The grand battement is usually used as the final exercise at the ballet barre. Battement translates from the French as “kick.” The grand battement is simple to describe but very difficult to do. The working leg is elevated as high as is physically possible, ideally without moving the rest of the body.
Interestingly, the grand battement doesn’t really live up to its name, since the dancers aren’t actually doing any kicking. What they are doing is a quickly executed controlled lift of the leg and an equally controlled drop back into the beginning position.
The grand battement gives the dancers a good cardio workout in preparation and warmup for the coming center work. This builds up the strength of the legs and core and develops the ability to push from the floor, a skill needed for the leaps and jumps in the grand allegro.
The pianist needs to provide a good boost to the dancers. This exercise requires a lot of effort from them and uses the largest muscles of the leg and the most notable physical attribute of the grand battement, from the pianists perspective at least, is that of the dancers fighting gravity without wanting to look like they are. The ballet class music can help with this, and needs to.
If the ballet class pianist chooses to use a 4/4 meter, they need to be careful not to make the music weighty and ponderous which makes it feel heavy and has the opposite effect on the dancers than what is needed.
A more effective approach is a fast 3/4 with a lifting and up-lifting feel that doesn’t over-emphasize the downbeats. This waltz rhythm would be something near or exceeding the tempo of a Viennese waltz and could also be done using a 6/8 pattern. What the music needs to accomplish, is to enhance the sense of lifting by creating a feeling of lightness when the dancer is experiencing the most weight from the working leg. This is counter-intuitive to many pianists, but it’s important. The heavy beat in the music needs to occur at the top of the lift and the light beat at the bottom. This also helps the dance avoid dropping the leg, since the automatic response to a big beat is to land on it hard. A light beat on the legs arrival back to the floor will help the dancer control the drop.
For more descriptions of how ballet class music is performed for the various ballet class exercises, read the posts about plie, eleve and tendu.