Russian style company class with Sophie Richardson
Joanna Goodman reviews company class taught by guest teacher Sophie Richardson
Powerhouse Ballet's company class with guest teacher Sophie Richardson was my first Russian Ballet class and it was amazing! Sophie is a member teacher of the Association of Russian Ballet and Theatre Arts and an affiliate teacher of the Society of Russian Ballet in Canada. She teaches children’s classes at the School of Classical Russian Ballet in London, which also offers adult sessions.
I write this from a personal perspective as a keen amateur dancer. Although I took ballet classes at school, I do not have professional ballet training. And as a middle-aged journalist, I spend a lot of time at my desk. I am a regular at Pineapple Dance Studios where I go to general level ballet and commercial jazz classes. I try to dance three or four times a week – every other day – and I have been keeping this up with online classes throughout the lockdown. I also run and do yoga, so although I’m not super-fit, I have been maintaining some form and flexibility. Or so I thought…
Sophie started by saying the class was likely to overrun, and that in Russia class doesn't finish at a set time, but when all the elements have been completed. So, we knew it was going to be comprehensive and we got plenty of extra time! Like many ballet dancers, Sophie is deceptively petite, but it was quickly apparent that she is incredibly fit, flexible and strong.
Russian ballet is not just about technique and style. It also requires fitness and core strength, and it is a fantastic all-over workout, designed to develop extreme flexibility and long, lean muscles. Sophie’s class was set at general level, and technically it was suitable for dancers at elementary level or above. She demonstrated all the exercises and choreography slowly and clearly, breaking down longer enchaînements into short sections. I got lost a couple of times, but I can be slow to pick up routines and had we been in a studio I would have just copied the dancers at the front of the class!
The warm-up consisted of a series of stretching exercises for feet and legs, straight leg sit-ups and pikes and some yoga-style back stretches before moving to the barre. It was a floor barre workout rather than a gentle warm-up. The barre included the usual elements: pliés, tendues, relevés, fondues, battements etc. The only significant variation I noticed from my regular classes was the Russian style frappés, where instead of the usual flexed foot, the working foot wraps around the ankle (le cou-de-pied) of the standing leg in between beats. And the foot extends in the air rather than brushing the floor. It looks stylish, but it takes some focus when you’re not used to it, and I’m not sure about practising on my own in case I get it wrong and develop bad habits.
The centre work showcased Sophie’s training in classical Russian Ballet, as far as was possible in a Zoom class. A highlight was her elementary level variation of the Kingdom of the Shades scene from La Bayadère.
This was an excellent class and a great introduction to learning Russian Ballet. The music was lovely, and the sequences were elegant. Sophie is a strong dancer and a clear and patient teacher who really got across the style and technique despite the constraints of Zoom. And Russian Ballet is a pretty relentless workout, highly recommended for toning up after nearly three months of lockdown. Sophie’s class was accessible but challenging in a good way. I am definitely going to try more Russian Ballet classes once the studios open up again.
Thanks are due to Sophie for an inspiring class and to Powerhouse Ballet for inviting me to company class. I am looking forward to joining you in person later in the year.