Enrico Cecchetti

Creator of the Cecchetti method, a revolutionary ballet technique

Cecchetti with two of his La Scala ballet school students, in 1927

Enrico Cecchetti created a ballet technique, still widely used today, known for two revolutionary ideas: first, that a dancer’s degree of turnout should be based on his or her normal rotation from the hips; second, that technique should be free of stylistic flourishes and instead focus on pure, strong movement.

Cecchetti (1850–1928) was born in the dressing room of the Tordinona Theatre in Rome, to parents who were both professional ballet dancers. He trained with several celebrated teachers, including Filippo Taglioni, the father of Marie Taglioni.

Cecchetti enjoyed an illustrious stage career, known for his agility, strength and technical abilities as a dancer. He became one of the Imperial Russian Ballet’s (now the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg) greatest male virtuosos. He is often credited with revolutionizing the image of the Russian male dancer, after the invention of the pointe shoe had relegated male dancers to little more than a background support for the ballerina. For example, he choreographed and danced the role of The Bluebird in the premiere of Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, causing a sensation with his powerful display of big jumps, multiple pirouettes and brilliant batterie.

Soon, he became an in-demand teacher, first at the Imperial Ballet School (1887–1902), then the Warsaw State School in Poland (1902–1905) and finally back in St. Petersburg, where he established his own school. When he met Anna Pavlova, already a famous dancer, she begged him to coach her exclusively, which he did for two years. When Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes dancers refused to go on tour because they would miss their daily classes with Cecchetti, Diaghilev hired him as the company’s ballet master.

Eventually Cecchetti tired of touring and settled in London, where he opened yet another school. In 1922, with the help of Cyril Beaumont, he officially codified and published his method. He returned to Italy a year later to retire, but he was invited to resume his teaching career at La Scala, where he had made his own dance debut 55 years earlier. A teacher to the very end, Cecchetti collapsed while teaching a class and was taken home; he died the following day at 78.

Style

The Cecchetti method trains students to move strongly and purely, without stylistic idiosyncrasies. Épaulement (slight turning of the shoulders and head) is introduced early and used heavily. In terms of turnout, Cecchetti technique focuses on a dancer’s normal rotation from the hips, rather than insisting on 180-degree turnout—making it a favorite of modern and jazz dancers.

Pavlova and
Cecchetti

 

Movement Vocabulary

The Cecchetti method is a progressive system of training dancers, from pre-ballet to professional level. It includes a program of set exercises for each day of the week, divided so that different muscle groups are emphasized on different days, to prevent overwork and injury. The Cecchetti method also differs from other Russian and French techniques in specifics like arabesques (there are five positions in the Cecchetti technique), port de bras positions and basic body positions (Cecchetti has eight, not 11).

The Legacy Lives On

Former students include Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Léonide Massine and Agrippina Vaganova (who incorporated much of Cecchetti’s method into her own technique). His syllabus was passed on through Ninette de Valois, Margaret Craske and Marie Rambert. Today, Diana Byer, artistic director of New York Theatre Ballet, employs Cecchetti training with her students. Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School have earned Enrico Cecchetti Diplomas.

Resources 

Print:

“Diana Byer: How I teach Cecchetti,” by Jenny Dalzell, Dance Teacher, June 2012

“Technique: Cecchetti’s Choices,” by Janice Barringer, Dance Magazine, January 2007

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet, by Gail Grant, Dover Publications, Inc., 1967

Web:

The Cecchetti Society of Southern Africa: “Enrico Cecchetti”: cecchetti.co/za

Cecchetti USA: “Who was Enrico Cecchetti?”: cecchettiusa.org

 

Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

 

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

Keep reading... Show less
For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.