The second half of the ballet class is called center, and the ballet class music for center is a bit different than that required for barre. Some of the exercises in center are the same as those performed at the barre, such as tendus and adage and sometimes degages, but they are now more difficult because of the added requirement of needing to balance without the use of the barre.
The ballet class music used for these repeated exercises does change somewhat when the exercises are done in center. When performed at the barre, the purpose of these exercises is to warm up the dancers’ muscles, but in center they must be performed full-out without help balancing.
The pianist can help with balance by giving the dancers strong arrival points that can help them feel grounded and even enhance their sense of balance. Don’t underestimate the power of the music to help the dancers through these difficult exercises.
Work in the center normally starts with an adage or port de bras. Often these are combined into one exercise. This exercise provides the dancers an opportunity to hold difficult balancing positions properly.
An example of a ballet move incorporated into the adage exercise is the arabesque, a beautiful position also used by ice skaters in which one arm is extended forward and the opposite leg is extended back. An adage can beabsolutely exquisite when properly performed and when accompanied by just the right ballet class music.
The ballet class pianist would use similar music to that used in the barre adage, but less restrained and more dramatic. This added drama is not accomplished with volume or thickness of sound, but rather with subtle phrasing and nuance and lovely melodies and counter-melodies. A great deal of rubato is appropriate and helpful in the center adage, but again, remember to give the dancers strong clear arrivals on the beginnings of major phrases.
Ballet class pianists often make the mistake of repeating the same four or eight phrases over and over for these longer center exercises. This tends to take some of the life out of the class. The music should continue to explore new territory when the choreography is not repeating and at the very least the pianist can modulate to a new key to keep things more interesting. It is even better to shift into new material at the appropriate points (major phrase arrivals) and change up the key, the character, and the textures. This makes it all the more effective when the music returns to the familiar main theme.
To hear music for the adage check out Ballet Class Music and hear free samples by composer/pianist/dancer Don Caron from his First Class Album series of ballet class music.