Anna Paskevska (July 15 1938 – August 9, 2007) began dancing with Olga Preobrajenskaya at the age of 9 years old. She was greatly influenced by Enrico Cecchetti, even though she was a product of the Imperial Russian Ballet and studied with the master rather late in her career. After two years with Preo, she enrolled at the Paris Opera School, where a generic French style was taught at the time (late 1940’s into the early 1950’s). However, she continued to attend Preo’s classes as well as studying with Serge Peretti and Madame Rousanne.
At age 15, Anna made a short sojourn at the Legat School in England. The teachers ranged in style from old Russian (Lydia Kyasht) to Soviet- influenced (Leonid Prorwitch). Madame Legat is generally cited as teaching her husband’s system. When Paskevska later studied with Cleo Nordi, she realized that her understanding of Legat, to that point, was rather superficial. Her education in classical ballet was concluded at the Royal Ballet School with English-trained teachers and classes with Cleo Nordi.
As an adult, she ventured into modern dance; first, at the Graham School with Bertram Ross; then with James May who taught the Limon technique; and finally with Paul Sanasardo. The exposure to modern dance reshaped her understanding of classical ballet and led her to appreciate its underpinnings. At that point Paskveska was able to recognize the import of the classical training vocabulary before stylistic differences affected its execution. In her words, “my focus shifted from the steps of the vocabulary to the meaning of the steps in terms of their impact on our physicality.”
Anna’s teaching was informed by the totality of her experience, although she relyed primarily on Legat’s precepts as taught by Cleo Nordi. This is a system of educating the body and mind that optimizes the body’s ability to move and the mind’s ability to discover the logic within motions. Classical ballet can then be understood in terms of its dynamics and physics, avoiding dogma, thus recognizing it as a living, and evolving art form. This approach acknowledges both the range of motion available to us and the relationship with the space in which we move. The system’s most salient features are the recognition of gravity’s impact on motion and the inclusion of the potential of the spine to spiral expressed in the use of épaulement.
Paskveska’s performing experience included participating, as a child, in the repertoire of the Paris Opera, and briefly with the Royal Ballet before joining Western Theatre Ballet and, encompasses work for British television, stage, and film.
She taught ballet since 1966 in a variety of circumstances, in the private sector, as well as professional schools and universities. She was on the faculty of The Chicago Academy for the Arts and Columbia College. and also directed The Dance Teaching Initiates, funded by the Chicago Community Trust. The teaching led Anna to question the precepts of the classical technique and grew into a need to express and share her discoveries.
In 1981, Paskveska wrote Both Sides of the Mirror, in response to perceptions that the students she taught at Indiana University had very little if any idea about the more advanced principles of the classical technique. In other words, students did not know why they were doing what they were doing and how barre exercises served the vocabulary. Alignment was a quaint notion and épaulement was what you did with the head. Both Sides of the Mirror, twenty years after its publication is still used as text in universities. It was followed by three more books: From the First Plié to Mastery, an Eight Year Course (1991, reprinted by Routledge Press in 2002), Getting Started in Ballet, A Parent’s Guide to Dance Education (1997, Oxford University Press), Ballet, Beyond Tradition: The Role of Concepts of Motion in Ballet Technique (due to be published in October of 2004, Routledge Press)