A brief bit of research on the history of great dancers, choreographers and ballet masters produces a surprise.

A brief bit of research on the history of great dancers, choreographers and ballet masters produces a surprise: the extent to which they are linked to one another and to the Russian ballet. It must demonstrate that there is no such thing as one pure ballet technique. Starting with Bournonville, there will be examples of technique and choreography on film.

Pierre Beauchamp:

Pierre Beauchamp (1631-1705) Nationality: b. Versaille, France Career: Danced before Louis XIV. Became the Director of the Academie  Royale de Danse in 1671. Principal choreographer to Molieres acting troupe, the ‘Troupe du Roy’, 1664-1673. He was noted for his development of baroque dance. [ I wish to note here that the Commedia dell’arte played in Paris between 1644-1697.]

Jean- Baptiste Lully:

Jean- Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) Nationality: b. Giovanni Battista Lully in Florence, Italy. Career: Composer, musician, choreographer. He performed in ballets with Louis XIV. He and Moliere created the ‘comedie ballet’, Lully writing the music.

Franz Hilverding:

Franz Hilverding (1710-1768) Nationality: Vienna, Austria.Career: Choreographer and dancer in the Viennese Court where he became ballet master 1752-8. He was noted for fashioning fully developed pantomime-ballets to replace ‘divertissements’.He was at the Russian Court after 1758-1764.He was ballet master in Russia.

Gaspero Angiolini: 

Gaspero Angiolini (1731 -1803) Nationality: b. Florence, Italy. Career: In 1752 he moved to Vienna to work with Hilverding. In 1758 when Hilverding went to Russia [?], Angiolini became balletmaster in Vienna. In 1762, Angiolini left Vienna to join Hilverding in St. Petersburg, where in 1766 Angiolini succeeded him as ballet master. He returned to St. Petersburg again in 1776-8.

From 1778-82 he was ballet master at La Scala. 1783-6 saw him in St. Petersburg again for the last time. In 1761 he  staged his own pantomime ballet, ‘Don Juan’ to Gluck’s music. Continuing to use music by  Gluck, he created ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ in 1762 and ‘Semiramide’ in 1765. A brilliant dancer and mime, he demanded of dancers expressiveness of face and perfect technique.

Vincenzo Galeotti

Vincenzo Galeotti (1733- 1816) Nationality: b. Florence, Italy. Career: Studied in Italy with Gaspero Angiolini. In 1775 invited to Copenhagen as ballet master, solo dancer and teacher for the Royal Ballet. He is considered the father of the Royal Danish Ballet. His ballet called ‘the Whims of Cupid and the Ballet Master’(1786) is the  “world’s oldest surviving Ballet.”

Auguste Vestri:

Auguste Vestri (1760-1842) Nationality: Paris, France. [It is important to read an excellent article by John Chapman, ‘Auguste Vestris and the Expansion of Technique’ in Dance Research Journal, vol. 19. No.1, 1987]. I quote from it:

‘At the end of the eighteenth century, ballet was split between those supporting ‘tours de force’ and those who believed that “difficulties” […] should be avoided in favor of a more expressive, refined, graceful, and artless style of execution.[…]

‘ […] as early as 1760, Jean-George Noverre (1727-1810) was pleading in his extremely influential ‘Lettres sur la danse’, that his fellow artists should renounce ‘entrechats’ and ‘cabrioles’, abandon ‘tours de force’ […]’

‘Auguste Vestris (1760-1842) would overwhelm the dance world with his spectacularly athletic technique; his approach to dancing would be emulated by his fellow dancers as they tried to perform increasingly elaborate beats, greater numbers of ‘pirouettes’ and ‘tours en l’air’ and higher leg elevations.’

Career: After an exhaulted career as a performer Vestri retired to teacing. Among his pupils were Marius Petipa and Jules Perrot, both to become famous in St. Petersburg.

Carlo Blasis:

Carlo Blasis (1797-1878) Nationality: b. Naples, Italy. Career: In 1820 he published one of the first Works on ballet, ‘Elementary, Theoretical, Practical Treatise on Dance’. His classes were rigorous, Some apparently lasting 4 hours. He created the ‘attitude’. From 1838- 53 he was the artistic director of La Scala Ballet Theatre. Enrico Cechetti (1850-1928) expanded his technique and took it to St. Petersburg.

Giovanni Lepri:

Giovanni Lepri  (?- !860). Nationality: Italian, he spent time in Livorno.

Career: He was the principal dancer at La Scala in 1857. He was the teacher of Blasis, and he taught Cechetti in Florence.

August Bournonville: 

August Bournonville (1805-1879). Nationality: Copenhagan, Denmark.

Career: August’s father, Antoine, was trained under the French master, Jean-George Noverre. August studied under his father and under the Italian Master, Galeotti, in Copenhagen and later under Vestris in Paris in the 1820s. He brought an expressive

Romantic style from France, but also experimented with the masculine technique of Vestris. Bournonville used the arms simply, employing diagonal ‘epaulements’. He developed quick and intricate footwork and rapid change of direction in his choreography. Some ballets he created are La Sylphide (1836), Napoli (1842), A Folk Tale (1854).

Here are three dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet, trained in the Bournonville technique, doing solos from Bournonville’s ballet, Napoli.

Erik Bruhn was one of the greatest dancers in the Bournonville technique, and Nureyev and he trained together when Nureyev first came out of the Soviet Union.

Erik Bruhn and Rudolph Nureyev working in class

Jules Perrot: 

Jules Perrot (1810-1892) Nationality:b. Lyon, France.

Career :Student of August Vestris and Salvatore Vignano.Perrot early partnered Marie Taglioni .She became jealous of his ability and he had to leave the Paris Opera. While performing in Naples he met Carlotta Grisi, whom he was totrain. Bournonville and Perrot were classmates, and Edward Degas painted Perrot as his balletmaster, Perrot choreographed some of the most famous Romantic ballets: Giselle premiered in Paris in 1841 with Lucien Petipa (brother of Marius) as Albrecht and Grisi as Giselle ( Adolphe Adam composed the music); La Fils du Feu (London 1842); Ondine (London 1843); Pas de Quatre (London 1845);Le Judgement de Paris (London 1846). He set most of his ballets to the music  of Cesare Pugni as did Petipa after him. Perrot in 1848 became premier maitre do ballet to the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg from which he retire in 1858.

Pierre Lacotte’s revival for the Kirov of Perrot’s original ballet.

I wanted to put here another ‘Ondine’ created in 1958 by Frederick Ashton (music Hans Werner Henze) for Margot Fonteyn. I saw her perform it at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in autumn 1960. She  was an exquisite wild thing. Fonteyn (b.England) had joined the Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1933 at 14, after returning from China where she had studied with a Russian emigre. At Vic-Wells she studied under the watchful eye of Ninette de Valois, and was taught by Olga Preobrajenska (from the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg) and Mathilde Kschessinska (Imperial Ballet School and a mistress to Czar Nicholas II) .

 Svetlana Zakharova :

 Uliana Lopatkina:

Natalia Bessmertnova:

Bessmertnova died in 2008 and  was trained at the Bolshoi Moscow Ballet School.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Min,

    Giovanni Lepri:
    Giovanni Lepri (?- !860). Nationality: Italian, he spent time in Livorno.
    Career: He was the principal dancer at La Scala in 1857. He was the teacher of Blasis, and he taught Cechetti in Florence.

    FYI probably just a typo…. Giovanni Lepri was a STUDENT of Blasis and taught Cecchetti – he was the direct link between Blasis and Cecchitti.

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