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Let’s Play – Pliés at the barre

Sometimes this will follow on from a warmup at the barre, sometimes it will be the first exercise, but either way, you can always count on this being the first proper exercise of class.  The plié exercise is: “A bendingof the knee or knees. This is an exercise to render the joints and muscles soft and pliable and the tendons flexible and elastic, and to develop a sense of balance” (Taken from ABT’s excellent online ballet dictionary.  You can see the original here… )

Choosing suitable music for pliés is not difficult, but a lot can depend on the preferences of the individual teacher.  Generally you want something of moderate tempo, with a clear melodic line and straightforward phrasing.  Some teachers like major key ‘beautiful’ music, some like a show tune or pop song.  Others will prefer something from the ballet repertoire.  Some teachers like the gravitas of a minor key sarabande, while others might say it sounds too ‘sad’ and ‘depressing’! This is all very subjective, but ultimately, your job is to inspire the teacher and students, so it makes sense to play something they actually like!

Pliés can often be quite a long exercise, so by the time you finish the first side, a new tune might be appreciated for the second side.  This can inject freshness and a new perspective on the same choreography, especially if you choose two contrasting pieces.  As an example, I might play the first side as the grand pas de deux from Paquita – a beautiful piece with long melodic line and nice moments of harmonic tension and resolution, and then follow up on the second side with a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody or Jurassic Park!  So long as the music still ‘works’ in terms of counts, tempo and time signature, this kind of contrast can often raise a wry smile, especially from more experienced dancers who will appreciate the subtle humour that is inherent in this contrast.

The fact that pliés are quite easy for experienced dancers makes them an ideal time for a little musical joke or popular culture reference to get a smile and set up a nice atmosphere of enjoyment and engagement.  Many dancers do class 5 or 6 times a week or more, so having to do pliés to yet another piece of non-descript diatonic improvisation can often create a sense of disengagement right from the start of class, whereas a much loved pop song, show tune or reference to current popular culture can ‘wake them up’ and get them actually listening to what you’re playing right from the off.  Indeed, of all the many times I’ve played class for professional companies such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet, I’ve gotten the most rounds of applause when I’ve unexpectedly dropped something like the theme from ‘Game of Thrones’ on the second side of pliés – a sure sign of approval!

To assist in selecting some suitable pieces to get started with, I’ve put some examples for various moods below (though be aware that these are the original pieces, and might require a little editing to get them to fit into groups of 8 bars.)

3/4 – Classical PieceNocturne Op. 2 No. 9 by Frédéric Chopin

3/4 – Film ScoreCavatina from The Deer Hunter by Stanley Myers

3/4 –  Sarabande in a minor keySarabande by Geroge Frederic Handel

4/4 – Ballet RepertoireQon Quixote Grand Pas de Deux by Ludwig Minkus

4/4 – Show TuneI Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schönberg

4/4 – Classical PieceLa Fleur Que Tu M’avais Jetée from Carmen by Bizet

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