One Ballet is Not Always Like Another

March 7, 2006

If you’ve seen one Swan Lake, it’s likely that you haven’t seen them all. Swan Lake performed by the London’s Royal Ballet will be different from Swan Lake at La Scala in Milan and still quite different from the same ballet performed by the Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia. Often, the distinctions will lie not in the choreography (which may be fairly similar), but in the training of the dancers and the stylistic details each of their schools emphasize.

There are four main schools of ballet training that originated in Europe -- Vaganova, French, Cecchetti and the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). All have their individual strengths; all produce beautiful, yet different results.

Vaganova – St. Petersburg, Russia

The Vaganova method, which was used to train Nureyev, Makarova, and Baryshnikov was developed by Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951), the master teacher from St. Petersburg, Russia who began her career as a dancer. The technique combines elements from the French and Italian schools and emphasizes elegance and technical virtuosity.

Passed down generation to generation, the Vaganova method incorporates a strict syllabus that is divided into eight levels or years of training. Instructors take a two-year course at the Kirov Academy in St. Petersburg in order to learn how to teach the syllabus to students. Students trained in the Vaganova method later go on to dance for the Kirov Ballet and other companies throughout the world.

French – Paris, France

Louis XIV, having a great love for dance, established the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661. The school’s first director, Pierre Beauchamp, is credited with codifying the five basic ballet positions. The school gave way to today’s modern, state-run ballet school of the Paris Opera and has taught notable dancers such as Sylvie Guillem and Elisabeth Platel.

Dancers of the French school are recognized for the cleanliness of their lines, placement and technique, which often outranks virtuosity in terms of importance.

Cecchetti – Italy

The system of training developed by Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928) incorporates a regimented set of exercises that teaches the student to regard the movement of the foot, leg, arm, and head, not as separate parts, but in relation to the body as a whole. Dancers trained in the Cecchetti system are known for having explosive jumps, athleticism, and an ability to execute multiple turns.

Cecchetti greatly influenced the training method used in Russia as he coached dancers extensively at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Famous Cecchetti-influenced dancers and choreographers include Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky and Diaghilev.

Royal Academy of Dance – United Kingdom

Established in 1920, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is a ballet training method incorporating elements of English, Russian, French and Italian pedagogy. RAD dancers are known for their careful placement and alignment.

Each year, more than 200,000 students around the world participate in annual exams at which a visiting examiner evaluates and grades each student’s dancing. 

See also:

Search for ballet performances to be presented this year in cities throughout Europe.

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