The Great Russian Ballerinas of Our Time

THE GREAT RUSSIAN BALLERINAS OF OUR TIME

In a long line of tradition, Russian Ballerinas have always been standouts in the world of ballet. These harolding names have been forever immortalized in ballet. Names like Anna Pavlova, Olga Preobrajenska,  Maya Plisetskaya and Natalia Makarova. These names have had to stand up against the male ballet superstardom of Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Diaghilev, Nijinksy, and Fokine. These names harold in ballet and unfortunately the names the general public associates ballet with. But in the past two decades, ballet has been remolded and women of ballet started to redefine the way we see ballet, especially Russian Ballet. These women each possess a different quality, and have uniquely shaped their international careers.

Ulyana Lopatkina

Graduate of the famed Vaganova Academy, Ulyana Lopatkina danced as a principal at the Mariinsky (formerly Kirov), from 1991-2017. While she joined the company in 1991, freshly out of the Academy, she was promoted to principal in 1995. Her ethereal body and long limbs have garnered her fame in the documentary Ballerinas, and her performances have been recorded, broadcast and sold across variatious medias. By 1007, two years after being a prinipcal she won the Prix Benois de la Danse. She has additionally gained numerous Russian accolades for her performances. 

Diana Vishneva

Diana Vishneva is probably known all around the world for her ferocity on stage. But when she graduated Vaganova school, she scored the highest score in the school’s history at that time. She graduated in 1995, but was already dancing in the company. By 1996, she won the Benois de La Danse and the Golden Sofit, and was promoted to principal dancer the same year. In 2003, she landed a second contract outside of the Mariinsky, with American Ballet Theatre. This international superstar has guested with over 20 companies around the world, and performed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  She is such an icon that she was photographed by fame photographer Patrick Demarchelier for an exhibit in Moscow.

Maria "Masha" Kochetkova

Unlike the dancers above, Kochetkova trained at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography/ Bolshoi. She then joined the Royal Ballet and English National. This tiny little dancer stands at  5’0″ and has some of the most ridiculously amazing proportions. Known for her eclectic sense of fashion this power house joined San Francisco Ballet as a principal in 2007, and then added a second contract with American Ballet Theatre in 2015. This young standout has always mixed classical ballet and contemporary qualities making her one of the most stunning dancers of our time. Unlike most Russian Ballerinas, Kochetkova has competed and won numerous awards including Varna (2002) and Lausanne (2002).  Now, Kochetkova, like many other artists is a freelance principal dancer.

Svetlana Zakharova

Queen. Seriously does she need an introduction? Svetlana is a graduate from the Vaganova Academy, but is known for skipping two grades. The only dancer male or female to do so. She joined the Mariinsky in 1996 and by 1997, at the age 18, she was promoted to principal. French choreographer Pierre Lacotte, a leading authority on classical ballet, pushed her quickly, and by 2000 she was performing as at the Paris Opera, and La Scala. In 2003 she left the famed Mariinsky to move to the dynamic Bolshoi Ballet. Technically brilliant, Svetlana is the body that classical ballet dreams of. She won the Benois in 2005, and then again in 2015. 

Natalia Osipova

If Svetlana is the body ballet dreams of, then Natalia Osipova is the bravura of female ballet. A Graduate from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (Bolshoi Ballet Academy), Natalia Osipova joined the Bolshoi in 2005. By 2010, at the age of 23, she was promoted to principal. In 2011, she left the Bolshoi to join American Ballet Theatre, and in 2013 she left ABT to join the Royal Ballet. She is known for incredible ballon in her jump and her incredible quickness. She won the Benois in 2008 for a stunning season. The UK National Dance Awards has named her the best female dancer three times over.

Evgenia Obraztsova

Evgenia Obraztsova, is another female featured in the 2006 documentary, Ballerina. This wonderful dancer graduated Vaganova Academy in 2002 and joined the Mariinsky. This dancer is known for her sweet and charismatic interpretations of the classical roles. She was promoted to soloist in 2003. She then left to the Bolshoi and was promoted to Principal in 2012. Another ballerina tapped by Pierre Lacotte, she has garnered international fame on stages across the world. Her popularity amongst international critics have made her one of the most like-able and approachable ballerinas. Because of her acting abilities, she starred in the film Russian Dolls.

Alina Somova

In 2003, Vaganova Academy had a very tall girl year for their standards. Of those tall girls, one stood out amongst them all. Alina Somova. Standing at 5’7″ her long willowly body was born to dance. She joined the Mariinsky in 2003 at the age of 17, and was given the opportunity to dance Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. In 2004 she was promoted to soloist, and principal in 2008. She has performed across the world’s stages and has gained her fame from her lyrical qualities as a ballerina. Her flexibility and body make her a stand out, and we have watched her transformation live via social media. She was also featured in the documentary Ballerina.

Olga Smirnova

In 2011, Olga Smirnova graduated from Vaganova Academy and the whole world was watching. Already publicized as a student, Olga Smirnova was destined for greatness. Immediately after graduation she received her contract to the Bolshoi where she was in the corps for 1 day. She was promoted to soloist on her second day. By 2012 she was a leading soloist and by 2013 she won the Bensois. In 2016 she was finally promoted to principal at the age of 23. Her long neck and hypermobile body only exudes ballet because she herself exudes ballet. Her sultry quality and striking face makes her one of the most in demand ballerinas today. 

Maria Khoreva

At 18 years old, she is probably the youngest female to push herself into stardom. But, it wasn’t just talent. This Nike sponosred Instagram Ballerina, has been letting us follow her story for years. She hasn’t even been out of the Vaganova school for a year and she is already headlining as a soloist for Mariinsky. She is already being harolded as the next Diana Vishneva. Her story via instagram showed three young ballerinas rehearsing Balanchine’s Apollo before she even gradauted. Upon her graduation she had six contracts, but like most Russian Ballerinas, staying in Russia is a prioirtiy. But she is already headlining. Last month alone while the Mariinsky was on tour she danced almost every principal role.

Of these nine exceptional women, I have been lucky enough to watch six of them live. (I was not lucky enough to see Ulyana Lopatkina, I was supposed to see Alina live, but she pulled out due to announce her pregnancy, and I have yet to see Maria Khoreva, as I had to decline tickets to DC as I opened my own school. But still, out of the performances I have seen, and including youtube and instagram videos, Olga Smirnova by far is my favorite. 

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Should You Homeschool?

There comes a point for a lot of dancers who have to make the choice of homeschooling. Ballet is so time-consuming, so there has to be a “give and take”. I myself, did high school online and finished in two years, third in my class and with my AA. So, if you are self-motivated it’s a great opportunity to balance dancing and education. The video below was made by a ballet student about her experiences with online school. (@chloechka_art) Props to her for animating at the age of 15, because I am like dying just doing 2D drawings.

 

So, how do you know when it is right to homeschool? There comes a point where the hours in the day are running short, and it seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day to balance school, homework, dance and rehearsals. For some, the answer is easy and it is to homeschool. While homeschool isn’t for everyone, for those who do want to pursue that option, it isn’t as hard as it seems. Nowadays, you just need to fill out an affidavit and set up your curriculum. If you can financially afford to purchase curriculum that’s probably the easiest way. If you can’t afford to buy a set curriculum, you can piece it yourself. But, one of the best things you can do is find an online charter school in your state.

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If you are ready to homeschool and don’t know how to talk to your parents about it, ask your dance teacher, and they should be able to help explain the reasons why, and provide you with proper guidance. If they can’t, you can show them this article.

Parents, if you are student shows you this article, or you yourself are considering homeschooling here are some reasons why homeschooling might be a better option for your child:

  • To be a part of a pre-pro program most start at 10:00 AM or 1:00 PM.
  • Most ballet dancers are self-sufficient and can work at a faster pace so they don’t waste time.
  • Homeschooling allows for more hours of dancing and rehearsals, not to mention if you are asked into a year-round school, it’s an easier transition.
  • Travel time. It also saves on travel time and chauffering around.
  • It allows dancers to excel at their own pace. Sometimes it is frustrating not being able to control the progress in the ballet studio, so having control of progress in education is a good feeling.

Finally, homeschool isn’t for everyone. Some schools will allow dancers to leave early and skip out on elective and PE classes in exchange for their dance school to sign off on hours. This allows for more hours of dance. And, you should never compromise the quality of education for your dancing because an education is something that no one can take away. You also will need it as a backup plan if you get injured or if you don’t get a contract.


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Is ballet getting too good too fast?

the baby ballerina

It is no secret that between physics, anatomy, and kinesiology, that ballet technique has literally been perfected to a science. Now, dancers are pushing their bodies even harder, pushing it to the limits to achieve something new, something unseen and something exciting. Dancers are training as hard as ever, and training smarter than any other previous generation. The access and exposure to resources young dancers have now is insane. Ten-year-olds are now becoming insane technicians all before their bodies change. Thirteen-year-olds are now pushing technique and artistry. Sixteen-year-olds are looking like prime dancers, and eighteen-year-olds are killing themselves in the corps de ballet.


Elisabeth Beyer, Satanella Variation, YAGP 2017 FINAL ROUND, winner of the Natalia Makarova Award, and winner of the Moscow Ballet Competition.

As the years have unfolded, dance has progressed at such a fast rate, a rate that I don’t think anyone saw coming. The finesse, the artistry, the acting, and the tricks are all combined to create these mega-monster dancers. These dancers right now are all between the ages of ten and sixteen and are kicking butt. They are dominating the competition circuit, they are dancing every genre of dance, and they are already making appearances at international galas. They are showing the finesse of technique, budding artistry, and emotion depth that has been in the lack for a long time now.

Are students peaking too early? In recent conversations with colleagues across America, there are two problems that are facing young dancers today. The first question asked is, “Are students peaking too early?” and the second question, “Is the job market able to accommodate these dancers?” As dance has always been for the young, it seems that we are now facing the dilemma of bringing back the infamous baby ballerina or watching some of the world’s best talent sit in the corps.

So, if a student like this doesn’t burn out, if they don’t get injured (and they shouldn’t unless a horrible accident), what do they do? Do they audition at fifteen, get into a trainee program, join the second company at sixteen for two years, and then join as an apprentice at eighteen, and they get their corps contract. They sit in the corps for three to five years until a soloist spot opens up, and become a principal in a few years after that? If that is the case and a dancer peaks at sixteen, that usually means, that their prime years will be done before they are even a principal. A dancer’s body usually has somewhere between ten to twelve years of prime dancing from the time they peak. Back in the day, dancers would peak somewhere around twenty-one. When their bodies curate technique as second nature, artistry and freedom of expression click, and their dancing intensifies. So from the time they peak, if they get ten years… This new generation of dancers will have their prime years between sixteen and twenty-eight.

Comments have been made, that there are some young dancers in top companies in the corps de ballet who are technically better than most soloists out there. The problem is that no company director right now is going to risk giving such a young dancer a principal title. Beckanne Sisk pulled it off at Ballet West with careful guidance by Adam Sklute. She managed to become a principal dancer within four years of joining the Utah company. Notably, Lauren Lovette, New York City Ballet, also pulled off a pretty quick rise to the top. She joined City Ballet in 2009 and was a principal by the 2015/2016 season. Jeffrey Cirio rose quickly to the top of Boston Ballet by joining in 2009 and becoming a principal by 2012. He jumped to American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2015 and became a principal the following year after his nomination for a Prix de Benois. He then added English National Ballet as a guest principal artist.

This begs the question, what do we do with all of these young superstars? Professional children’s company? Start replacing soloists and corps members with these dancers, and hiring a special teacher/psychologist to help these dancers have healthy lives? It is funny, because Hollywood embraces young talent, and between labor laws and unions exceptional young talent in Hollywood is protected. Should the same apply to dancers? Look at say, Dakota Fanning, Abigail Breslin, Arianna Grande, and Selena Gomez. All of these young women took their art and passion to another level, fueled by desire and hope. In film and music, there was a space for these young dancers to grow. Is ballet ever going to make that change? Could a sixteen-year-old girl pull off the full-length Sleeping Beauty, in the title role as a sixteen-year-old princess? I believe so, I just saw a handful of dancers who are ready to take on this full-length ballet. I don’t think a sixteen-year-old could pull off, say, Swan Lake, but I think they could pull off ballets like Coppelia, La Fille, Grad Ball, Sugar Plum and many others at a major company and pack the house.


Gold medal and Special Award winner at Senior devision Evelina Godunova

So, as ballet constantly evolves day to day, we have to ask ourselves, “What is going to be next? Is the job market ever going to allow for young exceptional talent? Will the older generation of ballet finally give into the progress of ballet?” We all know that most of the problems in ballet, problems like diversity, sexuality, mental health, body type are all being supported and being created by the older generation of directors, ballet masters, and school directors… Soo, when is it all going to change?

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5 Inspiring Women in Ballet

In Ballet right now there are many women fighting their rightful way into leading positions in the ballet world. It isn’t enough now for these women to retire and become teachers. They are pushing forward for jobs like Artistic Director, Creative Director, Executive Director, Resident Choreographer and more. As ballet is slowly progressing, women in ballet are taking things into their own hands. Here are just five women who are extremely different, extremely talented and have something to say in the world of ballet.
five inspiring women in ballet

>> Tamara Rojo, Two Jobs One Passion

The Spanish sensation, Tamara Rojo has had a stellar career and still at the age of 42 is wowing audiences as lead principal at English National Ballet. But it doesn’t just end there, she is also the Artistic Director of English National Ballet and has now nurtured ENB to be one of the best companies in the world with a repertory to die for. She is also making way for more female choreographers and repetiteurs with Anna-Marie Holmes re-staging of Le Corsaire.

>> Larissa Saveliev, founder of the YAGP

Russian-born Larissa Saveliev established the YAGP in 2000, and since then has awarded over 3 Million dollars in scholarships. The YAGP reaches over 7,000 dancers a year and helps mold their technique and career paths through their master classes. She has also established the bi-annual Job Fair, the Emerging Choreographer Series, and Legends in Dance Galas.

>> Ashley Ellis, RubiaWear 

Boston Ballet Principal, Ashley Ellis took a hobby of knitting and turned it into a mega brand, all while dancing. Her leg warmers and warm ups are everywhere, all while balancing dancing full time. One for the female entrepreneurs. You can catch Ms. Ellis in Boston Ballet’s production of the Sleeping Beauty opening this weekend.

>> Michaela DePrince, Author & Role model 

First Position superstar, Michaela DePrince not only became a role model for young girls everywhere but now has authored multiple books and one that was just optioned by MGM for a movie. The Dutch National Ballet Soloist is carving her way into the world of ballet, and carving hard so that others that will follow won’t have to.

>> Hee Seo, Hee Seo Foundation, YAGP KOREA

She isn’t just the first Korean principal at American Ballet Theatre, she is also changing the landscape of ballet in Korea. Hee Seo started her foundation last year in hopes to start connecting Korean dancers to more opportunities, and it is working. Additionally, her foundation is helping boys in ballet compete at the international level, in hopes of avoiding/being excused to their mandatory two years to the Korean army.

This week in Ballet News…

This week was a super exciting week in ballet world…
Boston Ballet opened Onegin.
NYCB closed their season with killer black and white ballets.
PNB and Houston Ballet took on NYC with killer reviews.
Dutch national Ballet premiered their killer campaign for Best of Balanchine.
San Francisco closed their Swan Lake.
Los Angeles Ballet sold out their Don Q.
Royal Ballet’s Iana Salenko made her debut in Giselle.
Atlanta Ballet named their new artistic director coming from San Fran Ballet: Gennadi Nedvigin
Ballet West had their YAGP Gala
THE YAGP regionals are happening
Corella School of Ballet in Spain’s new PR photos look like they are out of Vogue.
And a bunch more…. but what is more important… Whitney Jensen left Boston Ballet last July, and it was kind of a shocker. 2 weeks ago she announced she was joining Norwegian National Ballet in Oslo, and she departed to take her contract there this week. So here is to you Ms. Jensen and best of luck!
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Follow her endeavors on Insta: @whitneybugs

Secondly…. Has Boston Ballet become a stepping stone for dancers now? In 2004, Sarah Lamb left her principal position to Royal. In 2012 James Whiteside left his principal position for ABT. Last year Boston lost Whitney Jensen  (to Norwegian National Ballet) and Jeffrey Cirio (American Ballet Theatre). So, here are my speculations:

  1. Boston Ballet AD is either an amazing coach and director, and have nurtured his dancers into bigger things or his dancers are extremely talented and they are outgrowing him or he is pushing them to reach out and explore.
  2. Boston Ballet’s repertory and performance schedule isn’t enough for it’s high caliber of dancers.
  3. Boston Ballet’s politics are too intense and no one wants to put up with them.
  4. The Boston audience is as responsive to the company’s performances, thus limiting the budget for dancers and the costs of living are too high.
  5. Boston Ballet has recruited such talent over the past ten years, cultivated it to a point no one saw coming… and the dancers have gone on their own to find ways to push themselves to their limits and find new opportunities to grow.

IF YOU ARE A CORPS DANCER AND ARE WILLING TO TALK TO ME VIA EMAIL OR SKYPE TO BE INTERVIEWED FOR THE CORPS DE BALLET CONFESSIONAL… EMAIL ME PLEASE! ABALLETEDUCATION@GMAIL.COM

 

Angel… go home…

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a ballet fail…. #angel go home… your company did not work out…. Don’t ruin PA Ballet.. you obviously are another AD who needs to be replaced.  Goodbye. What makes American Ballet great is that we aren’t super classical. Leave that to France and Russia… Let us be dynamic, stylized, and musical. You just need to stop. Anyways… most female dancers classical or not have over-crossed tight arms when turning. I’m over it.