If you were to buy one book to start your ballet library, we have a recommendation for you…
Updated: Oct 7
Classical Ballet Technique
By Gretchen Ward Warren
Published by the University Press of Florida
As a student or teacher of ballet technique, if you were to buy only one book for your subject that would help consolidate your understanding and advance your practice, this would have to be the one! An impressive 395 pages of pure indulgence and immersion in the detail and factual know-how of the classical technique.
Warren has experience as both dancer and teacher, and she draws upon her years of experience working with many different teachers over the course of her career. In the introduction she states that the book “grew out of my desire to document material passed on to me by many remarkable teachers, as well as to share valuable information distilled from my own twenty years of teaching in the professional ballet world” (Warren, p. 1). It was her intention to “define and clarify the entire vocabulary of classical ballet and to comment in detail upon the manner in which it ought to be taught” (Warren, p. 1). Warren has succeeded in achieving this intention and creating a valuable comprehensive resource that every ballet dancer should have at their disposal for reference and to enhance their professional and artistic development.
Both Sander and I have this book in our own personal collections, and a while back Sander chose this book for his ballet giveaway prize on Instagram. So why do we love this book so much?
This resource has everything you would want or need. A comprehensive description of each section of the ballet class, with collections of steps grouped together, beyond mere barre-work or allegro; for example, the section entitled Traditional Transfer of Weight Movements that includes both Pas de Basque and Temps lié. I really appreciate Warren’s dividing of the book into two parts; the first part dealing with Theory and Tradition, including basic concepts and detailed notes for teachers; and the second part entitled The Movement of Classical Ballet. Each chapter here distinguishes a type of movement that is distinct from the other movements contained within other chapters. Each step within these movement categories is beautifully photographed with precision, capturing near perfect execution by a professional dancer. The photographs appear in a chronological sequence so that one can follow the execution from left to right; from start to finish; into the air and back. Warren details how a step is usually executed, such as on page 338 where we are informed that Brisé volés are most often executed in a series, just like the famous Bluebird variation from Act III of the Sleeping Beauty.
Indeed, Warren’s book often details where in the classical repertoire a step features, often with prominence and choreographic renown, so that a student might broaden their knowledge and appreciation of the artform as well as inform their technical execution. Another example of this can be found on page 335 with an image of the New York City Ballet dancers executing Petit jetés battus in the finale of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. Here we are also informed that they are performed in the Balanchine style; indeed, Warren frequently distinguishes between styles and schools of thought, housing them together, both for comparative reasons, and to then bring out the merits , strengths and defining features of one or other. In Warren’s resource we are informed of the Vaganova method, the Soviet System, of Balanchine, Bournonville and Cecchetti.
Warren is not afraid to detail and document common faults and discuss incorrect executions, which I’m sure many a student will identify with; for example, on page 352 a photograph evidences the incorrect execution of an Échappé in 4thposition. One can clearly see that the desired crossed effect of croisé is lost with this incorrect execution.
Warren often discusses ports de bras variations, along with detailed notes on the direction of the body. Musical counts are even given, where necessary to convey the correct execution of the step; one such example of this appears on page 166 with the documentation of Pas de basque à Terre. Even speed of execution is referenced where necessary; for example, Développé d’ici-delà on page 127.
Often, images of dancers practicing serves as a source of inspiration, for example the image of students from the Vaganova School in Leningrad, USSR, striving for the perfect 5th position demi-pliés as they land from their jumps.
No aspect of balletic practice escapes without a mention; we even have descriptions and discussions concerning walking and running, and the correct way to hold the barre. As one would expect with a resource such as this, there is a comprehensive Glossary and a Pronunciation Guide.
If you want to advance your knowledge and enhance your practice you will be in safe hands with Warren. This book will grace your bookshelf, with frequent handling and referencing, as apposed to living there, gathering dust.