Garrard shares life, legacy of Cecchetti for Dance Circle

Enrico Cecchetti was involved in the dance world from the time of his birth to the final moments before his death — literally. Cecchetti was born in the dressing room of a theater and died from a heart attack while teaching a ballet class.

Lee Garrard will speak on Cecchetti’s 78 years in dance at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ. The Chautauqua Dance Circle is hosting Garrad’s lecture, titled “Enrico Cecchetti, an Italian Ballet Dancer, Mime, and Founder of the “Cecchetti Method.”

Both of Cecchetti’s parents were dancers, and his mother actually delivered him prematurely in a costuming room of the Tordinona Theatre in Rome on June 21, 1850. Cecchetti made his stage debut as an infant, carried onstage in the arms of his father. By age 7, Cecchetti was partnering with his sister in a traveling dance company, Garrard said.

At the height of his dance career, Cecchetti joined the Imperial Russian Ballet. He impressed the Russians with a performance showcasing 32 fouette turns à la seconde, a step the Russians hadn’t even learned yet, Garrard said.

“He was really considered one of the best,” she said. “When dancers back in his day were doing three turns, he was doing eight.”

Cecchetti later went on to create the brilliant role of the Bluebird and the mime Carabosse in Marius Petipa’s premiere of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890.

Although Cecchetti was an amazing dancer, Garrard believes his biggest legacy is as a teacher. He is the founder of the Cecchetti method, a ballet technique still used today all over the world.

“He was everything in the dance world, and to think that after all these years … people are still doing his work,” Garrard said.

Garrard owned her own dance studio for 50 years in Butler, Pa., and taught the Cecchetti method to her students. She raved about his technique, which tests both students and teachers on anatomy, on the history of Cecchetti and on music theory. Students learn the French word for the ballet terms as well as the English translations, Garrard said, rather than simply imitating what the teacher is doing.

“Cecchetti’s theory was that memorization of the steps helped you perfect [them],” Garrard said.

She plans to show parts of Rose Marie Floyd’s video, “Ballet: The Tradition of Cecchetti,” as well as possibly sharing what a “grade one” Cecchetti class consists of.

Garrard, recently honored as a lifetime member of the Cecchetti Council of America, wants people to leave her lecture with a better understanding of Cecchetti and his gift to the teachers and dancers who are fortunate enough to study his technique.