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Cecchetti Society Day 2013

Cecchetti Society Day 2013

30 September 2013

Lisa Hunter reports

Held at The Royal Ballet Upper School on Sunday 28th July, Cecchetti Day 2013 had a packed itinerary, with much during the day to enjoy and provoke further thought and discussion. After a warm welcome from Faculty Chair, Elisabeth Swan, the day began with a delightful class for boys focussing on precision in allegro work. Using gentle humour to relax the boys, Peter Parker urged them to see that precision in allegro includes not only the feet but precise coordination of the arms and good posture. He reminded them that the pelvis needs to be correctly placed so that the power in the legs, particularly the hamstrings and gluteals, can be accessed and boost the speed and strength of the take-off, as well as providing support for a soft landing. Mr Parker described the legs and torso as the engine room, whilst the arms, head and face are the narrative, framing the movement and telling the story. If the arms are late or unhelpfully placed, the jump is actually made more difficult and has little or no impact on the audience. The boys were encouraged to dance with strong masculinity, holding the upper torso proudly and in particular when executing grands echappés, to “Rocket up! Parachute down”. A stirring reminder of how to help our students to soar and many thanks to the sublime John Taggart on the piano, who made us want to soar ourselves!

We then had the privilege of listening to a conversation led by Dame Monica Mason with Richard Glasstone, Patricia Linton, Lynne Wallis and Matthew Hawkins on the relevance of Cecchetti work today. Dame Monica began by reflecting on her experiences with The Royal Ballet; in particular during tours to Russia and China. The senior students in those countries struggled with the fast terre à terre petit allegro and batterie that was a normal part of the skill-set of the Cecchettitrained dancers from the company. She also remembered that guest choreographer Twyla Tharp was able to accurately spot Cecchettitrained dancers by their special kind of coordination. Lynn Wallis remarked that when she began teaching, it was to her classical Cecchetti principles that she returned, and how these came up in discussions when writing the RAD Foundations of Classical Ballet Technique, where it was noted that she was the one who liked the “footy bits” – fast petit allegro and batterie! Patricia Linton narrowed the focus to emphasise that deep study of the Cecchetti work is extremely important for dancers regularly performing the works of Frederick Ashton. Dame Monica extended this to the work of Ashton’s idol, Bronislava Nijinska, explaining that she had invited Cecchetti specialist Diane Van Schoor to work with the company in order to prepare them for the incredibly fast footwork required for Les Biches. Matthew Hawkins commented that whilst the use of imaginary objects is a tool often used in contemporary work, of course we have been doing this in Cecchetti work for a century, with our imaginary skirts, pools of water, cloaks and of course more prosaic items such as chewing gum! Mr Glasstone urged us to use the Cecchetti work intelligently, adapting traditional exercises in such a way that the principles are still being taught but made appropriate for the age and development of the student. In closing, Dame Monica observed that the Cecchetti work is so much of the theatre, that its influence doesn’t end when you get a job, but is felt more and more as you progress as an artist.

The next treat was a demonstration of Advanced 2 work, including the new supplementary steps which were demonstrated by four students of KS Dance Ltd; Jenny Hackwell, Sarah Bateman, Izzy Aires and Nathan Hunt. Kate Simmons guided them with a firm but encouraging hand and it was lovely to see the work performed with such evident enjoyment. It was particularly pleasing to see the frequent changes of direction and quick transfers of weight in the new enchaînements enhanced by heavenly music from John Taggart.

Following a delicious lunch, the Long Service Awards were presented to Linda Pilkington and Diana Thwaites on their retirement and a gift was presented to Judith Wilson for her sterling work as Chair of the Cecchetti Group for nine successful years. Beautiful bouquets were presented to Penny Kay for eight years of leading the wonderful Let’s Make a Ballet days and Kristina Rogge, who was thanked for her outstanding fundraising efforts for the planned recording of the Advanced work. Richard Glasstone was congratulated and warmly applauded on his richly deserved MBE from the Queen and presented with champagne and a book containing the letters that had been written in recognition of his wonderful work. It was with great pleasure that Peter Wilson donated a beautiful cup to be awarded in memory of Diana Barker.

The performances by winners of Cecchetti Competitions and Awards were very enjoyable and accompanied beautifully by Liz Hewson. This was followed by two highly entertaining dances presented by the Scholars. Silent Movie, by Judith Wilson, was a terrifically complex narrative piece that gave the Junior Scholars a great opportunity to develop their acting skills and work with a variety of props, which they performed with style and great relish. The Senior Scholars were also challenged with the enchanting Classical Caprice, by Gillian Toogood. Performed sur les pointes and including pas de deux, it allowed all the dancers to show off their individual strengths and some comical acting skills! The piece built to an exhilarating crescendo and was tremendous fun to watch. The costumes for both were fabulous and many thanks to Marius for his seamless work with the staging. Dame Monica Mason presented cups to Lucy Edwards and Amy Payne in Class One, to Jasmine Wallis in Class Two and the Eileen Langman Cup for Musicality to Emilia East. Linda Davies gave her Performance Award personally to Dominic Rocca in Class Two.

The final item was, according to Richard Glasstone: “The best thing I’ve seen all year.” Ursula Hageli, now working in the Healthcare department of The Royal Ballet, shared with us the work she had been undertaking with Nicol Edmonds, a young dancer in the company who only started Ballet at 16 and had been struggling with certain aspects of technique. She had used her knowledge of the Cecchetti principles and even Baroque dance steps in order to re-train Nicol in the correct use of the foot, plié, use of the floor and smooth, flowing port de bras and épaulement that co-ordinates perfectly with the movements being executed. We were all highly impressed with Nicol’s humility and willingness to learn; an attitude that has clearly borne fruit as we were informed that due to his regular ‘MOTs’ with Ms Hageli he had got to the end of a very long and tiring season without one visit to the physiotherapy room! I’m sure we all wish Nicol a long, healthy and fulfilling career and we will follow his progress with great interest.

Finally, on behalf of us all, I would like to thank Elisabeth Swan and the Committee for their hard work throughout the year and for providing us with such a varied, interesting and inspiring Cecchetti Day.

Lisa Hunter 

Photo caption: ‘The Relevance of Cecchetti Work Today’ – the panel (from L to R) Lynn Wallis, Matthew Hawkins, Dame Monica Mason, Richard Glasstone, Patricia Linton

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