By Maya Haridas, Siddhie Pillai & Aradhana Kiran – En Avant Magazine Mar-Apr 2022
With a history that spans centuries and across multiple countries, ballet has had years and years of experimentation and artistic inspiration to arrive at the methods that dancers are taught today. Each method has its own specific nuances that add different layers to its technical and artistic features.
The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet is an Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing affiliated ballet school that holds biennial ISTD examinations in Imperial Classical Ballet. That being said, what is the Imperial Classical Ballet method? What makes it different from other methods of ballet? What are the other methods of ballet? These are all questions that we had and now, after quite a bit of research, we want to share our discoveries with you.
The Vaganova Method is a ballet technique and training system devised by the Russian dancer Agrippina Vaganova. After retiring as a dancer, Vaganova spent her time teaching at the Leningrad Choreographic School. She developed a ballet technique that combined elements of French, Italian, and earlier Russian technique. The training system is designed to involve the whole body in every movement, with equal attention paid to the upper body, legs and feet. Vaganova believed that this approach increases consciousness of the body, thus creating a harmony of movement and greater range for expression. Terminology used in the Vaganova Method often differs from other methods. For example, the Vaganova grand pas de chat is commonly called saut de chat in the US.
See below for an excerpt from The Pharaoh’s Daughter, a quintessentially Russian ballet. It is a regular part of the Bolshoi Ballet’s repertoire but is not performed anywhere else is the world.
George Balanchine was a choreographer who had a strong influence on the world of classical ballet in the United States. His choreographies are known for their speed and lightness of movement. As the son of a composer and having studied piano from a very young age, Balanchine considered music to be the basis of dance, saying, “I am just a simple choreographer that learned how to read music.” When working on choreography Balanchine was more interested in the musical plot, rather than the story. Having an extensive musical knowledge he would thoroughly study the scores of the music, and would try to create movements that would correspond to the music. This is one of the defining characteristics of this method of ballet. The Balanchine Method is characterized by intense speed, deep plié, and a strong accent on lines. The method has many distinct arm positions and distinct and dramatic choreography.
Watch a piece from George Balanchine’s Jewels. Jewels is made up of three sections: The courtly, romantic styled Emeralds, the vivacious, jazzy Rubies and the imperial, classical Diamonds. This is a piece from Rubies, performed here by the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Dancer, choreographer and ballet master August Bournonville directed the Royal Danish Ballet for nearly 50 years. His ballets reflect the 18th century French style of his training with typical Danish charm – warm and cheerful depictions of ordinary people. The Bournonville method is characterised by expressive mime and a quality of effortlessness and lightness – a softer upper body, contrasted with buoyant jumps and quick footwork. The port de bras (carriage of the arms) is low and rounded, gesturing toward the audience to welcome and involve them in the production. In Bournonville’s ballets, the transitions between steps are smooth and even, and no step is given more emphasis than the others.
See below for a dance from the ballet that August Bournonville is best remembered for – La Sylphide, performed here by the Paris Opéra Ballet.
Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928) was one of the most important influences on the foundations of modern classical ballet training. He evolved a method of training in the 19th Century, working with professional dancers including Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, that is as relevant today as when it was first created.
His influence on British ballet has been far-reaching. Cecchetti trained under Giovanni Lepri, a pupil of the great Carlo Blasis who had codified the technique of classical ballet in 1820. Blasis’ ideas were developed further by Cecchetti who grouped the vocabulary into six sets of exercises, one for each day of the week. These exercises are performed on both the right and the left sides, starting with one side one week, followed by the other side the next week. Classes are regimented and planned, not improvised or dependent on the feelings of the teacher.
Ultimately, the Cecchetti method trains its dancers to think about ballet as an exact science. More than other types of classical ballet, the Cecchetti method teaches the flowing of arms between the various positions. Cecchetti students are taught to think about the movements of their appendages, such as legs and head, as one unit in relation to their full body. The rigorous technique also focuses on quick feet, crisp lines and seamless transitions between positions.
The Cecchetti method also advocates natural turnout, based on a natural range of motion, rather than teaching dancers to force the turnout of their feet. Anna Pavlova is one of the many famous ballerinas who was influenced by the method.
Imperial Classical Ballet
ISTD, the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing is a London based examination board that conducts dance exams worldwide for a range of dance methods, from Ballroom to Bharatnatyam. Imperial Classical Ballet is what we learn at TLFCB. Imperial Classical Ballet is based on the teaching of the French School at the Paris Opéra. The syllabus, first written in 1913, has evolved to promote the English classical ballet method and to address the changing needs of ballet dancers today. Focusing on encouraging a sound basic technique and an understanding of musical interpretation it provides the essentials of a pure classical training. ISTD also has another method of ballet known as the Cecchetti Classical method. The other main facet of the English method is the Royal Academy of Dance or RAD which was founded in 1921. It is also an examination board.
Watch Lise’s Solo from Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée. It is a classic English ballet and is a regular part of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
All in all, we find that it is the coming together of many small, diverse details that bring uniqueness and a special something to all these methods. It leaves you feeling something different each time you watch a ballet performance.