Fizzing firework displays of virtuoso technique, the extremes of masculine and feminine expression, soaring music, roaring applause – there’s nothing like a grand pas! Daniel Gaudiello (principal artist, choreographer, and stunning exponent of the Don Q pas) has been inspired to make a grand pas, Tristan and Isolde, in the style of Petipa for our upcoming Bodytorque season. For Daniel, “this format best shows off the dancers’ special abilities together and individually”. Which got us thinking about our favourite pas de deux! Here are some of ballet’s showiest showstoppers, and why we think they’re grand.
The Sleeping Beauty, Act III pas de deux, Petipa
The grand pas in The Sleeping Beauty, like so many of the genre, is the climactic wedding scene that ends the ballet. And, like so many of the classic pas, it’s choreographed by Petipa and scored by Tchaikovsky. Here we see the traditional form of the grand pas: an opening adage, a variation for both male and female dancers, and a coda in which they are reunited. Aurora is marrying the prince who’s kissed her back to life, and she’s transformed from a girl to a gracious woman. The two express their love with a royal dignity (although they’re not above showing off with a fishdive or three). Aurora’s stately but sensual variation, in which her twining arms seem to embrace the air, is a highlight.
Swan Lake, Black Swan Pas de Deux, Petipa/Ivanov
This is technically a grand pas d’action, as it progresses the plot instead of being just a piece of stuff-strutting. We’re seeing Odile deliver the coup de grace to the besotted, enchanted Siegfried, as with every dazzling fouetté he gets closer to his unwitting betrayal of Odette. This is the ultimate show piece, whip-sharp, diamond-edged, sizzling with dark chemistry. The 32 fouttés that top it off started life as a party trick of the Italian ballerina Pierina Lagnani; they later became a feature of the genre.
Don Quixote, Act III pas de deux, Petipa
More wedding action, this time a little less exalted: the mettlesome couple Basilio and Kitri are plighting their troth after a ballet’s-worth of hi-jinksy travails. You barely recognise the knockabout lovers as they dance their majestic adage (highlight: Basilio’s spectacular turns on the diagonal to land on one knee at his bride’s feet), but in the variations personality reasserts itself – Kitri coquettes deliciously with her fan, while Basilio scorns the air with exuberant barrel turns. They compete in the coda – Kitri pulls out the famous 32 and steals the show.
Coppélia, Act III pas de deux, Petipa
Like Kitri and Basilio, Franz and Swanilda are a rackety, squabbly pair who turn on the decorum for their wedding adage – all sweetly grave balances and winsome head-turns. Franz is lucky to have a variation. In the days when ballet was largely a spectacle for male aristocrats, who liked to watch women rather than men, the role of Franz was danced by a girl, and there was no variation for him. Today’s real-boy Franzs shine with light but complex turns and footwork. Swanilda’s moment in the limelight is a delight, featuring needle-delicate pointe work and precision turns.
Le Corsaire, pas de deux, Petipa
In the wrong hands, a piece of overblown camp … and in the right hands, a piece of overblown camp that takes your breath away. A vehicle for the stunning talents of the Russian defectors Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, this is one of the few grand pas where every eye is on the male dancer. And why not? Whatever the ballerina is wearing, she can’t compete with the male’s exotic bare-chested slave-boy garb. There is a female variation, but its delicacy is no match for the explosive, brass-fanfared barrel turns of the male’s.
The Bluebird, the Peasant, the Nutcracker – what’s your all-time favourite pas? And what dancers past or present would you love to see dancing them?