Dancing de Valois: Teaching the 1947 Syllabus

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Dancing de Valois: Teaching the 1947 Syllabus

I designed and created this research project in collaboration with the Royal Ballet School. Funded by the Linbury Trust, it was filmed at Roehampton University by Hugo Glendinning over two days in February 2020 and shows students embodying the dance syllabus, devised by Ninette de Valois in 1947. The purpose was to examine how far today’s technically accomplished dancers would enjoy and benefit from studying the earlier work and whether this was achievable. The film includes a discussion with the dancers, in which they describe the experience and how it will inform their approach to past choreography. At the end of the film, the dancers noted how closely linked the dance movement was to the Ashton choreography they had leaned the previous year.

The film demonstrated the different values which inform the performance of past and present ballet. Facilitated by Anita Young, three dancers from the RBS are taught six dance phrases (enchaînements) from the earlier work and these are then compared with three taken from today’s training, What this shows is that the emphasis in 1947 was quite different. Having a fluent and supple upper body, together with extremely fast and complicated footwork, was central to the style, whereas, today, it is more important to have extremely high extensions, flat turned-out legs and to linger over beautiful positions. This is not to suggest that the dancers lack fluidity in the upper body or fast footwork, it is just that these abilities are less valued today.

Building on my research which focuses on dance style and how ballet choreography is linked to dancers’ learned abilities, I took the 1947 syllabus, which was given to me by Valerie Adams, and drew on Anita’s and my experience of de Valois’ class, in which we were both pupils. I examined how often steps recur their combination into phrases, are juxtaposed and the speed of their performance. I also drew on Royal Ballet films made during the 1950s in which speed is fundamental to the style. Interpretation of the danse d’école in this way is translated into how a dancer moves and is thus central to performances of the choreography.

A BA module at Roehampton: Embodying History will use the film with third year students to help them understand earlier techniques and choreography. They can then embrace physically the different values prevalent in nineteenth and twentieth century dance.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Roehampton You Tube
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020


  • Training style; values; past and present ballet

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