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.


  1. Hi I've just finished reading your entry and I am in awe of the passion you not only possess for the art but within you as well. Please please please don't stop blogging, it is amazing and wonderful and magical altogether even for just a reader like me to have a glimpse into your life in Vaganova. Your life sounds incredible and I'm sure it is, and this blog posts are the only windows for someone like me living all the way in Singapore to have an idea of what it must be like. I look forward to your future posts! :)

  2. Nicely done. Very cool. Lucky!!!

  3. Very awesome. I wish I could train at Vaganova! Praying one day!!!

  4. Dear Tatum,
    I just finished reading the recent entry! You need to add impressive writer to your many talents! Loved it! You write about all of your experiences with such humility and gratitude that it is just unbelievable. When I read all your entries I too get goosebumps as you write with such sincere emotion that the reader can't help but get absorbed in this amazing life you are living. You are an astounding young lady who lives life with complete abandon. Your passion and grace should be an inspiration to us all! I look forward to the next entry.
    Love to you sweet Tatum! ~
    Teresa Browne

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