Conflicting Ballet Techniques: How You Can Never Be Right

October, 2015

It is a well-known fact that ballet is highly competitive. It is not only the dancers that rival each other, in the most constructive way obviously, but also the different schools and training systems, e.g. Vaganova, Balanchine, French and American schools, etc.  

 
Learning different approaches can be inspiring and further your knowledge. Yet it can also become confusing, especially if you just started taking ballet classes or you do not have a strong and established foundation.

 

Major ballet companies recruit most of their dancers from their associated schools, e.g. Royal Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet, American Ballet Theatre.

This is to ensure a homogenous style and an efficient rehearsal process. Changing training styles when leaving ballet school and joining a company as a young dancer, or later on when one transfers from one company to another may also contribute and  increase the risk of injury due to different stresses on the dancer's body, until one has adapted sufficiently to the new class style. 

 

When I started my first contract at the German State Opera Berlin, it was a moment of substantial transition for the company. After 48 years of adhering to Russian, or Soviet tradition, the newly appointed ballet director was a former principal dancer with the Paris Opéra Ballet. With him, he brought a member of the Balanchine Trust as his assistant director. 

The Cat in Sleeping Beauty, German State Opera Berlin, 1992

For me as a young motivated dancer it was an exciting opportunity, if not always easy. Caught in between the 'old' and the 'new' it was sometimes impossible to get it right.

One day our Russian trained principal ballet mistress, the former prima ballerina of the company, taught the daily class. During the petit allegro (small jumps), the assistant director (member of the Balanchine Trust) came to watch. Both stood right in front of me as we were doing the changements. You must know that in most ballet techniques, the dancer is required to bring the heels down onto the floor when he or she is landing from a jump, not so in the Balanchine style where the heels should never touch the floor. I was in a dilemma and, as expected,  got told off by whosever method I chose not to do. 

 

Another time I was rehearsing The Cat from Sleeping Beauty, again with our principal ballet mistress, when the director decided to join. The very first step of this piece was a piqué 1st arabesque. Traditionally, the dancer is supposed to look forward over her front hand. However, our director had a preference for looking towards the audience to create a greater sense of communication. Once more I was in a no-win situation as I could not honour both authorities at the same time.

 

 

We cannot say one is right and the other wrong. Everyone insisted on their learned and trusted styles because this is what has worked for them and what they wanted to pass on. 

During my career I was exposed to many ballet-training methods and I found they all have their particular strengths and beauty. Even though, unless you are going to perform a distinct style, say The Four Temperaments by George Balanchine, I always recommend to train as neutral as possible, without mannerism and with focus on optimal alignment.
To know how to deal with conflicting techniques in open ballet classes read my article Ballet Class Etiquette: What You Need To Know.

newspaper article about the audition for the German State Opera Berlin, 1992