Recently, I started taking ballet from Ilona Missakian, Ph. D. She asked us to do an allegro combination with a pirouette. I started from the classic RAD 4th position. She corrected me and said she preferred the Balanchine-style pirouette. Over the years, I've been asked to do many different pirouettes starting from many positions with different preparations. As adult dancers, we were always allowed to do what we felt was most comfortable. It got me thinking of the pro's and con's of the different styles of pirouettes en dehors.
In the Balanchine-style pirouette, the beginning and ending are in an extended fourth position with the back leg extended. When using this deep, elongated preparation, dancers keep their weight far over the front foot and use their back toes to push into passé. Turning from Balanchine’s long fourth position can lead to faster pirouettes. The arms are straight with the palms down. The working side arm never opens to second and pulls straight in. When the dancer turns the front hand and brings it to the chest and crosses the other arm over the first arm, the dancer is able to get into a faster turn. The energy goes up and forwards before turning. Balanchine’s pirouettes are spotted front to allow the audience to see the dancer face on. This method is difficult, requires a strong standing leg, excellent balance and core strength.
In the RAD style, the pirouette en dehors starts from the fourth position with a plié, with more weight over the front foot, known as a closed fourth position. The plié pushes from both legs. RAD pirouettes use rounded arms. The front arm opens during the plié before the turn. As the second arm closes to first position, there is an initiating turning force. The RAD style of training teach dancers to spot where the turn will finish. Turning from the classic 4th position requires good turn out and use of fundamental movements learned at the barre.
Other times, a teacher may ask for a pirouettes starting from fifth position en face, landing fifth back. This is to help the dancer feel the connection of the shoulder to the ribs and hip on the supporting side. The more compact preparation allows the dancer to feel the upward pull rather than focus on the turning. In the same token, the landing is in fifth to emphasize control and balance.
Open Fourth/Intermediate position:
This preparation position is a variation of the traditional RAD double plié. In this turn, the larger open fourth position allows the dancer to gather energy and control the rotational forces to speed up the rotation. The arms start in opposite fourth with the working arm opening to hit a la seconde as the “widest” moment with the dancer then pulling up into the pirouette. Master teacher Finis Jhung, who studied videos of turning wizards like Mikhail Baryshnikov in slow motion, termed this position “The End of the Plié.” The position is a second position plié with the weight on the front foot between the preparation and the retiré pose. This turn allows for fast turns with maximize's the dancer's control of turn speed and style.
Whatever style of pirouette en dehors you have learned, I encourage you to try and learn them all. They are all stylistically different, and physically they require activation of different muscles as well as the same muscles with differing amounts of control. Working through a pirouette style that is different can teach you nuances about your body and point out weaknesses and imbalances in your technique and body. It gives you, yet, another tool to improve yourself and express your movement and individual style.