The adage, or adagio as it is sometimes called, comes somewhere near the end of the barre exercises of the ballet class, usually just before the petite battements and grand battements. The adage is characterized by slow, fluid movements designed to develop control of the leg extensions. It is here that the dancers practice bringing the leg into elevated positions and also practice holding this position while learning to make it look effortless (it isn’t).
The adage is filled with slow graceful gestures widely ranging in complexity. These exercises teach the dancers to sustain positions with balance and poise and gives them the opportunity to practice and improve on their lines.
The adage is the essence of the grace and magic of ballet, and although all the movements are slow, it can be the most difficult exercise in the entire ballet class. The ballet class music for the adage is counted in with some of the most beautiful music ever written.
I find that the adage is the most enjoyable to play of any of the ballet class music selections. The music requirements of the adage are really a romantic pianist’s dream, and the music can be filled with beautiful melodic phrases and heart-tugging chord changes. There’s never any need for the pianist to get “schmaltzy” here. The beauty of the movements on the floor are inspiration enough and sublety is the watchword.
This is an excellent opportunity for improvisation, even if the pianist normally reads music for ballet class. I say this because watching the dancers is a very important part of playing a successful adage. The phrases of the music can follow the movements of the dancers: the lifts, the extensions, the intensity, the tension and the relaxation. It’s exhilarating to play an adage that “fits” the choreography the ballet instructor has laid out. The dancers will feel it. If the pianist inspires the dancers, the dancers will return the inspiration ten-fold. This is the magic and mystery of the relationship between the dancers in a ballet class and the ballet class music.
For more descriptions of how ballet class music is performed for the various ballet class exercises, read the posts about petit battement, grand battement and plie.