Born June 26, 1879 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova began her ballet training in her hometown at the Imperial Theatre School. Under the tutelage of Lev Ivanov, Pavel Gerdt, and Nikolai Legat, Vaganova completed her dance studies in 1897. Vaganova promptly joined the Marinsky Theatre, where she danced alongside such ballet stars as Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, and Mathilde Kchessinska. Due to the great depth of talent housed in the Marinsky Theatre, Vaganova was not promoted to ballerina status until 1915, the year before her retirement from the stage. Dubbed “The Queen of Variations”, Vaganova was renowned for her stellar jumping ability and performance of intricate batterie. She was noted for her portrayal of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and her performance of the mazurka variation in Les Sylphides.
Agrippina Vaganova taught at the Imperial Theatre School from 1917-1951 (the year of her death), and served as director of the Kirov Ballet from 1931-1937. In 1957, the school where the daughter of a Marinsky Theatre usher took her first ballet steps was re-named the Vaganova Institute in her honor.
Because of the teaching method that she created, Agrippina Vaganova has become one of the most important ballet teachers in history. Vaganova married the romantic style of the French ballet and dramatic soulfulness of the Russian character with the athletic virtuosity that characterizes the Italian school to reform the old imperial style of ballet teaching. Vaganova created a program of study that trains the body as a harmonious whole, with an emphasis on proper placement. Vaganova’s system of teaching became and remains the foundation of ballet technique not only in the former Soviet choreographic school, but also throughout Europe, Asia, and South America.
The Vaganova Method of Classical Ballet is taught at all levels in the Loyola University Program and Preparatory Program alike. This scientifically proven method involves the systematic and progressive study of all ballet movements by breaking them down into their separate elements. The aim of the method is the complete coordination of the entire body in order to achieve artistic dancing.
The Vaganova ballet curriculum, taught at Loyola since 1978, combines the classical French court influence with the Russian folk dance traditions. Students of the Vaganova method learn classical ballet technique, pointe, classical repertory, adagio, virtuoso technique for men, partnering, character dance, and historical court dance.
Early training focuses on epaulement, or the stylized turning of the shoulders and body. Attention is given to the correctly placed body and proper use of the hands. Harmonious coordination of the body and continuity of movement is linked with total stability and great strength in the back. This core of strength enables the dancer to soar through the air and deftly maneuver his body. High jumps and turns then appear light and effortless. The dancer moves in a big way, dancing over the individual steps and musical phrases in a continuous movement.
The Vaganova method is characterized by impeccable precision, attention to detail, ease of execution, an energetic style, emotion-evoking grace, individual creativity, and vigor. Virtuosity is not an aim in itself, but a means of artistic expression. To dance without style? Why, that would be pointless!