Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928)

"There is the old Cecchetti, master of us all, who carries the torch of classicism." said Sergei Diaghilev.

Enrico Cecchetti was perhaps the greatest teacher in ballet history, but that did not prevent him from also enjoying a 65-year career as a dancer. He was the son of two dancers, Cesare Cecchetti and Serafina Casagli, and was born in the dressing room in Rome's Teatro Tordinonia in 1850. He first appeared on stage at the age of five in Genoa and danced with his family in America in 1857. As an adult he made his debut at La Scala in 1870. Enrico was taught by Giovanni Lepri, who had been a student of Carlo Blasis. Lepri made sure that the young Cecchetti knew the theories of Blasis, which put the emphasize on speed, pirouettes and fouetté. Enrico was a fine dancer and was in demand throughout Europe from 1870 until1890, when he was appointed dancer and second ballet master at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg. Two years later he began teaching at the school attached to the theater, and there developed his teaching methods based on the Italian School.

In 1905, after short stays in Warsaw and Italy he returned to St. Petersburg and opened his own school with Anna Pavlova as one of his private student. In 1910, he was about to retire with his wife, when Diaghilev persuaded him to become ballet master of his Ballets Russes. He remained in this post for ten years. Every member of the Diaghilev ballet was taught daily classes by the "Maestro," as dancers lovingly called him. In 1918 he and his wife opened a private school in London, and in 1925 he returned to La Scala as ballet master, where he died in 1928.

As a dancer he was the original Blue Bird (1890) and, later, Carabosse (1921) in Sleeping Beauty. In Mikhail Fokine's Scheherazade (1910), he was the leading Eunuch, and in Petrouchka (1911) he portrayed the role of the Charlatan. Cecchetti's pirouttes were brilliant, but he could only turn in one direction.

Cecchetti's skills as a teacher make him, along with Jean Noverre and Carlo Blasis, one of the creators of modern ballet. The list of his pupils reads like a dancer's hall of fame: Lubov Egorova, Anna Pavlova, Julie Sedova, Agrippina Vaganova, Mathilde Kschessinska, Olga Preobrajenska, Tamara Karsavina, Alexander Gorsky, Nicolai Legat, Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Adolph Bolm, Anatole Oboukhuff, Ninette de Valois, Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Serge Lifar, Vincenzo Celli and Margaret Craske. His famous system has been codified and remains a strong influence in Western Ballet today.

I am proud to say that I am just one generation removed from Enrico Cecchetti, having been a student of Margaret Craske and Vincenzo Celli.

His father Cesare Cecchetti famous as "Primo Ballerino" and chreographer. His mother Serafina Casagli, was a famous dancer. They had three children, Pia Enrico and Guiseppi, who were also dancers.

(First published July 1995)

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