Renverser and Fouetter: To ‘Tip-Up’ and ‘To Whip’ …and where one can find them in the Cecchetti Method
Cecchetti’s choreographic invention appears boundless when it comes to the inclusion of renversés and fouettés. They are used extensively in different forms in both grand adagio, pirouettes and allegro studies and include renversés both en- dehors and en-dedans, and myriad forms of fouettés, large and small, à terre, en l’air and en tournant.
Renverser en-dehors and en-dedans
At closer inspection these steps throw up technical problems which require careful investigation before tackling. In the Cecchetti Method, the adagio movement renversé en-dehors requires a full rond de jambe en dehors at 90 degrees on demi or full pointe, followed by a fondu into arabesque allongée and pas de bourrée entournant en dehors with a marked cambré in the upper body.
The renversé en-dedans or ‘tir- buchon’ (‘corkscrew’) as it is nick-named in the French school begins in arabesque croisée en l’air and -without an additional preparatory plié– the body dips suddenly towards the horizontal en relevé, arms en avant, as the gesture leg whips directly into retiré, with the gesture leg placed at the side of the knee, if possible (as was originally demanded in adagio pirouettes). Then, whilst turning en-dedans and maintaining the relevé, the torso spirals into the upright position, and finally extends the gesture leg into a high developpé à la seconde, in the écarté alignment, on balance.
Both kinds of renversés can be found done at different speeds in sustained planer turns or as virtuosic pirouette combinations. Renversé en-dehors appears again in allegro enchaînements, often used with a pas de bourrée en tournant following a deep fondu en attitude en face. What links the movements technically is that the renverser is always done as a deep body bend, either as a pas de bourrée en tournant en-dehors, where the body is in cambré, or in the case of the en-dedans, the body bends sideways and then forwards until it is almost horizontal and the turn is executed with the leg in retiré. In both instances, the eyes focus to the audience to ‘spot’ the pirouette and there is a strong spiraling movement in the torso as the body moves from the ‘tipped-up’ position, (hence the meaning of the word ‘renverser’ ) back to the vertical.
With fouettés, Cecchetti included of course, the famous 32 fouettés ronds de jambe turns as originally performed by Pierina Legnina in the coda of the Act III Black Swan Pas de Deux of Swan Lake and they feature in various virtuosic enchaînements, sur place, en diagonale, en attitude and en-dedans. Cecchetti uses fouetté, in terre à terre steps too. A simple flick of the toes along the floor in a raccourci movement ending in cou de pied derrière is termed fouetté. This movement is often done en tournant, en-dehors and en-dedans in both adagio and allegro enchaînements and may be more easily recognised as a ‘flic-flac’ in other systems. In Cecchetti Method it is done with with fully stretched toes, not by pushing off the floor with the ball of the foot to enable the turn, and this will require both an understanding of rhythmical co-ordination between the top half of the body and the legs and extensive use of épaulement.
Another use of the term fouetter is a swift enveloppé of the leg from a low extension devant passing the cou de pied to arabesque en relevé, (as in the Act III Black Swan coda danced by both Siegfried and Odile). Then there are the grands fouettés relevés and sautés. Cecchetti included the more familiar fouetté relevé or fouetté sauté from either the extension devant or à la seconde to arabesque but there are additional fouetté sauté à quatre temps and à six temps enchaînements, that begin with a developpé devant sauté to extend the leg devant en face en l’air, then with one jump the leg moves past the à la seconde landing in 2nd arabesque, the arms correspondingly begin in 4th en avant, then change overhead to arabesque, during the jump.
Quality of Movement: ‘To Whip’
It is the quality of the movement – fouetter -that Cecchetti demanded, the whipping action, whether in the lower leg, using the head for turning pirouettes or the whole body propelling itself into the air and changing direction before landing. One of the principles Cecchetti employed to help his dancers fouetter en l’air was that of ballon. Saturday steps are grouped under the heading ’ Les Grands Fouettés Sautés’ but not all of the enchaînements include a fouetté of any kind. In fact, a closer look at the movement quality inherent in all the Saturday steps is ballon. When the dancer has understood this then he has reached a high level of technical control.
Variety is the Spice of Life
The word renverser today has come to denote a very different looking step to Cecchetti’s interpretation, with little or no ‘tipping-up’ quality in it at all. It’s often just taught as a relevé into attitude derrière and a pas de bourrée en tournant en-dehors. Similarly, fouettés are grouped into two kinds: the 32 fouettés en tournant of Swan Lake or the Grand Fouetté Relevé or Sauté with the body facing the leg as it switches from devant to derrière. Fortunately in Cecchetti’s enchaînements there is a huge variety of steps with these names to study and it can only be hoped that they will one day find a wider audience in the ballet class than they do today.