The thrill of petit allegro is intense. The adrenaline pushing through the body as it slices and dices the air cannot be matched. When done well, petit allegro leaves the audience wondering what they even just witnessed while simultaneously aching to see more of that very thing.
Petit allegro is a tricky little thing. It seems to not want to be caught. Dancers frantically rush about making large attempts to capture the footwork and place it in time to the music. Add in battu and some sweepy port de bras and it can feel absolutely impossible.
What is a dancer to do?
I offer some tips!
NOTE: A good rule of thumb is to ensure dancers understand each individual step before combining several steps into a combination. The tips below apply to dancers who have already reached that level.
1. Bit By Bit—S L O W L Y
Dancers easily become overwhelmed by the whole combination. Even if that combination is made of steps they know very well. The speed of petit allegro is intimidating. Taking a small section at a time and slowing it down allows the dancer to recognize their abilities and areas that might cause them difficulty. This method of piecing together the exercise makes petit allegro into a puzzle for the brain and feet. A puzzle that, with the correct tools, can most definitely be solved.
2. Focus On Transitions
Once the dancer has put the combination into their bodies and mind bit by bit, they should move on to the transitions within the exercise. Things such as starting the combination again immediately after finishing it the first time, or immediately switching to repeat the combination on the second side. Transitions are prime areas for confusion to take over because it feels like you are done. Your mind is not ready to start again or start on the other side. This brief moment can cause a collapse to occur, and often dancers are unable to catch back up. Encourage your students to concentrate on the transitions while they are working the combination. Waiting until it is “go time” will not do.
3. Create More Time
There is almost always enough time. Even if it feels like there is no time—there is still time. But it is up to the dancer to create that time. What tends to happen is we lose time on steps where we could actually gain time. Simple linking steps like pas de bourrée, coupé, tombé, etc. —these are all steps dancers have been doing for years, but somehow they fail to recognize they need pretty much zero time to make these steps live. In fact, most of these linking steps can be connected at incredibly fast paces to the larger steps that follow (assemblé, ballotté, etc.) which then results in those smaller steps taking up negative time. It is a little magic trick. Suddenly, the dancer has TIME. Time to bend. Time to allow the jump to get in the air. Time to inject musicality. Time to DANCE.
4. Consider The Whole Picture
The dancer has the sequence down: the transitions are solid, they are not short on time. Next up is putting it all together. How can the port de bras complete the line? How will the bend in the body help provide momentum? How do the eyes strategically draw focus exactly where you want it to be? These are high level artistic choices being made, and these choices make all the difference. It is no good to simply do “perfect” petit allegro. For art to exist, we still need the human element. Robotic petit allegro is hard on the eyes. No one wants to watch it. Encourage your students to devote energy to the whole picture, not just the sequence and technique.
5. Drill Down
Right before the combination begins, or directly after they have tried once and are preparing to go again, dancers need to understand how to drill down on the problem area. Was it the strange weight shift that threw them off? Maybe it was the sudden change in pattern that caused them to lose time? Or perhaps the port de bras feels awkward to them and they are struggling to find that “in sync” feeling. Whatever the case, they need to be able to find that problem and drill it out. Going in blindly will not usually offer great results. There needs to be intent to drill that problem over and over until their body and mind finally accept it.
6. Just Keep Jumping
Whatever happens, just keep on jumping. Once you stop, it is so hard to get back into the game. I tell my students to just do changements if they get lost until they are able to join back into the combination. Keeping that momentum going is so important because it trains the mind to not give in. It trains the body to not stop. It insists the body and mind find their way back together and push towards the goal. I realize this “just keep going” concept cannot, and should not, apply to all areas of ballet. But in regards to petit allegro, it can work wonders because it provides a way back in. You are not kicked out of the dance; not by any means. All you have to do is keep on jumping and eventually you will find yourself slicing and dicing the air once more.