Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet
The Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet is a school of classical ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Established in 1738 during the reign of Empress Anna, the academy was known as the Imperial Ballet School up until Soviet times, when, after a brief hiatus, the school was re-established as the Leningrad State Choreographic Institute. In 1957, the school was renamed in honor of the renowned pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova, who cultivated the method of classical ballet training that has been taught there since the late 1920s. Graduates of the school include some of the most famous ballet dancers, choreographers and teachers in history and many of the world's leading ballet schools have adopted elements of the Vaganova method into their own training.
The Vaganova Academy is the associate school of the Mariinsky Ballet, one of the world's leading ballet companies. Students of the school have found employment with ballet and contemporary companies worldwide, such as the Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Mikhailovsky Ballet.
The school was established as the Imperial Theatrical School by decree of the Empress Anna on 4 May 1738 with the French Ballet Master Jean-Baptiste Lande as its director. The first classes occupied empty rooms in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the first students were twelve boys and twelve girls. The purpose of the school was to form Russia's first professional dance company, which lead to the formation of the Imperial Russian Ballet, the school becoming known as the Imperial Ballet School. The Imperial Russian Ballet is the direct predecessor of today's Mariinsky Ballet.
Nearly all the early teachers at the school were from Western Europe, including Franz Hilferding and Giovanni Canzianni. The first Russian teacher to join the school was Ivan Valberg. After the spread of ballet in Europe, the development of the school was influenced by a number of other teachers and methods, including Christian Johannson, a student of August Bournonville, and the Italian methods of Enrico Cecchetti, Pierina Legnani and Carlotta Brianza. Other renowned 19th-century dancers and ballet masters who taught at and were influential in the development in the school include Charles Didelot, Jules Perrot, Arthur Saint-Léon, Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa and Mikhail Fokine.
Since 1836, the school has been situated at 2 Rossi Street in St. Petersburg, which was renamed Leningrad after Vladimir Lenin's death in 1924. The Imperial Ballet School was dissolved by the new Soviet government, but later re-established on the same site as the Leningrad State Choreographic School. The Imperial Russian Ballet was also dissolved and re-established as the Soviet Ballet. The company was later renamed the Kirov Ballet following the assassination of Sergey Kirov in 1938. Despite later being given the current name Mariinsky Ballet, the company is still commonly known as the Kirov Ballet by the majority of Western audiences and the company still use that title when touring internationally.
Agrippina Vaganova brought perhaps the most important developments in modern Russian Ballet. She graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in 1897 and danced with the Imperial Ballet, retiring from the stage early to pursue her teaching career following the Revolution. As the Soviet government had not yet re-established the school, Vaganova began her teaching career at the privately owned School of Russian Ballet, eventually joining the new Leningrad State Choreographic School in 1920. Vaganova was to become a highly renowned ballet teacher and is most noted for authoring The Principles of Classical Dance, which outlines the training system she created and which heads the list of the numerous works produced by teachers of the school.
Vaganova's students would become some of the most famous ballet dancers of all time, and in recognition of her achievements, the school was named in her honour in 1957, six years after her death. There are a number of variations in the name of the school, but the official title in current use in the English-speaking world is Vaganova Ballet Academy.
The Vaganova Academy has over 300 students. As in other similar institutions, competition for a place at the school is very fierce, with over 3,000 children auditioning each year, 300 of these being from St. Petersburg. Approximately 60 students are selected annually, with some 25 eventually graduating from the school having completed the full course of training. The school employs approximately 75 dance teachers, 30 piano teachers, 40 academic teachers and 40 accompanists. The Director of the school is Leonid Nadirov and the Artistic Director is former Kirov Ballet dancer and choreographer Altynai Asylmuratova.
Auditions for the school begin in June, and children must be at least 10 years old to apply.
The audition process is divided into three sections.
- Aptitude: to assess the candidate's proportions, height of jump, degree of turnout and general appearance etc.
- Physical: an examination by a specialist medical practitioner to assess the physiological possibilities of the candidate
- Artistic: to assess the candidate's musicality, rhythm, co-ordination and artistic talent
All students at the school begin by studying a programme of dance training, secondary school level education, French language and piano lessons. As they progress through the school, the programme becomes more intensive, with new subjects being added to the curriculum as the students become more advanced. In the first year, students study classical and historical dance progressing to character dance in the fourth year and pas de deux and mime in the sixth year. At the end of the 8th year of training, all students dance in a graduation gala at the Mariinsky Theatre. The most successful students may be offered a contract with the Mariinsky Ballet company, with the majority seeking employment with ballet companies in Russia and worldwide, including leading companies such as the Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre.
Long shot of the academy, from across the street (ulitsa Zodchengo Rossi).