Listen to this episode where we celebrate reaching the last barre exercise, and lift the lid on Grand Battement and Grand Battement en cloche!
In this episode David gives a brief lesson on the difference between Grand Battement and the en cloche, and gives an example of how he would sing this exercise when he’s setting it for the dancers and pianist.
Listen to the three pianists as they discuss what they are looking for and listening for so they can choose the correct piece of music, and the importance of two very different tempi depending on where the accent is placed.
The podcast team then discuss some of the celebrations and the pitfalls of Grand Battement and how they help the dancers complete their barre successfully and get ready for the centre.
Listen out for the “gun shot” analogy and other comical anecdotes from the team.
Music Referenced in this Episode
Transcription of this Episode by Jonathan Still
MG: Matt Gregory CH: Chris Hobson AH: Akiko Hobson DY: David Yow
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident]
V/O: You’re listening to the Ballet Piano Podcast: Lifting the lid on dance accompaniment.
CH: Hello podcast fans and welcome back to episode 10 of the Ballet Piano Podcast. You join us for a very special celebration because we’ve finally made it through to the end of the ballet barre. [all: yay!] So the exercise that we finish off with at the ballet barre is the biggest beats we’ve done so far, and in French it’s referred to as grands battements. But before we start celebrating, setting off fireworks and heading down to the local boozer for a pint of your favourite beverage, please let me introduce our wonderful podcast team. I’m Chris Hobson, and of course, I am here with Matthew Gregory
MG: Hello listeners
CH: Akiko Hobson
CH: And the delectable hashtag David Yow of Instagram
CH: So, grands battements David, it can come in two forms, can’t it, we have your standard grands battements or we could have grands battements en cloche.
DY: Yes, so grands battements means “big beating,” you’re beating the air, and you’re trying to also beat your legs together, so you’re practising for the centre practice when you’re going to jump and use a very quick action of your legs to get yourself, to help yourself get airborne into a big jump. So grands battements by itself would just be like starting from a fifth position, and you just battement the whole of your leg out either to the front, to the side, or the back, as high as you can, trying to keep your posture correct. And as you said earlier, you can add on to that battements en cloche. If you imagine a grandfather’s. . . the pendulum of a grandfather clock going from one side to the other side, well we do that in ballet, kind of, and we mimic that in terms of going to the front as high as we can and to the back, it can also be called battements balancés, which means that it will be balanced equally high at the front as it would be when you battement to the back.
CH: So like the swinging of the big bell or something
CH: So shall we start off with, let’s say, going with the basic grands battements.
DY: The basic I would normally go, and I’d choose, if it was very basic, I’d choose something like a 4/4, a march, and I’d do from a fifth position, I’d ask the students to do a grand battement to the front as high as they can, controlling coming down through a tendu and closing into fifth. So it might be timed, we had four counts in, we’d go [in rhythm] five and a six and seven and eight. And then we’d do grand battement one tendu and close, and battement tendu and close and let’s say we’d do that three times, and close and stay, and hold. We might do that en croix which remember means in the shape of a cross, so then we’d do the same sequence to the side, to the back and to the side. That would be a very very basic exercise.
CH: Once of the first things I think as a pianist you’re listening out for on a basic grands battements, you’ve got the march there, and it’s, does it go, is the grand battement on the one, or is it on the upbeat. Does it go “and a one and a two,” or is it “three and four and one and a two”? And that’s a. . . you’ve got to be aware of that, haven’t you, you’ve gotta get that right, because you’re going to lead the whole class with you, and you could lead the whole class incorrectly.
CH: If you don’t know that, so I think that’s the first basic one that I would always listen out for, regardless of what the level is I’m playing. Where the grand battement is.
DY: And hopefully the teacher will have explained that clearly for you, for the students.
MG: It’s very different tempos between those two. If it’s up on the one or up on the and. Very very different.
AH: Because legs are heavy aren’t they.
DY: And it does take a lot of energy to throw your legs up that high and control them coming down without hurting yourself.
CH: Is it a little bit like at the end of a grand, when you get to grands battements, if you’ve had a long barre, let’s say you’ve been there for 45 minutes after a long break, a long summer break or whatever, or an hour, it must feel a little bit like finishing a 10k or, Matt, you’ve done a marathon, how hard was the last mile, you know, you’re just coming to the end of it, is that what grands battements can feel like? You know, you’re getting to the end of it?
DY: It is a bit of a, when you’re starting to get, well, if we were going to use a 3/4, now that feels more like a release, because you’re swinging your leg and the music is matching what you’re doing, so you’re going up perhaps as quickly and then slowly coming down, up 2 3 down 2 3 up 2 3 down 2 3. And so there is a kind of a release to that kind of swinging motion, isn’t there really.
MG: It’s a throw isn’t it.
MG: It’s a throw of the leg, as opposed to a lifting.
AH: If the teacher choreographed that way with the 3/4—because sometimes I experienced that, you know, with the 3/4 music, I am, I think that what you explained David, is the feeling that I have with the grands battements in 3/4, but sometimes I experience the teacher put the wrong movement to the wrong accents, so it becomes very uncomfortable with 3/4. However, you somehow have to manage to play 3/4 for this particular exercise, and that’s going to be a struggle for the musician.
DY: What do you do then, if you know that it’s not going to work, what do you then do, do you carry on with what you were playing?
AH: If I don’t know the person, the teacher, I just try to make it work, very uncomfortably, if I personally knew the person, I might suggest something, outside of the studio, but not when the class is going on. What do you think?
CH: I’m with you, yeah, even if, I mean like, people we work with David, they know, they obviously know that we’re friends outside of the studio as well, but I would never correct you in the studio in front of dancers, to say, oh, I might, you know, or if you came home and said, what do you think, let’s say, oh maybe it would work better if you did it, you know, and a one, or one and, however, but I don’t think any of us, would you ever do that? You would never openly give feedback like that would you?
MG: No, not in class. I would just always try and do what the teacher sang as best possible, and if the grand battement is up on the and, “and a one and a two” as deathly slow as that, would be musically just, you know, that it’s benefitting them. Or even if it’s “and a one and a two” slower is always better, certainly at company level. I almost go to an adage, something I would play for adage, with a bit of accent, you know.
CH: If you’re just starting out in the ballet world as an accompanist, and you’re presented with a march, as David said, let’s go with your two most obvious options realistically, you could play, Do you hear the people sing? If it’s going up on the and a one, or you could play Dance of the Knights for going up on the one [sings the tune].
CH: It’s not a march, but it’s got that dotted rhythm to keep it going, doesn’t it. And get you through, and from there, you can start moving away off to anything then, can’t you, you can increase your repertoire as, cast your net as wide as you want to, look for any sorts of marches, you know, you can use 6/8 Sousa marches, you can use anything, but you know it’s just something very very basic to hook on to at the start.
MG: And to be kind to the dancers as well, they’re getting to maximum extension at this point, I mean, it’s quite aggressive isn’t it, grands battements.
DY: It is.
MG: It’s the culmination of everything they’ve done up to this point at the barre, it’s no holds barred, it’s everything, you know. And it’s, you know, some dancers at company level don’t need the whole exercise, they’ll sort of drop out and get ready for second side, because they’ve done enough.
DY: Yeah. It is a very demanding exercise.
MG: So I just always, I’m very observant, for the grands battements, of what the dancers are doing, and just to be kind to that tempo.
CH: So being kind, we’re not going to play the march from Nutcracker for them are we, because I tried it once, and the eye-rolls across the studio. [others laugh] I thought I was going to get crucified.
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident]
CH: So flipping over onto grands battements en cloche, usually we’re going to be on a waltz for that, aren’t we, for this swinging bell motion.
DY: Yes, we are, generally. It is.
CH: Let’s all swing together on a 3/4 [all laugh] A nice 3/4 and a nice waltz, and again, it’s sort of like, what Akiko was talking about before we took our little break there, it’s, it depends on where the accent is going to be for this, so if you were setting a cloche exercise David, could you give us an example of what we might hear in the studio with you?
DY: So let’s say we’d have a preparation for four bars, and we’ll go, five and six tendu derrière seven and a eight and then we do a battement en cloche devant 2 3 and then we go through first, and brush through first to the battement derrière, 2 2 3, 3 2 3 4. We might do that six times, and a six, and we might just like brush through the first and tendu devant and then we’d reverse the whole thing 7 and a 8. And that might be an exercise there. Just for that action of swinging backwards and forwards.
MG: And would you set it on the brighter side?
DY: Yes, it helps if it’s bright.
MG: Yeah, because it’s the momentum of passing through first isn’t it.
MG: To get the height you know at the front or the back
DY: [with MG] Or the back, yes, totally.
CH: I like it on a 3/4, I like it on a waltz, because I think it feels something almost celebratory about it. [others laugh] Yeah, you’ve got there, and it’s you know, you can have fun, you can play Golden Brown or Perfect Day. Perfect Day can be quite good fun if it’s been a harsh barre.
MG: Talking about celebratory, I play Wunderbar from Kiss Me Kate. Something like that.
CH: Where do you stand, musically, Akiko, with a cloche?
AH: Cloche? Oh gosh, I don’t know what I play.
CH: Cloche oh gosh. A poet and didn’t know it! You say your English is bad, you’re a poet over there.
AH: Don’t make fun!
CH: I’m not!
AH: I don’t know, what, it doesn’t come . . . what do I play in 3/4 cloche? I don’t know. Matt, help me!
MG: I always play something with a lot of energy, and a lot of momentum.
CH: I like Gaston.
MG: . . . you know, something that’s quite chromatic, or it’s always building.
AH: Oh I know, I know what I play. The, what’s that TV series, that’s been. . . Game of Thrones.
CH: Oh [sings tune]
AH: In a very strong 3/4
CH: I like the, is it Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, because you’ve, if you’ve got two sides again, 32 bars on each side, you’ve got the minor going into the major, so that’s an uplift, halfway through to get you to the second side. It’s got a little bit of chromaticism in the melody in there, and it’s just fun, it’s raucous fun isn’t it.
MG: Yeah, like you say, it’s the end of the barre, it’s the last thing, it should be the biggest climax, the grands battements, isn’t it, musically, choreographically, you know, they’re so warm, ready for centre.
CH: It’s the biggest climax that we’ve had so far, isn’t it, while we’ve all been together in the studio, it’s great, it’s such a happy time to be there. And the smiles as well, around the studio, that you can sometimes see.
DY: It’s relief.
CH: At company level you know what’s coming up next, you go, the warm-up effectively for the barre has been done, hasn’t it, so it’s OK, right, let’s really go up a gear and get into work mode.
MG: You’ve found every technique, you’ve found every position, at its extreme, you know, facility, so it’s ready for centre.
AH: We can have a few minutes break before the centre, so for us, as well.
CH: So we’ve done marches, we’ve done waltzes on 3/4, but of course we can have polonaises, we can have mazurkas as well, can’t we.
MG: Oh yes, the polonaise really . . .
AH: I like polonaise for grands battements.
MG: It puts space in the grand battement doesn’t it, because you can really direct the down.
CH: One and a two and three and . . .
MG: I mean, I’ve got a funny story, when I was training as a dancer, our ballet teacher at college, she had this analogy about grands battements, and she said, the speed of the grand battement going up is like the bullet from a gun, and the speed of the grand battement coming down is the feathers from the bird that you’ve just killed [laughter]
CH: That’s a really good one, brilliant!
MG: I mean, that just says her sort of sick sense of humour, I suppose. But you know, some things never leave you. And so . . .
CH: I like, one of the guys I used to work with up north who’s ex-Dutch [National] he had a similar one, but it was, I think everybody says it, “up like a rocket, down like a parachute.”
DY: Ah, good.
AH: I have a very very unusual experience.
CH: I’m sorry to hear that, but what about your grands battements?
AH: One ballet mistress [laughs] Because you know because now we all talk about accent and speed and everything, and this ballet mistress, particular ballet mistress asked me to play Moonlight Sonata first movement, which is very smooth.
CH: David, I wished we’d have taken a photograph of your face then, when you heard that, that was priceless!
AH: And I was like, are you sure? “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure.” And she basically started to mark [sings the opening bars] I mean it, you can’t see it, but it somehow worked.
CH: Up and a up and a up
AH: It was “down and a down and a down and a”
AH: Yeah, and because she kind of choreographed it with the music, it kind of worked, but I felt really funny, and also, because the music is quite calm and quiet, and I keep hearing the shakes of the barre going [makes shaking noise] with this calm music, so it was quite a funny experience I had.
DY: But a really good illustration of how it is to understand what the movement you’re doing is, and what kind of choice of music you choose
CH: And how music can support it
CH: It’s like, I always find for polonaise, the Chopin “Military” works really well [sings opening theme] I tend to steer clear of the polaccas and the polonaises from the big hitter ballets such as Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, unless someone specifically asks for, say the Swan Lake one for a particular reason, I’ll tend to steer clear of the ballet rep, because you don’t want to hear ballet rep when you’re going to be doing it in the evenings, do you.
MG: And at company as well. You have to read the room.
CH: And then, if you can, if you get it, if you read the room slightly incorrectly, flip on to the second side and play the theme tune from ET. Because you know, you might have hated the first side.
DY: Good recovery
MG: Redeem yourself
CH: That’s your Get Out of Jail Free card, that, isn’t it.
AH: I’d do Jurassic Park again.
CH: So then we think that we’ve finished at grands battements, everything can come to a close at the end of the barre, but you’re going to be asked sometimes for something else, so it could be either a set stretch, or an unset stretch, just to finish off, or some rises or some relevés, what, it’s just for finishing off and finding a different movement, or . . .?
DY: After all that energy being expended, you just want a little moment to recover, just to stretch out the muscles, because they’ve worked really really hard, and just to have that time in between everything, a good 3/4 now, just relaxing adagio 3/4, nice and quiet, is really helpful to us.
MG: I know some teachers that after the barre, or one particular teacher, shall I say, after the barre, they face with their backs to the barre, and a second position that’s slightly than they’ve worked in, and just a couple, like, three or four deep grands pliés. You now, after all that, to stretch everything out.
CH: Do you find, if we’re going to go in for the stretching, what you were just talking about David, I won’t, I’m not going to fill the room with sound. Because we’ve just done that, we’ve just peaked so far, and then, the stretch is for, it’s just very personal, it’s just for what you need to do, so just something that’s there, but something that’s not intrusive, but supportive.
MG: Yeah, and if it’s just a free stretch, I’ll play all the music that I know isn’t square, because it’s not an exercise, or I’ll play the pop tunes that aren’t square, or the time signature’s not quite right
AH: People tend to sing along, don’t they
MG: And people can sing along, but I always play it like it’s just background music in a bar or something, and they can stretch, or they can listen to it as much as they want, or they can just go out of the room, get water and come back, it’s like a little, a little interlude, isn’t it.
DY: It is. I mean there are times when you want a structure, and you want a nice 3/4 and everything, but there are other times, like you just said, you just want to bring it back down a notch before you start the centre.
CH: Yeah, and after that cele-, you know, that big finish, it’s nice just to, that moment of focus before we all come together, get rid of the ballet barres, and see if we can, well, “see if we”—not that I ever do!—see if the dancers can still stand on two feet unsupported without the barre. So yeah, does anybody else have anything to add to grands battements.
DY: It’s just. . .just know that it’s energy that we need from the pianist, whether it’s a 3/4 or a 4/4, whatever it is, it’s usually energy that helps us get through the whole thing, because it’s very demanding.
CH: Well, for pianists, we’re going to be talking about looking for, it’s basically looking for where the accents are, isn’t it, hopefully the teacher’s musical enough to establish a tempo and a time signature, so it’s just down to you as a musician to work out when the grand battement happens, and where you need to place the accents, isn’t it, and if you’ve got that, it’s a relatively straightforward exercise to play, isn’t it? It’s not too many holes that you can get tripped up in, is it, or fall down.
AH: We recently discovered what to play for David, didn’t we?
CH: Oh yes! I forgot that.
AH: It’s his favourite music, about half a year ago, didn’t we.
CH: Yeah, the theme tune from Thunderbirds.
DY: I love it. It takes me back to childhood, it’s brilliant.
CH: It’s something that we all grew up with, wasn’t it, the Thunderbirds and the puppets on the strings.
DY: It makes me smile all the time.
MG: Do you know what I play for grands battements?
CH: Go on
MG: It’s in 2 or 4, and a lot of the dancers won’t get it if they’re young, but I play the theme tune from Dallas.
CH: Yes! [CH and MG sing the tune together]
MG: You know, it’s usually the teacher that gets it.
CH: That’s when we know that we’ve. . . Well we’ve talked about this previously, haven’t we, picking your repertoire, and knowing your audience.
AH: And feel how old you are.
CH: Yeah, we’re all getting older aren’t we. It’s a sad state of affairs. We’ll be even older when we join you next time, because we’ll be discussing port de bras, which is going to be a really good fun episode, because it’s the first one away from the ballet barre. Before we bring this episode to a close, I’d just like to remind you that if you want to, you can visit our website at www.balletpianopodcast.com and on there are links to different things that we’ve talked about in the show, you can also visit our web shop, where you can download—I’m sorry, where you can order some fantastic merchandise, including bags to put your pointe shoes, or sheet music in
MG: I’m going there right now!
CH: And then look out on the Instagram and the social media, to look out very soon for some fantastic photographs of us lot modelling all this beautiful apparel, so until next time, it’s goodbye from me
MG: Goodbye from me
AH: Bye bye
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident]
. . . ENDS. . .
© 2020 Ballet Piano Podcast | Producer: Chris Hobson
Transcription by Jonathan Still 18/4/20