Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

The new IngoDance author, Anastasia Isaeva, a prima ballerina, founder and ideological inspirer of the First School of Ballet — about gestures that can take you to a new level of perception of ballet art. 

Initially, ballet was not an independent genre, it was born as a product of a synthesis of different types of art. To reach us in the theatrical form that we see now, a ballet performance has undergone many changes. But the classical traditions, including the art of pantomime, remained unchanged. 

To be able to understand what the characters "say" in the dance, what certain gestures mean in ballet performances, one needs a little preparation. After that, a whole new level of perception of ballet performances opens — the characters seem to "come to life", the movements on stage no longer seem just beautiful, they gain meaning. 

Having mastered the understanding of ballet, a person will be able to perceive all the art wider, fuller and deeper — it enriches, fills with beautiful emotions and gives unforgettable moments. 

Swan Lake

Let's start with one of the most popular ballets, Swan Lake. Siegfried's gesture means an oath, and this is intuitive for many people, but notice how the pose changes depending on the style of the performance. For example, in the ballet La Bayadère, which we will talk about later, an oath looks absolutely different.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

The pose of Odette (the white swan) means that she is afraid and covers herself with one wing, because she sees a crossbow in the prince's hand. You will see this position in her dance quite often, as it reinforces the image of a lyrical, fragile and feminine heroine. 

Several new choreographic techniques were introduced in the ballet Swan Lake. For the first time, the corps de ballet was arranged in the form of a "wing", positions of the arms were also innovated — the choreographer modified the usual classical ballet positions, turning the artists' arms out so that all poses became "swan-like". These solutions inscribed the name of the choreographer Lev Ivanov in world ballet history.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

In a scene from the last act, Odette shields the prince from the Evil Wizard. Please, note that her position resembles a cross. This gesture of protection can be found in other classical performances as well.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

La Bayadère

The ballet La Bayadère is believed to be one of the masterpieces of Marius Petipa. Its distinctive feature is the oriental flavor that influenced not only the design of the performance, but also the dance.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Let’s take a look at the entrance of the main character - Nikiya, this part of her dance is called "prayer". Nikiya is a temple dancer who performs worship and rituals, so the elements of the part reflect her character and activities.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Now, look at the Brahmin's gesture, which means an order: a folded hand, positioning of the body and head. Clear lines lacking fluidity stand for power.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Finally, the oath gesture. Do you remember what it looked like in Swan Lake? Do you feel the difference in the characters, in the mood of the performances?

Giselle

The ballet Giselle is one of the brightest examples of a romantic performance. Here again, in contrast to La Bayadère, we can see how the gestures differ from each other. 

In a scene at the beginning of the first act, Giselle is pointing with her hand in a jump, as if looking for Albert, whom she is supposed to meet - he must be here, somewhere among the village houses. Pay attention to the direction of her hand, head and gaze. Remember the entrance of the main character in La Bayadère - her hands are folded in a "prayer" position, as if turned to God.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Giselle's gesture means “I heard/I hear”, but since we’ve already seen Albert knocking on the door of the house, we understand that she is saying: "I’ve heard someone knocking on my door." This pose can be seen in all classical performances.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Here is the gesture of knocking on the door itself, these gestures go one after the other.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

This is Giselle guessing on a daisy: “He-loves-me he-loves-me-not”, and gets the result - Albert doesn’t love her. Giselle gets very upset and throws the flower away. Albert, while Giselle turned away, pulls out one petal and says to Giselle: “Look, you're wrong! It turns out that I love you!" He deceives her this way, which is important for understanding the later mad scene. This scene is one of the central in the ballet, and the interpretation of gestures explains why the heroine goes mad and dies. This scene helps us realize how the beginning and the end of the first act are inextricably linked.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

This is the scene where she recalls her guessing and realizes that Albert deceived her back then, took advantage of her trust, and she didn’t listen to her intuition.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Her gesture in the mad scene means "I was a bride." Pointing to the ring finger in all ballets, including La Bayadère, can be interpreted as a marriage proposal or a wedding that has already taken place.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

Anna Karenina

Contemporary performances don’t have any uniform canons, as the classical ballets used to. Therefore, the details of such performances can be interpreted in different ways. Look at the picture: at the beginning of the performance, Anna is standing in a ray of light, surrounded by a toy railway.

Gestures: The Key to Understanding Ballet

On the one hand, the railway can symbolize a vicious circle of circumstances, Anna found herself in, or rigid rules and frameworks of the 19th century, the heroine lived in. On the other, it can be understood as the fact that all people go around in the same circle, in the life loop, which one can exit only after death. This is the way that the main character chooses at the end. The ray of light, in which Anna is standing, looks here like a ray of hope, like something that every person is striving for. 

As you can see, even a small piece can take a long time to ponder. After all, modern ballet gives the viewer even greater scope for interpretation than classical ballet. 

I hope that this knowledge will help you look at the well-known performances with a fresh eye. I’d advise you not to postpone, but to try and consolidate the new knowledge by watching any classical production in the very near future.

Enjoy watching it!