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Sur le Cou-de-Pied.

Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique

SUR LE COU-DE-PIED is often overlooked, although it is not so difficult to achieve. But Balanchine was insistent that in early, intermediate and, often, in advanced training, dancers practice the movements from fifth flat sur le cou-de-pied. The technique for reaching it requires awareness, concentration and effort. Getting to sur le cou-de-pied and returning to fifth correctly was an essential base for moving Balanchine's way. Also, the more open and turned-out look Mr. B wanted us to have was enhanced if we could show the position correctly. So, Mr. B had us practice going sur le cou-de-pied and returning to fifth as an exercise in itself. He wanted these movements to become second nature to us.

Mr. B redefined the technique for picking the foot off the floor in ways intended to give the movement subtlety and nuance and to help each dancer give her toot the most beautiful possible shape. His insistence on consistent attention to the details (e.g. heels forward, toes back) trained our feet in ways that helped us avoid sickling, the "bent spoon" look. He also worked to make the action articulate and delicate and to maximize the turn-out throughout the movement. The refinement he worked for is crucial to his aesthetic, because it trains the feet in correct action. Even when the dancer does not go through sur le cou-de-pied, she still takes her foot off the floor with the toes going back and the heel coming forward. The awareness and the energy for the fully wrapped position have to be there. His aim was to have dancers whose feet were as pliable as an elephant's trunk when it picks up a peanut, yet very strong (also true of the elephant's trunk).

From fifth position front, the movement starts when the toes curl back just grazing the floor and the heel releases from the floor and stays forward. The toes immediately wrap around the smallest part of the supporting ankle, the heel finishes in front of the ankle and the toes in back just off the floor. The dancer may feel that her working foot grasps or hugs the supporting ankle. Sometimes in class, Mr. B would see that we were not in the correct position and he would stop. Indicating his neck, he would say, "Cou ... the neck! You know, the neck of the foot." The foot is not fully pointed-straight up and down, with the toes aiming directly to the floor; it is angled or slanted back, in a beveled position. This happens as the working knee pulls back to the side, maintaining maximum turnout, while the hips remain pulled up and square.

From fifth back, the toes of the working foot move and curl back as the heel releases to come forward. It is essential that the heel not initiate this action by lifting up and off the floor. In moving to the sur le cou-de-pied position, the foot does not make demi-pointe. As the toes begin to move toward the back and the heel forward, it is necessary to bend the working knee and take it clearly back and to the side; the working foot will then attach at the back of the supposing ankle. Again, the foot is beveled.

In sur le cou-de-pied back we naturally don't have an ankle to wrap the foot around and yet, because the action is the same, the foot should have the same shape. Sometimes, to make his point clear, Mr. B would stand very close behind a dancer and place his foot so that his leg was right behind hers. As she made sur le cou-de-pied back, she simultaneously wrapped his ankle in sur le cou-de-pied front. He would say that if we had a third leg, we would wrap it.

When placing the foot onto the floor from sur le cou-de-pied front, the working leg begins to straighten and the toes, still held back, slide down the supporting ankle, making contact with the floor next to the supporting heel. The working heel comes forward, aiming for the floor in front of the big toe of the supporting foot as the working foot slides into fifth position without passing through demi-pointe. As the working heel moves into a crossed fifth position, the working thigh rotates out even more. The dancer pulls up on the supporting hip to make room for the working leg. Placing the foot to the floor from sur le cou-de-pied back requires maximum awareness. The working foot is maintained in its beveled position as it lowers, which places the toes on the floor away from (not against or next to) the back of the supporting heel. As the working knee continues to straighten, the foot adjusts slightly as the heel is lowered toward the floor and is pulled in to the little toe of the supporting foot. The toes of the working foot are held back as long as possible as the foot is brought into fifth position. This avoids sickling or snaking the foot.

Sur le cou-de-pied offers an excellent example of adjusting the combinations as the class goes along. When Mr. Balanchine saw that dancers could not pick their feet up properly doing passe, for example, he might give an exercise comprising only picking the foot up, going to sur le cou-de-pied, and then putting the foot back to the floor. In each class, he gave us what he thought we needed, not only in the center, but, perhaps more importantly, also at the barre.


A) From fifth: the toes start back, the heel release forward: no demi-pointe.

B) In sur le cou-de-pied in back: the foot is "wrapped" (beveled, not a full point); the toes are curled, not flexed; the shape of the working foot is the same, front or back; the foot is at the same level, front and back; the toes are just off the floor front and back

C) Closing from sur le cou-de-pied in back fifth: in back, the toes aim away from the supporting heel and the working heel leads into fifth before the toes (no sickling)

D) No demi-pointe closing front or back
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Title Annotation:ballet technique
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Previous Article:Vaudeville Book Waltzes Through Time.
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