A Cecchetti Day to Remember
1 October 2010
Why this year's Cecchetti Day, at The Royal Ballet School, Covent Garden, reinforced the reason why the method is still so valid today.
All Cecchetti Days are enjoyable events, not least because it's the end of the school year and the perfect occasion for teachers and students to meet with colleagues, catch up on events over the past year and enjoy together the interesting and varied programme. However, this day, Sunday 25th July 2010, had a special vibe to it; it seemed to encapsulate the inherent artistry of the Cecchetti method and to reinforce the reason why it is still so valid today.
Starting out with a relaxed and friendly reception, Chairwoman Elisabeth Swan and her team were as usual on hand to see that all went smoothly and to give a warm welcome to all. We were ushered into the light and spacious Linden Sudio where the day's events were to take place.
These commenced in the most delightful fashion. Six young pupils of the Kilburn School of Dance, led by their teacher Amanda Wilkins, charmed everyone with their demonstration of Classical Greek dance. Entitled Developing Expression and Artistry in Dance, Amanda skillfully drew these qualities out of the children in a series of exercises and improvisations. Leading on from a warm-up which stressed body awareness (the use of hands, heads and eyes was particularly sensitive) she followed this up with movements – runs, jumps and leaps – employing a wonderful use of space and dance quality. It was her use of imagery and lovely musicality which enabled the pupils to react in such a spontaneous fashion, each one of them displaying such unforced enjoyment and reinforcing what dance is all about.
A small adjustment to the programme meant that what followed seemed a natural progression i.e. the coaching of students about to complete their training and start out on a dancing career. Another superb teacher was on hand to do just this. Anita Young, on the artistic staff of the Royal Ballet School and Cecchetti doyenne, took three students of the Upper School through a coaching session. Sophie Allnatt danced the Fairy of the Golden Vine and Karla Doorbar, Aurora's variation from the first act of the Sleeping Beauty, while Francesca Hayward,Young British Dancer of the Year, danced a solo out of Kenneth Macmillan's Manon.
The students were all familiar with the work but for them, having just come back from a break and without doing class for several weeks, it was certainlly no small ordeal. Anita’s warm-up enchaînements focused on aspects of the variations. She wanted Sophie to really bend and work her upper back, to use body torsion and very broad ports de bras. Intially Karla, who is a lovely dancer, held back and seemed nervous when tackling the Aurora solo. Anita’s method of 'iron fist in a velvet glove' worked wonders so that the end result was a revelation. As she pointed out, today we are so into athleticism and high extensions that artistry can be totally lost along the way. Francesca has a naturally expressive quality but again it was enhanced by the instructions she was given; to bend more to the floor (how many times have Cecchetti students heard that!), to use both eyes instead of just a passing glance to give real focus and to really make use of her arms in the expressive ports de bras.
We were really fortunate to observe what can be achieved with the combination of a sensitive pianist and a master teacher. The pianist, John Taggart, played not only for this but for the closing demonstration on class work and did it wonderfully.
Michael Clark needed no introduction, but how agreeable it was to hear him in conversation with Richard Glasstone and listen to this unassuming, thoughtful man explain what drew him to return to his Cecchetti roots. I would imagine many of us wondered at the reason behind his former punk image but, as he explained, it was the theatricality which initially drew him to punk ¬– that and a natural period of rebellion! It was after he suddenly left the Royal Ballet School and was choreographing for his own dancers that he knocked on Richard Glasstone's door one day, to ask for help in re-discovering the Cecchetti ports de bras.
To better illustrate Clark's style and it's origins, Richard Glasstone then introduced four short videos. In the first, Clark literally sheds his punk gear to dance a lyrical, pensive solo in which his classical style and line were very evident. The second was much more aggressive in nature (the music he used had cause to shock many critics of the time!) while the third video showed a piece choreographed on Mathew Hawkins and once more demonstrated the control, precision and placing flowing through Clark's work. Asked by Richard what he felt was the importance of the Cecchetti method, to him in particular, Michael Clark's answer was that it was in the line; meaning the seemless flow from one position to the next. That, plus the musicality, use of the torso and huge variety in the work. His two greatest influences had been Cecchetti and the work of Merce Cunningham. These were the very reasons, Richard Glasstone felt, that Cecchetti work is so valid today and into the future – it allows for innovation.
Finally we saw a very recent work set to the music of David Bowie and entitled Jean Genie. Taking simple walking as a base, it incorporated batterie, ports de bras and much else recognisable to all present, but given an ingenious, fluid and totally fresh approach.
It was a great deal to take in in one morning so the brief hour or so spent stretching legs and enjoying the delicious buffet lunch (yes, dancers need to eat and move!) and we took our seats again in the theatre. Opening with the Annual General Meeting presided over by Elisabeth Swan, it gave everyone a chance to pay tribute to two great Cecchetti ladies, Daphne Cooper and Jennifer Morgen who had done so much for the Society and who both passed away this year.
An item of great importance was that about the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition which will be held in July 2011 at The Lowry in Manchester. During the same period, 25th to 30th July, Manchester will be the venue for the Annual Summer courses, Cecchetti Society Day, Gala Evening together with the finals of the competition.
Following on from the meeting were a selection of performances by Cecchetti Award winners from all over the country. With their sense of style, technique and musicality they aptly demonstrated the reasons for which they had been chosen as winners.
Synchronicity and Serenity was a perfect title for the lovely work choreographed by Jenny Hall for the Junior and Senior Cecchetti scholars. Without striving for virtuosity, but utilising interesting floor patterns and a very lyrical and expressive style she brought out the performance qualities of all the young dancers. Finely danced by all – in particular Emily Yong who as Senior Mabel Ryan winner had caught the eye with her dance quality – it was indeed a fitting tribute to Daphne Cooper and Jenny Morgan.
Last but not least on the programme was a demonstration given by the students of Kate Simmons School entitled From Grades to Majors. As Elisabeth Swan said in her introduction, it must be rare today to see the Cecchetti work demonstrated in such detail, showing so clearly the detailed build-up through the preparatory work and leading up to the jewel in the crown, the Cecchetti Diploma. It couldn't have been an easy task assembling it and making it both entertaining and instructive, but with the invaluable help of pianist John Taggart, Gillian Hurst put it together and introduced it with clarity and great insight. She and the students are to be congratulated on a result which demonstrated all the qualities, variety and beauty for which the Cecchetti Method is renowned. A fitting end to wonderful Cecchetti Day 2010.
Photo shows Sophie Allnatt 'Golen Vine' variation: photo by Geoff Wheatley