Enrico Cecchetti (June 21, 1850 – November 13, 1928) was an Italian ballet dancer, mime, and founder of the Cecchetti method. The son of two dancers from Civitanova Marche, he was born in the costuming room of the Teatro Tordinona in Rome. After an illustrious career as a dancer in Europe, he went to dance for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia where he further honed his skills. Cecchetti was praised for his agility and strength in his performances, as well as his technical abilities in dance.
In 1887, Cecchetti performed in St. Petersburg where Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Mariinsky Theatre saw him perform. He was so impressed with Cecchetti that he immediately hired Cecchetti as a principal dancer for the theatre. This was extremely rare at the time because normally dancers would be asked to join a company on a lower level. By 1888, he was widely accepted as the greatest ballet virtuoso in the world.
With the introduction of the pointe shoe in the early 19th century, ballet was dominated by female performers using pointe technique. In many ways, male technique had been reduced to the role of an actor whose responsibilities as a dancer were relegated to a servant who partnered the ballerina. Cecchetti immediately began transforming the traditionally conservative roles for the male dancer, making drastic changes to the choreography of the male variations featured in the works of the Imperial Ballet's repertory. In 1890, Cecchetti performed in the ground-breaking production of The Sleeping Beauty, where his performance as the Bluebird caused a sensation in the auditorium of the Mariinsky Theatre. The choreography of the Bluebird has challenged male dancers even to the present day.
Varvara Nikitina and Enrico Cecchetti costumed for the Bluebird Pas de Deux from Petipa's original production of "The Sleeping Beauty". (St. Petersburg, 1890)
After an esteemed career in Russia, Cecchetti turned to teaching. Cecchetti taught at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg from 1887-1902, and then the Warsaw State School in Poland from 1902-1905. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1905, he established a school there. From 1907-1909, he coached Anna Pavlova exclusively. As well as teaching, Cecchetti performed many roles which were created expressly for him by choreographers of the Ballets Russes.
Enrico Cecchetti teaching Anna Pavlova in Paris.
Cecchetti's presence in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was very important. He was the link between the past and the present, contributing to the birth of modern classical ballet. He also maintained the technical level of the dancers by enabling them to cope with the physical and dramatic challenges of the company's demanding choreographers. The Ballets Russes toured through Europe, the United States, South America, and Australia.
Having had enough of life on the road, Cecchetti settled in London, England where he opened a dance school in 1918. Considered the technical marvel of the ballet world, it was said that no one could become a finished ballet dancer without passing through Cecchetti's hands.