Vanessa Zahorian on Balanchine Technique & Choreography

By Principal Dancer Vanessa Zahorian

George Balanchine is one of my favorite choreographers of all time and I’ve danced nearly every Balanchine ballet that has come to San Francisco Ballet. In a way it’s my thing, it’s a part of who I am as a dancer. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dance Balanchine.

Balanchine is unique because his work is exceptionally musical and the movement is very organic. From his classical tutu ballets like Diamonds and Theme and Variations, to more abstract works like Agon and The Four Temperaments, you get a little bit of everything from him.

Vanessa Zahorian & Davit Karapetyan in Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto // © Erik Tomasson

Strong and precise technique is so important when working on any Balanchine choreography. His choreography forces you to be pulled together so you can move fast and attack the challenging steps with ease. You don’t have to be trained in the official Balanchine Technique© to dance his ballets, but there are certain elements of his technique and training that especially help me when rehearsing them.

Balanchine’s movement is known for his wide variety of movement from big sweeping waltzes to very quick and precise jumps and turns. To get the intention of the movement across, you must dance “big” despite the super-fast tempos he loved to set his ballets to. To do this, I focus on crossing my legs, using my seat muscles and engaging my core. This keeps me on the music, and helps me anticipate the next step and next count.

Balanchine is also known for incredibly quick footwork and small jumps, known as petite allegro. In order to execute the steps properly and on the music, and without straining any muscles or tendons in my ankles and feet, I always focus on putting my heels down during these fast jumps. I do the same in class use my seat muscles to engage my legs for more height and attack. To avoid any tendonitis or sore calves, I’m always careful to stretch out my Achilles tendons after rehearsing Balanchine ballets.    

Vanessa Zahorian, Principal Dancer

"In a way, it’s my thing. It’s a part of who I am as a dancer. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dance Balanchine."

Another important element when training for Balanchine ballets is a focus on the supporting side–Balanchine’s movement is pretty much impossible if you don’t have a strong and secure supporting side. I’m always aware of my supporting leg in my barre combinations so I can rely on it when I move into the center. From there I can more comfortably execute the challenging partnering, quick movements, and tricky turns. I like to test my balance by letting go of the barre as much as possible, so it’s not a shock to my system when we move into the center.

Once you have a handle on the technique, you can let go, find the artistry, and enjoy yourself. During rehearsals, we train in the technique so we can go onstage and just focus on feeling the emotion. Dancing Balanchine is incredibly uplifting and is always a joyful experience—it’s as fun to dance as it is to watch.

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