Balancement

The following is a tentative draft of a section from “The Positions and Movements of the Torso,” chapter 5 of the work in progress The Technique of Eighteenth-Century Ballet (© Edmund Fairfax 2018). Some aspects are discussed in detail in other sections or chapters, and the reader would simply consult those sections in a completed work, but these are not available here at the present time. To sidestep the high fees demanded by institutions and publishers for the use of copyrighted images, I use careful tracings of original illustrations instead, with irrelevant detail from background, costume, etc. omitted when desirable, and these tracings are presented below. In some cases, originals are given below temporarily until tracings can be furnished.

 

5.3.2.7 Balancement

There is a little evidence that a sidelong inclination of the body away from a low straight gesture leg pointing to second position during a plié was usual in the non-springing steps of la belle danse, and by implication, in the serious style as well. A few of the sources make explicit or implicit reference to such a movement in the aforegiven context. Perhaps the clearest example is found in a plate from Tomlinson (1735: pl. V). As the notational characters placed on the floor by the dancers’ feet make clear (fig. 1), the two figures are executing a pirouette temps de cuisse, to use Taubert’s term. Most noticeably, the dancers are depicted with the upper body leaning away from the extended gesture leg, which is pointed to second position, and with the knee of the weight-bearing leg bent in a plié, in preparation for a rise to turn.

Fig. 1. A copy of plate V from Tomlinson (1735).

An inclination of the body is also mentioned by Ferriol (1745: 1/98-99) in connection with the glissade. The context of his description (ch. 19) makes it clear that Ferriol has in mind here a sans sauter execution with the dancer moving sideways to the right in his example. He writes that after the dancer has done one glissade de côté sans sauter, he is to proceed “inclining the body in the direction of this foot [i.e., the left] in order to do another,” again to the right. Ferriol’s wording (“in order to”) suggests that the inclination of the body is to be done during the preparation for the glissade, which is the plié, as a number of extant descriptions make clear (ch. 19). In other words, while the right leg is extended to second position during the plié on the left, the dancer’s upper body is inclined away to the left side (as shown by the dancer on the right in fig. 1), only to straighten up again evidently as he rises in his relevé on the right. Ferriol does not explicitly mention that the free leg is stretched straight here while the body is inclined, but it is clear from other sources that executing a demi-coupé with the leg stretched to its end-position during the plié was a legitimate manner of execution (chs. 10 and 18).

A third reference to such an inclination of the body is embedded in Josson’s discussion (1763: 50) of the pas de Marcel figuring in the ballroom minuet (ch. 17). Having executed a pas de Marcel,

you must support yourself on the left foot, leaning the body a little on this side, and supporting yourself over the hip, raise the right cou-de-pied, still remaining in second position [i.e., with the right foot pointed in second position]. Then do the two [minuet] side steps to come back to the left in the usual manner.

In other words, during the plié to begin the first of two pas de menuet de côté, the dancer inclines the upper body to left, while bending on the left leg with the right foot pointing in second position (again, see the dancer on the right in fig. 1). Josson does not explicitly mention a bend here, but it is amply clear from the descriptions of the pas de menuet (ch. 13) that the opening movement, the demi-coupé, normally begins with a bend and rise, and thus Josson evidently assumed that his reader would know this.

In these three examples, the dancer inclines the body away from a gesture leg pointing to or in second position; the leg is clearly straight at least in Tomlinson’s illustration, and a straight leg is theoretically possible in the other two cases, although the precise shape is not described. In all three, a plié is explicit or implicit, and in all three, the movement in question is a non-springing step, namely, a pirouette temps de cuisse, a glissade sans sauter, and a pas de menuet. It seems highly unlikely that the inclination of the body belonged only to these three steps and that the same contextual features are purely coincidences rather than triggering factors governing the use of the inclination. Indeed, this kind of movement can be seen more or less as the terre-à-terre near equivalent of that called de volée, namely, an inclination of the upper body away from a gesture leg while the dancer is airborne (§5.3.2).

This movement was most likely called a balancement (‘sway’), even though none of the sources unambiguously uses the term to refer to such an inclination. The term is extant, but as a variant name for the pas balancé (‘swaying step’), to wit, a kind of demi-coupé done with a swaying movement of the torso, as well as a variant name for the simple demi-coupé (§11.2).

The term balancement both predates and postdates the eighteenth century as a dance expression. Lorin (1688: 46) speaks of a “balancement of two pas de bourrée,” presumably a bourrée done now to one side, now to the other, together with a swaying movement of the torso. Saint-Léon (1852: 49) clearly uses the term for a swaying movement as well (see next section). And so it is almost certain that balancement was indeed the usual term for this upper body movement in the eighteenth century as well.

 

5.3.2.7.1 Historical Context

Further supporting evidence comes from a consideration of sources predating and postdating the eighteenth century, which also give isolated examples of sidelong inclinations in a similar context and suggest that the practice was a longstanding convention simply handed down from one period to another. Lorin’s undescribed “balancement of two pas de bourrée” (1688: 46) has already been mentioned above. What appears to be the forebear of the eighteenth-century bourrée de côté (executed in fifth, second, and then fifth again) figures in de Lauze’s description of the courante (1623: 33). At one point, he instructs the reader to do the following:

instead of a chassé, one can rise with a temps with the left leg without springing, by rising onto the toe of the right foot such that the whole body, leaning to the right-hand side, must slowly follow, and at the same time that the left foot comes in front of the other, the right must be disengaged and carried once again to the side in order to slide the left behind at once.

Although the description is not without ambiguity, it seems that the dancer is to bend on the right leg, with the left extended to the side off the floor and with the body leaning to the right, away from the left. Having bent and disengaged with the body leaning, he then rises, drawing in the left leg, straightening up the body, and shifting his weight onto the left at once. To conclude, the dancer steps to second position with the right then slides the left foot into a closed position behind the right. While de Lauze does not explicitly allude to a bend here in this temps, the fact that the dancer is instructed to “rise” suggests that a bend is in fact understood. Indeed, in the temps en rond, that is, ‘a leg gesture in the round,’ or rond de jambe, which is described a little earlier (1623: 32), de Lauze explicitly states that the rise follows a foregoing bend:

stopping on the toe of the right foot, have him take the other off the floor, with the leg well stretched, in order to do a temps en rond, which is done taken to the side, the movement of which must proceed from the hip in order to be well formed; one must bend a little on the other leg and rise on the toe of the foot.

That is, the dancer in this temps en rond bends and rises on the right, while the left is taken out to second position off the floor in a circular manner, as implied by the phrase en rond (‘in the round’).

Examples of the same practice can be found in some sources from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Saint-Léon (1852: 49), for instance, both describes and illustrates in notation this leaning movement of the upper body in connection with a bourrée dessus en avant, wherein the dancer inclines the upper body away from a gesture leg pointing to second during the plié only to straighten up in rising (fig. 2):

preparatory position is fifth, with the legs stretched, the right behind, arms down, body turned to the right. On the first rest of the first measure, natural second position at half-height, the right leg stretched in the air, the left leg on the floor bent, the body de face and inclined to the left, the arms down. On the first sixteenth note, the supplementary sign for posé dessus preceding natural second position at half-height, the left leg stretched off the floor, the right leg on the floor stretched, on demi-pointe, the body upright. On the second sixteenth note, the supplementary sign for moving to the left, preceding natural second position at half-height, the right leg stretched off the floor, the left leg on the floor stretched, on demi-pointe, body upright. On the two sixteenth notes of the second measure, the supplementary sign for posé dessus preceding natural second position at half-height, the left leg stretched off the floor, the right leg on the floor bent, the body de face inclining to the right.
By the succession of the three movements a, b, c, marked at the shoulder-line, the body does a balancement; that is, the body inclines to the side opposite the leg which rises. This balancement continues regularly once every measure throughout the whole first example.

Fig. 2. Notation of balancement (Saint-Léon 1852: pl. VII), after the original.

This lean of the upper body away from a gesture leg stretched to the side during a plié is also evident in the illustration of a bourrée de côté (fig. 3) from Vaganova’s handbook ([1934] 1969: 62).

Fig. 3. Bourrée de côté, after a drawing in Vaganova ( [1934] 1969: 62).

5.3.2.7.2 Summary

The underlying principle here then appears to be that if the gesture leg was stretched straight to or in second position of the feet during a plié figuring in a non-springing step or in a jump executed sans sauter, the eighteenth-century dancer in la belle danse and by implication in the serious style performed a sidelong inclination of the body to the side opposite the gesture leg, with the body evidently reaching the most oblique angle at the same time that the gesture leg reached its open end-position (if not already in second at the beginning). When the leg is extended to second, this results in the body, from the toe of the gesture foot up to the torso, falling into one diagonal line, as shown in Tomlinson’s and Vaganova’s illustrations (figs. 1, 3). Since a high extension of the gesture leg would be at odds with the formation of this diagonal line, it seems likely that such an inclination was normally done only when the free foot was taken to lower heights, that of the ankle, as shown in the illustrations from Tomlinson (fig. 1) and Vaganova (fig. 3), or to that of the calf, as shown in the notation from Saint-Léon (fig. 2). The body evidently was to straighten up again at the same time as the relevé from the plié, such that once the supporting leg was stretched straight again, the dancer’s body was upright again, as clearly shown in the notation from Saint-Léon and in the illustration from Vaganova.

 

5.3.2.7.3 Stylistic Considerations

This practice applies most specifically to la belle danse and by implication to the serious style as well. Given that the half-serious is broadly noted to have been close to the serious style, the balancement above may also have been used here without alteration. For a discussion of its (unlikely) use in the comic and grotesque, see ch. 29.