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)


  1. Thank you Tatum,
    You managed to bring a tear to my eyes with your passion for life, for dance, your love for your friends & your momma. Congratulations for reaching the milestone that is 18 precious years on this beautiful planet. Mother nature makes the planet beautiful, but it is people like you that make life beautiful for all of us.
    I am a BIG fan, though I am somewhat older, I am captivated by your beauty, not just what we see on the surface but even more so from the beauty that shines from within. I have a son who shares your birthday, though he is 19. I can only hope that one day he can meet a girl as beautiful as you inside & out, with a heart of gold, a zest for life, the spirit to follow her dream & the passion to captivate his heart.
    You have had an amazing year, but the best is yet to come. I truly believe you have an amazing future as a Prima Ballerina.
    I wish you every happiness, have a wonderful 18th year!!! Live Life, you are right, it passes so quickly, take your chances, sieze the moments that matter!
    God Bless you Tatum,
    Wayne (UK)

  2. “I went into it with a confident, optimistic, and loving attitude, ready to do what I love and dance from my heart!” That should always be the spirit of a dancer. Whether it is an exam or a competition, you should always have these attitudes. Always be at your best when you are dancing. Do not be afraid to show off the talent that you have. Keep it up, Tate!