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Imperial vs Vaganova vs Soviet Style


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#1 cxllqhy

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Posted 01 November 2008 - 02:06 AM

Could someone tell me what are the differences between the imperial and vaganova styles?
I've heard that the Imperial style port de bra is more subtle, is this correct? are there any other differences?
When people refer to Soviet style or Soviet training, is it synonymous with the vaganova school?
It must seems to me that the word Soviet tends to be used when referring to the Bolshoi before the disintegration, is this so?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 03:00 PM

Hi cxlighy and welcome to Ballet Talk! You've asked some good questions. I hope Hans will see this one -- he can give you more technical detail than I can on the differences between Imperial and Vaganova styles. (Some might say that Imperial ports de bra are more subtle, but I'll be you the Vaganova people would take umbrage.)

Vaganova style coincides with the Soviet era -- "Soviet" is more a political than a technical term, and refers to the period in Russian Ballet history during the Soviet era. The mid-20th century heyday of the Bolshoi was certainly during the Soviet Era, but so were Kirov ballets such as the Lavrovsky "Romeo and Juliet", or "The Fountain of Baksischirai."

#3 bart

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 04:36 PM

Thanks, Alexandra. I hope that vrsfanatic will be able to respond too, drawing on her own personal experience with Vaganova style as taught at the source.

Anyone else? I suspect that a number of us would like to hear your answers to cxllqhy's interesting questions.

For example, I've always tended to assume that people in the West used the term "Soviet" most frequently when talking about the style of those big, muscular, showy, overtly athletic works that were a specialty of the Bolshoi. "Russian" seemed to be preferred when discussing finer and more classically pure works. I have no real evidence for this; it's just an impression about the language of press reviews and "ballet talk" when Soviet/Russian companies first began touring regularly in the West.

#4 Hans

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 04:40 PM

Well, I'll explain as much as I can. :flowers: Mel and Leonid are probably more knowledgeable than I regarding the Imperial Ballet, but I would venture to guess that as the Imperial dancers were trained, at least partly, by Christian Johansson, the Imperial-style port de bras would have softer lines than what is seen today. Vaganova method training and the Mariinsky style (two separate things, though one does spring from the other) emphasise port de bras and Úpaulement heavily, so I doubt that it is less detailed, but Johansson was a student of Bournonville. Now, how this may have changed once people like Legnani and Cecchetti came along and the Imperial dancers started emulating them I cannot say, but I do notice that dancers trained by Vaganova (student of Johansson and if I'm not mistaken Cecchetti, Gerdt, and Legat?) such as Kolpakova and Ulanova have a softer, more 'plush' look to their port de bras than the finely penciled, almost geometrically precise lines of the upper body that more recent Vaganova Academy graduates have.

#5 dirac

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 05:46 PM

I add my thanks to Alexandra's, cxllqhy. We love these kinds of questions at BT, and I hope this commences an interesting discussion

#6 Amy Reusch

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 08:18 PM

Wouldn't Imperial Style be less acrobatic than Vaganova, with more modest extensions, etc., in keeping with the aesthetics of its era? Wouldn't the differences between Vaganova and Soviet be merely that "Soviet" has ceased to exist, while the Vaganova Academy continues and therefore continues to evolve? Weren't "Soviet" & "Vagnova" synonymous when they were concurrent?

#7 vrsfanatic

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 05:05 AM

Just guessing here, but Soviet may be a leftover political term. I remember my late husband using the term rather than Russian since Russia did not at that time exist as a country. Most Eastern Europeans who were able to defect or get out of Eastern Europe did not use the term Soviet shall I say in a loving or gentle manner. Soviet was a period of ballet in Russia :D Not guessing here...Vaganova is a method of studying ballet rather than a style of port de bras. Vaganova and her colleagues worked many years to develop this program for use in the Soviet Union and Soviet satellite schools of ballet.

As for the comparison to the Imperial "style" and again I would say the Imperial "style" of ballet is not a style but the name of the schools of ballet in Milan, Italy and St. Petersburg, Russia and perhaps other countries with Royalty. Both Academies have illustrious graduates. The Imperial Academy of Milan did have an influence on the Imperial Academy of Russia in that Cecchetti and other dancers of note were able to pass their knowledge from Milan on to the Russians and Vaganova in particular. Having studied with Russian teachers who were trained as dancers in the Imperial school and as teachers in the Vaganova method, it is difficult to separate the two schools of thought since the Imperial Academy had an influence on these wonderful teachers but they only discussed their knowledge of movement crediting the Vaganova method. The Imperial school of ballet did have a great influence on the development of Vaganova schooling. Also watching an older dancer (and by that I mean women and men in their late 70s and 80s), show port de bras has never given me an actual knowledge of what the port de bras should actually look like, but rather wonderful imagery and ideas for passing along information.

The principles of Vaganova port de bras are based upon harmonious form and placement of the arms with a natural sense of coordination of body movement with musicality. The end result of the 8 years of study, when taught correctly, creates a balanced, harmonious sense of movement. In teaching the principles of Vaganova port de bras to American students, one of the biggest differences I am confronted by is that today's students generally do not have the backs of students trained in the Vaganova method in Russia and perhaps elsewhere. Without this important understanding of the back Vaganova port de bras can not exist. :) When one is watching a dancer, it is generally evident if the dancer has a background in Vaganova, by the way they move and use their arms and focus but I can not actually pinpoint what the differences are.

#8 Sacto1654

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 05:33 AM

For example, I've always tended to assume that people in the West used the term "Soviet" most frequently when talking about the style of those big, muscular, showy, overtly athletic works that were a specialty of the Bolshoi. "Russian" seemed to be preferred when discussing finer and more classically pure works. I have no real evidence for this; it's just an impression about the language of press reviews and "ballet talk" when Soviet/Russian companies first began touring regularly in the West.


In my personal opinion, Russian ballet during the 20th Century developed along two lines--one at the Kirov/Mariinsky Theatre and one at the Bolshoi Theatre. The Kirov/Mariinsky style was perfected by Agrippina Vaganova, and it is a true descendant of the "Imperial" style of ballet that Marius Petipa perfected in the second half of the 19th Century. Konstantin Sergeyev evolved this very style during the Kirov era--and most of the "classical" ballets performed at the Mariinsky Theatre today are (more or less) the work of Sergeyev. The Bolshoi style came from the work of Alexander Gorsky, who emphasized stronger acting skills on-stage. You can see this clearly with both Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya, both legendary for their acting ability on-stage during their heyday. Interestingly, the Bolshoi style evolved to the "big, muscular, showy, overtly athletic works" mentioned in the quote above, probably (in my opinion! :D ) because of the influence of Stalin and his preference for "big" things. The ballet Spartacus--which is a "showcase" ballet for the Bolshoi--is by far the best-known example of this, especially with the current 1968 choreography by Yuri Grigorovich.

During the second half of the 20th Century in the Soviet era, the Bolshoi style of ballet was vastly better known in the West, since Bolshoi troupe toured a lot longer in the West and many Bolshoi dancers in this period became household names among Western balletomanes. In my opinion, in 2008 I find it to be the reverse, as many Kirov/Mariinsky dancers have become household names Western to balletomanes.

#9 vrsfanatic

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 07:18 AM

Sacto1654 you are headed in a very different direction than I was thinking, but it is an eye opening one. :D As a teacher when asked about the Vaganova "style" I automatically think the question is about methodology, but your thoughts are sending me in a new direction. :) cxllqhy are you asking questions about classroom work and how it effects the development of the ballets being performed/choreographed or are you asking about the stylistic differences of various companies you may observe? The subjects are related however the academic approach will differ from what is observed. :)

#10 Hans

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 07:59 AM

Interestingly, the Bolshoi style evolved to the "big, muscular, showy, overtly athletic works" mentioned in the quote above, probably (in my opinion! smile.gif ) because of the influence of Stalin and his preference for "big" things.


According to Karsavina, if I recall correctly, during her time as a student at the Imperial school and with the Imperial Ballet, the difference between the Imperial Ballet and the Bolshoi was that the former, modeled on the French school, strove to be extremely refined and graceful, whereas the latter had a more showy style, not bothering to hide effort, less refined, &c. So it would seem that the Bolshoi's big, athletic style has been around for quite some time!

Also, I feel it is important to note that one can be trained in the Vaganova method (or perhaps I had better say in something very similar to it) without acquiring the Mariinsky style. Others know more about this, and I would like to hear from them on the subject--I recall reading that in the Soviet era, all state ballet schools in the USSR used the Vaganova method of training, including the Bolshoi, Perm, and Kiev schools, yet all of their affiliated companies have different styles. I usually find it relatively easy to see the differences between the Mariinsky, Bolshoi, and Perm--I have less experience with Kiev graduates, although I do know one--maybe I can ask her about it.

So while Vaganova developed her method primarily to allow her students to dance at the Mariinsky/Imperial Theater, and the Mariinsky ballet has certainly kept its principle of refinement (although, lately, not necessarily restraint) one can be trained in the Vaganova method yet dance in a company with a different style--certain styles, of course, will be easier for the Vaganova-trained student to acquire than others.

#11 Solnishka79

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 10:36 AM

A bit off topic but somewhat relevent...I really dislike when people consider Imperial and Vaganova to be the same. Example-a local school advertises themselves as a Vaganova school. Then they go on to talk about how the Vaganova system created dancers like Pavlova, Nijinsky, Baryshnikov, etc. Umm...interesting how Vaganova trained Pavlova and Nijinsky as they're older than she. As a history buff, incorrect facts really get under my skin.

#12 Marga

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 12:56 PM

Just guessing here, but Soviet may be a leftover political term. I remember my late husband using the term rather than Russian since Russia did not at that time exist as a country. Most Eastern Europeans who were able to defect or get out of Eastern Europe did not use the term Soviet shall I say in a loving or gentle manner.

No need to guess, vrsfanatic, you are absolutely correct. Your last sentence is right-on as well.

The word "soviet" (I can hardly get myself to type it and I refuse to capitalize it) often gets muddled in meaning and becomes synonymous with "Russian" and, these days, a host of other terms and concepts. It is only a political assignation, a word that merely means "council" (but then, the word "nazi" is merely a contraction...).

#13 cxllqhy

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Posted 14 November 2008 - 12:43 AM

cxllqhy are you asking questions about classroom work and how it effects the development of the ballets being performed/choreographed or are you asking about the stylistic differences of various companies you may observe? The subjects are related however the academic approach will differ from what is observed. :lol:


vrsfanatic, the reason I asked is because I took lessons about 10 years ago from this teacher who was in her 80's. She left Russia in her late 20's but she's famous for imparting her imperial style port de bra. The class system used was Vaganova's 8 years program. I was watching the Vaganova DVD sold on Amazon last week, and I was amazed to see how similar the work that I did was to what's being currently taught still at the school. Thus I kind was puzzled, was I trained in the imperial style or vaganova?

#14 vrsfanatic

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Posted 14 November 2008 - 04:44 AM

Now that you have given more background, I venture to say you were trained by a wonderful woman who was fortunate enough to have experienced and remembered both! Having begun my pedagogy studies with a remarkable Lithuanian woman, Janina Ciunovas, born in 1914, I was inspired 20 years ago to try to figure out some kind of time line. The ballet teachers of the pre-Vaganova era had influences from the French, Italian, Danish and of course the Imperial schools. They grew up with these teachers. A. Vaganova began her adventure as a teacher in the Petrograd Choreographic school in 1921. My pedagogy teacher at the Vaganova Academy St. Petersburg, Russia. Valentina V. Rumyanseva was in her 70's in 1995 when I left school, which places her in one of Vaganova's first classes. She told charming stories of G. Balanchine in school when she was a very young girl. So what does any of this have to do with your question? Not being a ballet historian, however having great interest in timelines, there are quite a few years of intertwining of schooling and development as one program of study took rise while the other left it's wonderful foundation deeply imbedded in the dancers who were caught inbetween. These students and dancers were able to inspire pedagogs to reflect upon making their indepth studies of movement and the further development of classical line.

Having spoken with many noted pedagogs of the Vaganova system of schooling, what is often discussed is the fact that the choreography does leave an important mark on schooling. The development of a schooling system should be a reflection of the choreographic needs. Although none of us know what the Petipa ballets actually looked like when performed, The Imperial School of Russia and the Vaganova Academy (now Vaganova Institute) have been deeply influenced by the choreography of Petipa and Ivanov. Perhaps, for this reason you are able to still see similarities in the two? :lol:

Vaganova published the first edition of her book Fundamentals of Classical Dance in 1934.


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