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Cecchetti's choices.

Pavlova, Massine, Nijinska, Nijinsky, Preobrazhenskaya, Lifar, de Valois, Karsavina, Legat, and Vaganova all studied with one man: the amazing Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928). His ingenious method of teaching endowed the human body with all the qualities essential to the dancer--balance, strength, elevation, elasticity, and ballon--making it as relevant today as it was in the early years of the 20th century. While these qualities are the ideal of every ballet school or teaching system, Cecehetti's method distilled the training to an exact science.

Born in Italy, Cecchetti was a brilliant virtuoso dancer and mime. As a member of the Imperial Russian Ballet, he choreographed and danced The Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty. Discovering he had a gift for teaching, he began to work with many famous artists of the era. Later in his career he opened a school in London, and it was there that his teaching system was codified.

When Cecchetti left London, his studio was taken over by one of his students, Margaret Craske. She passed on the Cecchetti Method to British dancers like Antony Tudor, Hugh Laing, Peggy van Praagh, and Frederick Ashton before moving to the United States. When Margot Fonteyn was on tour with The Royal Ballet in New York, she always attended Miss Craske's classes.

Three generations later the Cecchetti System is taught all over the world. Diana Byer, artistic director of New York Theatre Ballet and former student of Craske and Alfredo Corvino, is among the many people who are handing down what they learned. "It is about the art of dancing, not so much the art of ballet," says Byer. "It isn't just technique or legs. It is about the music, the feeling, the style, and the quality that is as important as teaching how to point the foot."

Franco De Vita, principal of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, and Raymond Lukens, a teacher at the school, both earned the Enrico Cecchetti Diploma. They explain that Cecchetti's method has a program of set exercises for each day of the week. "Cecchetti divided the days of the week in such a way that emphasis was given to different muscle groups on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Then Thursday would be the same as Monday, Friday the same as Tuesday, and Saturday the same as Wednesday. Specific movements are done on different days so that you do not repeat the same muscle group. By not overworking any area, injury can be prevented."

Another way the Cecchetti training avoids injury is that it adapts the ballet positions to each individual's body. This applies to the degree of turnout in the hips as well as flexibility in other positions (which is why modern dancers flocked to Gorvino's and Craske's classes). Some interpret the Cecchetti arm position in first arabesque as having one arm totally behind while the other is directly in front of the body. To this, Ninette de Valois said "rubbish." De Valois explained that Cecchetti placed her arm more to the side because her shoulders were slightly rigid, while others with loose shoulders were allowed to open the position to a greater degree.

Other distinguishing Cecchetti characteristics:

PORT DE BRAS The lines of the arms follow the principles of proportion and are free of stylistic flourish.

EPAULEMENT The turning of the shoulders and inclination of the head are used heavily in the Cecchetti system and are introduced early in the training. It not only adds beauty to the line, but also stabilizes the balance by taking the weight of the head over the supporting leg in a jump.

FOOTWORK Develops exceptionally fast footwork.

SEQUENCE OF CLASS EXERCISES At the barre, grand battement is the third exercise, following demi and grand plie.

Some teachers have modified this. De Vita teaches grand battement as the seventh exercise, after fondu and before the adagio.

TURNOUT While most systems insist on a complete 180-degree turnout, which causes many to over-rotate at the knees and ankles, this method keeps the focus on a dancer's normal rotation from the hips, allowing for different body types.

PETIT BATTEMENT The working heel should be on the ankle bone of the supporting leg in a wrapped position. This requires the foot to be relaxed, with the ball of the foot on the floor. On the demipointe it is identical to the Vaganova System, which is stretched and wrapped.

POINTE CLASS Pointe work is relegated to its own separate class.

RELEVE Only the "spring" releve is used, in which you go from the plie directly to full pointe. What others call a "pressing rise," Cecchetti simply calls an exercise to strengthen the toes.

While this method is sometimes accused of being outdated, devotees of Cecchetti defend its relevance in today's world. His technique is upheld by great teachers like Sallie Wilson, Andra and Ernesta Corvino, Madeline Cantalupo, Celene Keller, Jean Anderson, Christina Paolucci, Katherine Home, and Nancy and Murray Kilgore. The syllabus is central, but many teachers contribute a bit of themselves while still upholding its principles.

That is how it continually evolves. For example, Cecchetti constantly looked to Bournonville on certain points of technique. Later, Vaganova incorporated much of what she learned from Cecchetti into the teaching system named after her. One day when watching a Cecchetti adagio called "grand fouette," Alla Osipenko, a student of Vaganova, recognized it as the "adagio italiano" that Vaganova taught. Margaret Craske incorporated into her classes corrective exercises for the spine that she learned from a Navy doctor after World War II. Current teachers have had to make adjustments for today's extreme technique, which requires the legs to go higher than the limit of 90 degrees imposed on dancers in those early years.

Janice Barringer, a ballet teacher, is the co-author of The Pointe Book and En Pointe.

For more information go to:

The Cecchetti Society, USA

The Cecchetti Council of America

Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in London
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Title Annotation:TECHNIQUE
Author:Barringer, Janice
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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