Monday, December 24, 2012

The Things That Feed my Soul

Ok, I have to SINCERELY apologize for this HUGE huge break I took from blogging for the last couple of months! Now that I have let my readers empty handed for almost 4 months, I hope you do not mind me cutting back on a lot of specific details or stories, and getting to the main points of my previous months!
Простите, пожалуйста!
Let me back track alllll the way to the beginning of summer....

When I got back from Vaganova in late June, it was completely surreal. First of all, I was still on my performance high after dancing in Corsaire at Mariinsky! Second, 38 hours of traveling really does a number on a tired person and body. These two factors made it nearly impossible for me to believe the fact that I was coming back to my beautiful state being devastated by so many fires! Colorado was in flames, and my hometown was right in the center of it. It was one of the scariest things to see and experience! A week after arriving home, my friend from Vaganova, Nastia, came to stay with me (all the way from Russiya!) Unfortunately for her, she was coming at probably the worst time to see Colorado; it was black skies for weeks from all of the smoke and fire! Also, my family was in the process of preparing to move at the end of July, so we were living in boxes.
The fire and moving are two things that I never ever want to relive...
On the other hand, if I could, I would relive every other moment from this summer! (It's December, and I STILL have a bad case of the summertime blues!) I hadn't had a true "summer" for years...since I started ballet when I was 12. This summer, I lived the carefree, careless lifestyle with my friends and family. Every day was something new! From paint wars, hiking, swimming (EVERYWHERE), mountain drives, concerts, stargazing, DubStep yoga (yes... it's a thing), family trips, and so much more, the daily activities were just as spontaneous as I had hoped for!
I also celebrated and experienced one of the most rewarding days in my life this summer; the day I graduated high school! When I came back from St. Petersburg, I had already finished all of my school work, so the only thing left to do was take the final exams; the final tests of my high school career! Weeeee! It felt so wonderful, yet so sad to receive my diploma! As I am sure you can tell by now, I am a pretty emotional person, so although I was ecstatic to have ended high school, it felt like the end of an era to me. The end of my childhood, maybe. Although I was living outside of the country in Russia, and living on my own for years, finishing high school felt kind of like I had just finished the one thing that was still connecting me to that whole "normal" teenage life. So in some ways, it was even harder for me than for the rest of the 2012 class who were dying to move on to college. Don't get me wrong; I was on cloud 9 the day I received my Indiana University HS diploma in the mail, it is just my "old woman" mindset that makes me feel this way. My mother always says that I feel everything so deeply and that every emotion I have is so intense about everything is my best quality, and also my downfall. In this case, it just meant I had the biggest graduation goggles on, and everything was "the last"...the last high school dance, the last time all of us would be ALL together, the last movie night, etc
Of course, I was still doing my favorite thing this summer, which as you all know is ballet. It was definitely different not having the crazy intense schedule and classes I had been doing all year around at Vaganova, but it was nice to get to take class with my old teachers and at some different places! I even got to catch up with an old partner and friend (also a former principal from Royal Ballet), Ivan Putrov, which was fantastic! But even with taking these classes here and there, I was feeling ready to go back to my VBA, Russian-ballerina life.

So here I am. Home sweet home, Rossi street!
Needless to say, I am overwhelmingly happy to be back at Vaganova. Being able to come here last year, and then return here once again this year was both a huge huge blessing, and one of the most concrete, smart decisions I have had to make.
 Last year I faced a very difficult decision of what I would be doing this year. As some already know, I was offered a position in Washington Ballet Company in DC. Having received the offer in March, I was completely prepared to accept and begin my professional dance career early (I was 17 when they offered me the job). After informing the academy, however, I was given an amazing chance by my teachers and the staff here that made the decision much harder.
As I have said before, I ADORE my pedagog. Udalenkova's class is exactly what you would think of when you think of Vaganova technique and style; very difficult (?) haha. Her training is the reason you would come to Vaganova; for the classics and to get the pure Vaganova style. I love everything about her class and what kind of dancers she produces. Even though every teacher in the school is Vaganova technique and style, many teachers apply their own styles and preferences to their class. Udalenkova's class is virtue of Vaganova. On the other hand, there are many other amazing teachers here that teach much differently than Tatiana Alexandrovna. Irina Sitnikova is a perfect example of the difference of styles within the academy. Full of life and young spirit, Sitnikova's class is so fluid; the steps are a string of arms and port de bras that connect together to make even barre combinations look like they could be danced as a variation.Last year I was extremely extremely honored and taken back to have Sitnikova ask me to join her class. She had spoken with Altynai and had said that she thought I was very talented and wanted to take me under her wing. I was thrilled to have been offered such an opportunity. Joining her class would mean skipping a whole grade of the school, which extremely rarely happens. To have another teacher be so interested in you that they wanted to become another pedagog/mentor is such an honor. Now I had 3 incredible options to choose from and decide what it was that would fit me, personally, best for the 2012/13 year.
After weighing my options in this difficult decision, however, I have once again chosen to study under Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova and receive a diploma under her name in June 2013. Turning down a REAL job in the ballet world can be pretty risky, but having the Vaganova grad diploma also opens up a world of opportunities as to where I will be able to work in the future! Any option would have made for an awesome year, though, for sure!!! It was a difficult decision, to say the least!

 From the first day I got back, my schedule has been non-stop (but what else is new). I was thrown straight into rehearsal for Nutcracker that first night, and the rehearsals have not stopped since! Just the way I like it! I also got fantastic news that first week that I will be rehearsing for the lead in one of the end of the year performances at the Hermitage. I had my first rehearsal for "Gamzatti" in La Bayadere beginning that week, and have had multiple every week since. I will be partnering, like last year in Flames, with one of the boys from the graduation class (this year, of the class of Alexey Ilyin)! I am so excited, and have been working very hard! Even though the performances are in May, we are already preparing and practicing all of the time, trying to perfect the ballet before Prosmotr in front of the teachers and Altynai; the panel! I am beyond excited to be rehearsing for such a role! It is such a joy to dance and learn! I absolutely love doing it, so I hope I will have the opportunity to actually perform it when it is actually show time! Whether снежинки rehearsal, практика, or Баядерка, I love the rehearsals here! You can learn so much from working with so many different teachers and coaches! This year, I have really been enjoying getting to work with numerous teachers on Bayadere, including my teacher, Desnitsky, and our new repititeurs; Irina Badaeva and her husband, among a few others! It is incredible how much time, effort, work, people, thoughts, and countless days/hours go into that "short" piece you see on stage! It is so worth all of it, though, once you are on stage!
Also, in arriving back home to Vaganova, I was so happy and eager to get back into classika with my wonderful, adorable ballet teacher! She is probably the most classical ballet teacher in the world (being that she is the oldest teacher in the school, studying here herself while Vaganova was alive). I had missed all of my teachers here, so I was excited to get back in every class, including the ones I have new teachers for, like Duet. This year, I have Zaklinsky as my teacher, and it is the best duet class I have ever had. First of all, he is an amazing teacher; he knows how to teach and help perfect everything from the press lifts to the artistry between partners. Second, he is one of the funniest people, and his class is never dull!
For acting this year we are focusing on ballet acting. So far we have been rehearsing anywhere from 10-15 minute scenes from ballets like Sylphide, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, and so many more. We even have had Ivanova and Scheglov coach us, as well as Altynai teaching us Nikiya from Bayadere (where else in the world do you get to watch the world's greatest ballerina, now retired, perform HER role once more, and then personally teach you?!); a lesson I will never forget! She is absolutely breathtaking! I am in love with my director!
Of course, not every day is as memorable as that one. With intense, long days of classes every single day, the weeks start to just mesh together with special moments or events stick out to help mentally sort out dates.
The time is already going much too fast for my liking, and I am trying to grasp on to every day and moment spent here! I LOVE it here; I love the ballet, the classes, the never-ending rehearsals, my teachers. I adore my family here, who I have become even more closely bonded with this year. #Love. No wonder the second I returned to the school, my heart felt warm and complete. It felt like I had never left.

The same with being at Mariinsky. Every time I am in the theatre, I feel at home.
The first performance I saw this year, (fittingly), was once again my FAVORITE, Giselle. Just like last year, it was the very first weekend I was here! The best "welcome back" gift I could have received (of course next to the excitement, hugs and kisses from my Russian friends and teachers ;D hehe). To make it even better, performing the lead was one of the world's best; Diana Vishneva! After meeting up with my lovely suitemate, Izzy, from last year, and artfully getting backstage with the pedagog, Petrov (who had "recruited" me with Selutskiy to the academy), I was able to watch the show from the wings. Like always, Mariinsky moved me, heart and soul; the most incredible performances!
Since this first performance, I have already been back on multiple occasions (or course; one of my favorite places in the world to be!)! After being to Mariinsky for dozens and dozens of performances, including ones that I have danced in, the theatre experience has changed for me. No matter when I go, it is a guarantee that I will run into at least one pedagog or director who I know. But the coolest thing is to see the very close, strong connection between the school and the company. Obviously, I realized there was such a bond last year; the little kids performing in all of the company productions, the company director walking around Vaganova, etc. This year, I have really come to know just how incredibly close we are connected, though; more so than, I would say, any other company-school relationship in the world, having a company almost COMPLETELY made up of VBA graduates. To me, the most incredible thing is to see these graduates on stage; your friends, the people you took class and rehearsal with daily, he people living in the room next door... THIS is amazing. You get to take that amazing step in their lives WITH them, and watch them go from a student to, in Ernest Latypov's case, a soloist at the world's leading company.

I have been lucky to have been able to watch this process; the birth of stardom! One of my favorite moments this year was back in October; getting to watch my dear dear friend, Ksenia, perform "Cupid" with the company in Don Quixote. I was literally in tears. It was a combination of the moving music from the perfect Mariinsky orchestra creating a vibration in my body, the fluidity and togetherness of all of the "dryads", the Mariinsky atmosphere and Russian audience, and getting to watch Ksenia perform. Every step was perfection; the wing of her feet, the bright smile on her face. Her musicality, her CHARM, her ideal technique and style. Zhighanshina is without question the next Vishneva (who was also able to debut with the company when she, too, was still a student in Vaganova. Wow.) Immediately after drying my face, I headed backstage to her dressing room, repeatedly telling her JUST how amazing and moving she was (as well as how badly I envied her). I was, and am still, so proud of this girl,... not to imply that I have added to her outstanding success at all, aside from the mere fact that I will always be there to support and cheer her on, now and in the future! Definitely one of my favorite performances ever! Оx, как мне так очень горжусь тобой, моя дорогая Ксю!

Ksenia, Ernest, Keenan (Kampa); three friends I have had the privilege to see debut on this legendary stage. Wow. A pretty amazing thing to see when you watching your friends dancing alongside people like Vishneva, Obratsova, Kolb, Kondaurova,... 

Pretty cool that soon, I will be on that same stage again! This past week, we had our first "прогон"/ run-through of the performance on the 120th anniversary of the creation of the ballet! It is pretty amazing to think that we are the only place in the world to still do the original choreography, and rehearse is in the exact location where the ballet (like SO many others) was created; Vaganova Ballet! The next day, we also had our first rehearsal on the stage; one of my favorite days of the year! Like always it was an incredible feeling! Stage rehearsals (and any rehearsal at Mariinsky) is something I am always anxious and excited to do! I love being on that stage; I would stay there forever if they let me!
 Fortunately, we will have plenty of more opportunities to be on stage in rehearsals and performances in the next month! SO. EXCITED! Nutcracker always makes the holidays feel more cheerful and spirited, ESPECIALLY the orchestra rehearsal! Ooooo how the Nutcracker music gives me goosebumps! Ill never EVER get tired of it (a real rarity among us dancers that hear it literally nonstop every year from October until January!)! To this day, when I hear the overture, my stomach drops, and I get a overwhelmed by an enormous rush of nervousness and excitement!
It is two days before Christmas (again... so sorry for the GIGANTIC break I took from blogging!), and I am finally feeling the holiday spirit! With Nutcracker coming up, it has been extremely difficult, but we have been busy trying to prepare for our infamous Christmas party (My NZ friend Tas and I threw an awesome one last year, obviously, since everyone has been asking about it and hoping for an invite to this years!) We have been working away for the last week (when we found out that we were even allowed to have it again this year) making lists, buying ingredients for our meal, organizing times, and decorating like crazy! During this time of the year, I often think about how amazing my mom is... and wish that she was here to help me! ;)
Fortunately, I will be able to have my second family with me during this whole holiday season and until I head home in mid-January for our winter break! I am so thankful to be surrounded by such wonderful people in both of my homes! I am so lucky to be able to celebrate with both my family here, as well as return home to my family Christmas and holiday celebrations (a little late, but it is never too late or early to have the holiday spirit!)
Speaking of home, back in November I was so excited to be brought a little piece of home to me when our family friends, Kelly and Karen, came to visit SPB! Even though they were only here for a few days, it was so nice to have "family" out here with me; they have been a part of my life since I was still in a diaper, and I am sure can still sing to me my whole Raffi CD!  Lucky for them, it was the first week of "winter", and we all froze, but what else can you expect from Russia at this time? Regardless, Karen let Kelly and me enjoy our favorite; ice cream! It made it even more special to have them here around Thanksgiving; it is hard to remember a Thanksgiving without them! Usually we are with our whole group of about 15 in some tropical place far away; Kelly and me enjoying our ice cream! ;) Having a piece of home out here for even that short time really re-energizes you,and I am so happy I was able to go out with them for the short time they were here, and even show them around the haunted Vaganova studios late at night! I was Thanks so much for coming out here, Kelly and Karen! As always, I had so much fun!

So with all of the craziness around me all of the time, and a constant flow of rehearsals, theatre trips, school work, finding time for leisure, we still try and manage to time where we can just relax and enjoy each other, here in the school. Whether family visiting, or meeting up with old friends from Bolshoi (Kostya, mentioned in my Bolshoi blogs, now works in SPB!:)), or playying games in the dorms, my life is never dull. I can be out and about all night, or simply curling up on a couch with my friends, and we still have just as much fun. Each and every day, this school, this city, these people, teachers, classes all continue to grow in my heart and shape me as a person and a dancer. Each experience, performance, laugh... it is different from the last. Every day is new, and each time, a new experience. It can be as simple as getting a new correction in class, but each day here is unique and changes me in some way, which I love. Even though I have danced in Mariinsky numerous times, each time brings something new to my soul. Each lesson, each rehearsal... I find more and more love for my art every day (even those days when my body is exhausted... more exhausted than usual, I mean!)
This is the food for my soul; the things that keep me alive and going. The people that I am surrounded by. The places I have been. The incredible opportunities and experiences I have daily. All of the love I have to offer, as well as that that I receive. The constant reminders that my life is far from the ordinary, in the most incredible, unique, and magnificent ways; that is what feeds me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

До Завтра- Until Tomorrow.

To all of my loyal readers, I apologize repeatedly! I have neglected for over a month to fill you in on the final parts of the year, which happens to be VERY exciting, and for that, I am extremely sorry! After more than 4 weeks, I hope you still hold interest in the final happenings of the Vaganova School Year 2011-12.

The time from my birthday until the end of the year was the fastest part of my already speedy year!
 After the last of the Hermitage performances, the whole school was in a rush to perfect the graduation galas that would be performed in Mariinsky! Like I said in the last post, I was extremely honored to have been asked to perform in all of the спектакли!
We were having rehearsals everyday after classes, and as always, our bodies were tiring. Luckily, there were many things to distract from that and keep us excited for what all was left of the school year.

Every year Mariinsky Theatre presents something called "Stars of the White Nights" to celebrate this beautiful time of year in St. Petersburg. As you may know, the children in Vaganova have the opportunity to be asked to perform in small roles in the theatre, such as in party scenes or as a little cupid. There was a big hype for the premiere of the festival (Putin even had a ticket), so I was lucky that one of my friends was performing as an extra, and was able to reserve a ticket! The performance was huge! It was the premiere of not only the festival, but also of Mariinsky's Midsummer Nights Dream, or Сон в летнюю ночь. Two of the theatre's biggest ballet stars, Teryoshkina and Kondaurova, were to perform the leading roles, and they did so with so much beauty and strength! Combined with the opera, this performance was something Im definitely glad I didn't miss out on!

A photo taken of me backstage
A photo I took in the backstage hallway
On June 12, we had our  Генеральная репетиция (general rehearsal). In case you are just "tuning in" to my blog, this general rehearsal is something Vaganova has before every major performance. It is the first time the public can come watch. It is just as big as any of the other performances we have, and the only difference is that Altynai and the teachers are correcting us dancers during it, which is something really rare and cool to see as an observer! Im not sure if the audience feels the same way , but when you hear her calling to you or correcting you over the loud-speakers, it makes your heart stop! That, plus the teachers on the side telling you every little thing you are doing wrong, can be quite intimidating, but also an awesome rehearsal to experience as both a dancer and ballet lover! Coming from a small studio in Colorado, and then Kirov Ballet in DC, I am so moved every rehearsal we have at the theatre, and not just because of the theatre or the Mariinsky alone, but also because of the fantastic orchestra. Every time they start to play, it moves me to dance. If you are a dancer, maybe you have felt it before also; the music makes you want to close your eyes and get lost in the dance and our art! If you take that feeling and multiply it by about 100x, you can imagine what it's like to perform to Mariinsky's infamous orchestra! The first time we have the live orchestral accompaniment to rehearse to is a "repit." that I look forward to just as much as I do for the actual show (if not more)!

The first "formal" performance of Vaganova's Graduation Gala was on June 17, and butterflies were obviously in all of our stomachs! Everyone was channeling nervous energy the whole week. That day, there were so many people in the audience, as well as backstage photographers, newspapers, etc! Everyone in the city and ballet world was excited to see the rising stars that would be coming from the academy, and would soon be joining the world's leading companies, including Mariinsky.

 This performance went wonderfully! Corsaire was in Act 3, so I go to enjoy watching the first two acts of the show, including Nacho Duato's Madrigal, which I have fallen in love with! The VBA students in the piece nailed it, and the piece itself is extremely enjoyable! When it was time for us to go on, backstage was chaotic, as usual! Everyone kissing each others cheeks, quickly saying "удачи" & "не пуха не пера" to anyone near, and taking our final, deep breathes before putting on one big smile and stepping into the bright Mariinsky stage lights. It's a surreal feeling, being on that stage! Being where all of the stars from Nureyev to Baryshnikov started (and from the school, experiencing the same things. Going through the same, vigorous program I am), will never seem like anything less than a real dream come true! The Russian audience alone makes your stomach flutter; they appreciate the details, the history, the music, the artistry, and the ballet itself. Overall, the performance went great, and everyone felt relieved and excited to have finished the first gala!

That night was one of my favorites! After coming home from the theatre, my suitemate, Izzy, and I got ready to head back to the theatre to watch one last company performance! It was the perfect way to end my year, because it was once again my FAVORITE ballet, Giselle! Tasman, Izzy, and I watched from the wings backstage (as did Fatayev that night)! As always, the dancers, the story, and the music moved me to the point of tears! Such beauty! Giselle was, for me, the perfect way to leave and finish the year off! I had started the year off (my very first week) with a performance of Giselle at Mariinsky, and finished it off the same way, only now I had become apart of the culture of Mariinsky. I was a true "Vaganova" kid, and had been accepted as a part of the theatre (even if just a small part; insignificant, almost, compared to the stars I was watching on stage or standing next to in the wings...the legends). Regardless of where I stood, Giselle was incredible! Front, side, back...I could watch it forever! Or dance it forever! I hope one day that will be ME! My DREAM role!

The day after that, Monday, was more tiresome than ever! We had all, obviously, been ridiculously tired from all of the preparation for the performances, the general rep., first performance, and watching ballets, and we had not had any days off, nor would we get any before the next performance! Like always, I pushed through, even if my body wasn't completely ready to be worked that hard! My class had shrunk to only 3-4 of us in class each day. To add even more to the work load, we had to prepare for the ballet seminar that Vaganova was having. My class was chosen to represent the "VBA senior women's class", meaning tons of ballet directors, academy directors, teachers, and others would be observing and watching in order to learn from the Vaganova method and my teacher, in this case! It was a lot of fun, but with only a few of us actually doing the full demonstration, preparation really wore us down. Although I was physically and mentally exhausted, I was one of the 4 that did complete the full demonstration. As girls stopped the seminar one by one, we ended up doing many combinations in pairs or alone. My teacher had "eliminated" some of the girls, and brought it down to the one or two that did each combination best, making it necessary for a few of us to do 5-6 exercises non-stop. I had a lot of fun, despite having to repeat our whole ballet exam, and the day was very rewarding. After the seminar, it was so nice to be approached by impressed directors and observers.  To see one director cry, saying that she had never seen such beautifully talented dancers in all of her years and that we were blessed to have such a wonderful teacher, was something I will never forget! One of the best compliments is that you have made someone FEEL something through your dancing!

On the 23rd of June, we performed the last gala of the year! While I had major butterflies (like everytime I went to Mariinsky), it seemed everyone was mostly just excited not only to be on stage once again, but to celebrate the end of the year! It had been a long one, but a great one! As always, the performance was beautiful and well-loved by the audience! The teachers were happy, and the graduates were much more than ecstatic! Their whole lives had been spent in the academy, and now they were finally done! They had dreamed about the day they would leave the school and join a company; many received an offer from Mariinsky! As they each continue on to amazing companies (Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky, Bolshoi, and so many more), there is no doubt in my mind that these kids are the next stars of ballet! VBA is truly something special! I am honored to be a part of the Vaganova family and to have been given the amazing opportunity to study with the best! Coming to this prestigious, world renowned, academy was everything and SO much more than I could have ever dreamed of! I wouldnt trade this past year for anything! The things I have learned living on my own in Russia are priceless. With every experience came invaluable lessons. Being "the American" of a Russian family composed of an entire school, I guess I am not too far from being considered "русская девушка". I have made friends I will never forget, and the training of a lifetime! It has been "live" (as my old roommate, Lisa, would say)! Peace out, Rossi Street and VBA! До Завтра!
From Russia with Love,

Tate <3
Ура! Мы закончили наш Вагановой год!!!)))

Monday, June 4, 2012

Celebrating Life in the Fast-Lane

Ураaaaa (Hurrah); there is so much to be celebrated!
So sorry to all of you for the lack of writing I have done for over a month now! These past weeks have been some of the busiest, most hectic weeks of year, but the good news is that it gives me a lot to catch you up on!
Like I said in my last blog, April was exam season here in Vaganova! The whole academy was stressed and super busy preparing for the number of examinations we needed to take and be graded on. My first exam, as I wrote before, was Modern. After that, we continued to work and focus on our classical ballet exam. We took this exam on April 24, and the night before, I could hardly sleep from all of the nerves. It wasnt my first exam; I had taken a ballet exam in Kirov in Washington DC last year, and I had already done modern here at VBA, but this was SO different! We were being graded by the world's TOUGHEST and most prestigious panel. Not only was the principal of the academy, Dorofeeva, and the artistic director (and perhaps the most famous, beautiful, and renowned ballerina) Altynai Asylmuratova, judging, but along with these two was every great and respected Vaganova teacher in the school, and directors of companies all over the world (Fateyev, director of Mariinsky Ballet, comes to the academy exams every year!)!!! The grades you get on exams can determine what stream of the school you are in (I am in the A stream, 1st course), whether or not you can return next year, and the number also ranks you against your classmates to show where you stand in you class, as well as to see how you progress throughout the years. Needless to say, I was kind of freaking out, but when it came to the actual time of the exam, I went into it with a confident, optimistic, and loving attitude, ready to do what I love and dance from my heart!
The exam went well for all of my class! All of our hard work paid off, and we were all overjoyed once it was done! I felt really great about how I did, and I am happy to say that my report/grade that I received reflected that! After that, we were ready to celebrate....until the next day when we had to prepare for our duet exam!
The panel; toughest judges you'll ever meet
My duet teacher this year was Adolf Hamzin. Obviously, we take the duet class with the boys; our whole class, together. There are 5 boys in my class, and having 9 girls, this presented a problem for the exam. Throughout the year, Hamzin assigned partners, creating different pairs almost every class, but we mostly worked with the same 2 or 3 boys because of aesthetics. When he started to put us in pairs for the exam, I got very lucky! Hamzin was really happy with me, and he decided to bring in a boy from the 7th class A stream, to be my partner in the exam (if anyone is a huge VBA fan, he is the partner of Ksenia Zhiganchina). Because Sergio was in a different class, I would have to work with him on my own time because our schedules. Hamzin, luckily worked with us privately twice, but after that, our schedules got too complicated. When classical exams started approaching, it was too difficult for Sergio to make it to ANY duet classes, and Hamzin started to worry; I was starting to, also! This is when my luck wore out! We had only 4 classes until the exam, and I now had no partner! One of those classes, I ended up working with 3 different boys, and they rotated every combination!!! I had no idea how I was going to do that in the exam! Luckily, we sorted out my 'partner problem' just 3 classes before the exam, and everything went well on examination day! I have always loved partnering! :)
(R to L; Me, Olya, and Renata in our "испанский" dance)
Next was our character exam on May 4, which I really enjoyed. First of all, I really love character! A lot of ballerinas you talk to say they hate it, but need it because it is in every ballet, but HERE almost everyone loves it, including me, and that is mostly because they really know how to do it! It is unbelievable how they can make character dances so perfect!!!  I am very lucky, because I got a really great character teacher; Anastasia Vasilieva (I have really great luck with the teachers I get!)! I love her class; the dances we learn and the technique, and even just watching her demonstrate...perfectly! She is gorgeous, and I am seriously in awe just watching her show the combination! Anyways, this exam was a ton of fun because we did so much in it! First was barre, followed by more than 6 FULL pieces from different ballets, Spanish dance, Flamenco, and an oriental dance. So much fun, because we really got to "perform" and dance in this exam! This exam was also special because it was the same exam she did while she was studying in the academy! We got to watch the video of her and her class in their exam! It was so cool to watch; her class was a pretty big graduating class that had many of the academy teachers in it including Nikita Scheglov, and Uliana Lopatkina was also in this class!

First generation (above)- my teacher, Vasilieva, and her class

Second generation- my class, 2012, with our teacher, Vasilieva, after our character exam

Taking a "break" from exam season, on May 11 was the first of 3 shows the school does at the Hermitage Theatre! I had been having rehearsals with my repetiteur, Veronika Ivanova (prima of Mariinsky), almost every day (and sometimes Nikita Scheglov), even during the exam season (link to video at end of the blog). On May 7, just four days before the show, we had our просмотр. This is when all of the directors and teachers from the academy watch each of our pieces in the studio, and decide which are good enough to perform, and then they eliminate the rest. I had been rehearsing Flames of Paris with one of the Russian graduating boys of the 9th class, and there was another couple, both from the graduating class, also auditioning the pas. SUPER nerve-racking, as you can imagine, but I went into it was the same positive attitude I always keep, and it paid off, because we made the list! I was so happy!
With Altynai Asylmuratov
We only had two more rehearsals after that before the show that Friday (one day we had a rest day because it was Russia's 'Victory Day', which I spent at a lantern festival and relaxing at my friend's loft in the city!). On May 10, we had a dress run-through in front of all of the teachers and Altynai, again. After that, she once again cut more people from the gala.
The next day was the performance in the Hermitage! We had never danced on the stage before, so I knew it would need to really get a feel for it in the run through just 3 hours before the performance! After we ran through the whole performance, cuts in the show were once AGAIN made, and luckily we made it through the final cut and were ready to perform!!!
Im pretty OCD when it comes to performances. I have all of my rituals that I MUST do in order to ensure a 'perfect' performance, and this one was a pretty huge one for me! First of all, it was my first soloist role at Vaganova. Second of all, it was a HUGE huge honor for me to be chosen to perform it! I was shocked when Veronika asked me to perform it with a graduating boy, seeing as 1. I am an international student 2. I am of the 6th class, and 3. I am a first year student! It was a lot of pressure on me, but I had a lot of support and faith from so many different people! Before the performance, I worked on stage privately with Altynai (a huge honor), Veronika, and Tatiana Udalenkova, my classical teacher, each of whom told me not to worry and wished me luck, along with my character teacher and all of my friends in my class!
With my teacher, Tatiana Alexandrovna
The performance went fantastic!!! I had a BLAST on stage, and if I could, I would do it again in a second!!! There's no way to describe the feeling you get on stage, but it is something so spectacular! I love to do what I LOVE! Such a fun performance (oh, and my class and I also performed a Flamenco piece in this performance!) Thanks to all the teachers who worked with me and to Iskander Murasov, my partner!

Directly after the performance, I had to rush back to the academy to get to the last part of my acting class. Our exam for актерское мастерство was the next day, May 12. Since the 6th class is the first level in the academy that you do acting, we did a lot of different things in this class throughout the year. My acting teacher, Sergeyev (the father of Alexander Sergeyev, principal dancer at Mariinsky who I wrote about in one of my past posts), really made us go out of our comfort zones! We did a lot of activities that were really challenging (and embarassing...and hilarious!). The class was both acting like something, and abstract acting. We would do exercises where we had to show sadness, for example, not ACTING like you were sad, but showing the emotion through your body and movements! It was really difficult, and to make it even more challenging we would do everything ALONE! We took turns on stage while the rest of the class watched (being pretty shy, this was really out of my comfort zone, especially in the beginning of the year)! The exam turned out to be great! It was about an hour long and made up of some ballet acting such as the Giselle scene from Act 1, La Sylphide, and Carabosse, but also so many funny and creative pieces! We all had lots of fun doing it and making the pieces up, and the audience thought it was hilarious! поздравляю, всех; мы сделали это!!!! Last exam of the year; DONE!!!!! That whole period of over a month with exams and performances non-stop was one of the most stressful and tiresome times of my life, and definitely of the whole year!

Adding to the excitement of being done with our FINAL exam, I was super excited because on May 14 my momma came to St. Petersburg!!! YAYYY! I was so excited that I got to see her, and that she was going to see where I had been living this year and see the academy! While she was here, she was able to watch ballet class, talk to some of the teachers (with translation, of course), and meet my friends in the academy. We had tons of fun, as we always do, together! The weather cooperated while she was in Petersburg, so we were able to walk a lot and show her around the city! We even went to see "Swan Lake/Лебединое озеро", in Mariinsky theatre, one night! She was pretty impressed with my life here, and proud of everything I was doing (as well as my Russian speaking ;P hehe)! <3 If you havent had the pleasure of meeting my mommy, let me just tell you that she is the sweetest, most caring, CUTEST mother you will ever meet! I am so blessed, and so happy that my best friend in the world was able to come see me!
I was so sad that she had to leave after only 4 days because of work, but I am so grateful she was able to come at all! I wish she could have been here for the Hermitage performance to see me dance, as we had originally planned! I was even planning to come back home with her on May 19, but those plans got changed so last minute that we did not even have the time to change her trip to the end of June when I would be able to leave WITH her!

The day my mom left, it was my 18th birthday (and what better birthday present than a visit from mom!)!!! My 17th year was pretty amazing, and as much I hate getting older, I am looking forward to a great 18th year! On my actual birthday, I celebrated by enjoying a beautiful day outside, and going to a small dinner with a few people. I was touched at how many of my friends here tried to make my day special! I wanted to do something really fun with ALL of them, so the next week we decided to celebrate together! We went out to a nice dinner to celebrate not only my birthday, but also finishing exams and Hermitage concerts! We had so much fun; как обычна! Мы всегда смеется и улыбается <3! After dinner, we went out to get some ice cream, and then walked to Mikhailovsky castle (Михайловский замок) to celebrate further!
Tsiskaridze at the castle!
It actually worked out perfectly, because that day was also the birthday of St. Petersburg! How perfect that to celebrate the anniversary of the city, there was going to be an outdoor Dance Open ballet performance on the castle steps?! The streets were completely filled for the performance, which is another reason I love this city; it is so cultural and appreciative of the arts! The performance was really cool because even though it was a free concert and outside, so many stars were in it, including Yonah Acosta, Osmolkina, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Igor Kolb, and Maria Kochetkova! It was so much fun to watch, especially with my girls! The fact that it was outdoors made it even better; so much fun "doing" the variations with the dancers on stage and singing the variations on the sidewalk watching, haha! ;) Also, White Nights are here, so the sunlight was beautiful on the stage and the dancers! I had a great birthday with my Russian family; thank you and я люблю вас! С Днем Рождения меня ;) & C днём рождения, любимый город! ♥

Things like this make me love the city more and more! The fact that you can walk down the street, ask a random person who their favorite ballerina is, and they can tell you not only names, but also why they like them; what an incredible culture! They really do love the arts here! Also, White Nights are something that if you wanted to visit Russia, you should definitely try to be here for it! The sun is down less than 3 hours a night, and it does not even set until after midnight! So cool (minus the lack of  sleep we are all getting now!)
                                                                                                я люблю СПБ!

As you can already tell, my life has been nonstop, CRAZY busy, recently! To add even more to my crazy schedule, last Monday I was asked by Nona Grigorievna, Altynai's assitant, to come to Corsaire rehearsal for the graduation performance! She told me that Altynai, Udalenkova, and the other teachers wanted me to perform in the graduation galas at Mariinsky in June; a HUGE honor! I was thrilled that I was asked; I am the only international student in the galas (besides those who are graduating)! Anyways, I went to rehearsal just last week, and was immediately put into the main cast. The girls had already been rehearsing Corsaire Jardin Anime for awhile, so I was surprised to be put in right away. That first rehearsal I went to was a run-through, so I really just had to watch all the other girls and follow the formations (Спасибо, Гузалка, за помощь!) Within those 45 minutes, I managed to learn the whole garden scene, and was super happy that my teacher and the director of repertoire were pleased and proud of how fast I caught on! So pleased, that now I am dancing in all of the graduation performances at Mariinsky, and I couldnt ask for a better end to my first year!!!
Only a week after that first rehearsal, we already had our first run-through of Corsaire on Mariinsky stage! SO crazy, and I will say again and again; ONLY at Vaganova! After only a very short time, the performance is already so polished and beautiful! Я люблю свою жизнь....))
Im soaking up every last bit of this year, and I still cant believe how fast time goes! Having my birthday, and getting that strong, summery feeling that the year is about to end made me realize how precious our time is and how much we need to LIVE and live up every single day, whether good or bad! This year has definitely had its difficult moments, and adapting to Russian life, especially in such a strict academy, and having to give up everything that I am used to living with was a challenge, for sure. I must say that this lifestyle is DEFINITELY not for everyone, but I KNOW that it is for ME!
I want to have one big ПОЗДРАВЛЯЮ for everything in the past month; it was crazy, but I am so happy to have had these wonderful people by my side, always helping me and each other along, and celebrating all of our accomplishments together!!!
Only three more weeks until the end of the year; BRING IT ON! Wish me luck!
Thank you all, again, for reading and following me! I have the best support! I really appreciate it!!! Xoxo
Until next time,
one year older & one year wiser

молодых душой - старый ум

P.s.- Here is a link to a video of one of my rehearsals of Flames of Paris with Veronika Ivanova! If you want to see more pictures, please go to the "Gallery" tab on this site!
Flames Of Paris (Tatum Shoptaugh-Vaganova Ballet)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring has Sprung, and Exams have Begun!

Happy Spring!
We are all as busy as the bees over here in St. Petersburg! In the last few weeks, things at Vaganova have been getting even more hectic and crazy than before! Now, we enter the most stressful time here; EXAM period!
Let me explain. For those of you who do not know what ballet exams are, every year (and twice a year for the lower level Vaganova classes), we take a ballet exams in which the school's most respected teachers and director, Altynai Asylmuratova, grade us on our technique, artistry, and performance in classes. For us in the senior courses, exams are spread out through a month's time. We take numerous exams; one for each class, which means one for classika (ballet technique/class), duet, modern, character, and acting. This is very stressful, especially for the seniors, seeing as the school makes cuts from the students who do not do well in their exam. The highest you can get in an exam is a 5+; the highest score was given to Diana Vishneva when she studied her under Madame Kovaleva (who still teaches here). Exams are watched by some of the most distinguished and important people in ballet, including directors of schools, companies; Fatayev, the director of Mariinsky, is there every year!

My class, 6/Ia, after finishing our first exam
Last Tuesday, I had my "premiere", as my Modern teacher announced. My modern exam went really well, and it feels so good to get it out of the way. We did it in the school theatre here, and luckily not THAT many people were watching besides the 14 teachers and directors grading it and my parallel class waiting to take theirs. Unlucky for my class, our exam schedule is very spread out. After April 17, many of the classes will be done with all of their exams, while my schedule has not really even begun! Classical exam for me is on April 25, duet on April 27, Character on May 4, and finishing with acting on May 12th. Wish me luck with the rest of my exams!

A few weeks ago, the Mariinsky held it's XII International Ballet Festival. Knowing about this, I got tickets IMMEDIATELY for March 25 when my idol, Alina Cojocaru, and Johan Kobborg would be performing Sylphide! If I have not told you before, Alina and Johan are my idols; my favorite pair! I cry everytime I watch them, no matter what it is, because they are so believable and so moving! Needless to say, March 25 was a date to look forward to for me! Unfortunately, they were unable to come to perform here in St. Petersburg, and there was a last minute cast change. Luckily, there are a surplus of amazing dancers in St. Petersburg, and my friend, Renata, and I were able to watch Novikova perform "Сильфида", which was still beautiful!

A week later, the festival was coming to a close, but first, the theatre was honoring one of our pedagogs at Vaganova, Mr. Gennady Selutsky. This year marked the 55th anniversary of his work with the Mariinsky and Vaganova Ballet Academy. This was one of the most amazing nights of ballet anyone could ever wish to see or to be a part of. SO many stars danced that night; Lopatkina, Korsuntsev, Shklyarov, Somova, Tereshkina, Kondaurova, Kolb, and SO so many more (also, I ran into Leonid Sarafanov (pictured to the right) who was also watching the performance from the wings!)! It is hard to believe I actually witnessed it, let alone from the wings of Mariinsky, where I was able to actually talk to and watch WITH these beautiful professionals, as well as my teachers! Being a part of this memorable night was something I will never forget! I am seriously living every ballerina's dream; dancing with Vaganova, performing at Mariinsky, meeting my idols, living in Russia... I am extremely lucky and blessed. With all of this talk and honor of the long, continuing career of a great teacher, I want to explain why this gala had a special meaning to me, and my connection to Mr. Selutsky.

Recently, I have been getting a lot of questions about my training and how I got to be where I am now. To answer that; a lot of hard work. When I started, I was already 12 years old; a very late start in ballet! I started in Colorado Springs with German and Valentina Zamuel (both trained and graduated from Vaganova). Starting so late, I did not have the advantages many dancers that started young have, in fact, I was at a huge disadvantage. I had no flexibility, no turn-out, and I knew hardly anything about ballet. What I did have; passion, willingness to work hard, and determination (my teacher, Valentina, likes to tell me that I came with absolutely nothing but brains)! I found what I loved, and I was determined to make it! I worked hard everyday. Now, I feel and know that all of those years of hard-work have paid off. I am at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, all the way around the world from home.

Last year, will at Kirov Academy of Ballet, I was a finalist in something called the Kennedy Center Master Class Series. Every time there was a company that came to perform at the Kennedy Center, I got to take a class with that company. This included the Mariinsky. When I took the master class with one of the Mariinsky pedagogs, Selutsky watched. After the class, I was approached by both Gennady Selutsky and another pedagog. They liked my dancing and me very much, and asked me if I was interested in training at Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia. I was in shock that it was really happening, but obviously I did not pass up this AMAZING opportunity. This school was somewhere EVERY aspiring ballerina wants to train. The school where ballet was found; the heart of ballet. The process of being invited to study here is long and complicated, and ultimately up to the director, Altynai Asylmuratova, and the senior teachers of the school, and luckily, like Selutsky and the other Mariinsky pedagog who "found" me, the academy loved me and I was invited to train here at the best ballet school in the world, and in the class of one of the greatest teachers (here is a picture of us in Tatiana Alexandrovna's class, taken in March)!

Continuing to add to the list of outstanding, to die for performances I have seen recently, this week I went to Mikhailovky Theatre's "Don Quixote" with Vasiliev and Osipova! If you follow ballet news, I am sure you have heard about their recent switch from Bolshoi to Mikhailovsky. Although this may be considered a "scandal", I am definitely enjoying having them here in St. Petersburg! I first saw them perform about three or four years ago at the YAGP Finals Gala in NYC when I was competing. They performed Flames of Paris, and I fell in love with the pair and their insane tricks! This week, I was happy I was going to get to see them perform withOUT hundreds of competing dancers screaming and hollering over the music! The performance was SO good, and their dancing and tricks are still as phenomenal as ever! I saw things that you cannot even imagine are possible; Vasiliev's cabrioles are like two separate cabrioles, and he flies through the air! The orchestra could not even keep up with the speed of Osipova's double fouettes, and Ivan press lifted Natalia in arabesque with ONE hand, while he was in arabesque himself! It was unbelievable! These two have so much power and strength that you feel energized just watching them perform; they really keep your attention (that night, we saw Vasiliev fully grope Osipova's chest on stage. Very funny, and, of course, it was part of the ballet!)! Here is a picture of them doing the one handed press. I did not take it, just found it online, but what you cant see is that he is on one leg while in arabesque! PURE STRENGTH!

My rehearsal in Rep. Zal with V. Ivanova & N. Scheglov
With little free time, I am trying to get out of the academy as much as I can. The weather in St. Petersburg is getting warmer (slowly but surely), and I love spending time outside in this beautiful city! St. Petersburg's famous White Nights are coming up, and the sun stays out later and later every day! The end of the school year is just around the corner, and I am realizing how limited my time is here until it becomes summer! I am taking and soaking up every moment; every class, every correction, every laugh with my friends, and everything else! Exams might be stressful, but I am truly enjoying this time! The countdown until my classical exam begins now; 10 days, and then after that, my schedule becomes one long slur of events until the end of the year! The Hermitage performances begin May 11th with the international gala (which Russians perform in, also), I will finish my last exam the day after, and then May 16th and 18th we have two more performances in the Hermitage! From this time and on, I will most likely be having praktika and repititsya every night of the week. I am rehearsing a few parts right now, but no one knows who will be officially dancing in the shows until after exams. Altynai will be making decisions after we each show her what we have rehearsed, as well as based on who she likes  exams! Please, wish me luck, and I hope to return in my next blog with good news!
Until next time,

Thank you for your 55 years, Mr. Gennady Selutsky!

More photos from the gala, as well as from everyday life at the academy, are available on the "Gallery" page of this blog! Please take a look to see some behind the scenes pictures at Mariinsky! Also, please check out and subscribe to my YouTube account, shoper05, as I will be posting Vaganova videos and a video from this gala shortly! Thank you for your support and for following me!