This episode starts with David educating the listeners in great detail about the technicalities of the Battement fondu, what the shape of a fondu looks like, and how important a step it is, in particular where jumps are concerned.
The listeners learn that this particular exercise and step is quite challenging with regards to standing on one leg for the first time, coordination, and each leg doing something slightly different.
David sets a Battement Fondu exercise for the listeners to hear, and demonstrates how he would structure the exercise.
And in terms of music for this exercise, the listeners learn that the battement Fondu exercise is somewhat synonymous with the habanera rhythm and style, however not to be confused with the tango. And in this episode the listeners learn about the difference the habanera and the tango, in terms of feel and tempo.
We also learn from the team how music can be used to group or pair similar exercises together to save time, and to enhance the qualities of each, or completely opposing exercises to work on the juxtaposition.
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.
MG: Hey there podcasters, it’s time again for another Ballet Piano Podcast, with all the usual suspects, Chris, who brings the banter
AH: Akiko, who brings the glamour
AH: Hey there! Do I have to be like really creative as well, like you? [all laugh]
MG: Hashtag David Yow of Instagram who brings a touch of class
CH: And keeps us all in. . .
MG: Keeps us in check
CH: Keeps us in check, yeah.
MG: And I’m Matt Gregory, the ringleader for today
CH: Wahay! Hello Matthew.
MG: Now today’s episode is battement fondu, which comes about halfway through the barre, or in the latter half of the barre, just after the latter half of the barre, is that correct, David.
DY: Yes, midway through, yeah.
MG: And what can you tell us about battement fondu?
DY: OK, so fondu means “to melt” so you’re melting, so the movements you’re doing are like, I always describe this to the students who are not as experienced, can you imagine hot chocolate sauce melting over ice cream, so it would just be dripping down there, and that’s the kind of feeling you want, it’s like this sustained bending of the legs, and extending, so you’re stretching the muscles and bending the muscles in a different way than you have done previously, and that’s really what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to mimic in slow motion, the action of jumping and landing
MG: So, a battement fondu looks like a demi-plié on one leg, is that right?
DY: On one leg, yes, yes. And in the centre what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to mimic the action that you’ll do to jump from one leg to one leg, it’s called a ballonné. [CH and MG laugh]
MG: And battement fondu is the exercise that, it’s like a slow-motion jump, isn’t it?
DY: Absolutely, yes.
MG: It’s the one that resembles a jump, the most, you know, that most resembles a jump.
DY: So you’re standing on one leg, you’re bending and then stretching and maybe you might stretch to a rise, on to your demi-pointe, on to the three-quarter pointe, whilst the other leg is doing something completely different, it might be going from cou-de-pied, which is, which we talked about earlier, in earlier episodes, it’s the neck of the foot, so where the ankle bone juts out, you’re going to point, or touch the tip of your toe to a cou-de-pied devant, which means—devant means “front”—so on top of the inside ankle bone, or behind, you might put your ankle of your gesture foot underneath the calf of the supporting leg, so that would be cou-de-pied derrière. And what you want to do is go from a bended position, so you’re going to melt and bend on one leg, and then fully stretch, and as you’re stretching the supporting leg, you might be also stretching your gesture leg in either the front to the side or the back. And then you might come back again to start all over again in that closed cou-de-pied position.
MG: So would you say in this exercise you are practising the positions that you could and would jump in?
DY: Totally. And what you’re trying to do is use the rhythm or the tempo of the music to actually create a stronger muscle memory all the time.
AH: It looks quite hard.
DY: It’s one of the hardest exercises at the barre to do, because it requires not just the coordination of your legs doing slightly different things from each other, but also you’ve got to actually coordinate your arms and your eyes, and your head, and all sorts of other things, and that’s really, it’s like tapping your head and rubbing your tummy. It’s one of those kind of experiences.
MG: And in the same way as rond de jambe, battement fondu is another coordination exercise.
MG: Because, you know, both legs are bending, but they do different things don’t they, slightly different things.
DY: Because you’ve got your weight on one leg
MG: And one always has to do more than the other
MG: Is that right?
DY: Yes. So you’ve got to think of it in different ways, really, and that takes time to master, and as always at the barre, and everything in dancing, we start very slowly and then you might end up doing things quite fast, but we try and maintain the melting sensation which is different from just plié bending and stretching the legs. It’s a different freeling.
AH: In between.
DY: Yes. All the in-betweens.
MG: Could you sort of talk us through a fondu exercise, like a something that you might give the students?
DY: So if we were going to start from fifth position, which is a closed position, we’re standing on two legs, but you’ve got your legs turned out, so your toes are in opposite directions, so you’ve got one foot directly in front of the other, so you’ve got what we sometimes call toe-to-heel, so you’ve got your let’s say, you’re turning out your standing leg, say we start on our left leg, and you’ve got your right leg directly in front of your left leg, and your feet are toe to heel with each other. So that’s quite extreme, really, to start off with.
MG: Yeah. It’s quite flat turned-out, isn’t it.
DY: It is yes. And then you’re going to actually say, let’s say, do a battement fondu devant, so you’d actually pick up the front foot, and you put your let’s say your, you’re aiming to put your big toe on top of your inside ankle of the supporting leg, that’s cou-de-pied devant and you’re bending your supporting leg.
MG: And that’s making that little diamond shape isn’t it, on one leg.
DY: Exactly, yes. And then you’re going to stretch both legs so they arrive in an extended position, so you’re fully stretching both knees at the same time, but it’s going to feel different because you’ve got weight on one leg, and you haven’t got weight on the other leg. And so what happens is, if you’re not paying attention, one leg will stretch faster than the other, and at the same time, you’re going to move your arms let’s say from a second position, so that’s just below, at the side of the body, at shoulder height, and you’re going to go all the way down so that you’re going to go almost to your thigh, in front of your thighs, up towards the front of your chest, and then out again to where the second position was, and you’re going to make that, it feels like making a triangle shape with your arm, so you’re going to go down from the second position, up and outwards in front of your chest, and then out to the side again so your arms are doing a completely different shape to your legs.
DY: And then let’s say we’re going to use our eyes in a different way, and direct our eyes, following our extended fingers, so your eyes are doing something completely different as well, and just combining all of that together is a real, it takes ages.
CH: It’s the first exercise I remember seeing that that seems to require the ultimate concentration.
CH: By the time you get to fondu it’s full on mind and body connection with everything, isn’t it, and then you see, by the time you’ve got there, especially if you’re playing a good class, if you’re in company or in school, it’s almost like this amazing concentration has descended into the studio [agreement from others] and you’re transported to a place that you weren’t in when we started off at ronds de jambe or pliés, sorry, I mean, started off at warm-up or pliés.
MG: And not to take away from any other barre exercise, but fondu feels very much involved.
DY: It is, it’s all about trying to train the quality of the movement, not just the action.
CH: But it’s the suspense as well isn’t it, you’re asked for–, musically, we’ve not got there yet, but we’re going to get there now. It’s what do you want musically, David, from your best fondu
DY: Oh I love a good old habañera.
CH: There we go!
DY: Yes please!
CH: It’s slow, it’s suspended, it’s sexy isn’t it?
AH: Sexy. [all laugh]
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] [07:21:97]
MG: OK, so we just said it briefly, you know, when you think of the fondu exercise, you go to your tangos and your habañeras first isn’t it, I just think, I don’t know, that’s one of the go-tos, isn’t it, really?
DY: It sounds so different from anything else you’ve played before this.
CH: It’s the suspense of that very, let’s say the most famous habañera in the world (sings the habañera from Carmen). It’s the suspense and the release in that, and the space.
MG: Well that is, that’s the characteristics of a habañera, and I think we should discuss the difference between a habañera and a tango.
DY: Yeah, good.
MG: Because they are different.
MG: And a lot of teachers will ask for a tango, when then mean habañera.
MG: Because if you think about tangos, tangos are actually quite bright, you know.
CH: A beautiful, gorgeous Argentinian tango, it’s not a slow melt, it’s not got that. . . it does have space, but it’s not the space that we want for a fondu. It’s a habañera, isn’t it, every time.
AH: It’s got quite a bit of attack to it as well.
DY: Yes. And that’s what the movement is like, it’s suspenseful, but you need a kind of attack to it as well.
CH: I once, somebody told me, when I told them this week that we were recording fondus, he was like “You should see a particular dancer doing a fondu”because it’s the sexiest thing they’ve ever seen.
MG: Oh, I mean, I ain’t gonna namedrop this person, she’s very famous.
CH: And this person definitely wasn’t you Matt, was it.
MG: No, I’m afraid not! But yeah, I mean, like, teachers have always said that to me, growing up as a dancer as well, you know, a fondu is a sexy . . . and as you say David, it’s got to have that resistance, that coordination, both legs have got to get there at the same time, and you know the music has to match, you know, the dynamic of the exercise. I guess that’s why we go to habañeras really, isn’t it.
CH: I know it’s played by a lot of people, but there, is it called Por—I’m going to pronounce this completely wrong, but hopefully you know, anway—Por una cabeza, so the middle section, the main melody [sings tune]
MG: Oh yes.
CH: Because the main section is minor, but the introduction, the first 32 bars of it are major, so you’ve got a 64 bar fondu exercise, you’ve got the first side in major and the second side in minor, and it just, it’s . . .
DY: It works.
CH: I know it—it works
DY: It does work, yeah
CH: I know it’s very standard, and so many pianists play it, but I think, there’s a reason why people play things and it’s because it really does work.
MG: I mean I got to a point in my sort of ballet class playing career that I’d got so sick of playing fondus in minor keys, so I just don’t—I mean, I still do it, but I mix it up with things in major keys, and I’ll take things that are really like sort of like a jazz standard, and just change, put that habañera rhythm in the bass line, and things like that, and change it up, or I’ll tell you what I do as well, I play “Maria”from West Side Story, but . . .
AH: Make it square
MG: Make it square. It doesn’t fit, I have to add a bar every three
MG: Because it’s, it moves on quicker than you want it to, and so you’ve got to have, you’ve got to find the 7 – 8 before the melody then moves on, so that’s something that I do. And that’s in major.
CH: What’s that Burt Bacharach tune, “When you get caught between the moon and New York City,” what’s it called? I can’t think of the title of it? [Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)]
MG: I’m not going to sing it.
CH: No, I’m not going to sing it either.
AH: Sing it Chris.
CH: No, no, no, no, I can’t sing. But whatever that song is called [starts to sing the tune] really slowly, with a habañera rhythm, works nicely, and that’s a similar thing, it starts in minor, and then finishes in major.
MG: Yeah. Have you ever been asked to play anything else, other than something Latin?
AH: Yes. Csárdás.
MG: Oh yes.
DY: That’s good.
AH: I quite like that. It’s different, but it’s still quite sexy.
DY: But they’re all very sensual kind of rhythms that you’re talking about, and that’s the main thing.
MG: Sensual, yeah. Because the exercise is quite sensual, isn’t it?
CH: It’s sexy, that’s what we’re saying, isn’t it. [all laugh] It’s like when sex first comes into the ballet class [cross talk with MG: musically!]
MG: There’s an open class teacher. . . [hearing “musically”]. What?
CH: Nothing. [all laugh] Moving on, continue, there’s an open class teacher . . .
MG: And because the csárdás goes from a very slow two to a quick two, he puts battements fondus and battements frappés together. You know that famous csárdás, you know . . .
CH: I had that the back end of last year, playing for an assessment for somebody and the guy did the tendus to the slow part and then the glissés and the jetés to the quick part.
CH: Which, again, works similar, it’s a similar sort of tempo change.
AH: I mean, you could play 3/4 for fondus as well, which happens quite often, but I find if I have to play 3/4 for fondus, there’s a lot of rallentando involved.
CH: I find habañera easier to leave the space in than a 3/4, because it’s a similar style, if you’re asked for it on a 3/4, it’s similar to a rond de jambe 3/4 isn’t it, it’s a very slow waltz. Whereas the unevenness of the accompanying rhythm [sings the bass line of the Carmen habañera] it just evokes an emotion, doesn’t it. [12:59:22] much differently to, you know, a four bar introduction of [sings a melodic introduction in 3/4] which, you know, still evokes an emotion, but it’s not that sensual emotion that a fondu, a habañera gives.
MG: And if you play, if you play it on a 3, I think like you just said Akiko, there’s lots of tempo issue.
AH: Yeah, you have to keep an eye on
MG: Yeah, I always play Gymnopédie if I have to play it on a 3, something like that.
DY: Nice, it’s nice that.
MG: Because it’s got the 1, 2—, 1, 2—, and then you’ve got that lovely melody over the top.
CH: I was doing, is it Waltz for Peppy? Is it from The Artist? [sings the tune]
AH: [singing along] From The Artist, yeah.
MG: Oh yeah.
CH: Just because it sort of goes, “a one [quieter] two three [louder] a one [quieter] two three] so it’s, I felt it still had some space in it, and therefore it would work for this particular exercise. And it does, but I don’t get, I don’t get the fizz that I get from playing a habañera.
AH: And also the dancers kind of stretch the music, in a 3/4, as well, no?
MG: There’s actually an open class teacher, and she never sets a habañera for fondu
DY: Really? On purpose.
MG: Yeah. On purpose.
DY: And her reason is? Does she ever discuss that?
DY: Might be interesting to find out.
MG: And Amber [Doyle] as well, she doesn’t—sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t—she’ll play, ask for something swingy, or she’ll sing something swingy, that’s not as heavy, certainly as, let’s say, an adult open class.
CH: Yeah, it depends on the level she’s teaching,
CH: Like when I was covering you, I did some relatively light tangos, but they weren’t that sort of like, sludgy, slutty habañeras [all laugh]
MG: Did you just call habañera slutty?! [all laugh]
CH: You can take the boy out of Manchester . . . [laughter] But yeah, so you know, you’d be in there with just a less weighty, let’s call it.
MG: That’s why sometimes I play that rhythm in a major key because it feels lighter. You know.
DY: But I mean there are times, as you said, when you’re, in the class, you’re trying to make up time, you might, as you said earlier, join two exercises together, so you might do a contrast like your battements fondus against battements frappés, which is a striking movement, and a melting movement, or because the rond de jambe exercise is kind of sustained, you might join the fondus with the ronds de jambe, but as you said Akiko, you don’t get that, the light and the shade as much as you would using a habañera.
DY: It’s just a different way of using it, you know.
CH: I really look forward to fondus in ballet class, I don’t know, I know I’m over halfway, and it’s not that I’m counting down to the end of barre, because I’m really not, but you just, you’re at a certain point where the focus changes in the studio, and it, it’s when you start, I don’t know, for me, it’s just something special about that moment.
MG: I mean, I’ve heard from some dancers as well, that the fondu can kill a class, if it’s deathly slow and you know, they’re trudging to get their legs at 90º because of the music, let’s say, you know their whole barre can go downhill from there really, because then they’ve got to get their legs up in adage, and so if the fondus not been successful for them, either because of the choreography or the music, then you know, it can sort of determine where the class goes for them, and so yeah, I pay close attention to the fondu, you just want to help them as much as possible.
DY: And it’s such a special exercise, because it’s the first time where you’re going to use a different kind of a flavour, as you talked earlier about, because you’re going to need it in the centre, so it’s really, for us, for dancers, it’s really inspiring, when the music really lifts you, and creates that, as you said earlier, sensuality.
CH: Well one of your music, I’d class it as one of your greatest hits, David, when you ask for it musically, it’s called Jealousy isn’t it? [sings the melody] Apologies for my singing there.
AH: I didn’t know that was called Jealousy. Oh thanks!
CH: I didn’t know it till I worked with David a few years ago, and I didn’t know what the tune was, and I found it.
DY: Yay, thank you Chris! But it makes a big difference when you do. Because it makes the dancers move in a different way.
AH: OK, so playing Lion King is not really sexy
CH: It’s not sexy, but if you can start off with “Nants ingonyama” from behind the piano, and then go into Circle of Life, it’s . . .
AH: Yeah, I play it quite often!
CH: Do you remember . . . Let’s. . . hang on, we can’t mention names on this can we. There was a Brazilian male teacher who taught at a particular school at a certain time when we were there and he loved The Circle of Life.
AH: Oh did he? I didn’t know that.
CH: Oh not Brazilian, sorry, Cuban.
CH: Yeah, he loved The Circle of Life for his fondu.
AH: I quite like it.
CH: It’s fun though, isn’t it? We’ve got to inject some fun into it, it’s the whole overarching thing, and as we’ve talked about loads, you can’t plan your ballet class, you can’t plan what you’re going to play, you can’t plan what you’re going to see, so you’ve just sort of got to hope and have let’s say three or four options for each exercise, pick one and hope it builds and builds and builds.
MG: I mean, if I want a reaction I always play the Cell Block Tango. [agreement from others] You know, I always feel cool when I play that.
CH: I do the slowest version of Mein Herr ever. [laughter]
AH: Or Roxanne
CH: What’s the. . . Be Italian. Is that from the musical Nine?
MG: Nine, yes.
CH: [sings Be Italian] Because it will cope with almost being like funereal, you could just about, you know, it could go to, you know, 50 beats per minute, and still just about survive.
MG: I mean, did you love your fondus David?
DY: I do. I love my fondus.
MG: Even now as a teacher, and as a dancer?
DY: Yeah, I do.
MG: Yeah, lots of people do, lots of people love it.
DY: It’s so different.
MG: There’s something so beautiful about the working leg taking off first, seeing that little double attitude, and having both legs arrive at the same time. There’s something so lovely about that.
CH: It’s magical.
AH: And also the feet, no? To show off your beautiful feet.
MG: With a lovely foot on the end.
DY: The sensuality of the stretching movement. Yeah, you’re quite right.
MG: Yeah. So, podcasters, that’s all we have time for for this week, thank you for listening to our discussion on battement fondu, next week we’ll have a very different change of pace, with the battement frappé. So please make sure that you tune in and listen out for that. And if you haven’t subscribed, please do. We are available on all major podcast providers. And we’d love to connect to you, so please find us on Facebook and Instagram, with the handle @balletpianopodcast. We’ll catch you next time, so it’s goodbye from me
CH: Goodbye from me
AH: Bye bye
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident]
. . . ENDS. . .
© 2020 Ballet Piano Podcast (Christopher Hobson, Matt Gregory, Akiko Hobson, David Yow)
Producer: Christopher Hobson
Transcription by Jonathan Still 4/5/20