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History of the Vaganova Ballet Academy

Vaganova Ballet Academy, St. Petersburg, Russia. 1890.

On May 4th, 1738 in St. Petersburg, the young capital of Russia, an event took place which was to have a great significance to the culture of the world.  By Imperial Decree of Empress Anna the first Russian School of Theatrical Dance was founded.  Known as the Imperial Theater School it was established through the initiative of the French ballet master and teacher Jean-Baptiste Lande.  Twelve girls and boys began to study "the foreign steps" on one of the upper floors of the Winter Palace.  The early teachers were from Western Europe - Lande himself and later Franz Hilferding and GiovannyCanzianni.  The first Russian teacher to emerge from the School was Ivan Valberg, who produced many notable ballets for the Imperial Theater.
In 1801 Charles Didelot came to St. Petersburg and took over the direction of the ballet.  He taught at the Imperial Theater School for over 20 years, producing many ballets and raising the level of ballet education to a very high standard.  Following Didelot, more teachers of French School came to St. Petersburg: Jules Perrot, whose ballets "Giselle" and "Esmeralda" are still performed today, Artur Saint Leon, who produced "Coppelia," and then in 1847, a teacher who was to profoundly influence the School - Marius Petipa.  During the second half of the 19th Century the great ballet master Marius Petipa created 46 original ballets in collaboration with the great composer Petr Tchaikovsky based on Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Nutcracker.”  Today these ballets form repertoire cornerstones of the classical ballet companies. Many ballets were specifically choreographed for the Imperial Theater School students.
Among the other famous ballet masters who taught at the Imperial School were Enrico Cecchetti and Christian Johannson.  This blend of Johannson's Franco-Russian style with the exhilaration of the Italian school produced some of the greatest dancers of all time.  The names of Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky are famous the world over.  In 1898 Mikhail Fokine graduated, and then taught at the School from 1904 till 1916. George Balanchine, the internationally acclaimed choreographer and the founder of New York City Ballet, graduated from this School in 1921.  Agrippina Vaganova graduated from the School in 1897 and began teaching in 1921.  Vaganova formed a new era in ballet education and in 1957, six years after her death, the School was named after her.    Not only does the School produce artists, but also future choreographers.  FedorLopukhov, Leonid Lavrovsky, Yuri Grigorovitch and Oleg Vinogradov graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. 
In the late 50’s and 60’s three Vaganova Academy graduates, who were to attract international fame and recognition, began their professional dancing lives on the Kirov Theater stage: Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Recent graduates - Julia Makhalina, FarukRuzimatov, Diana Vishneva, UlianaLopatkina are Kirov stars of today and make guest appearances with leading ballet companies of the world. Mrm Altynay Asylmuratova, formerly principal dancer of Mariinsky Theater is today Artistic Director of the Vaganova Ballet Academy.
Throughout history the Vaganova Ballet Academy has endeavored to preserve and enhance the best traditions of the classical heritage.  When visiting St. Petersburg many international celebrities and dignitaries often pay visits to the School; Among them Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II, Princess Margaret and Prince Michael, Queen of Netherlands Beatrix, Queen of Sweden Silvia, Grand Duchess Leonida, Prince Golitsin, Count Vasilchikov, and many others. Today the Academy has 340 students.  The competition for a place at the School is fierce.  Throughout the school yearthousands children attend for consultations with ballet staff to assess suitability.  Of these approximately 70 will be accepted in the 1st Grade.  Even then, it's extremely hard work to train for a full time professional career, and only 30 or so students will actually complete their studies and graduate after 8 years of tuition to join leading ballet companies of St. Petersburg and Moscow.


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