The school of classical dance has a centuries old history.
Having incorporated the culture and methodology of Italian, French and Danish dances, in Russia it became an independent educational system back in the 19th century.
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev
There in St Petersburg in the Imperial Theatre (now Mariinsky Theatre) great masters such as Charles Didelot, Jules Perrot, Arthur Saint Leon and most notably Marius Petipa devoted their most productive period and created such classics as Giselle (Didelot/Petipa), La Bayadere (Petipa), Esmeralda (Perrot/Petipa), Coppelia (Saint Leon/Petipa), Sleeping Beauty (Petipa), Don Quixote (Petipa) , The Nutcracker (Petipa), Swan Lake (Petipa and Lev Ivanov), Raymonda (Petipa) which remain the cornerstones of ballet repertory to this day.
Since the Russian school became a leader in the world ballet community, and gave the world such great masters in dance and choreography as Mathilde Kschessinskaya (first Russian prima ballerina assoluta in the world), Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Sergei Lifar (artistic director of Paris Grand Opera), Mikhail Mordkin (founder of American Ballet Theatre), Konstantin Sergeyev (artistic director of Kirov Theatre) Asaf Messerer, Galina Ulanova (prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre), Maya Plisetskaya (People’s artist of the USSR, chevalier de la legion Honneur), Natalia Dudinskaya (People‘s artist of the USSR), Rudolph Nureyev (former artistic director of Paris Opera Ballet and legendary partner of Margot Fonteyn), Mikhail Baryshnikov (former Artistic Director of ABT), Natalia Makarova, Nikita Dolgushin (People’s artist of Russia), Ekaterina Maximova (People’s artist of Russia), Vladimir Vasiliev (the only dancer named “world’s best dancer” by Paris Dance academy), more recently Nina Ananiashvili (People‘s artist of Russia), Irek Mukhamedov OBE, Vladimir Malachov (artistic director of Berlin State Ballet), Faroux Ruzimatov (People’s artist of Russia), Uliana Lopatkina (People‘s artist of Russia), Igor Zelinski (principal of Kirov Theatre and New York City Ballet), Diana Vishneva (principal of Kirov Theatre and guest artist of ABT and Paris Opera Ballet), Svetlana Zaharova (principal of Bolshoi Ballet) and Alina Cojocaru (principal dancer at Royal Opera House today) and many others.
Through the famous Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, who brought Russian Ballet stars to perform first in Paris and then all across Europe with his “Ballet Russe“ company, the ballet tradition was revived in and returned to Europe. Gradually the company began to train and take on new dancers from Western European countries.
Prior to this time ballet in Europe played a supporting role in operas and musicals. Prominent Russian émigrés began to teach in Europe thus reviving interest and tradition.
The Russian method became known as the Vaganova system in the 1930’s after Agrippina Vaganova (prima ballerina of Kirov Theatre (then called Mariinsky Theatre) and director of the Ballet Academy, later renamed Vaganova Academy) canonised the method of training ballet dancers.