The Bluebird variation in Sleeping Beauty is always a crowd pleaser. After a pas de deux with Princess Florine, the male Bluebird takes his place in an upstage corner. As the music begins, he swoops his back leg forward and starts a long series of beated jumps traveling diagonally across the stage, his torso tilting back and forth, complimenting his legs. His feet move at hummingbird speed while his upper body is super smooth, creating the illusion of flying. It’s classical ballet magic!
These fluttery jumps are a chain of brisés volé, an intricate variation of the simpler step, brisé. In French, the word brisé means “broken,” which describes the step’s action, not its appearance: Its sequence “breaks” in midair with beating legs. You can think of the step as an assemblé battu, except your legs go through croisé and effacé positions traveling toward the corner while your upper body reaches over your legs.
Although gorgeous to watch, brisés are tricky because you have to travel and beat your legs. It’s easy to get your feet tangled! Fortunately, once you get the hang of brisés they’re fun and impressive. Here, three ballet pros help you break down the complicated step.
1. Prep and Brush
Start in fifth position croisé, with right foot back and your arms en bas. Plié deeply and then brush your right foot through first position to a dégagé effacé devant. (Your hips should immediately face the corner and move to the effacé position.) Lift your right arm to first position and open your left arm to second position.
Leslie Hench, faculty member of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, PA: “Start in a deep demi-plié, keeping the legs turned out, which will make it easier to maintain your turn out in the air.”
Jared Matthews, soloist at American Ballet Theatre (and frequent Bluebird): “From your fifth position, keep contact with the floor when you start brushing the leg into degagé.”
2. Brush and Jump
Jump off your left leg, and bring the left foot up to meet the right foot. Tilt your torso over the extended leg, keeping your spine long and your chest lifted.
LH: “Brush your back leg front to the corner. Your dégagé should be 45 degrees off the floor. When you start learning a brisé, keep your standing leg on the floor in dégagé. As you get more advanced, you can start jumping the dégagé. Be sure both legs stay turned out and your knees are straight in the air.”
Larry Long, director of the Ruth Page School of Dance in Chicago, IL: “As you brush the leg up, your bottom leg jumps up to meet the top leg; don’t bring the top leg down to meet the bottom leg.”
Beat your left foot behind and then change it so you land on both feet in fifth position with your left foot front. Keep your right arm low and curved and your left arm in second position with your palm facing down.
LH: “Think, ‘Battu under and land over.’ Remember to keep your knees straight!”
JM: “The beat happens at the top of the jump, and not on the way down. Think more about crossing your ankles instead of your thighs. If you cross the thighs, your ankles never touch and you don’t create the illusion of the step.”
Land in a deep demi plié and maintain the tilted angle of your torso if you are doing another brisé. If you are moving on to another step, straighten your torso.
LH: “Think about landing on your front foot when you come down. When you land on the front foot, the back foot simultaneously comes along. Otherwise you’ll land ‘one-two’ instead of ‘one.’”
LL: “Brisé is a traveling step. You start at point A, jump over point B and land on point C. Don’t jump and land in the same place.”
JM: “Always move toward your brushing leg.”
5. Port de Bras
Make sure your upper body remains soft and calm, even though your legs are working hard. Your torso should continually be tilted over your leg, facing the diagonal.
LH: “It’s very hard to hold the arms still, but try not to let the body react to the jump. Bend your body slightly forward to the right. Your back arm can be lifted a little higher, with the palm down.”
JM: “Try not to break in your elbows. Keep them lifted.”
Now that you’re armed with tips from the experts, go ahead and give the brisé a try. Hench recommends practicing your entrechat quatres and cabrioles first since brisés incorporate both. You’ll be flying in no time!
VARIATIONS ON THE BRISÉ
Brisé Volé: Brisé volé starts like a regular brisé except instead of landing in fifth, the front foot lands in either dégagé croisé or a coupé. From here, the front foot brushes back through first position (or, in some techniques, brush your front foot around through a rond de jambe en dehors), through dégagé effacé derrière into another battu jump (under and over), landing with the back foot in coupé. The upper body moves back and forth with the legs. The Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty does 24 brisés volé in a row. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do!” Jared Matthews says.
Bournonville Brisé: The Bournonville brisé islike a traditional brisé except it moves through fourth position instead of fifth. It generally hovers close to the ground, moves faster, and travels farther than a regular brisé. The female dancer performs Bournonville brisés in her variation from the Flower Festival Genzano pas de deux, and so does one of odalisques from Le Corsaire in her section!
* Larry Long, esteemed teacher and contributor to this piece, passed away in August, 2009.
Amy Brandt is a dancer with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet as well as a columnist for Pointe magazine.
Pictured: Herman Cornejo in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Gene Schiavone