Maestro Enrico Cecchetti
Why Cecchetti Method?
Maestro Cavalieri Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928) was considered the greatest ballet teacher of his time. His Method establishes and codifies theoretical principles, encompasses a vast range of steps, movement qualities and dynamics and eliminates technical difficulties addressing any problems through the application of basic physical principles. It appears to have been worked out with much logical forethought and with careful study it reveals the science behind the art of classical ballet.
How can you recognise a Cecchetti Trained Dancer?
A dancer trained in the Cecchetti Method dances with co-ordination and control, purity of line and can move with astonishing speed or measured lyricism. They are able to change planes and directions without difficulty and always with musicality and a sense of the innate joy of dancing.
Who was Enrico Cecchetti?
Born in a dressing room at the Tordinona theatre in Rome, Italy, into a dancing family, Cecchetti finished his training under the ballet master Giovanni Lepri, a pupil of Carlo Blasis who had codified classical ballet in 1820. Cecchetti’s training combined the purity of technique of the French school combined with the coreodramma technique of the Italian theatre and he became as celebrated for his mime roles as for his virtuosity as a dancer.
Cecchetti toured Italy with his family, and then throughout Europe and Russia in the 1870s with them. He danced also with his wife, Giuseppina da Maria, whom he had married in Berlin, joining the Imperial Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1887. The dual roles of the Blue Bird in The Sleeping Beauty and of the evil fairy Carabosse were created on Cecchetti and he performed both at the premiere of the ballet in 1890, already aged 40.
As his performing career ended, Cecchetti taught at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg where he developed his Method for teaching classical ballet according to the ‘Days of the Week’.
He then became director of ballet in Warsaw from 1902 -1905. One of his sons, Grazioso, danced with the Warsaw Theatre until 1910 and was later to become a teacher like his father, in Paris and Italy.
From 1906-1909 Cecchetti worked again in St. Petersburg and his Maryinsky pupils, now principal dancers of the Imperial Theatre sought him as their teacher. He also became Anna Pavlova’s private coach for three years. She continued to work with him when she was back from tours at home in London. They remained life-long friends.
What is the Connection with the Ballets Russes and British Ballet?
When Diaghilev wanted his company, Les Ballets Russes to tour in 1909, he hired Maestro Cecchetti for the dual roles of ballet master and mime and Cecchetti moved with them to Paris first and then to London where he set up his own school in 1918. Diaghilev had brought together many great artists to the Ballets Russes which revolutionised ballet as an art form: painters and designers such as Bakst, Picasso, Cocteau, Goncharova and Matisse; and composers Debussy, De Falla, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Stravinsky. The Ballets Russes toured through Europe, the United States, South America, and Australia.
Cecchetti’s presence in the Diaghilev company was very important. He was the link between the past and the present, contributing to the birth of modern classical ballet. Cecchetti taught Karsavina, Nijinsky, Fokine, Massine, Lopokova, Preobrajenska, Sedowa, Kschessinskaya, Woizikowsky, amongst many others.
In London after 1918, students flocked to work with the Maestro and in 1922 his Method was transcribed by Stanislas Idzikowsky, one of Cecchetti’s Polish pupils and art historian Cyril Beaumont, into a book called ‘A Manual of Classical Theatrical Dancing’ and published. It was said that no one could become a finished ballet dancer without passing through Cecchetti’s hands.
Other famous Cecchetti pupils were Agrippina Vaganova, who was to develop her own system of classical ballet training in the USSR, Ninette de Valois (founder of the Royal Ballet Schools and the Royal Ballet Company) the dancers Dame Alicia Markova (founder English National Ballet), Marie Rambert (Polish born founder of Rambert Dance Company), George Balanchine (New York City Ballet); Dame Peggy Van Praagh (Australian Ballet), Serge Lifar (Paris Opera) and pupils who worked later in the USA included Vincenzo Celli, Luigi Albertieri, Vera Nemchinova and Gisela Caccialanza (San Francisco Ballet) to name but a few!
Sir Frederick Ashton, Director (from 1963-1970) and choreographer for the Royal Ballet in England and pupil of Nijinska, Rambert and de Valois, was greatly influenced by Cecchetti’s Method and insisted that Company class included Maestro’s daily ports de bras exercises.
How does the Cecchetti Method work?
The Cecchetti Method is based on classes which cover specific steps for each day of the week, rigorously upholding physical and theoretical principals of ‘classical theatrical dancing’, as Maestro himself termed it. In short these are:
Monday Assemblés: The Line of Aplomb
The Monday class is about establishing and maintaining the line of aplomb or ‘plumb line’, a phrase originally used by builders to establish a vertical through the centre of gravity.
Tuesday Les petits battements: épaulement
The key to Tuesday is épaulement, the notion of using the opposite side of the body to stabilise a shape which develops logically from standing in and using the aplomb.
Wednesday – Ronds de jambe: en-dehors and en-dedans
This is about amplifying rotation about and from the axis, both outwards and inwards without disturbing the structural muscles that hold a dancer in ‘turnout’.
Thursday Les Jetés: Weight transference in the space
Moving into the space, jetés are about weight transference in the air, a vast, free dimension of emotional expression.
Friday Batterie and pointe work: Suspension.
Taking all the above principles and applying them to work above the floor.
Saturday: Les Grands fouettés sautés.
All the above principles are combined and apply dynamic, momentum and speed, in all directions and on all spatial planes.
The Method revolves around three notions, Cycle, Repetition and Variation. By repeating and developing the weekly cycle of steps and the principles behind them a complete dance artist is nurtured and can continually evolve their technique and artistry, into middle age and beyond!
What happened when Cecchetti died?
In 1923, Cecchetti returned to Italy to retire but was invited by Arturo Toscanini to resume his teaching career at La Scala in 1925, his lifelong dream. While teaching a class, Cecchetti collapsed and was taken home, where he died the following day, November 13, 1928. His Method however did not die with him but was taught by his pupils, especially in England and can now be found in discerning ballet schools around the world.
Cyril Beaumont recorded in his Memoir of the Maestro:
“For the present there is none worthy to assume the mantle of Cecchetti. He was one of those great artists who appear not once in a generation but only at rare intervals in the world’s history of the theatre.”
article by Julie Cronshaw, London, June 2013