If I had to recommend just one book to a vocational dance student, it would be Ballet: The Essential Guide to Technique and Creative Practice.  In ten chapters, each written by an expert, the book covers the full range of material of which anyone embarking on a career in ballet needs understanding and awareness. 

The structure takes the reader logically from Ginny Brown’s and Anna Meadmore’s opening chapters on  ballet’s founding principles, cultural history and heritage, though the practical aspects of learning to dance, self-care, creativity and musicality, and on to guidance on the professional conduct, conventions and essential activities that all help bring a performance from the studio to the stage.

Although the chapters cross-reference each other, they also stand alone, and may be read and enjoyed separately.  For example, Meadmore’s exquisitely illustrated chapter on Ballet Styles and Schooling will be of value to anyone seeking a brief history of ballet and the development of different companies’ characteristics.  Nicola Katrak’s chapter on Technique and Ballet Class Fundamentals will be particularly helpful for students who have been training alone on Zoom for much of the past year.  Katrak offers a step-by-step guide, from posture to pointe work, supported by carefully posed photographs of dancers from the Royal Ballet School and London Studio Centre, who demonstrate the incorrect and correct positions described in the text.  Advanced students will benefit from the chapters by Mark Annear and Karen Berry (both on the staff of the Royal Ballet School) on Advanced Techniques and Developing Versatility and Creative Thinking.

Jennifer Jackson, Artistic Director of London Studio Centre’s Images Ballet Company, contributes a fascinating chapter on The Ballet Choreographer’s Craft, which will prepare dancers to work with artists who are creating new work, and offers tools through which dancers may discover and express their own choreographic voices.  This logically leads to Jonathan Still’s chapter Ballet and Music, which includes essential guidance on copyright and licensing, and the wise advice to research music rights as early as possible in the creative process, if there is any chance of public performance or online showings.

The book includes plenty of common sense as well as expertise: in their chapter Taking Care of Your Body and Mind, Stephanie De’Ath and Laura Erwin remind readers to check the professional credentials of practitioners such as physiotherapists, and explain how to do this.  They also very sensibly add, ‘Tell someone the address of where you are going and what time you expect to be finished.’  Deirdre Chapman’s highly informative chapter The Rehearsal Studio notes the importance of humour and the need to be able to laugh at oneself, and includes ‘overwork or exhaustion’ among the factors that can result in a negative atmosphere.  Chapman uses companies that range from the large-scale Royal Ballet to the much smaller Ballet Black as examples of the ways in which different organisations work.

Authoritative and clearly laid out, the book is extremely attractive, with lovely pictures, many in colour.  The dancers that posed for the photographs are all credited (one is Oona Landgrebe, who previously trained with Oxford ballet teacher Penny Cullerne-Bown).  Text boxes facilitate easy navigation through the pages, and there is an index.  The annotated list of recommended reading will encourage deeper study.

Jackson dedicates the book to the late Roger Tully (1928 – 2020), whom Nicholas Minns quotes in the Conclusion:  ‘Ballet is a “happening”, not a “doing”, but a lot has to be done before it can happen’.  This book will empower dance students, enabling them to make informed decisions as they take responsibility for their own development as artists and in doing so, they will ensure that ballet continues to ‘happen’.

Maggie Watson

6 June 2021

Ballet: The Essential Guide to Technique and Creative Practice edited by Jennifer Jackson.  Crowood Press, 2021. (ISBNs 1785008307 & 978-1785008306)

You can buy this book here