In a ballet class, following the pirouette exercise the ballet class music next features the petite allegro. The petite allegro is sometimes called small jumps but to someone watching the class, who is not familiar with ballet, the movements would not always look like jumps.
For example, the instructor might call for glissades, which are really more like training for a jump than actually jumping, since they are executed without the feet leaving the floor. These are a warmup for the jetes that will happen in the grand allegro.
The petite allegro can employ every combination of foot use that can happen with a jump. For example, a temps levé is a jump that begins and ends on the same foot, a jete begins with one foot and ends on the other, a sissone starts out on both and ends on one, a changement begins and ends on both feet, but on the landing the back foot moves to the front and the front to the back, and a saute (which is the French word for “jump”) begins on both feet and ends the same way.
An added feature of these jumps, except for temps and suates, is the ability to beat them. Beating a jump involves closing the position of the legs while off the ground and bringing them apart again before ending in the correct position on the ground.
In regard to the ballet class music for this selection, this is a lot of material for the ballet class pianist to be aware of, but it’s all important. The music should be quick and light in character. It’s tempting to use a 2/4 or 4/4 meter, and make it fun and breezy, but there’s a line the pianist needs to be careful not to cross here.
The music should never be so “jumpy” that it gets corny, and I’ve heard this happen a lot in listening to classes. It crosses the line when it begins to do what they call in the film industry, “Mickey Mousing.” That’s the musical effect we’re used to seeing and hearing in cartoons, where the music mimics every move the characters are making. While that’s effective for an animated character it undermines the credibility of the petite allegro and makes it seem silly. The music needs to be light and fun but never silly.
The pianist may find it easier to create a successful accompaniment to the petite allegro by using a Vienese waltz style, which is elegant by nature. It can also help the pianist to picture tiny bursts of flight rather than jumping. Another visual technique I suggest is to picture a regal ballroom rather than a blues bar. The dancers aren’t bouncing around, they are rising and falling in unison. Finally, the ballet class pianist needs to phrase the music to match the horizontal motion of the dancers not the vertical movement. This helps them to phrase their jumps and create the fluidity that a successful petite allegro requires.