The Vaganova method is a ballet technique and training system devised by the Russian dancer and pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova (1879–1951). The technique fuses elements of traditional French technique from the romantic era with the athleticism and virtuosity of Italian technique. The training system is designed to involve the whole body in every movement, with equal attention paid to the upper body, legs and feet. Vaganova believed that this approach increases consciousness of the body, thus creating a harmony of movement and greater expressive range.
Upon graduating from the Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg in 1897, Vaganova began dancing with the school's associated professional company, the Imperial Russian Ballet. She retired from dancing in 1916 to pursue a teaching career and in 1921 returned as a teacher at the school, which had been renamed the Leningrad Choreographic School.
During the 30 years she spent teaching at the Leningrad Choreographic School, Vaganova developed a ballet technique that combined elements of French, Italian, and earlier Russian technique, and a training method to teach the technique. Tenets of the training method included development of lower back strength and arm plasticity, and the strength, flexibility and endurance required for ballet, and it incorporated a detailed instruction process that specified when to teach each topic and how long to teach it. In 1948, Vaganova authored a book titled "The Foundation For Dance" (more commonly known as "Basic Principles of Russian Classical Dance") that outlined her training method and ballet technique. Following Vaganova's death in 1951, her teaching method was preserved by instructors such as Vera Kostrovitskaya and Vera Volkova
Methodical Characteristics and Pedagogy
The Vaganova method of ballet, while incorporating movement to encompass the entire body, also relies on the following principle: That all training can be encompassed and displayed in the course of one Grand Pas de Deux, containing an entree, adagio, variation, and coda. Students are trained to prove this principle upon graduation, thus the reason for graduation performances in which the most talented students are given a grand pas de deux to perform.
The Vaganova method employs extensive use of cross-training. Students at Vaganova-based schools today are expected to not only take daily courses in ballet (and pointe, for ladies), but also character (folk) dance, modern dance, calisthenics/strengthening, and a long term study of dance history, music, and language. It is believed that ballet benefits from the learning of all of these components, and cannot merely rely on the sole study of classical ballet technique.
Terminology in strict/pure Vaganova ballet is often very different from other methods, and is seldom used outside of Russia and formerly Soviet countries. For example, what most dancers in the US would call a "saut de chat", in Vaganova is usually referred to as a "grand pas de chat". Similarly, what most students call a "degage" is called "battement jete" in the Vaganova method. This is likely due to the fact that terminology has remained unchanged for centuries in Russian training, since before the advent of Vaganova technique.
Students at Vaganova-based pre-professional schools are expected to also take courses in choreography and pedagogy. These two subjects allow students of all abilities to go on to become both choreographers and well trained teachers. Frequently, students who do not pass exams for their grade in ballet are not ejected from the school, but rather redirected into training as choreographers and teachers, such that their dance experience and training does not go to waste, but instead may take the shape of another career in ballet. This is unique to Vaganova training, as other schools focus solely on a future in dancing, as opposed to any career that may support or otherwise contribute to it, even if it is offstage.