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"Ballet Plus" — Finis Jhung DVD

by Lori Ortiz
April 20, 2009
$49.99 on finisjhung.com
What is the most basic concept in ballet? It's not the five positions, says Finis Jhung in his beginner class DVD "Ballet Plus." It is the connection between the classroom steps and the spirit, or the dance. This of course is paramount for dancers performing on the professional stage, and it's the most important basic for beginners too.

Jhung stands close to the studio mirror with his demonstrator, the ABT dancer Sasha Dmochowski. (mo-HAV-ski) . She invests the simple classroom exercises with "atmosphere," as Jhung puts it. This becomes more evident as the sequences get more demanding and he suggests that she put her personal stamp on it. How? She must feel the music and the workout.

The format allows us to imprint the exquisite, apparently relaxed, ballerina. You can follow her confident steps and sense her infectious enjoyment. Jhung instructs in his most appreciative voice. Well, Dmochowski is a pleasing pupil. His sense of humor, in open beginners classes, can be taken as thinly veiled irritation.

In "Ballet Plus" the only student in the studio mirror is the beautiful Dmochowski. Her leotard interestingly changes from orange to red in her mirror image. It's a perfect arrangement and most of the class is done in the space of the body's extended circumference. If you have that much space between your screen and your furniture, you'll be fine.

Jhung stresses awareness of breath, energy, and gravity, which makes for a palliative class. After a fifteen-minute warm-up, lying down, he marks fifteen minutes of slow and gentle sitting exercises with Dmochowski. We release the core abdominal muscles and stretch the body in preparation for arabesques and modern moves that involve lots of twisting. Following along, I felt my digestive tract relax. The lovely music is by Scott Killian and ranges in mood. Dmochowski invests the steps with musicality and free interpretation of Jhung's instructions as he sits beside her.

In the standing exercises that complete the hour, she feels the deceptively "relaxing" workout and so do we. Meanwhile he explains the physics of, for example, the isometric plie and its opposing tension. The moves feel natural. As the leg moves forward, the shoulder moves back in battement. Weight and balance are explained and experienced in dégagé. There are only several repetitions of some seventeen exercises.

For an hour and a half I'm brought back not to the ballet of my youth, but to the classes I took as an adult with an earlier Jhung demonstrator, and Stuttgart Ballet dancer Maki Fujita. I have also tried his live class at Ailey, and his other videos. "Ballet Plus" is more cognizent of the home school than his earlier videos and others that use the barre. You don't have to look over your shoulder, organize the furniture, or miss half the demonstration when turning to the opposite side.

A lovely réverénce ends the floor exercises (it is an exercise in itself with grand port de bras to the back and front). There are several final stretches that do require holding on to something sturdy. By the end of the class, Jhung is stressing the flowing movement in tombé.

Jhung is a good host, and while the format is otherwise friendly, he says several times, "And now WE are going to..I mean YOU are going to…" With this little joke, he is redirecting himself to Sasha and inadvertently forgetting about us in "TV land" as it was called when the medium was young. Intended, perhaps, as informality, it disturbs the connection we have with Sasha and the TV ballet studio experience, to which everyone is invited regardless of age or ability.

The bonus material is a final, inspiring interview with Dmochowski. She cites Isadora Duncan as an influence. She talks about dancing in the corps, dancing Balanchine, when and what she eats, her future, and more. I highly recommend this for all balletomanes. Dmochowski demonstrates that it's a good workout for ballet dancers in their prime too.
Sasha Dmochowski demonstrates in this Finis Jhung video.

Sasha Dmochowski demonstrates in this Finis Jhung video.

Photo © & courtesy of Stephen Von Der Launitz


Maki Fujita, an earlier Finis Jhung demonstrator and Stuttgart Ballet dancer.

Maki Fujita, an earlier Finis Jhung demonstrator and Stuttgart Ballet dancer.

Photo © & courtesy of Hernan Gomez

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