17 January 2005 | ,

Agrippina writes: “The manner of holding the hands in the preparatory position, as well as in the subsequent positions, can be shown only in actual demonstrations. It is very difficult to describe. To a certain extent, the accompanying illustrations will help. I shall add the following explanation.”

The merit of Ms Vaganova isn’t in her foolish attempt to write about what cannot be written; nor is her clumsy but charming style, difficult to see in this minimal quote. What makes her so great is her worry about legacy. Before her, nobody had attempted to write, to articulate for posterity the principles of Russian ballet technique. If she hadn’t been there, pen in hand, trying to describe the dos and don’ts of a perfect pli?© and the relationship of the Russian syllabus to Ceccheti’s teaching method despite her knowledge that this vast task was partly in vain, we wouldn’t have technically and aesthetically natural ballerinas. Russia couldn’t have attained the top of the ballet ranks either.

Vaganova knew that ballet teaching, particularly when it came to sorting out frustrations, shouldn’t be a lonely enterprise. She set out to share her experiences and experiments, trying to design a good pedagogical basis that would enhance not only the pupil’s suppleness but their continuous progress as well.

What I am trying to do starts with the unspeakable too, or rather with what no one has taken the pains to describe. And here I am, marvelling at Vaganova’s awkward prose and thanking her for being so generous.

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