Ballet’s New School
The music is cued, the massive, wall-to-wall mirrors are polished, and the faculty is on its toes, poised to welcome students to a new, English-instruction ballet school in Prague.
VIP International School of Ballet, also known as the International Ballet School, starts classes on Sep 21. Its facilities nestle in part of the National Theatre Ballet school’s 14th-century complex.
The school is the first ballet school operating exclusively in English, the school manager explains, because today most choreographers and ballet masters work in English. Jana Malisová adds that all of VIP’s faculty are ballet masters at the National Theatre. “All our pedagogues are former or current ballet soloists, not just from the chorus, and they are very good teachers,” she explains.
They include the school’s director Veronika Iblová, a graduate of the Prague Conservatory, former soloist of the Ballet at the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava, soloist at the Gyori Ballet, Hungary, and since 1994, ballet master for Prague’s National Theatre Ballet.
Admission to the school is by interview, and instruction is tailored for children aged 4-18 in three age groups. The hour-long classes are held twice weekly starting at 4 pm, with occasional Saturday classes when students may meet leading foreign personalities on the world ballet scene or attend rehearsals of the National Ballet Theatre, according to Ms Malisová.
“It’s torture, really,” Ms Iblová sighs, first twisting her jaw and then breaking into a smile. “Ballet is torture.” Now 45, she danced Swan Lake at age 19; she retains the agility of a dancer half her age and the energy of a teenager. She uses that energy to make many little jokes, about torture and otherwise, when instructing student Katie Wood, 14.
At this moment, Katie is bent over on her hands and knees on the hard studio dance floor, cued for further instruction, or for the music. Whichever comes first.
She’s wearing regulation pale pink tights, pastel blue leotard, and a rather serious expression. After all, she is the sole “torture victim” at this private lesson in the middle of the spacious, modern studio.
Ms Iblová presses a few points on Katie’s spine, offers a few quick words of instruction, gives a little laugh, and pats Katie lightly on the back. Katie laughs, too, and the music starts. And the young teen slowly, elegantly stretches her palms forward across the floor, pulls inward, rises upward, arching her back, and tilts her chin back towards the ceiling.
Suddenly, she is a ballerina.
Ms Iblová watches carefully. Despite appearances, Katie isn’t really dancing, she’s practicing Ms Iblova’s “Bodyform” instruction method. It draws upon gymnastics as a starting point to strengthen and shape the feet, hips, center, and spine.
“My Bodyform method changes the shape of the body,” director Iblová explains. “It develops support from here” — she puts her palms on her mid-section — “and I can do everything if I have this support.” She stands on one foot and in a nanosecond, waves her shoulders, arms, neck, and head in a supple, almost spineless motion — without falling a millimeter.
“We’re forming the body,” she says.”It’s an artificial thing, and it takes a long time to reach the moment you can play on your body. Like a concert master can play Mozart on the violin. Today there are many [dance] styles, and you have to use your body like a violin player can play many styles of music.”
Ms Iblová says her students can practice Bodyform exercises every morning as homework, to tune the body for ballet.
Tough but Nice
But what does Katie, practicing the same stretch over and over for more than half an hour, think of this method?
“I love it!” she says. She started ballet lessons at age 5, back home in New Hampshire, and before moving to Prague with her parents last week, had been dancing three hours a day, five days a week.
But her American instructors required their students to “keep ramrod straight” without moving the spine. Now, after only her second lesson with Ms Iblová, Katie admits she’s already “found all the muscles” in her back. “I can feel something changing,” she says.
Her new teacher directs Katie to the barre for some more traditional ballet moves. “And one and two and stretch and plié and …” Ms Iblová gently counts.
“I love it – it’s so different here,” Katie says, smiling. Does she mean at VIP, or in Prague?
“Both!” she laughs. “I love this building from the 14th century, and I like this teaching method better.
“It’s tough,” she admits. “–But in a nice way.” oo
* Related Story: VIP says it’s the first English-speaking ballet school in Prague. Is English in the classics important? Click on Education in the top menu bar.
Photo Credits: all photos, Miroslav Setnička.