In the academy award nominated 1977 film, The Children of Theatre Street, we get a “sneak peek” into the lives of the privileged students at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad). The film was a collaboration between Western and Soviet producers, and narrated by the Princess Grace of Monaco.

While certainly fascinating to watch, some reviewers say that certain scenes appeared staged…

Some of the activities and interviews with the students were obviously staged (such as a pillow fight when the boy “sneaks” into the girls’ dorm) and many are suspect.
-Deborah Brooks, Amazon.com review, October 23, 2000

…which raises the question: How much of the film is actually true?

In the above clip from the movie, we see students doing gymnastics exercises, using therabands and blowing into a tube. Enlightening insights into how the school produces such great artists??

YouTubers think so…

“From .40 – 1min – THAT’S? how the Russians get those incredible long arms that can undulate like snakes! Fabulous!”

“…I wanna try that thing at 0:58″

“what is that? blowing test they do to the boys for?”
Reply: “They test the capacity of? their lungs.”

Fact or Fiction?

Hmmmm. This is all very interesting, but are these really the “secrets” which make Russian dancers great?

Peggy Willis-Aarnio, author of the DVD series, Classical Ballet Lesson (feat. Galina Mezentseva, former star of the Kirov), says this about the above clip:

Galina Mezentseva was the featured star on this film. I had a discussion with her about this, and she said she never saw or experienced anything like this when she was there as a student. So, all of this is to throw us off of the real reason why they are great: by having them “stretch”, or blow into a machine, or do gymnastics? No, it is special for the film to distract from what they really do.

Well, there you have it, according to one of the leading stars of the Kirov. I guess it was pretty unlikely that Russia would have wanted to reveal all their training secrets anyway, but it is certainly confusing. It just goes to show that you really have to be discerning and question everything you see, read or hear!

One might argue that the Russian schools have changed their training techniques since Mezentseva’s time; or Baryshnikov’s or Nureyev’s time, for that matter (all of whom graduated by 1970 and were already dancing professionally at the time this film was released). However, I think the take-home message here is that there is so much more to training in classical ballet than what is shown in this film, and it should not interpreted as the “proof” that the Vaganova Academy has produced great artists because of gymnastics, blowing into tubes, or whatever.

If Mezentseva, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, the Panov’s, and many other legendary artists did not use these techniques, why do we think that they are necessary now? Has the training really improved since then? I don’t think so, and I still contend that Russia has lost something rather than gained something by altering their training. There are certainly beautiful dancers coming out of Russia nonetheless, but I am still waiting to see another Baryshnikov…


Posted by on
11 Replies
Hi, I'm Mary Fernandez! I'm a ballet teacher and mother of two rambunctious boys. As if my three boys (hubby included) didn't keep me busy enough, I also enjoy getting back into dancing shape and studying the Teaching Method of Classical Dance. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, follow me, and I'll tell you about it!
To quote material, kindly:

Thank you!