Friday, December 23, 2011

It Takes a Strong Heart, Healthy Body, and Passionate Soul

I hope that everyone is having happy holidays and getting into the spirit! This time of the year is all about being thankful, and I sure am!

Like I said in my last post, one of the perks of being in the academy is the free tickets that we get to the theatres here. On November 17, I was lucky enough to get tickets to see probably one of the most anticipated performances of the Mariinsky and ballet world, and that was Balanchine's "Jewels". This was a huge performance at the Mariinsky because of the cast. The stars, which included Uliana Lopatkina, Alina Somova, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Vladimir Shklyarov, and Ekaterina Kondaurova, all performed together in this single performance. It was amazing to get to see all of these primas on one stage, in one night and one performance.

They say it is a small world, and that is definitely the truth. That week, it just so happened that my mentor and dear friend Nikoloz Makhateli's son, David Makhateli, Principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, came to watch my class. It was nice to finally meet him in person! If you have not heard of, or do not know the Makhatelis, then you are missing out. They are a genuinely beautiful family, inside and out!
Events like these make me realize more and more every day just how common it is to have ballet stars or legends just come visit the school, or to watch a class. It takes some getting used to, seeing people like Asylmuratova, Duato, or David Makhateli walking around on a normal day!

Thanksgiving in Russia is, obviously, non-existent. Ever since I was a baby, I have had Thanksgiving outside of the US. Every year, my family takes a trip with my "aunts" and "uncles" and their families to places like the British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, or Mexico, so having Thanksgiving outside of America was nothing new for me. My roommate and I celebrated together, even though she is Canadian, and made ourselves an adorable Thanksgiving dinner. It was a lot of fun, and actually ended up being the most "American" Thanksgiving I have had; usually the meal is lobster or crab!

With Sasha
The day after Thanksgiving was probably one of the most memorable days! The week before, I was approached by the staff here and told that I was going to be representing the school in a BBC special. I would need to do an interview and be filmed dancing for it in the following week. I was really excited, but nervous too, because being a dancer, I am used to expressing myself THROUGH dance, not words. Also, the BBC correspondent emailed me saying that since the academy is under construction, they legally could not film me here for the dancing clip they needed, and so the Mariinsky had given them permission to film me rehearsing IN the theatre! I was so excited! I was asked to meet the BBC crew backstage on the 26th, so I left Vaganova right after my morning dance class, and we started to film. It was so cool to get to go backstage for the first time. The producer explained to me that the segment was about the theatre; it's past, its present (the principal dancers there now), and the future (I was honored that I was representing the FUTURE of the Mariinsky!) My favorite part of filming was getting to talk to Daria Pavlenko in her dressing room. Before and during the interview, she said some things and gave me some advice about dancing and the strength of your heart as a dancer, that I will never forget! I also got to talk with her husband, Alexander "Sasha" Sergeev in his dressing room, and walked across the Mariinsky stage for the first time! It was so cool to walk on stage with all of the set for "Giselle" set up!
Daria and Sasha performing in "Giselle"

After we watched the first act, the crew filmed me around the theatre; walking and looking at the program and the stage, etc. After that, we did my interview. I was not prepared at all for this, because they had told me we would be doing it the NEXT day, but I calmed down and just spoke from the heart. They asked me about what it was like to be in the "world's most prestigious ballet school", why I love ballet, what are my dreams for the future, etc. By the time we finished, it was already really late, but we still needed to film my rehearsal on stage. We started heading back there, but the coordinator of the theatre told us that we could not film anymore because the theatre would be closing and they needed to clear the stage. I was really disappointed, and Inga, the producer informed me that not having that clip would mean having to change the whole segment, cutting me out and making it purely about the "present" of the company. I was really disappointed, of course, but I am still grateful for the whole experience, and honored that they choose me to represent the Vaganova!

The past few weeks have been really hectic, but what else is new. Since I last wrote, we have been having more and more rehearsals for our upcoming performances of Щелкунчик. Like I said in my last blog post, I was cast in the performance, and am in "снежинки," or "Snowflakes." While almost everyone back home is already finishing, or done with their performances, our rehearsals are only beginning. We started rehearsing with only 2 lines at a time, which was difficult because first of all, everyone knew the choreography from watching year after year, and second because I was the only international student. Luckily, I can understand Russian pretty well, and I caught on and learned the dance quickly.
The dance consists of 32 girls in four lines. We are expected to know literally EVERY space, so if someone is not there, we can step in. I have rehearsed every row. It is a difficult dance, but really beautiful when we finally put it together. I swear, there is something about the teachers, students, and the training at the academy that is just remarkable. The first time we put all four lines together in Snow, it looked ready to go on stage (but not by the Vaganova standards YET, of course).

Last week, I got to dance on the Mariinsky stage for my first time. It was an incredible and unforgettable moment. There is a perception that being on this stage, in one of the most beautiful, legendary theatres, is like a dream. Let me tell you, it is that and MORE. When I am on stage, no matter where, I love it. I love the feeling it gives me. It reminds me why I do what I do. It makes everything worthwhile; the hard work in class everyday, the hours you spend trying to improve that one step, the aches and pains... it is ALL worth it to be on stage and dancing. To me, rehearsal is time to work, and my first rehearsal on the Mariinsky was work, of course, but during my hard-work, I felt this passion and this love at the same time. Even with Altynai correcting us on the loud speaker, or Desnitsky yelling out corrections, I felt... overwhelmed by the theatre. I am not sure that is the right word to describe my feelings (or the pit in my stomach), but I am not sure there is even a word TO describe it. It was an incredible first experience! I am SO excited to rehearse there a lot more, and perform there in less than 2 weeks!

At the "гран-при"
Most of the my past month and a half has been work with little free time. I have not been able to go to nearly enough ballets as I would like, or really relax at all. My days have been purely dance; starting early in the day and ending late at night, and then school work in attempts to complete my courses before I go home for break in January. It has been both physically and mentally tiring, so when I was able to see some of my good friends from Bolshoi a few weeks ago, I was both thrilled and relieved for the distraction! It was ECSTATIC to see them! I had missed them so much, and although we didnt get to spend much time together while they were in St. Petersburg, (they were competing in the Mikhailovsky Grand Prix for a few days here) it definitely revived me, my energy and my attitude! I love them, and I cant wait to see them again soon! ( я надеюсь)!

Artur, Kostya and me <3 Ya uzhe ochen skuchayu!!!

                                                            Even though it has been over two months, I often I find myself still surprised at the level of training and dancing of the students here! Their talent, their flexibility, their stage presence, their technique... it is hardly believable. There are things that happen here that I SWEAR just would not happen anywhere else. I do not think any other students are this dedicated or hard-working. Last week, our teacher had to watch and grade ballet exams, along with the other teachers, while we were supposed to be having class. You know that you are in an exceptional school when the students STILL take a full ballet class by themselves, even though there is no teacher, and no one to catch you if you decide just to skip. I am not talking about doing combinations at barre, changing exercises to fit your needs, wearing warm was a class exactly like any other day. Where else but Vaganova do the girls repeat the lesson from the day before, with a pianist, and in full exam ballet uniform, trying our hardest, even without a teacher. Where else but Vaganova can you pull-off running a performance for the first time as a whole on the Mariinsky stage, and somehow it still looks nearly flawless. (And where else but Vaganova do even the construction workers know how to dance ;D If you havent already, check out my video on Facebook, and get a preview into one of the school's studios!)

After a long day. Photo by Lera Chaykina
 Rehearsals are getting longer and harder as the performance dates approach. Our bodies are beginning to give in to the amount of physical and mental stress we have, but still, everyone is continuing and pushing ourselves and each other everyday. With rehearsals, schoolwork, and little sleep, I can hardly believe that Christmas is almost here! I will not be home for Christmas, and I can hardly talk about it without getting sad and upset, but I also know that my Christmas will be waiting for me when I get home to my family in January, and that makes me so excited! I am also really glad that I will have rehearsals and performances to keep me distracted from the fact that it will be my first Christmas away from my family (as well as Skype ;P). I am sending all of my love and happiest holiday wishes to all of you back home, or wherever you may be for Christmas this year! I hope you all have a fantastic day and holiday season with your loved ones! As for me, I will be spending the day doing what I love...rehearsal at Mariinsky all day (at least Nutcracker music will help get me in the mood. So magical!)
The events and opportunities I have been presented with the last month, along with the encouragement and love of family and friends (old and new) have kept my body, mind, passion, and heart strong through this demanding time.
Stay strong and carry on! ;)

 С Рождеством и с Новым годом!!!!!

Tatum <3

Friday, November 11, 2011

It Happens Once in a Lifetime!

Hi everyone,
So sorry it has been such a LONG time! As most of you know, I have just transitioned into the next chapter of my life, and am finally making the time to blog.
By now, most everyone knows that I am no longer with Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington, DC. It was a bittersweet decision. It was hard to leave such a huge part of my life behind, but I know that everything that I learned and the relationships there will forever be with and apart of me.

Outside of the Academy on the famous Rossi street
Currently, I am living in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was INCREDIBLY honored to receive an invitation to train at the world renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy (Академии Русского балета имени А.Я.Вагановой), and I am now a full-time student here! It was a big BIG step to take, but I have now been here for about 6 weeks (I left October 1, after having a blast with my friends at my old high school's homecoming), and I now know that I really belong here! For those of you who do not know much about ballet, some brief information about the school and history. In ballet, there are different ballet techniques/styles that you can train in (Vaganova, Balenchine, Cecchetti are three major ones), and the most "classical" is the Vaganova method, started at the academy and by the founder of the school, Agripinna Vaganova. This method of Russian Ballet is studied all over the world; the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Kirov Academy, among many others. Graduates of the school include the world's most famous dancers; Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Pavlova, Ulanova, Makarova, Grigorovich, Folkine, Chabukiani, Lopatkina, Somova, Vishneva, and Balanchine, to name very few. Needless to say, I am honored and grateful beyond belief to be here!

My dad flew out with me, and we had about 26 hours of traveling! It was exhausting, to say the least, but my fatigue did not stop my nerves! I could hardly believe that I was going to Russia, let alone one of the, if not THE world's most famous, and most prestigious ballet schools! When we arrived at the academy, it was so dark and foggy that I could barely tell it was the real thing, and the only thing I really deciphered was the statue of Ulanova outside of the dorms. It did not really hit me until the next morning when I walked outside to the famous light yellow Rossi street that I was even in the academy. That first day was the most surreal thing that I think that I have ever experienced! I walked down Zochego Rossi, in RUSSIA with my dad. I meet Altynai Asylmuratova, saw Selutskiy, walked into the famous Rep. Zal (реп зал, the famous studio that you see in documentaries with Vaganova's picture) and watched Sitnikova's graduating class. And then, I took my first class from Mme. Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova in the VAGANOVA BALLET SCHOOL! And my dad was there to greet me when I was done. He was here the first week to help me get settled, which was great! It was so much fun to explore the city with him, and pretty humorous to hear him try to speak Russian ;P. It was sad to say goodbye, but I am so grateful that he got to spend at least a little time here!

Since then, I feel like I am now a part of the academy. First, I was super grateful that everyone was really kind and willing and eager to help me. Unlike my past experiences, there really is MINIMAL english speaking here (there are only 5 of us in the whole school; 2 are Russian)! My roommate is from Canada, but she is Russian, and was/is so helpful! The girls in my class were all very welcoming and helpful as well, and I am happy that I became friends quickly with them! I study under the first course of grade 6. It is very confusing, and take a lot of explaining to understand the courses here, but I am extremely EXTREMELY happy with my class. My teacher, Mme. Udalenkova, has been a teacher at the academy for many years, and was the teacher of many greats, including Ekaterina Kondaurova. Her class is very difficult, but I enjoy it every day, and am so happy to have such a caring, but tough teacher!
реп зал
I also am finally starting to find my way around the school without getting lost! That may sound silly, but the school is HUGE! It is just like Hogwarts; old, beautiful, and a BILLION staircases! And this is only HALF of the school. The other wing is under construction right now, so we will see how I manage that when it reopens in December! I am going to start timing how long it takes me to get from my room to some of the studios... it is really a journey every time!

My days here are long but rewarding. My schedule consist of ballet "classika" everyday (including pointe class), and a rotating schedule of partnering, acting, modern, and character. Before that begins, however, I also take a Russian language class. There are only two of us in this class, so I hope that I will be fluent soon!.. or at least close! Usually, my day starts at 10:45 and ends around 8:30, although that differs everyday (once we finished at almost 10:30... 12 hours straight of dancing). Everyday, after all of my classes are done, I am still smiling. It feels great to work hard and be doing what I love, and although I do not have the typical "teenage" life anymore, I am where I want to be, and I would not trade my life for anything!

Coming here, I was starting later than the rest of the school, which had begun the year in September. I knew that it would be difficult to just jump in, and I was also told that coming late, I would not have some of the priviledges that the other students had. I would not be taking a proper placement class, as well as the fact that Nutcracker (щелкунчик "shelkoonchik") casting and rehearsals began before I arrived, so I was told I would most likely not be in the show.
The show for the end of the year began my first week here (the show is not until May!), so I have rehearsals for that twice a week. I am rehearsing Gamzatti's, as well as "Diamond" in Sleeping Beauty (there are 5 of us rehearsing for that part, 3 from the graduation class). Last week, however, my teacher told me after class that I will be dancing in the Snow scene from Nutcracker! I was SO excited! We began rehearsals yesterday, and already got through the whole dance. Performances start in December, and we are going to be performing in the Mariinsky Theatre (!!!!!), as well as touring!

The Mariinsky Theatre

First of many trips to the Mariinsky

Speaking of Mariinsky, one of the perks of being a Vaganova student, besides the obvious (BEING here), is the free tickets we get to the Mariinsky! We get free to tickets to any shows we want to go see at the Mariinsky theatre and the Mikhailovskiy Theatre. I spend a lot of my weekends watching ballets, and I know how many people would KILL to have tickets whenever they wanted to watch Vishneva or Lopatkina! I AM SO LUCKY!
Got to see my FAVORITE ballet, "Giselle", for my first time at the Mariinsky

My time here has been AMAZING to say the very least! Sometimes I wake up and forget where I am, and when I realize, it STILL does not always feel real! It is truly a dream come true to be studying here; I have worked so hard for this, but I could not have gotten where I am today without all of you who support and help me! So 'thank you', to all of my teachers in the past and present, to my family for EVERYTHING, my friends, and anyone else reading this.
I have truly been given the opportunity of a life time!
... I am forever grateful!

and I promise I will be blogging more often from now on,.... there is far too much that I have not mentioned, and a lot that I can barely put into words, but please continue to follow me as I "dance around the world"!
Татум <3

Also, if you are close to me, then you know that I am very superstitious, and I love making my wishes ;P. Today, like my life, is very rare, and only happens once in a lifetime. Today is 11.11.11. This blog post  is posted at exactly 11:11 on 11/11/11. Happy wishing!

Special dedication to my beautiful Annette Buvoli. First of all, because I am blogging at Vaganova... AH! And the second reason is obvious; the day!Always been there for me, and I miss you so much! <3

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Bolshoi Way (Final week- week 6)

Before I knew it, it was the sixth and final week of my Bolshoi summer. It was crazy how fast time had gone, and there was still so much we all wanted to do, so this last week, we tried to fit it all in!

On Monday, our ballet class was taught by my friend, Anton taught out ballet class (he taught technique until Wednesday) and class was really great! It was also good because there were a TON of Russian students that took it the final week! After class, we had Russian language class, but it was fun because we got to take a class trip to the University, and also took a hike through a park to get to and from there. We had fun getting to learn outside of the classroom!
All of the group on our class trip with our Russian teacher and friends

On Tuesday we had our last character class, and we got to dance every piece we had learned throughout the whole 5 weeks before. It was a lot of fun! After that class, we all had interviews about the program and about the results of the six weeks. I think we all did pretty well!

On Wednesday we had our last class with Anton, and a repertoire class with a new teacher we had never had before. It was kind of strange that we had him only once, and for the first time the last week. For Russian class that day, we got to go on a trip to the Kremlin. I had already been, but it is definitely one of the things you MUST see in Russia, so it was good that the other girls that hadn't seen it already got to go! After or trip, my friends Margo, Kyra and I went to one last trip to the Grishko store and to the Christ Our Savior church! It is so beautiful there!

Thursday's class was taught by our teacher, Syrova, who had taught us a few times in the previous weeks. She also taught repertoire, and I really liked the class! After, we got ready for a special dinner on the cruise boat again. This time, we were not going as long, but we still had fun, and it was a great way to say "goodbye" to Moscow. It was pretty emotional to see the beautiful views and things in the city all lit up, and knowing it was almost time to leave! Also, it was very sad because when we got back, it was our last night with our Russian friends, Artur and Nikita.

Friday was our last day. For ballet, we had our first teacher, Otrova, who also taught our repertoire class along with Sizova. One of the academy teachers that taught in NYC the first 3 weeks of our summer came to watch. We also got to dance a lot of different variations in class, and after that, Nikita and Laurie, and Artur and I got to do Corsaire Pas de Deux, and then took a lot of partnering pictures. It was a good ballet day! After that, we had to say goodbye to our friends, and then go to our last Russian language class. The night, we all wanted to stay up as long as possible and hang out together, which was a ton of fun!

Our flight home the next day was short, and it was time to say goodbye. It was sad that this amazing summer was ending, but I was so excited to get home to my family for some time!

Thank you RAF, NSLIY, and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy for giving me the most unforgettable summer!

From Moscow,
Tatum <3
On the hill looking over the whole city of Moscow


Dinner Cruise

Moscow Nights

The beautiful Christ our Savior church

In Red Square

Partnering the the Bolshoi studios

Miss you!

NSLIY Bolshoi Way Summer 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Life is a Circus (week 5)

As week five began, I started to feel like my time in Russia was coming close to it's end. It was hard to think that we had already been there for a full month! Time went by so quickly, so we spent the week trying to do everything we had been planning on doing before we left.

Monday I was SO excited because my friend Anton was going to teach our repertoire class! We first had class with 2 different teachers, and then Anton came and taught! I had so much fun! We got to dance Esmeralda, La Fille, Black Swan, and Bluebird variations! The rest of the week was a blast too, because we had that same schedule for our ballet classes, plus character classes on Tuesday and Thursday!

Monday and Tuesday, my friends and I devoted the afternoons to picture taking in Red Square and in front of the Bolshoi. We had so much fun, and got some pretty cool pictures! Here are a few of my favorites;

Margo in front of the theatre

Kyra, me, and Margo

Me at the Bolshoi

On Wednesday after our ballet class and russian language class, we went to a small church that was also a museum to take a master class on Russian doll making. We had a little "tea-time" and of course our daily cheese bread, and then we got to see some homemade Russian dolls. They were so cute, but we were all a little restless and and tired, so we did not get to actually take a class on how to make them. That night, we had bed check at 11:00 as usual. My roommate Margo and I walked into our room, and JUST OUR LUCK, hundreds and HUNDREDS of bugs were EVERYWHERE! We were not about to sleep in our beds with bugs crawling in them, so we set out to kill them! It must have been a pretty funny site, because numerous amounts of people would walk by our door and stop to watch as we threw books on the ceilings and smashed them against our walls while the other ones flew around. NOT FUN! But definitely a night to remember! Luckily we found a solution, and we got 3 plug in bug killers, so we stayed up and watched my FAVORITE movie of all time, the Notebook, until all of them had dropped dead.
Just a FEW of the dead bugs on the window still left in the morning.

  The next day, we went to a farewell dinner with the US Embassy. They talked a lot about how we are now US Ambassadors in Russia, and how when we arrive back in the US, we will have so much to share, and be completely different people. It was a really nice dinner and night!

That weekend was our last weekend in Russia, and Remy and I were going to a new family together again! We were really excited because we were going to be staying with an American family who lived at the US Embassy! It was a really cool experience to see how all of the American families were living as well as learning about their own experiences and thoughts on Moscow and living in Russia! We also FINALLY got to have some good old American food, which was really comforting! The highlight of the weekend, though, was going to the Russian Circus! It was so cool to see, and my favorite was definitely the tightrope walkers! It was so cool, because they walked on the tightrope without any cords and balancing people on their shoulders at the same time! It was so crazy! We also went shopping at Izmailovsky market, and we got some Russian hats too! :P Remy and I had a great weekend, and were ready to start our very last week in Moscow!


With our last host family
Five weeks down, one to go. Let's make it the BEST guys!
Tatum <3

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm Glad you Came (week 4)

Week four;
                  I came back from my host family, and was SO excited to walk into the lobby and see one of my partner and friend, Kostya, from Bolshoi New York! Later, I also got to see my friends Reika and Jin, also from NYC! It had only been three weeks, but I had missed them!  I wish they all could have stayed longer, but I had so much fun while they were here at the academy, and I am happy that they get to go spend some time at home before the school year begins!

                 The teacher that we had for week four was named Nastia, and I loved taking her class! She was quite young, and she made class really interesting and fun, but she also gave a lot of attention and corrections to each of us individually, which I really liked! We also get to take class with the Russian year-round students of the academy, which is GREAT because they always push me in class! And, they are all SUPER flexible,...honestly like nothing I have ever seen! If you can imagine someone almost breaking their hips so that their splits are literally at a 90 degree angle, THAT is exactly what I see everyday! This week, there were a lot more in class than usual, so it was really interesting and exciting to get to watch them dance and take class with them! Also, my friend Artemiy (Belyakov), who is now a professional in the Bolshoi Ballet (!!!!), took our classes too! All in all, it was a really great week for ballet!
 We are pretty sure she is "Kari the Babysitter" from The Incredibles! ;P

Here's a picture of all 15 of us US ballet girls going to see a Russian Character dance show!

          That weekend, I switched host families again, and this time went with a young woman names Liza, and her boyfriend, Толя to their country home/ "Dacha". It was about a 4 and a half hour drive to the home outside the city! In fact, it was actually closer to St. Petersburg than to Moscow! Only 1 and a half or 2 hours away!  On the way there, we got to see a lot of the countryside of Russia, which was interesting! I was with my friend Remy this weekend, so we kept each other entertained. They also had a pet dog named Ричард/ "Richard", and a cat.
        I grew up in a family of dog lovers! Ever since the day I was born, there was never a time when we did not have a dog! Needless to say, I was much more excited to have the dog with us than the cat. Cats are just not as cuddly, friendly, and DEFINITELY not as cute! Disagree with me if you wish, but if any of you had spent the weekend with THIS cat, I am sure  you would change your mind! Let's just say that my luggage, clothes, and purse still reek of cat urine after excessive amounts of washing! Thank you Remy Lamping, for helping me deal with the cat

      Despite that though, the weekend was great! Liza, Tolya, and all of their friends were very welcoming and fun! We had so much fun just relaxing and hanging out in the Russian country! It was really nice to get out of the city for awhile, and see the town that Liza grew up in! It was also really cool because we got to meet everyone that she grew up around, and her family actually lived in 4 out of the 20 homes there! Remy and I were really proud, because when we went for a walk down the road, we got to use the Russian we have been learning to speak and hold actual conversations with some of the people we ran into! YAY!
       Here are some pictures we took around Liza's dacha:

Watching Paranormal Activity :/ AHHH!

Thank you Liza and Tolya!))