Larisa Lezhnina, most recently a principal dancer with the Dutch National Ballet, began her training at the Vaganova Ballet Academy and later joined the Mariinsky Ballet (then Kirov Ballet) where she was a principal dancer. Lezhnina joined the SF Ballet School faculty this summer as a guest teacher. Like many of her Vaganova teachers, she emphasizes the importance of dancing with the upper body. Here, she talks about her experience with the SF Ballet School and offers tips and insight into how students can transform their upper body and movement of their arms, known in ballet as port de bras.
What was your first impression of the SF Ballet School?
SF Ballet School’s Summer Session was actually my first time teaching in America, and I appreciate that students here are ready to learn and concentrate on the material I taught them.
How does your training affect your teaching?
I studied at the Vaganova Ballet Academy—which emphasizes elongated upper body positions—so my teaching reflects that. I keep a strong focus on how dancers are using their port de bras. Even in something as simple as a first arabesque, you want to be sure your chin, ears, eyes, and fingers follow the same line. They must all work together.
What is your teaching style?
Since I recently retired from the Dutch National Ballet, I am able to demonstrate the majority of my exercises. I technically retired a year ago in 2014, but the company invited me back to perform the stepmother role that Christopher Wheeldon created for me in Cinderella.
Larisa Lezhnina as the stepmother in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella. Photo courtesy of Dance Europe.
BRAVO, the SF Ballet Resource and Volunteer Organization, is one group that works year-round to support SF Ballet and keep us on our toes. Comprised of more than 300 ballet enthusiasts, this dedicated group of volunteers work 10,000+ hours per year on a number of activities such as assisting backstage at Nutcracker, providing administrative support on various projects for both the Company and SF Ballet School, and staffing special events such as the Opening Night Gala, Student Showcase, and more. The dedication of BRAVO’s members has made the group a national model for volunteer associations.
Meet three BRAVO members who have leveraged their wide range of passions and expertise to support SF Ballet:
Name: Anna Sheu
Occupation: Data Analyst/Modeler/Consultant
When did you start attending SF Ballet performances and how did you first get involved with BRAVO? My first SF Ballet show was Nutcracker in third grade! However, I joined BRAVO in 2014 because I was looking for an organization that would combine philanthropy and volunteer work with my hobby, ballet.
Why is it important to you to volunteer for SF Ballet? Ballet has always been a passion and important part of my life; I’m so grateful that I’m able to contribute to a group that allows me to be involved with ballet in a different way. On a larger scale, I think dance (and civic arts in general) are such an important cultural element that sometimes can be overlooked in favor of other more trendy initiatives. Hopefully all of us volunteers can bring more attention to all of the city’s excellent arts offerings, including the Ballet! Read More
Last year, SF Ballet School launched a variety of new School programs in keeping with the Company’s mission to share the joy of dance with the widest possible audience. The programs—including a Boys & Girls Clubs Summer Dance Camp partnership, Master Class Series, as well as an updated adult ballet class program—locally exposed more adults and children than ever, to the art form. In particular, the adult ballet class program has proved immensely popular, with each of last year’s 80+ classes nearly sold-out.
Jeffrey Lyons teaching adult ballet students. (Photo: Chris Hardy)
Cynthia Harvey leads San Francisco Ballet School students in class.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Last month, Summer Session Guest Faculty Member Cynthia Harvey gave us a glimpse of her life as a ballet instructor, following a long career performing with American Ballet Theatre. Originally from the Bay Area, Harvey was also the first American to join The Royal Ballet as a principal dancer. Below, Harvey offers her top tips for aspiring students:
1. In class, do what’s asked of you.
Don’t alter the steps to show off your best party trick. While we’re at it, showing off is not attractive at all. Contrived, forced, or artificial movements do not present the real you. Choreographers and directors are more interested in malleable dancers who they can mold to their style. Physicality is important, but not at the expense of what’s taught.