Gillian Murphy in American Ballet Theatre’s 2005 production of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia.
A ballet in three acts, Sylvia is set to music by Léo Delibes and features costumes and scenery after original designs by Robin and Christopher Ironside. Additional designs for the revival of Sylvia are by Peter Farmer and lighting is by Mark Jonathan.
How the Vaganova Style is Unique: Agrippina Vaganova was trained by Mdm. N. Legat at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, and went on to become a prima ballerina with the Imperial Ballet. She was known as the “Queen of Variations” for her high jumps and multiple pirouettes. Later, she taught at the Imperial Ballet School (later to be named the Vaganova Ballet Academy in honor of her), where she developed her own method of teaching, known as the Vaganova system. Hallmarks of the Vaganova Style include:
Relaxed, elegant port de bras
Precise feet and legs
Strong back, which enables high jumps and maneuvering in the air
Combination of French lyricism and Italian virtuosity
Fouette rond de jambe en tournant performed with the leg moving from retire to the side and then beating from back to front in retire.
Spring method used to go to and from pointe.
Open position of the hip in arabesque
Current Use of the Vaganova Style: The Kirov Ballet, Boston Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet (Professional Division) Bolshoi Ballet, Kirov Academy of Ballet, and the Universal Ballet in Seoul, Korea (of which the Kirov Academy is the official school) all use the Vaganova style.
Note: Vaganova was also a pupil of Enrico Cecchetti and he greatly influenced her and hence her style.
How the Balanchine Style is Unique: The Balanchine style was created by the choreographic genius, George Balanchine, co-founder of the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein. It is based on the Vaganova Style, in which Balanchine was originally trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, Russia. Hallmarks of the Balanchine Style include:
Flowing, informal port de bras
Quick, precise feet and legs
Rounded hand positions with well-separated fingers
Sporadic use of large épaulement
Preparation for pirouettes from a “lunge” fourth position (that is, with a straight back leg).
Ability to do both large, fast movements and slow, elastic ones
Weight is kept forward, over the ball of the foot, rather than in the center of the foot
Rolling motion used to get to pointe
Raised heel in petite Allegro
Current Use of the Balanchine Style: There are many companies today, most of them in the USA, that use the Balanchine style. The most notable of these is the New York City Ballet, along with the Miami City Ballet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet. All of these companies have schools that also teach the Balanchine Style.
How the Bournonville Style is Unique: August Bournonville, a Frenchman, was trained at the Paris Opera, where he also performed. Later, he moved to Denmark to establish the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. Besides being a dancer, Bournonville was also a choreographer, and he created many ballets for the Royal Danish Ballet, including La Sylphide and Konservatoriet. Hallmarks of the Bournonville Style include:
Soft, gentle port de bras
Use of epaulement to emphasize feet
Little emphasis on multiple pirouettes
Well-developed ballon with brilliant batterie
A soft rolling motion used to go to and from pointe
Little use of port de bras; arms are ususally either en bas or opened wide toward the audience
Grand jete with back leg in attitude
Current Use of the Bournonville Style: To my knowledge the Royal Danish Ballet is the only company that uses the Bournonville Style.
Note: Bournonville was a contemporary of Cecchetti and they admired each others work often “borrowing” from each other. Bournonville was a short dancer with relatively short legs. He used a lot of “attitude” leg positions because he felt it gave him the illusion of having longer legs.
**The female dancers are trained to have jumps as big as the men.
How the Cecchetti Style is Unique: Enrico Cecchetti was an Italian dancer who performed with the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky in the nineteenth century. He was an excellent technician, being the original cast for the role of the Bluebird in Petipa’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” Later, he taught at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and eventually developed his own style and method of teaching. Hallmarks of the Cecchetti Style include:
Very formal port de bras
Slightly uncrossed fifth position
Fouette rond de jambe en tournant performed with a circular motion of the leg, moving from front to side, and then beating to the side and front of the knee in retire.
Very fast and brilliant foot work in allegro
Strength of the back and torso well developed and utilized in grand allegro
Use of epaulement to embellish allegro
Superb balance and stability in pirouette work
Current Use of the Cecchetti Style: The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago and the New York Theatre Ballet use the Cecchetti Style.
Note: When Cecchetti came to Russia the were in awe of his virtuosity. They had no experience with dancing of this caliber. They begged him to stay and teach them his method.
The Cecchetti style was not one he created as much as one which evolved from his studies with Lepri who in turn was a pupil of Blasis (I believe that is the correct lineage but I am not completely certain)
How the French Style is Unique: The French Style is unique in that it was begun by a king. Louis XIV of France created a dancing school in the eighteenth century, and from that school sprung what are now the Paris Opera Ballet and its school. The French style can be considered to have had the most influence of any other style of ballet, as all ballet terms are in French, and it was in France that ballet blossomed and spread to other parts of the world (although it was originally invented in Italy). Hallmarks of the French Style include:
Relaxed, elegant port de bras
Precise feet and legs
Poetic quality of movement
Noble, refined use of epaulement
Current Use of the French Style: The most notable company to use the French Style is, of course, the Paris Opera Ballet.
How the English Style is Unique: There are two main forms of the English style. The Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD), a teaching institution, began as a combination of the Danish, French, Russian, English, and Italian schools. RAD dancers pass examinations each year of their training.
The other form of the English style is that of the Royal Ballet School, which was based on the Cecchetti style, but is now increasingly Vaganova (Russian)-influenced. Both approaches are very calm, with precise placement of the body.
Current Use of the English Style: The English style is exemplified in the choreographic works of the great English choreographer, the late Sir Frederick Ashton, in the dancing of the Royal Ballet Company, and in dancers trained within the RAD syllabus system.
Note: Frederick Ashton was Cecchetti trained and his style of choreography definitely is based on the Cecchetti method. Enricco taught many years in England and many of the dancers he trained went on to become teachers and choreographers. There is a strong history or Cecchetti style in English Dance. The dancers Ashton worked with were Cecchetti trained also. The early RAD was almost and exact duplicate of the Cecchetti syllabus, as students of Cecchetti set about devising a syllabus that would be appropriate to teach to younger students (Cecchetti only taught advance/professional level dancers) Over the course of time some elements of change crept in especially in the lower levels because training exercises really have no relationship to the final product. In fact, even in the Cecchetti syllabus there are NO traditional exercises other than port de bras until elementary. Here there are a few. More are seen in Intermediate. It is not until advance and diploma work that the true Cecchetti style is seen.
Natalia in A Month in the Country is one of ballet’s most coveted roles. Requiring nuanced artistry and perfect technique, the role has only been danced by a few exceptional ballerinas including Lynn Seymour, Natalia Makarova, Karen Kain and Julie Kent. This season Principal Dancers Greta Hodgkinson and Xiao Nan Yu make their debut as Natalia Petrovna in this treasured work.
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada, “Voices of Spring”, choreography by Sir Frederick Ashton, San Francisco Ballet at 2015 Dance Open Ballet Festival Gala Concert, Alexandrinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, Russia (April 27, 2015)