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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: CUBAN BALLET, by Octavio Roca


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There is a wondeful new book coming out about Cuban ballet and of course, Alicia Alonso and her Cuban National School of Ballet. In the past decade, there have been waves of “Cuban emigree dancer”, one who leaves with the permission of the Cuban government to work abroad. They, I believe, have in a significant way influenced the ballet trainings in USA, as many have stayed and taught in ballet schools. I am always wondering what is uniquene about Cuban ballet, and if there is such a thing called Cuban ballet style/method? According to Alicia in the forward of the book, she created the school and training based on her experience in SAB and Russian influence.

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Victoria Leigh

My understanding is that it is Vaganova based, but developed into it's own method by Alicia and Fernando Alonso.

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And the SAB component dates from about WWII, so not really what they're doing now.

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There are certain elements that are very unique to Cuban training, so I assumed the Cubans did, in fact, have their own style. My DS has been taught Vaganova and has also been trained by a Cuban instructor who received instructor-training at the National Ballet of Cuba. The styles appear to be very complimentary though the Cuban training he has had has helped him be less stiff in his dancing. He uses their approach to turns and is a much better turner and much, much better jumper. There's still an emphasis on very precise and clean technique, though, like he learned at his Vaganova-based schools. What we always found funny was that the Cuban approach/teachers didn't tell him he was "wrong" for using something he learned in a Vaganova-based curriculum. But the Russian instructors were quick to tell him "off" when he displayed something attributed to more of a Cuban style!

 

The book that is out has absolutely gorgeous photos. We have ordered it for DS.

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Having studied with some of the Cuban instructors in Florida briefly, I will say that the Cuban method certainly is a Vaganovea based method. If you ask the Russians, often you may get a direct answer something to the effect of, "Well, we gave them the technique, but they're doing something else with it"....that would be the nice answer. They use mostly the Vaganova linguistics as static/kinetic references, such as "third position" of the arms for what western schools refer to as "fifth position" of the arms. The movements and curriculum are very close. But, the differences are in the inclusion of what Cuban teacher Haydee Gutierrez once said to me as "the best of all the schools of ballet"

 

If one examines John Whites methodology, it seems almost pure Vaganova. He is a purist. But, his method is was learned by him by within the Cuban method. But, since perestroika, there are so many influences upon Mdm V.s work, that one has to keep going back to her writings and students' work to find what she actually wanted. Indeed, -change- is what she wanted. She was specific that her technique should change with the times and improvements in ballet; (something several other methods have not, and now seem to be sliding into obscurity because they have not kept up with the technical and artistic demands the way more more malleable methods have).

 

So, I await with baited breath to read a book on the Cuban method. More grist for the mill for us instructors and our students.

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I run into this interview to the author Octavio by San Francisco Sentinel ( http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=86049 ). Highly recommended! Octavio talked about his motivation writing the book and also the Cuban influence in USA:

 

"OCTAVIO: Look at all the major companies – San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Miami. Just by having so many – and highly-placed – Cuban dancers, they are changing the way American dance looks. They’re changing the actions of American dance. That I find fascinating. Some more than others. When Carlos Acosta arrived at the Royal Ballet there was an explosion. The Royal Ballet had a very definite style and a very definite look. In the United States, when companies don’t necessarily have a company style but are more welcoming of international influences – it’s lovely, because they fit right in. They fit in because of their speed. And in that sense, they are very American. But they really are influencing – considerably – the way young dancers dance in those companies. Think of San Francisco Ballet. There’s no way that those young dancers can be in class and watch Lorena, watch Joan, watch Taras – and not be influenced, just being alongside them."

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If one examines John Whites methodology, it seems almost pure Vaganova. He is a purist. But, his method is was learned by him by within the Cuban method.

 

Not to speak for Mr White, but having worked with him, I think the following should be noted. Mr White was trained in the teaching method by the Russians when the Russians came to Cuba. He was one of the dancers in the company chosen to learn the method to teach it within the Cuban school as well as the company. He has mentioned that over the years, quite a few I might add, the Cubans have implemented their own methods based on the original Vaganova method taught to him. He did not learn the Vaganova method from the Cubans but from the Russians directly. You could say he was a part of the implementation of the Vaganova method in the Cuban school. So, he did not learn the method within the Cuban method. Again, I am not speaking for Mr. White.

 

The method he teaches at his seminars are based on the teachings he received from the Russians, not the Cubans.

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I found the bios of John White and his Cuban wife from their school: http://www.paacademyofballet.com/teachers2.htm. Mr White seems to offer a great example how the Cuban style has evolved.

 

"Teacher Biographies

 

 

JOHN WHITE – Mr. White grew up in Southern California. As a nationally ranked track star he began his study of classical ballet to enhance his athletic skills. His teachers, Oleg Tupine and Michel Panaieff, encouraged him to pursue a career as a professional dancer. He was chosen by Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso to dance in productions of Giselle and Coppelia that used both Cuban and American dancers. After continuing his studies in New York with Antony Tudor and William Dollar, Ms. Alonso invited Mr. White to go to Cuba to help create the new Ballet Nacional de Cuba. During his years in Cuba the company toured extensively in Latin America, Europe and Asia. Mr. White danced leading roles for the company until he ended his stage career. As a new Ballet Master he began to teach the company men’s class and also conduct rehearsals. After marrying Cuban ballerina Margarita de Saá they left Cuba with their son and returned to Southern California where Mr. White continued teaching and Ms. de Saá danced in movies. After several guest teaching assignments the Whites were invited by Barbara Weisberger to join the Pennsylvania Ballet Company. Five years later they opened their own school, the PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF BALLET, in 1974. As an authority on the Vaganova teaching method, Mr. White has given teacher training seminars to hundreds of novice and experienced teachers on this syllabus. In 1996 Mr. White wrote TEACHING CLASSICAL BALLET, which has received enthusiastic international acclaim as an important book for serious teachers of classical dance.

 

 

MARGARITA DE SAÁ – Ms. de Saá was born in Havana, Cuba. Together with her twin sister, Ramona, Fernando and Alicia Alonso gave her a scholarship. A few years later she was touring Latin America and the United States. Shortly after the Cuban Revolution ended a new national ballet company was created. Ms. de Saá grew through the ranks to attain the title, Prima Ballerina. During her years in the company she danced many principal roles while touring Latin America, Europe and Asia. Ms. de Saá married American dancer John White, and the following year their son was born. Along with several other leading dancers Ms. de Saá was chosen to form the faculty of Cuba’s new national ballet school. The new teachers received instruction on teaching the Vaganova syllabus by visiting Soviet ballet masters. The Whites eventually decided to leave Cuba, and return to Southern California, where Ms. de Saá continued teaching and dancing with local companies, at the Hollywood Bowl, and also in two movies, IN LIKE FLINT, with James Coburn, and FUNNY GIRL, with Barbra Streisand. The Whites were invited by Barbara Weisberger to join the faculty of the Pennsylvania Ballet Company, where they remained for five years until founding their own school, the PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF BALLET. Ms. de Saá is a recognized authority on classical dance and has been instrumental in helping many dancers achieve their goal of becoming professional artists. In 2001 Ms. de Saá joined with Tatyana Featherman and Melinda Pendleton to form Whitefeather Productions. Their company produces high quality CD musical accompaniment for ballet teachers and students at all levels. Their CD's have received high praise from teachers across the country. "

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