rond de jambe and fouette around.  It has this unbound and soaring quality to it that has me all starry eyed and wistful.  The effect is subtle since the only thing that really changes is the omission of the plié but the result is like cheesecake.  Smooth, yet firm and holds its shape.

I have played around with this fouette, and not surprisingly it’s not going well.  For one thing, my body is a hot mess.  I am a lefty, and normally I do turns a la seconde to the left, because my right leg is the stronger supporting leg and can get a solid plié.  However, my right leg is also the more articulate, so it’s better at the fouette motion.  The drawback is, it has a weaker supporting leg to work with, and if I tried to do them to the left my left leg can’t seem to repeat the rond de jambe multiple times without folding into parallel.  So I do turns in second to the left, fouettes to the right.  One could call it ambidextrous, but it’s more like survival of the fittest.  So I work fouettes to the right but it’s not as comfortable so I can only get maybe between eight to twelve or so on a good day, which tells you that I shouldn’t be trying them on relevé, but there’s no harm in playing around.  But playing has resulted only in failure.  I can almost get it from a regular preparation and not from a series of fouettes since the opportunity for a bigger push presents itself, but still the result is the leg flails about as it wants to and takes you down with the ship.  As Jessica said, it’s a beast…and you’d be a fool not to believe it, but in regards to the beast fouette, I have only this to say:

Meanwhile, here’s a video of everyone’s favorite Carlos Acosta and Viengsay Valdes doing the entire Le Corsaire pas de deux, because you (I) can never get enough of his dancing and she also does the beast fouette again here (Jessica too said Carlos made her gasp, and she doesn’t gasp for Corsaire anymore).  Unfortunately the orchestra is kind of sort of heinously not good, but the dancing is of course sublime.  Viengsay also does some nifty double (and a triple) soutenous at the very end.  She’s just a cool ballerina.

So I shall conclude today’s entry with a Karen-ism to help you with your piques:

You inherently know how long your leg is…I just have to remind you to go to it.”