Enrico Cecchetti

Early in 1941,I was rehearsing for my Grade 4 R.A.D. exam with Gweneth Lloyd

We were going through the dance that was a part of this exam. The dance began with a glissade. Miss Lloyd said that she wanted that glissade to be done like Cecchetti would have done it. That did not mean anything to me, so she demonstrated what she wanted. It was lighter than the rather terre a terre glissade that I had become accustomed to.

The name Cecchetti stuck in my memory bank, although I knew nothing about him, not even how to spell his name.

The exam with Adeline Genee as my examiner, went well. I received honours, with a mark of 89. Obviously my glissade was not out of order.

That name Cecchetti eluded me for some time. I could not find it anywhere.

On my birthday in 1942, I received a gift that would answer questions and open doors for me. The gift was a copy of “The Complete Book of Ballets” by Cyril Beaumont. It is a very large book with seemingly endless lists of ballets from the very earliest days of ballet up to 1942. It includes in most cases, the cast list as well as the choreographers, the composers and the designers.

A whole new world of reference points came to me, some I would see in the future, some would never cross my path.

Endless names, and of course, included in that list, at last by cross reference, Cecchetti.I then had to find why it was pronounced the way it is, and not Kachetti. Thanks to an Italian dictionary I discovered that a “c” at the beginning of a word, was pronounced “ch”.

Little did I realise that four years later I would actually meet, in London,England, the author of my book. I was 14 when I received the book. It would take two more years before any thoughts of London would enter my world.

London,England did enter my world, in September of 1946 I sailed for England on the Aquitania, with a scholarship to the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in my pocket.

As well as the school, I would appear at Covent Garden, as a student, in Coppelia. From there I was transferred to the junior company at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where I would meet Celia Franca and appear in her ballet “Khadra”.

As a member of the London dance community, I met many people. Dancers, but also teachers and choreographers, plus many of the senior members of the dance community. Amazingly, I did not take classes with anyone who was a Cecchetti teacher.

People who had seen him dance were all over the place.

Cyril Beaumont had a dance book store on Charing Cross Road, and I became a frequent visitor. He was fascinated with the fact that Canada had any ballet, and that I was in London, dancing as a Canadian.

Eventually stories about Cecchetti began to surface from various sources. Stories about him as a dancer, not as a teacher. Why with only 18 years having passed since his death, there were no stories about the “teacher” in 1946, I do not understand.

The first stories were about him dancing the Bluebird pas de deux.

Brisé volé, I would learn, prior to Sleeping Beauty, was executed, finishing on acou de pied position. For the coda in the Bluebird pas de deux, Petipa changed thebrisé volé so that it was done with straight legs, like it is normally done today.

The beginning of the male solo was different when Cecchetti danced it. He did the temps de poisson, but after the chassé, he did an assemblé over, finishing in a fullplié, followed by the next temps de poisson. This done four times, then theentrechat six three times, a double tour en l’air etc. I defy the present crop of classical male soloists to execute this.

It of course happened on both sides.

This was the dancer side of Cecchetti, the part that is forgotten. It was said of Cecchetti in the press, “he proves that a man really can fly” and this before Nijinsky had become famous for his jumps.

Even in 1946 this man was remembered for his marvellous technique, his big jump. Strange, when I consider how much of his life is talked about relating to the “dancer-actor” side of his career.

Finally, after much searching, I learned about the ballet-master, coaching side of his life. So many of the dancers in the Diaghileff company were groomed by this man. Fokine gave them the steps, Cecchetti made those steps talk

Part two

After two years of working in Britain, dancing and touring, I left with a whole new perspective on my profession. I had seen first hand, that generation of dancers, but I had also learned a great deal of the history of ballet in Europe.

It took until the fifties for me to become aware of the Cecchetti System. The syllabus, the exams. During the early fifties I travelled to New York several times. To see performances, to learn choreography with Anthony Tudor, but also to do ballet classes.

Margaret Craske was a regular. The National Ballet was apparently becoming Cecchetti based, so we were encouraged to study with Craske. She had been in the Diaghileff company, so of course had studied with Cecchetti.

Through New York and also by meeting Craske at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, I began to question her about Cecchetti. Eventually it came out. Craske told me that the syllabus was not what Cecchetti had taught them. She was trying to correct things, but it was along and arduous task. There was also a great deal of opposition from the Cecchetti Society.

Having been in the position of Ballet Master myself, I could understand how one does not teach syllabus to a ballet company. The demands of the day by day performances and rehearsals, does not need a syllabus on top of all that, no! the dancers require constant change, constant challenge. It is not an easy job to keep them alive and interested.

I have been told many times that it would be a feather in my cap if I had the Cecchetti exams on my list of accomplishments. I have not agreed with this, for my career as a dancer and a teacher has been long and successful without those things. There is one aspect of this which can not be argued. None of the “systems” has in their vocabulary the words,“pas de deux”.

During my long career, I became quite famous for my work as a partner.I have partnered some of the best of the last 55 years. When I was still dancing I would teach pas de deux classes to various groups, including the National Ballet company and School, plus the Royal Ballet School. To that list I should also add the Toronto Dance Theatre.

This aspect of my profession is as important as the dance. I should add that this is very important for the male dancers, but it is just as important the female dancers. You have to know how to be partnered, it does not just happen.

The practical side of the story must be taken in to consideration. Carlo Blasis a very famous ballet master, said many years ago ,”you should not teach until you have become an accomplished performer”. That was then, it should be true now. Some might say “times have changed”. I say, have they? A plié is a plié, no matter what your school.

Can we take that all the way through the technique? Absolutely! I am not talking about other dance types, I am talking about ballet. Ballet is dated as beginning in 1489 in Tortona, Italy. It is in fact older than opera as a theatrical medium. That statement will get a few backs up, but sorry, those are the facts.

When we say 1489, do we mean that in that year there was suddenly from out of no where, ballet as we now know it? Oh no! far from it. There was a long build up to 1489, and much has happened since.

The changes took place because of many things. The ability of the dancers was an ongoing development, then the way in which the dancers were used, or in other words, the choreography.

It took many years for ballet to reach the stage that we see today. The costuming, the music, the set design, all went through various stages. Have we reached the ultimate? NO! Far from it.

We call it classical ballet, because it is universal. It says whatever we want it to say, it has no restrictions.