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Vaganova: A Dance Journey from Petersburg to Leningrad.

Vaganova: A Dance Journet from Petersburg to Leningrad

By Vera Krasovskaya. Translated by Vera M. Siegel. Foreword by Lynn Garafola. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2005. 352 pages, illustrated, hardcover, $34.95.

A remarkable dancer and teacher, Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova (1879-1951) lived through cataclysmic times. Her less-than-perfect ballet physique led her on a never-ending search for the most logical and beautiful ways of moving. In her teachings she crystallized her ideas and methods and passed on her knowledge by developing the famous Vaganova technique, on which all current Russian training is based.

Vaganova distilled and summarized the best features of French and Italian styles of dancing that had prevailed in Russia since the 18th century. She pioneered movement analysis in ballet. "Her method is to break out movements into their component parts, in order to see how the leg and back muscles, arms, head, even every finger work independently," writes Krasovskaya. "Only after understanding the smallest details of this process did she try to achieve coordination of all the parts, bringing together these separate movements into a coherent and seemingly effortless harmony of the whole."

But she didn't stop at the physical aspects of dancing. Through the Vaganova method Russian dancing acquired breadth and became more expressive and "heroic." The emotional underpinning of every movement made dancers look natural and believable.

Krasovskaya's book, originally published in Russia in 1989, includes archived letters, Kirov ballet myths, interviews, memoirs, and made-up episodes, but, alas, very few references. Amusingly, it reminds one of Soviet-style high school textbooks, written from a position of indisputable authority. The often verbatim translation gives the book a distinctly Slavic flavor, although dancers may be confused by some of the corrections, for example, "tuck your hip up" instead of "keep your passe higher" or "pull up on your hip."

The story unfolds as a series of episodes, with many of the details apparent only to a professional. Krasovskaya, a Vaganova student and herself a Kirov dancer, ushers the reader into the theater's foyer and backstage, Vaganova's classes and company rehearsals, daily life and thoughts.

Some of the anecdotes are dramatic, others humorously confirm that things have not changed much in the ballet world. Today's dancers would easily relate to company politics of the late 19th century, the only difference being that offering a ham to a regisseur may no longer be effective in getting released from unwanted roles.

Writing before the democratization in Russia, Krasovskaya deliberately avoided touching on historical background. However, in a thought-provoking 22-page introduction, Lynn Garafola tells the entire history of ballet in Russia, from its spectacularly imperial origins to modern times.
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Author:Kunikova, Elena
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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