One of my favourite aspects of dance has always been pas de deux. From a classical grand pas de deux to modern creations, I just so fond of sharing the work, technicality and especially the emotions of a dance partnership. I have been lucky enough to have had some fantastic partners over the years and I have loved working with these young men and performing together.
❝What does actually make a good partnership in dance? What can make it or break it?❞
As a student, during my time at The Hammond School, we studied simple pas de deux and I took a liking to it straight away, but it was not until I joined The Royal Ballet Upper School, where we had pas de deux class two-three times a week, that I really started to enjoy it. It began a little shakily but after a few weeks I was randomly partnered with a classmate called Ashley Whittle and not only did we immediately click and work well together, but we had so much fun. This must have come across to our teachers as for almost two and a half years we were always dancing together. Pas de deux became my favourite class of the week and it was the first time I felt 100% trust and confidence in my partner, and I think he felt the same.
I guess it is like any other relationship, some people work well together and others just don’t. Someone who I personally find uncomfortable may fit perfectly with someone else. Developing on this, I have to say, pas de deux can be the best or worst experience depending on who you are working with. At best it is wonderful and so rewarding, at worst it becomes no fun, stressful, hard work and quite disappointing. Since joining a company I have danced with many male dancers, in small and big roles, and there has been a mixture of happy times and difficult ones.
So I ask myself, what does actually make a good partnership in dance? What can make it or break it? I found this quote about what is expected from both the male and female, which nails it on the head –
“In classical pas de deux, the man controls everything. He picks up the girl. He puts her down. He turns her, takes her weight, stops her, and she must always go where he leads. The woman submits to all this completely. But her submission is not feeble. In fact, the only reason she can submit so utterly is because she is very strong in herself. In her centre. She does not collapse, or cave, or stutter-step, or flop. No, she holds herself very consciously, very confidently. She is centred within her own weight. So the man always knows where she is. He can feel her. He can absorb her strength.”
― Meg Howrey,
I love this quote and Howrey is so correct. Through personal experience a good partner always knows what I am doing – he knows where my weight needs to be at all times, and (as selfish as it sounds) does anything to make me look as good as possible. The girl is the picture and the guy her frame. Actually, it is said a good male partner is one who is not seen during a pas de deux. If your eyes are drawn to the boy, something is wrong. As for me, the girl, we also have to find ways to help the boy – usually meaning staying pulled up and being very secure and stable in our bodies, just as Meg Howrey says.
If I were to add anything, I would say communication is key. Both sides have to be open enough to listen to one another, to help and advise each other ensuring both feel comfortable. When I have danced with a particularly good partner, we have been able to talk about any issues and through speaking and listening openly the piece has only improved.
❝A good male partner is one who is not seen during a pas de deux❞
So there you have the foundations of a good team. But for a magical team, it needs chemistry. Without the chemistry, the dance will never be as beautiful as it could be. A love story being told through a pas de deux with chemistry can bring butterflies to your stomach and make your heart pound, both for the dancers and audience. Usually, together with the incredible music, it is easy to find the feelings of love with a partner you like. Everything is real, no ‘acting’ is needed and it is truly heart-pounding.
This season the Staatsballett Karlsruhe is performing the greatest love story told, ‘Romeo & Juliet’ through Kenneth McMillan’s ballet masterpiece and I will be lucky enough to take on the role of Juliet – a dream role for any girl. What makes it even more exciting is my wonderful Romeo. Juliano Toscano will be a great Romeo to my Juliet as I trust him endlessly and the chemistry is already evident between us in rehearsals. We are able to play with the roles and steps, feeling comfortable enough to talk about how to improve, so we easily develop. It seems to me we are having already too much fun and we haven’t even performed yet.
I have danced and seen so many incredible pas de deux performances, realising first hand what a beautiful creation it is. It is a partnership, and like all partnerships, it needs work and can always improve – it is just a huge bonus if you’re teamed up with someone on the same wavelength as you, so the relationship runs smoothly and feelings are portrayed naturally and seemingly without effort. Whether this is the case or not, anyone having the chance to learn, dance or perform a pas de deux should relish in the opportunity and always appreciate, acknowledge and communicate with your partner to become the magical team you want to become.