The story of Agrippina Vaganova
Far from the iconic image of a ‘ballet dancer’ herself, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century single-handedly created the system which serves as the foundation of classical ballet as we know it today.
The 10-year old girl from a poor family who would be considered an ‘ugly duckling’ by conventional standards, got into the Imperial ballet school in 1888, through a paid grant from the institution, available to children of families with low means.
With physical attributes not up to par in the ballet world and an independent and prickly character, her training and career as a dancer was rough. Vaganova was badly criticized by the legendary Marius Petipa who was then chief choreographer of the Russian theatre, and rejected by one of her most valued teachers because she did not possess the physical proportions so highly valued by the instructor.
Vaganova finally received her acclaim as a gifted technician after a phenomenon whereby an Italian ballerina performed an amazing move called a fouetté.
Everyone tried to replicate and understand this astonishing new move, but it was Vaganova who got it. In the graduation performance the committee noted her technical skill and accepted her into the Mariinsky Theatre. Eventually she became known as the queen of variations for her stand-out artistic skill and mastery of technique.
Vaganova went on to codify the extraordinary artform aesthetically rooted in math and physics, bringing into existence the educational system of classical ballet used the world over.
Today, the Imperial ballet school into which Agrippina Vaganova was accepted in 1888, carries her name, Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet and her book, Fundamentals of the Classical Dance (1934), remains the standard text for the instruction of ballet technique.
The renowned Vaganova Academy has been, and continues to be, an elite cradle producing extraordinary ballet dancers and celebrated artists of the world.
Underlying the unparalleled success of the Vaganova Academy are principles that build character and form identity – this is the real and greatest treasure of Vaganova’s legacy.
Vaganova’s students, and in turn, their students, a number of whom are legends in their own right, speak of receiving this most prized gift and how it has affected their lives, their nation and the world.