Saturday, February 23, 2013

While Visions of Sugarplums Danced in Their Heads

One of my favorite, and (sometimes) least favorite parts of living in Russia is our holiday schedule. With all of the snowy streets and cold, VERY dark nights, you can imagine what the holiday season feels like in St. Petersburg; a true Russian winter. Like every year, the end of December and all of the celebrations came up faster than I expected. The whole month, actually, felt like a few days in all.

December through January was a fantastic blur of excitement and possibilities to me. First of all, class was exceptional; more so than usual, which is saying a LOT. With a class of only three or four girls for about a week, there was no room for any sort of mistake. The academy felt quiet and concentrated, and so did I. I was on top of my game. For some reason, the busyness of our daily lives did not seem so hectic or crazy like they did usually. Udalenkova was kind and patient, as usual, and with less people to correct in class, classes moved faster and went even longer than usual (resulting in even more exhausted bodies). I loved every *challenging* minute of those days, and with the constant (and I mean CONSTANT) attention and eyes on us, I think these few days were some of the most beneficial, best I have had. I so enjoyed getting extra private attention and mentor-ship from Udalenkova and my other teachers. Zaklinsky's duet class that week was one of my absolute favorite lessons...ever. How thankful I am for my incredible teachers!
Hard working and valuable lessons are far from a rarity at Vaganova, even on the most "average" of days, there is always something exceptional about the training here. Truly the BEST in the entire world (in case you haven't heard me say it before). But does an "average" day even exist at the Vaganova Ballet Academy?!
To answer this question; definitely not! Each day brings something special; something unique, new, exciting...

I was already off to an awesome start to the month, and this "streak" continued with each day becoming even better and better with new experiences, knowledge, and possibilities presented and learned.
Rehearsal for Nutcracker was put on pause, and had been for quite some time, and I was getting super anxious for it to start up again. Luckily, I had La Bayadere rehearsals every day that kept me more than busy on top of my normal classes. They were getting noticeably harder. My repititeurs, Irina Ivanovna Badaeva and Fethon Miozzi, put aside time in each 2+ hour rehearsal to work meticulously on just my partner, Eldar, and myself; the rest of the time usually being spent running sections with us, plus the rest of the girls and guys dancing in the corps. So to put it shortly; a LOT of rehearsal time for us. On top of that, I was in the midst of finals week at school, which unfortunately meant no time to "play".

After our first progon/run-through of Nutcracker (which I wrote about in The Things That Feed My Soul), Щелкунчик rehearsals began to really pick up; making my holiday season much less stressful, and more spirited and warm! Spending every day doing exactly what I wanted to be doing; dancing! I also had just finished my university finals (ypaaa!), and that meant full speed ahead on rehearsals and ballet! Nutcracker is what I look forward to dancing more than anything else! It's something really magical and exciting for me, that no matter how many times I have rehearsal or how many times I listen to the music each day, I always enjoy it! (I get all warm in my stomach just thinking about it!) :) Despite being in the studio until well passed what would be considered "rest-time" every night, we still found time to get into the social scene of the holiday celebrations and preparations.

Amidst all of the "Shelkunchik" rehearsals, somehow Christmas and New Years had already reached us! As I wrote in my previous blog, we had only days to prepare for our Christmas celebration. Christmas morning started as usual for me; I woke up early to open gifts with my family in Colorado! Even though it was over Skype (which is one of my favorite things ever), it almost felt like I was right at home! My momma had sent me a package with a few gifts, so as I was able to watch my brother, dad, and mom open their gifts by our Christmas tree, I was able to unwrap some of mine next to my 2 mini trees in my dorm room! After a run-through at the academy for the performances, we had a small amount of time (as expected) to make the final preparations for one awesome holiday party! Just as last year, we made sure that Christmas at our second home feel merry and bright. "Tate and Tasman's Annual Christmas" was a success with even more people to celebrate and rejoice with than last year; always a wonderful surprise. It was a great night, just as we had hoped! How wonderful to have so many of those dear and close to us to celebrate with! I feel so lucky to have been able to share so much laughter, dances, and loving memories with my lovely friends; people that I have only grown closer to this year! My face can't help but smile big when I think about these lovely, true people that I am fortunate to call my family! Ox, как я вас очень люблю!

A few days later, things were hardly settling down! We were starting to have rehearsal at Mariinsky more often, meaning combined classes and early mornings. Now that I was off of school, I decided to ignore my exhausted body and get out and enjoy the beautifully lit Petersburg streets everyday after the work was through! Of course, I dragged along my friends, who were more than willing to skid along the iced over streets and sing both the English and Russian traditional holiday songs that played continuously at the holiday markets outside of Rossi and the Alexandrovskiy Theatre. Whenever the market comes up outside of the school, you can't help but feel in the spirit of the holidays! The street lights go from yellow to blue. The smell of fresh snow, roasted almond and caramelized sweets fills the crowd with lights hung everywhere over your head. Old couples dressed in their fur coats and hats dance below the stage where a young Russian girl energetically sings out ""Новый Год!" and small children wait in line to meet "Дед мороз" and "Снегурочка". The market is one of my favorite things about Christmas in Russia, and it definitely makes the frigid cold that much more bearable! ;)

The day before New Years was one of the most wonderful rehearsals; the orchestra rehearsal. This is always the one that I look forward most because of how truly moving (emotionally and literally) the music and MAGIC they produce is! The orchestra at Mariinsky is as incredible as the dancers; world-class and the ABSOLUTE best! We were on the rehearsal stage at the theatre for this rehearsal (this is the round top of the building if you are to look at a picture). The music was powerful (not only because of the small space), Altynai and the repititeurs were on top of us all for every mistake, and us dancers were, for the most part, in high spirit because of the approaching new year. That morning we had all had our costume fittings, and this year I was much more proactive in finding a costume that (almost) fit perfectly! I even had time afterwards to look around the amaaaazzzing costume room at Mariinsky (which I explored last year and decided I wanted to keep as my own personal ballet closet). It seems that the rooms of tutus continue on forever and ever with enough costumes to dress all of Russia! Each piece from the tutus to the head pieces is hand-made, and many are originals that the greats wore years and years before; original jewels and embroideries decorating the bodice and tulle. It was a pretty awesome day and good way to end the year; at my favorite place in the world! After corrections, followed by warm wishes, Udalenkova sent us off to our homes for the day, where we luckily enough time to rest before the graduation boys' New Years party began that evening.

That night, there was lots of dancing, photos, toasts, fireworks and салат Оливье to bring in the New Years, and PLENTY of good friends and kisses all around! Although it was a party for those of us that are older and living in the dorms, no Russian traditional New Years is complete without a silent 12:00 salute to the country and Putin broadcasted live from Red Square, clinks of glasses, and a visit from the one and only Ded Moroz and Snegurochka! They say in Russia that whatever you are doing this night of the year is how you will spend the rest of the year, and that is why everyone in Russia tries to have the best time possible. If that is the case, I'd say I have a pretty great 2013 ahead dancing dancing dancing as I had done all of that day and well into the early hours with my friends! С Новым Годом!
 On January 2nd, we had our генерал репетиция for Nutcracker at the Mariinsky; a "rehearsal" that is open to the public to purchase tickets for. It is hard to look at this day as anything less than a performance because of the mass amount of people there, plus the fact that we are in full hair, make-up, and costume, and also have the orchestra there (the only difference being we are being corrected on the speaker system by our teachers and Altynai). The theatre is usually so sold out that there are even people standing in the boxes to watch!
Going to the theatre that morning, I was pumped and ready to go! I felt re-energized from having the first of the year off (which is good because it was our first and ONLY day off until the winter break began; no more free Sundays!). When we got to Mariinsky, we took a short warm-up class from Udalenkova as usual, and then rushed to prepare for the first act. Usually, it is a race from class to grab something quick to eat in the stolovaya, and then claim a spot in line to get wigs on. This is the absolute most stressful part because I always feel so rushed since the wigs have to be done by the costume ladies from the theatre, and it usually takes 5-7 minutes per girl, meaning a stressful time backstage if you aren't one of the first! Luckily, I have pretty much mastered my schedule backstage by now. As little girls run around the halls grabbing their dolls for the party scene and Altynai's assistant screams "дети на елки!!!" over and over, I try to calm my nerves at my mirror; perfecting my makeup, massaging my foot, and silently running through every step in my head. But as soon as we hear the first, second, and then third bells ring, and a final announcement backstage that we are beginning first act; "Первый акт на сцену!", the overture begins and it is time to just enjoy performing!
That first step on stage is absolutely thrilling! No matter how many times I have rehearsed and performed on this legendary and incredible stage, I will never get passed what an incredible adrenaline rush it is waiting in the wings for your cue. The lights dimmed for the second act and the blue tint on the giant stage swirling with white dots resembling snow, it is hard not to get caught up in the fantasy world that IS "Щелкунчик"; even for us dancers, who share the excitement and nerves backstage, only building as the music grows louder and escalates. Kisses, "udachis", and plenty of last minute prayers before jumping into a dream come true (without being too cheesy); gliding across the giant stage of Mariinsky Theatre (I am the top in the photo to the right). 
Despite being one of the first on, and then one of the last two girls off the stage, body ready to collapse from no air, the time on stage passes so fast, and the next thing you know it is the next performance! This year, I had very unfortunate timing and became pretty sick after the first performance. And I wasn't the only one; unfortunately many understudies had to be put in last minute because of how many people were crowding the "Medpunkt". There was only one day between each performance, with a run-through each time, but no matter how hard I tried to push myself, my teacher could plainly see that I was sick, and sent me home immediately at barre that day, not knowing whether or not I would be better and able to perform the following day. The next day, I woke with a temperature of 39 C... 102.2 F, a migraine and one gnarly cough and sore throat. Despite it all, I was determined to dance and not miss a SINGLE opportunity to dance at Mariinsky, so I strengthened up and made myself look as healthy as possible (I DID feel a little better, as least). Nona, Altynai's Assistant, and Udalenkova (who was more concerned and hesitant) put me back in to perform, and I am glad they did, although I would never advertise it as being one of the best performances of my life. Although it took ALL the energy in me to get through, I think working that hard helped me heal faster than I would have laying in bed, and that allowed me to be back and prepped to finish the remaining performances.

Like always, the performances were done much faster than I wanted them to be! The last performance was in the evening, and I was able to walk around stage alone beforehand, curtain up, and just stare out at what I would say is the most beautiful theatre in the world. It gave me gigantic butterflies and reminded me more than ever why I do what I do; I LOVE it. That whole night, my heart felt strong and full of fire and desire to stay in this theatre forever; to dance the rest of my life. Once over, I felt a sense of both relief and sadness that it was done.
After a few more days of classes, it was time to say goodbye for the winter break, and one by one we headed home to our families. Home sweet home to Colorado... but only for a few days. My break has been spent traveling and never really resting fully. immediately after heading home, I was put on another flight to Amsterdam with my mom; a trip we both enjoy taking! We were only there for three days, but made the most of it, making sure that the first place we went was our favorite, cute little restaurant near Dam Square. After that, it was home again, New York, home, and then Washington DC, all within a short 3 weeks. With all of the excitement and busyness of my life, and even the hectic schedule of my "break", I have learned to appreciate each moment more and more. Not to sound too cliche, but life is MUCH too short, so each minute spent with those you love or doing what you love; cherish it! Even those moments that challenge you or frustrate you; take each for what they are worth. Each day I was able to spend with my family was a blessing because I know how much they care about me, how much they like to share my laughter and smiles, and how I feel the exact same way about their priceless stories shared with me, their love, and being such an important part of such amazing people's lives. When we travel, usually people will buy a souvenir or different mementos from that place, but sometimes it is more important to simply collect moments, and not things. From Russian stages to American living rooms, each moment means something deep to me, and I will carry them with me forever, holding them tight in my heart.

Returning to Russia has never been easier for me to do. Although saying goodbye to my family will never be easy, I have come so far, and know that I am not quite done with this part of my journey yet. There are still so many dreams to be fulfilled, but for now, I am enjoying living in one of them; my life is pretty fantastic, and Ill never stop dreaming or loving what I do. So tonight, I will go to bed as visions of sugarplums dance in my head...
From me to you,
Tate xoxo


  1. Awesome post! Will you be graduating the academy this year?

  2. Hi tatum!!! Do you speak russian?
    I love your blog, you are one of my ballet inspirations!