In 2007, in Paris, Flemming Ryberg and Dinna Bjorn of the Royal Theatre Copenhagen, presented a week of classes in Bournonville technique, repertoire and mime. As an observer with very little practical experience of the Bournonville style, I watched with fascination and delight, revelling in the joy of being a human, dancing, which is expressed so vividly through Bournonville’s choreography.
At the time I noticed that there were many similarities in the structure of the classes, use of the body and of space between the Bournonville style and Cecchetti’s Method. Even at a first glance, one notices the variety of movements incorporated into a tightly structured and rigorous class which is designed to prepare the dancer for the stage and maintain their bodies, like finely tuned instruments, for a career as classical theatrical dancers. The short barre is designed to prepare and warm up the body and not to wear it out, like a musician tuning up and practising scales. In the centre, complete bodily coordination is demanded throughout the port de bras and adages, and finally dancers progress to the allegros which cover many qualities and dynamics of movement across all the spatial planes.
At the same time, one observes from the outset that, whilst Bournonville teaches through choreography, Cecchetti’s Method is learned through his technique. There are differences in style, musical phrasing and the use of virtuosity, which for Bournonville was incorporated into his choreography but for Cecchetti, more often than not, was used for its own sake to add variety to the steps available for classwork enchaînements and of course, further the development of technique.
For August Bournonville and Enrico Cecchetti, classical dancing was neither a sport, nor a branch of gymnastics. First and foremost, it is a movement in the mind, which manifests itself through the pairing of music and gesture, rather than words. They accepted that Form is Function, and that true beauty will emerge only from a proper use of the human frame, and most especially, the spinal column which is an extension of the brain. The splendid plastique and high theatricality that we admire even in their classwork, is possible only because both respected the limitations of that frame. It is believed that Cecchetti had a copy of Bournonville’s Etudes choregraphiques because he copied out them out, word for word along with the Credo, adding for his students:
‘I present here, to my dear pupils, some of the fine choreographic studies listed by Mr. Bournonville, reminding them that progress and skill depend on the care with which they are executed. E. Cecchetti’ (1)
The Bournonville and Cecchetti methods rely upon on a rotation of the Days-of-the-Week. They are, with the Vaganova School, the only methods that have come down to us, the modern French School, a product of Gustave Ricaux, having never yet been documented. Unlike the Vaganova School, these are methods rather than a system. Cecchetti’s approach in particular is problem-solving: each Day of the Week looks at a specific principle, with its own inherent technical and artistic challenges, returning to it over and again whether to the left, the right, moving upstage and downstage or in reverse, until the dancer has solved the problem for himself.
In an interview with Harvey Hysell, (New Orleans, 2006…….) who was a student of Vincenzo Celli (1900-1988) himself a pupil of Cecchetti, Mr. Hysell says why he decided to dedicate his teaching to Cecchetti:
‘It was while studying with Celli in NYC in the late 1950’s that I decided – because of the placement and the way of moving. I realised that I was dancing very correctly… What Cecchetti decided to do with the upper body is very tasteful and very subtle. There is no such thing as angular lines in his placement… The use of space in Cecchetti is in keeping with his use of curved lines in the body…. I consider Cecchetti to be more anatomical…The Cecchetti dancer dances naturally. It is soft but square…
Celli…. would give fantastic allegro exercises – we had to move fast and get our heels down too!…. But we could do it, because Cecchetti bases everything on the placement. Once I was placed I found that I could move much faster, so I had brilliant allegro work… It’s fundamental that the Cecchetti method, the lines and the placement, be preserved. (1)
At the time of the 2007 Paris seminar I suggested to Flemming Ryberg that an opportunity be found to bring Bournonville and Cecchetti together in some way so that these masters could be appreciated side by side, their similarities and differences, like siblings in a family, discussed and experienced in a workshop. It would be an occasion for an audience unfamiliar with the choreography of Bournonville or who may not know about Cecchetti’s method of training dancers, to enjoy and be inspired by the valuable legacy these two great teachers have left us.
Several years later, in April 2012, the opportunity arose to bring Flemming Ryberg to London to teach alongside Richard Glasstone, Master teacher, author and Fellow in the Cecchetti Method. Mr. Ryberg and Mr. Glasstone are considered the two leading specialists in the world in the Bournonville and Cecchetti methods respectively.
Then came the inspiration to include the classical dance school of Spain, called Escuela Bolera. I recalled my training in the Escuela Bolera when studying on the Teacher’s Training Course at the Royal Ballet School. The classes in Escuela Bolera taught us dances from the classical Spanish dance repertoire which we had to perform with not only the similar classical dance forms and coordination of arms and legs already familiar to Cecchetti trained students, as we were then, but also to play the castanets whilst so doing! I realised it would be most apt to include an introduction and classes in the Escuela Bolera as part of the seminar.Marina Grut, Dame of the Order of Queen Isabel and President of the Spanish Dance Society was invited to give a presentation on the style of Escuela Bolera, and show some very rare film footage of Escuela Bolera dances. It became evident that there were close ties between the classical Spanish dance school, Bournonville choreography and the Cecchetti method. The idea arose to use the theme of Spain at the seminar and so bring together Cecchetti, Bournonville and the Escuela Bolera in one unique event. Flemming Ryberg suggested doing excerpts of La Ventana, a rarely seen Bournonville ballet, and the event focused on theatricality and Spain.
La Ventana, translated as ‘The Window’, premiered at the Royal Theatre Copenhagen on October 6th 1856. It was influenced by the Escuela Bolera which held the greatest fascination for Bournonville – and for Flemming Ryberg whose ancestors were Spanish! Spanish dances had been extremely popular in Europe since the late 1830s and 40s, particularly following Fanny Elssler’s sensational ‘La Cachucha’. Bournonville however, disliked the lascivious nature of much of the visitors’ choreographies and decided to create ‘genuine artistic Spanish dancing….. combining Spanish national dances (Seguidilla) with pure academic Spanish style technique (Pas de Trois), all held together within the frame of a charming genre picture’. (2)
The theme of theatricality linked the philosophy and raison d’etre behind the event. Theatrical dancing, singing and acting developed in a public place: the theatre. There, highly trained human beings carry others into otherwise inaccessible realms. Cecchetti’s manual was intended for the ‘theory and practice of classical theatrical dancing’ and August Bournonville says also in his Etudes Choregraphiques:
‘This collection of studies…. is founded on the development of the theatrical dance, which is to the art of ballet what the study of singing is to opera. The same relationship exists between national dances and folk songs or popular music, which have real value only when they are artistically arranged….
I recommend to my pupils and to all those who practice the laborious study of the dance, to regard their art as a link in the chain of beauty, and an ornament to the stage, and to respect the theatre as one of the most glorious manifestations of the intellectual life of nations’. (4)
The seminar took place in London at Highgate Ballet School on April 12th-14th 2012 and offered a glimpse into the rich heritage of western European classical dancing which is so joyously made manifest through the choreography of August Bournonville, its principles embodied through the training of Cecchetti’s Method and given a distinct theatricality and uniquely Spanish expression through the Escuela Bolera.
Julie Cronshaw, London, 2012
Lithograph images courtesy of Flemming Ryberg
Quotes (1) and (4) from Bournonville and Ballet Technique by Erik Bruhn and Lillian Moore, Dance Books, Alton 2005
Quote (2) taken from an interview: ‘A conversation with Harvery Hysell’ by Katharine Kanter in June 2006. The French translation can be found in full in ‘Les Nuits Blanches au Centre de Danse du Marais’, publication directed by Katharine Kanter, published by Centre de Danse du Marais, 2012
Quote (3) from The Bournonville Ballets, A Photographic Record 1844-1933 Compiled and annotated by Knud Arne Jürgensen, Dance Books, Cecil Court, 1987