In praise of Vaganova
By Lisa Macuja
Since its founding in 1995, Ballet Manila has subscribed to the Vaganova training method – the same technique that now artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde had learned in the 1980s in St. Petersburg. It is also the same training that The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila has espoused since opening formally in 1997. Over the years, she has brought over guest teachers from Russia, including her own mentor Tatiana Alexandrovna to hold classes for Ballet Manila. In her dance column On Pointes dated February 2, 1995, shortly before Ballet Manila made its debut, Macuja wrote about the ballet pedagogue who developed the method and what it entails.
Agrippina Yakolevna Vaganova. A name almost over-used everywhere in the world as synonymous to excellent academic training in the field of classical ballet. Her book, first published in 1934, The Fundamentals of Classical Dance, has been reprinted five times over, translated into many different languages and finds its way to the bookshelves of countless ballet schools in every corner of the planet.
The ballerinas she has guided and taught at the Leningrad Choreographic School (now the Academy of Russian Ballet) since she first became a teacher in 1921 until her death in 1951 have been declared legends in their own right in the world of classical ballet – Semyonova, Iordan, Ulanova, Dudinskaya, Balabina, Shelest, Vecheslova, Osipenko and Kolpakova. Primas all, and they all went on to become great teachers as well, carrying the torch of their classical guru Vaganova.
Exactly what is the Vaganova system? It is a school, a method of teaching nine- to 10-year-old girls and boys to become professional ballet dancers. Divided into eight different levels, each level is taught and mastered in one school year. The system slowly builds the vocabulary of classical steps as well as the strength and technique of each dancer. It emphasizes the strict use of the head and upper body to enhance the intricate foot and leg work.
Various exercises have been placed in logical order which is followed in every class designed to slowly prepare the body for more difficult combinations and prevent injury. Agrippina Vaganova made rules that have to be strictly followed as to how a “temps lie” is done, how both arms are coordinated in a sixth “port de bras” and, with little ballerina figures, she draws how a “jete renversé en dehors” is supposed to be done.
Professor Agrippina Vaganova continues to reign as the foremost authority in classical dance. Her system has developed the traditions of the Russian ballet that continues to be the international standard of classical excellence.
The Vaganova system has found its way to the Philippines, via teaching stints of Mikhail Kukharev for Ballet Philippines, Jurgen Schnieder, Gayana Dolgopolova and Sergey Bykov for Philippine Balelt Theater, with Irina Kolpokova, Vaganova’s last star graduate, giving special classes to PBT in New York City during its 1993 US tour. Australian Ballet’s former principal dancer Christine Walsh recently gave a Vaganova seminar for ABAP (Association of Ballet Academies, Philippines).
At present, 12 ballet dancers are immersing themselves in this method. Watch out for them, coming soon.