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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Double Tour


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Surprisingly, I'm not asking for tips on improving double tours, but rather trying to uncover their aesthetic purpose in classical ballet and better understand the veritable obsession with them. This is brought upon by recently seeing a popular and very well-funded full-length ballet classic (re-choreographed/tweaked by a present day AD) in which almost all the male roles, soloist and corps, and of which there were quite a few, consisted of either some kind of grand jete or a double tour. It got to the point that by the end of the ballet, I was making little remarks to myself like "oh, I wonder what's next? DOUBLE TOUR! omg, I so did not see that coming! UNPRECEDENTED!...and another! wow, they just keep you guessing!". But seriously, it wasn't "bad" per se, just horribly predictable and repetitive. So being the type of male dancer that likes to dance (I'm sorry?), I was left wondering why the choreographer limited his men's performances to revolve around only one of the classical male steps. Sure, they're impressive and afford some amount of variation (ex: how it lands), and I think they're fun as much as the next guy, but why are they so focused upon in the classical repertoire as well as so used (or overused) in choreography?


And I suppose if I get all "artsy-fartsy", I would also question their ability to project emotion and or artistic depth since they don't come off as being the type of step you'd use to carry the story or be able to add much gravitas to (ex: an expansive, regal balance' to project a "princely" aura). Discuss!

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Approached from that direction, this is a very good topic!


I suppose that the double tour is so much a part of the male vocabulary for a number of reasons, the first of which, in my opinion, is that it demands a good deal of strength. It's part of the "We're MEN! Manly men! We scratch certain areas of our bodies; we leave the toilet seat UP! We're MANLY MEN, ho, ho!" syndrome. Sometimes a choreographer or ballet master will put in double tours just to show that all the men in his company can do them! Sleeping Beauty may be one of these. Massine did the same sort of thing in his "Choreartium". Another reason that it's a part of the male vocabulary comes from folk dances. It doesn't take up a lot of space to do, so it became a staple of the "hornpipes" which became popular entertainments toward the end of the eighteenth century. In the original of this dance, it was usually performed by men in confined spaces (a ship's forecastle, a college room, or on a threshing floor). Turns in the air are a natural for this kind of showoff dance. After the "Pre-Classic" or "Augustan" age of ballet was over, men in theater wore much less confining clothing, and could do much more vigorous turns both on and off the ground, so costume enters the discussion, too. Men were doing half and single tours in eighteenth-century ballroom dances, so that's a feeder, as well. Once they ditched the full bottoms and tails on their coats, turns became easier to do.


Choreographers have also used them on women who could do them to startle the bejeezus out of audiences. It's used to comic effect in Ashton's "Facade" in the Polka, because Alicia Markova could do them, and in Robbins' "Age of Anxiety" as a sort of demonstration of an emotional explosion because Nora Kaye could do them.

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Echoing and adding to Major Mel's, I have to say that the double tour is the male step that most shows not only power but control. That combination of power and control is often associated with kingship and royalty, hence the obsession with them in classical choreography.


In my opinion that is why the diagonal of double tours usually comes at the end of a variation near the end of a ballet, it is showing the readiness of the prince to rule. That is also why (IMO), in Sleeping Beauty the prince's double tours are (supposed to be) from fifth to fifth, as these emphasise control over power in this most princely and restrained of the classical ballet princes. Couple that with the abscence of them in Solor's variation from Le Corsaire, he is only a slave after all, even if an inherently noble one.


The big hole in my theory is the series of double tours done by Basilio the barber in Don Quixote. Perhaps this is a statement of his worthiness to marry Kitri, and perhaps why his tours are more often to fourth, arabesque or the knee instead of fifth. Perhaps they emphasize his power over the effeminate Gamoche.


As far as why some choreographers make over use of them, who knows? If this was a Sleeping Beauty you saw, my theory make some sense, as most everyone on that ballet is nobility. Sometimes, I think that the choreographer just doesn't know what to do, and so they throw in the same step over and over again. (Especially if they are not REALLY that interested in reworking an old warhorse!!)


Now, to see what a master can do with only one step, take a look at Juri Kyilian's "Sinfionetta". . .

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Couple that with the abscence of them in Solor's variation from Le Corsaire, he is only a slave after all, even if an inherently noble one.


Well, he's a vassal, not a slave, but the point is well taken.

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Oh, fantastic perspectives...and I can now appreciate the Sleeping Beauty variation on a deeper level now.


The ballet in question, though, was the Nutcracker (god I hope the AD doesn't snipe me for this, haha), and it really was that every male something, be it the doll, spanish, chinese, cavalier, snow price, russian, and (more than the others, even) the nut prince, performed more double tours in their respective dances than any other ballet I've seen. But again, it wasn't that they were "bad" or anything, it just irked me at how ostensibly repetitive it became. Though, I think Mel uncovered the answer in that the AD is certainly the "ABT Manly Man" type...

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