In the playing of ballet class music, the grand allegro could be considered the climax of a ballet class, since it contains all of the expansive, sweeping fast-paced ballet moves. It is also characterized by ballet class music that consists of a big, rousing waltz tempo with soaring melodic material.
During class, dancer will only be engaged in the grand allegro for a short period of time because quite frankly, it is exhausting. In a large class, the students will usually perform the grand allegro across the long diagonal of the dance floor in pairs, trios, or groups of four and then rest while the next group does the same. The music, however, is continuous, and in a large class, the ballet class pianist will likely play more material on this exercise than any other in the entire ballet class.
An important move in the grand allegro is the grand jete which is also known as the “split jump.” There are two basic ways to perform the jete. The dancer can brush the forward leg into the air without bending the knee or can alternately perform a develope with the forward leg.
Another ballet move often included in the grand allegro is the assemble. The assemble is so called because the legs come together (assemble) in mid air and the dancer lands on both feet. The male dancers will perform a version of this called the assemble en tournant. As the feet come together in the air, the man will turn once or several times in the air.
An interestingly named ballet move that is often used in the grand allegro is the temp de poisson which means “step of the fish.” It is called that because the dancer arches backward in the air, similar to a fish jumping out of the water. I prefer the other name for the same move, which is saut d’ange meaning “leap of an angel.”
The standard choice of ballet class music for a grand allegro is a big sweeping waltz. This is a good moment for a strong improvisor because if the pianist can watch the dancers while playing, the music can be tailored to give an added sense of exhilaration to the dancers as they execute the leaps and other dramatic moves of the grand allegro.
A good trick for adding momentum to the waltz is to use a melodic rhythm in the first two bars that is grouped in beats of two instead of three, played over the clear waltz rhythm of the left hand. In other words, the notes of the melody would come on counts one, three, and two, over a two bar mini-phrase. This adds a dramatic sweep to the waltz, particularly if played with a full, rich chordal sound in the right hand.
The waltz can be made to sound “larger than life” through the thickening of the downbeat which is accomplished by slowing the tempo slightly on beat one and using a rolled octave in the base or a similar figure that uses up the extra space created by the delay. And let the sound of those base notes resonate throughout the bar.