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Port De Corps Dance Definition Essay

Next year, George Balanchine’s pure-dance triptych “Jewels” will have its 50th anniversary. It remains a perfect introduction to ballet: Few full-length story ballets are as satisfying as this storyless one, which returns Wednesday to New York City Ballet, for which it was created.

Nobody can miss how vividly different its stage worlds are: the green romantic medieval French forest of “Emeralds” (music by Fauré); the red Modernist high-energy American urban world of “Rubies” (Stravinsky); the wintry white (both snowscape and palace) grand imperial Russian classicism of “Diamonds” (Tchaikovsky). What other artist could conjure these three dissimilar realms with such easy mastery? The big ovations go to “Rubies” and “Diamonds,” with their spectacle and virtuosity; but hundreds of ballet devotees will tell you that it’s the poetically mysterious “Emeralds” they love the most.

One of the fascinations on re-viewing is to trace what the three ballets have in common. There’s the imagery of jewelry: the patterns of the female corps de ballet in “Diamonds” show us — inevitably — diamonds; “Rubies” opens (sensationally) with a tense, semicircular group tiara; and a necklace-like corps chain occurs in “Emeralds.” In all three ballets, women stretch one leg and both arms upward in lines that suggest the refraction of light from a jewel.

A separate thread — a central motif — is a particular forward-to-backward movement of the arms and entire upper body (“grand port de bras” in ballet terminology). In “Jewels,” it has the quality of both ritual and vital process, as if a strange impulse made the dancers first bend the torso, head and arms forward to make a concave shape (the hands meet like a beak or prow), and then — the same impulse — transform themselves by straightening and arching the back, arms now swept back and out, like wings. As the whole thorax moves from a closed position to a boldly exposed one, each dancer seems both ceremonious and driven. In each ballet, however, this movement acquires a different character.

A third link is the incorporation of pedestrian movement: walking (in “Emeralds” and “Diamonds”) and running or jogging (in “Rubies”). Both pas de deux in “Emeralds” begin with formal walking. The tremendous pas de deux of “Diamonds” begins as the ballerina and her partner advance toward each other along zigzagging paths to center stage as the bassoon plays the main theme of Tchaikovsky’s long andante movement; in “Rubies” the couple enter trotting breezily together.

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Port de bras is a classical ballet term meaning “movement of the arms.” It describes how dancers move their arms from one position to another.

For example, if a ballerina moves her arms from first position to fifth position, that is considered a port de bras.

When doing proper port de bras, dancers will move their arms from their back and shoulders (without lifting the shoulders awkwardly upwards) while trying to move as smoothly as possible. The shape of the arms should be rounded so there is no visible break at the elbows and wrists. In classical ballet, the arms should never be fully straight or hyper-extended at the elbows. Also, the hands should be shaped with the fingers extended running mostly in the same direction, but not stuck together like a paddle or overly extended.

In contemporary ballet, there are many exceptions to the rules of port de bras, but generally port de bras should always look coordinated with the lower half of the body and still look balletic in nature (meaning, not raising the shoulders awkwardly or having excess tension in the arms) unless instructed specifically to look different or to make a certain shape requested by the choreographer.

While the term does mean movement of the arms, port de bras also includes the position and movement of the head in relation with the arms. The movement of both the arms and head are considered a package deal for almost every ballet step.

Port de bras is harder than it looks on paper. For all dancers, mastering port de bras takes several years of practice, with some professionals still practicing to achieve beautiful movement in their arms.

Grande Port de Bras

In class, teachers sometimes use the ballet term port de bras to instruct students to do a specific stretch at barre. For example, a teacher may say “… and port de bras forward and back” after a tendu combination at barre. The students would then place their arms, likely in a high fifth, and bend at the hips, stretching forward over their legs to the front, then returning to an upright position before arching backwards.


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