THE SIX-YEAR PROGRAM was written by Vera Kostrovitskaya in 1969 for the Vaganova Academic Choreographic School in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) as an accelerated version of the Eight-Year Program to give talented boys and girls, who had started their ballet schooling later, an opportunity to study. Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Rudolf Nureyev were all trained by teachers using this program.
In the late 1970s, John Barker of the John Barker School of Ballet in New York brought this Six-Year Program to the United States. He used it to train ballet teachers at his school. Barker worked with Kostrovitskaya for eleven years and translated into English her text "School of Classical Dance." It was first published in Russia by Progress Publishers and later by Dance Books, Cecil Court, London. The book received the First Prize in the 1978 Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy. Barker also self-published Kostrovitskaya’s "101 Classical Dance Lessons," which contains sample lessons from the First to the Eighth Class. (There is another ballet lesson book by Kostrovitskaya translated into English also titled "100 Classical Dance Lessons." It is not the same translation.) Among the American teachers who took Barker’s teachers courses are: Janet L. Springer, Sharon Dante, Howard Epstein, Willard Hall, Kevin Martin, Lynda Gooding Nelson, Peggy Willis Aarnio, Gretchen Ward Warren, and John White.
Noted Soviet ballet writer and historian Natalia Roslavleva René said: “John Barker, who has a complete understanding of teaching method and has received the highest praise from Vera Kostrovitskaya, has here produced works even more valuable than their Russian originals, because he has taken into consideration the fact that they were written for Soviet professionals and has added annotations here and there throughout the texts (sometimes extending to several paragraphs) in order to make details clear to the Western reader.”
Tribute to John Barker Nov 20, 1929 - April 18, 2020
John William Barker was originally from Chicago and was a scholarship student at the Stone-Camryn School. Later, he was a scholarship student at the School of American Ballet studying under the direction of Anatolo Obukhov and Pierre Vladimiroff. He danced with Anthony Tutor and some modern dance choreographers before opening the John Barker School of Ballet in New York in the 1970’s. He taught a sample lesson in the Tashkent Choreographic School, Uzbekistan (Soviet Capital, Asia). His lesson there was compared, by the administration, to lessons taught by Vaganova and Pushkin (Barker, 1972).
Barker, J. (1972). A visit to the Tashkent Choreographic School. In T. J. B. S. o. Ballet (Ed.), Soubresaut (Vol. Number Eight, pp. 12). New York, NY: John Barker Publication.
HISTORY OF THE SIX-YEAR COURSE OF STUDY
Natalia Roslavleva*, Candidate of Arts, Moscow, historian, and author of “Era of the Russian Ballet 1770 -1965” describes the Six Year Course of Study that Vera Kostrovitskaya created:
In 1969, Vera Kostrovitskaya was personally asked to work out a syllabus for a six-year course of study (so-called “experimental class”), starting at twelve, rather than at ten years of age. This syllabus is worked out so that the entire eight-year course is accelerated and passed in six years. The idea behind it was to give talented boys and girls, who had missed the required age of entrance, a chance to study and prove their worth. In the case of the really gifted ones, this method invariably produced excellent results and we could name some very prominent Bolshoi and Kirov dancers who had studied only in the “experimental” classes. Incidentally, these syllabi are also methodological guides, for they contain minute details as to when how and what to teach in each of the eight or six years”(Kostrovitskaya & Pisarev, 1995, p. 17).
“In the Academic Year 1936-1937 Kostrovitskaya began her teaching career at the Leningrad Choreographic School (Vaganova Ballet Academy), working with the Third Year Class of Girls. At the same time, she graduated from the pedagogical department that was attached to the school headed by Vaganova. She became straight away secretary of the Method Committee, giving serious attention to the study of teaching from the point of view of method (that is to say, how steps should best be broken down and taught and in what order). (Kostrovitskaya, 1979, p. 8). In 1947, at the Leningrad Conservatory (named after Rimsky-Korsakov) she became Vaganova’s assistant and taught courses for student teachers on the “method of teaching classical dance” (p.8). At the same time, she was teaching ballet lessons at the Leningrad Choreographic School. When Vaganova died in 1952, Kostrovitskaya taught the final course to ballet teachers and the department at the N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory was then closed (p.8). Several years later, the Leningrad Choreographic School opened a refresher course for ballet teachers who came from all parts of the Soviet Union, including Moscow; and it was Kostrovitskaya who taught those courses. From 1958 - 1969, she was the Senior Teacher and Senior Method Instructor at the Leningrad Choreographic School. After her retirement, in 1969, she continued to teach refresher courses for teachers who now came from many countries outside the USSR. She twice taught pedagogical seminars at the Moscow Choreographic School (p.9).
Natalia Roslavleva* states: “Vera Kostrovitskaya is one of the closest disciples of Agrippina Vaganova, entrusted by the great master to be her assistant. Vera Kostrovitskaya is one of the leading figures in the development of the method of teaching classical dance, as it is now adopted for all the state schools of the Soviet Union. In the book, School of Classical Dance, each movement is presented in each of its forms, beginning with the simplest and leading to the more complicated and perfect ones. Kostrovitskaya adamantly supports this principle in her teaching, considering that this is the best way for the study of classical dance as it produces the best result. It goes without saying that this principle evolved out of the general advance of the teaching method of Soviet ballet. It is based on a unified pedagogical system practiced by al Soviet teachers of classical dance whether they work in Moscow, Leningrad, Tashkent or Ulan-Udeh” (Kostrovitskaya & Pisarev, 1995, p. 15).
*(Sadly in 1977, at age 69, the ballet world lost the historian and writer, Natalia Roslavleva, to cancer. She had written “Era of the Russian Ballet 1770 -1965” which is an important ballet text published, then, in English.)
HISTORY OF THE EIGHT-YEAR COURSE OF STUDY
“On the basis of the joint experience of the Leningrad and Moscow school’s new syllabi had been worked out by 1961 – exactly 10 years after Vaganova’s death. These are based on an eight-year course of study, including all the material taught formerly in nine years. By 1967 this syllabus was finally perfected, officially adopted and printed for the use of all Soviet ballet schools. It is included as an appendix to this book, translated by John Barker” (Kostrovitskaya & Pisarev, 1995, pp. 16 - 17). “Therefore, the present system as used and worked out by special “method departments” of the leading Soviet schools cannot really be called “the Vaganova method” though this great professor had a lot to do with its origin and development” (p. 16).
Vaganova's Teaching Method
By Vera Sergeevna Kostrovitskaya
(Kostrovitskaya, 1979, pp. 14 - 18)
“What were the innovations that Vaganova, who was later honored with the title of Professor, introduced into the method of teaching classical dance? What are the main features of the Soviet method of teaching classical dance, the author and founder of which is rightfully considered to be Vaganova? I want to write about it briefly:
1. THE HOLDING OF THE LOWER BACK
"The source of stability is in the spine," Vaganova notes in her book, The Basic Principles of Classical Ballet. It is necessary to say that, for the stability of the body, the most important thing is the correct feeling in the small of the back, exactly in the area of the fifth lumbar vertebra. Little by little, small but strong muscles develop in this area, helping the dancer to keep the body in balance while dancing. Precisely this part of the back must be felt as if "pulled-up," while the shoulders are freely lowered. Tense or raised shoulders will prevent holding the back in the correct way. A well-trained back will help the dancer in the barre and center exercise, adagio, every kind of tour and turning movement on the floor and in the air, in jumps and dancing on pointe.
In addition, the possibility of properly using the back will help the torso to be expressive; and this is one of the main principles of Vaganova's method. The expressiveness of dance consists of harmonious transitions from one pose to another, during which the torso easily bends while maintaining the stability of the body, in the barre and center exercise, adagio and allegro, in accordance with the imaginative goals of the choreography. The ability to thus control the torso helps not only to improve the whole complex of dance elements, and in this way, to master technique, but also (and this is very important) insures an artistic performance.
The manner in which the torso is held while dancing is closely connected with the positions of the arms.
2. THE USE OF THE ARMS
Speaking about the arms, it is necessary to remind the reader of, and to emphasize, their double role in classical dance. In the language of inspired dance, the arms have first place. It is not enough to have correct positions, although, without doubt, this is very important. The arms, and especially the hands, must be plastically expressive and respond to any change in the dancer's mood, any change in the music or in the choreographic pattern. Stiff arms, as well as a lifelessly drooping hand or senselessly spread fingers, cannot be either expressive or beautiful. The arms, as well as the torso, are the main elements of dance expressiveness; but, by this, the role of the arms is not limited. Their second purpose is to aid in the execution of the dance. The arms are of prime help in achieving steadiness in the poses, and they help us in all kinds of turns on one or both legs. It should be emphasized that the curved position of the arms, with rounded elbows, is a special merit of the Russian, Vaganova's, School; for there was no such position in either the French or the Italian School.
Also, the arms provide help in the high jumps: slightly opening on the upbeat, they energetically help in the takeoff from the floor and in the holding of the pose in the air, maintaining and emphasizing the design of the pose.
3. THE DIVISION OF THE POSES INTO SMALL AND BIG
In most movements performed at 45°, the arms are in the small poses, at half height; if the movements are performed at 90°, that is to say, in the big poses, the arms are in the big poses. In this way, it is possible to attain different shades of color and an artistic variety in dance. I'll give a simple example: battements fondus and battements soutenus at 45° in the small poses are performed with the arms at half height; the same movements at 90° are performed in the big poses. If jumps such as sissonnes ouvertes are small, that is, at 45°, then the arms will take the position characteristic of the small poses; and, by the same token, in high jumps such as grandes sissonnes ouvertes, the arms will take on the position of the big poses.
4. THE USE OF THE HEAD AND THE COORDINATION OF MOVEMENTS
Inclinations of the head and its turns to the profile and three-quarter position must be done not only in the poses but also while executing most of the pas of classical dance, the head and the eyes following the movements of the arms and the body. In this way, a coordination of all parts of the body is created, without which an artistic performance is impossible.
Only on the basis of good coordination of the arms, torso and head, all moving together, is it possible to achieve artistic dancing. This should be developed by preserving the correct forms, following the regular teaching methods. This manner of dancing has nothing to do with the false "art" of pretty, mincing dancing that is characteristic of weak and inartistic performance.
The different transitional, connecting, and so-called auxiliary movements are of great importance in Vaganova's method. Turning movements in the barre and center exercise and adagio, the different forms of pas de bourrée and small dancing patterns are absolutely necessary for mastering the technique of dancing. If these "trifles" are developed only superficially, it is really impossible to master the proper dance form and movement coordination. Without them, there is neither technical perfection nor artistic expressiveness. The language of dance is manifested by all of the movements of the body, arms and head. That is the reason why not only the legs must be exercised and made obedient to the dancer, but also the dancer's back, arms and head. The entire body must be responsive to any emotion or any complicated task set by the choreographer. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand that the teaching method of classical dance must be developed in the direction of the complication of the tasks of holding the back and the movements of the torso, arms and head.
5. THE NECESSITY OF STUDYING ALL MOVEMENTS (EXCEPT SOME KINDS OF TOURS) BY A SYSTEMATIC PROGRESSION THROUGH VARIOUS FORMS
The study of every movement must be first done very slowly, in the simplest, "broken-down" form, with special attention to the torso, arms and head. Dividing a movement into its separate elements, it is necessary to keep in mind its final harmony and the coordination of the entire body. At the same time, a detailed explanation of the technical method is being given. Thus, the form of the movement and its manner of performance become known simultaneously in their indissoluble connection, which then becomes the basis for the development of one or another movement of classical dance.
Strictly following the correctness of form and coordination, the teacher begins, little by little, to complicate the task, demands the improvement of performance and accelerates the tempo. Before Vaganova, the teaching method of classical dance did not know the unity of form and manner of performance: it was important only to teach the pupil to do one or another pas. Nobody cared about its form. They thought it would come afterward by itself. Vaganova tried to make the pupils work consciously. She always gave them a definite goal and then explained to them how to achieve it.
All these enumerated factors cannot completely describe either Vaganova's teaching method or the principles of her lessons. They only give us the possibility to acquaint ourselves with some of the most important elements of the teaching method of this wonderful and innovative teacher. In my opinion, it is important to recall Vaganova's achievement as often as possible - not only on anniversaries or other days of celebration, but in the everyday work of training future ballet dancers.
It is now possible to name only three dancers who have completely mastered Vaganova's Soviet School of dance. They are I. A. Kolpakova, G. T. Komlieva and, perhaps, K. M. Ter-Stepanova." (Kostrovitskaya, 1979, pp. 14 - 18)
Vera Sergeevna Kostrovitskaya
Jan 3, 1906 - Sep 27, 1999
Kostrovitskaya, V. (1979). 101 classical dance lessons (J. Barker, Trans.). New York, NY: John Barker School of Ballet.
Kostrovitskaya, V., & Pisarev, A. (1995). School of classical dance (J. Barker, Trans. 2nd ed.). London, UK, MPG Books Ltd.: Dance Books Ltd.