These three ballet terms on their own don’t seem so complex, but if you look at them more closely you’ll find that they may not be as simple as they appear.
I’ll start with fermé, which means closed and is a descriptor; it describes what a step is doing. An example would be sissonne fermé. A sissonne is a jump that starts from two feet and lands on one foot. Its most basic translation is 2 to 1. Simple enough, but a sissonne fermé is not a jump that starts with two feet and lands on one, it starts with two feet and lands on two feet; closed.
The next term is ouvert, which means opened and is also a descriptor. It can be used in reference to a position or a step. I had always been taught that ouvert was in reference to the direction you were facing. Whether you’re facing the audience or facing away from the audience, if your legs were open to the direction you were facing it was considered ouvert.
Lastly we have croisé, which means crossed, and more specifically crossed to the direction you’re facing. For example, if you were demonstrating the first Cecchetti body position, croisé devant. With the right foot in front in 5th position you would quarter turn to corner 2 (the corner to the dancer’s left) and tendu the front leg, which is the one closest to the audience. In this position your legs appear crossed.
Often times fermé and ouvert are taught as opposites but in fact they are not. Allow me to explain…
If two things are opposite then they cannot happen at the same time. Here’s a simple example, ouvert sissonne fermé. Imagine the right foot forward in 5th position and the dancer has quarter turned toward corner 1 (the corner to the dancer’s right) and they perform a sissonne fermé, their legs are not crossed to the audience so they would be in an ouvert or opened position.
However, what do appear to be opposites are croisé and ouvert. I know based on their definitions (crossed and open) it wouldn’t seem that they are opposites, but in reference to the position of the legs and the direction of the body they are. Even if you had your back to the audience, with your right foot in front in 5th position, and were quarter turned to corner 4 (corners go counter clockwise corner 1 being to the dancer’s right when facing the audience, the corners are defined in reference to the audience) your legs would be crossed to upstage you’d be in croisé. If you did the same jump I mentioned above you would be doing a croisé sissonne fermé. If you kept your right foot forward and quarter turned to corner 3 and repeated the jump it would be ouvert sissonne fermé because your legs would be open to upstage.
There is more to the sissonne than this…like direction, en avant, en arrière, or de côté, but I’ll leave that out for now so we can ponder fermé, ouvert, and croisé for a moment or two. I think in my own teaching I would teach fermé and croisé as opposites and ouvert on it’s own. Teaching fermé and ouvert as opposites creates confusion that’s not necessary. Of course, the opposite of open is closed, but in this case open is in reference to a body’s directional position and closed is not.
Just a little something to think about!