Allegro in ballet could mean either petit allegro or grand allegro.
The term allegro in music means ‘at a brisk tempo.’ In Italian the word allegro means merry, but in ballet it means jumps. The term grand allegro refers to big travelling jumps and turns, and petit allegro is when the jumps are smaller and faster. If you see the work petit allegro terre a terre, this is the fastest and most difficult allegro of all for a dancer to perform.
How Is Allegro In Ballet Used in The Great Ballets?
Allegro has always charmed audiences worldwide. Allegro adds excitement to watching ballet. Dancers perform allegro to demonstrate their gravity defying and supernatural qualities.
In the Ballet La Sylphide, the sylph barely touches the floor as she floats and hovers with her fluttering batterie steps (jumps beating the feet in the air).
Petipa was famous for his choreographed legendary examples, like the four little swans in swan lake act 2 with their synchronised dancing and petit allegro with even the heads tilted in perfect unison.
In the Sleeping Beauty prologue, the fifth fairy’s finger variation includes a series of pas de chats that take off and land on pointe.
In the Nutcracker, the candy canes and other sweet treats bounce briskly through the Kingdom of Sweets.
In act 2 of Giselle, Myrtha, Queen of the Willis forces Albrecht to dance using petit and grand allegro until he dies of exhaustion.
There is often friendly competition between the sexes, where you see duelling petit allegros like in the Bluebird pas de deux.
Grand allegro in ballet can make the performance both thrilling and unexpected. There are many jumps and leaps where the dancers show amazing elevation and change position midair and afterwards land with neat precision.
Men mostly get to shine in the grand allegro in ballet, as they can jump higher than their female counterparts. You will usually find the men’s elevated turns that travel around the stage are complimented by the woman’s fouette turns or she does traveling turning steps around him.
In Don Quixote, Kitri replies to Basilio’s leaps with a signature jump of her own, which is a grand jete with the back leg bent to graze the back of her head.
Although traditionally grand allegro was left to the men, more choreographers recognise the virtuosity, strength and stamina of the ballerinas of today and more and more we are seeing females doing grand allegro on the stages of the world.
For dancers, the most spectacular allegro jumps are those which change direction in midair, like saute de basque, rivoltade, grand jete entournant and grand fouette saute. Male dancers are known to show spectacular tour en l’air, which is a jump that turns in the air with a straight body.
Allegro In Ballet Technique
There are many different names for the allegro in ballet steps. Most allegro in ballet steps have petit and grand versions, as it depends on the music, personality and the tempo of the music, as well as if there are beats or turns involved during the jumps.
Here are some of the most common ballet allegro steps.
Saute, Changement, and Soubresaut
These are normally petit allegro steps and the dancer pushes off from two feet and lands on two feet. These are relatively simple jumps and are usually the first jumps learned in ballet class. These jumps are also often used as warmups for the more advanced steps.
A saute is done in first position. A Soubresaut is done in fifth position with a clinging action of the legs in the air, and a changement is done from fifth position to fifth position changing the feet at the height of the jump.
This step pushes off from one foot while the other brushes out and then lands on both feet. The feet ‘assemble’ in the air before landing. This is an important jump for developing the speed and strength of the inner thighs, which the dancer will need to perform batterie and the more advanced jumps.
To do a jete, you brush the leg out to the side fully stretched and then land on it. There are many forms and variations of this exercise.
Pas De Chat
This is the step of the cat and is a light jump from one leg to the other passing through retire with the legs turned out. You can read more about the pas de chat here.
The sissonne pushes off from two feet and lands on one. There is a multitude of variations of this jump. The dancer can either hold the leg up after the jump or close it behind or in front of the other one (ferme).
How To Improve Your Allegro In Ballet
Here are a few pointers to work on for improving your allegro in ballet:
- Make sure to breathe. If you hold your breath you will freeze in the air and the jump will end. If you find you are doing this, try shouting when you take off.
- Make sure you are using your arms correctly. Keep your shoulders down and your neck free of tension.
- Push off of the floor with your whole foot all the way down to your toes. This will increase your elevation and ensures that your feet will be beautifully pointed in the air.
- Land through your whole foot, toe-ball-heel into an elastic plie. Make sure the heels come down to allow for a more secure base for your landings.
- Use the music to help you with your timing.
- Concentrate on landing neatly and making use of your demi plie.
To add sparkle and precision to jumps, batterie (beats) are done in the air. This is where the dancer beats their thighs crisscrossing the legs in the air. Almost any jump can be performed with a battu.
Cabriole and Brise
The legs are beaten at an angle to the body. The angle of the legs could be back, side or forward with the angle of the legs going from slight to 90 degrees.
These begin with a relatively simple crossing of the legs in the air, to more advanced entrechat six where the legs are changed three times in the air before landing. Each crossing of the legs raises the number by two, so an entrechat six crosses the legs three times in midair. Entrechats can travel, land on one foot, or land on two legs. The odd counted entrechats usually land on one leg with the other foot sur le cou-de-pied at the front or the back.
In all jumps or allegro in ballet work the dancer will always start and end the jump with a plie (bent legs) with the knees directly over the toes.
How To Improve Your Batterie
Batterie work is all about keeping your footwork clean, fast and precise. Beats come more naturally to some than others, The dancer has to strive to move and change direction as quickly as a hummingbird. If you have a tight body, over extended legs, you may do better with batterie than with Adage.
Here are some tips for dancers when doing batterie:
- Start to beat on the way up.
- Strive for clean positions rather than speed.
- During the bar, work on the ‘in’ part of your battements tendus.
- Open your legs to a small second position in the air before you beat them, as the extra movement adds clarity and excitement to the jump.
- Don’t think in out in as you jump, but rather in in in.