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


  1. Very nice Tatum, awesome experience. Love you and keep pushing your dream. x0x0x0x0x00x0x

  2. Tatum, you have made your experience at Vaganova come alive. Bravo! Continue à faire de ton mieux là-bas. On est tous fiers de toi.

  3. My Dear Tatum I believe your experience at Vaganova brings your dream, like "Nutcracker" Performing for Clara , ,PUSHING YOUR DREAM!!