Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Difference Between Sweat and Tears

When it's this time of year, it seems everyones emotions are running high; the sweat and the tears begin to mix, and it's hard to tell which is which!

Arriving back from break, I was greeted with more than "warm" welcomes! Like myself, my friends were looking forward to reuniting, and making up for the lost time! I guess we all missed each other more than we knew, even if it had only been a few weeks since last seeing each other! I even was able to meet up with a VERY much missed and beautiful, Lera Chaykina; one of my best friends from SPB and Russian sister! <3
Rehearsals for Bayadere began immediately.  Even though the Hermitage performances were more than 3 months away, we were well aware that we were on a time-crunch! The next few months not only would fly bye, but once exams started, our schedules would ALL be changed and complicated, not to mention that we'd all be tired tired dancers! Badaeva began to really drill us, and Desnitsky was even able to come work with us and the boys in the corps on the big lifts, as well as polishing the adagio for my partner, Eldar, and me! I love being able to work with different teachers and pedagogs in the academy; it is so useful to get the opinions of multiple teachers, and see what works best for us as a pair!
My days have consisted of rehearsal after rehearsal, followed by multiple trips to Mariinsky! Whenever I have the free time, you can find me at the theatre; my favorite place! Since my university class load has lightened a little bit since last semester, I have been able to go see a спектакле at least once a week! I have been able to numerous performances of Giselle (haven't missed one since I've been in the academy!), a couple La Bayaderes, Конек горбунок, La Sylphide, Fountain of Bakchisarai, etc. No matter what the company is performing, the level of dancing and artistry never fail me. Whether watching a previous graduate's debut in a principal role, or watching, for the hundredth time, Giselle and Albrecht demonstrate a beautiful love; I am taken with overpowering desire when I see these legends performing. All I can do is imagine what it must, and hopefully WILL, feel like it when that is me; it is not a rarity to find my make-up smeared in between acts at the Mariinsky! With the incredible orchestra and the surrounding, SPB art-loving patrons, the overture to the ballet, alone, is enough to make you shed a few tears. Of course, these are all happy tears; one's that make me love ballet and my incredibly blessed life even more! These trips to Mariinsky not only reinforce my passion for this art, but also help me to work-harder; they inspire and drive me to be the best that I can, every day! And after another fantastic, moving performance of Bayadere last night, I am feeling even more inspired and ready to take my turn at this ballet and leading role in the Hermitage Theatre in May; bring on the sweat (and hopefully some good tears from the audience!)!

Living in Russia, I am able to find inspiration everywhere. Having been to both Moscow and SPB, I am often asked by family and friends which I prefer, to which I can fully say that my heart will always be in St. Petersburg! There are so many differences between the two, but SPB has a complete culture and artistic appreciation of its' own! Being a ballerina in the city's (and world's) most respected and prestigious ballet academy, I feel privileged to be a part of this culture! While most people tell me I am absolutely crazy to want to be here so badly, I love my life here; I love the ballet, the atmosphere, the city, the people... I love it, and I feel at home! Я русская девушка, after-all!))
Since I will be receiving the diploma of the academy this June, I have been having to plan and think a LOT about my future, and how I will begin my professional, paid career; the dreaded and ridiculously difficult job search! I have been working hard physically and mentally to find what is best for ME, personally, and to get a contract somewhere that I will be happy to work at; plenty of sweat! After completely falling in love with my life and the ballet here, it is hard for me to imagine or dream of dancing anywhere else; loads of tears whenever I think about it! My heart cries and aches for this life; to be on stage and to have an audience that appreciates, feels and loves the performances and dancers as much as we love performing! I often get "почему ты хочешь работать в России? Все хотят в Америке, и здесь у нас сумасшедшая Тейт которая хочет здесь жить!"
Why would I want to give up the American life to come live a more difficult life in Russia on minimum salary?! While it is true that everyone else wants to dance in the US, I may be the 1% that dreams of staying here. I may not be able to explain in writing the feeling and sense of finding that I am meant to dance here, and belonging, but I can explain this; I would be loved here. It is astonishing HOW much St. Petersburg loves the ballet! It is absolutely true that if you go out on the street and ask someone who their favorite ballerina is, they will not only tell you the name, but can tell you why they like this dancer, or their favorite ballet they have performed. They have opinions on the theatre and directors and on why "this dancer" was promoted over another! Artists are truly and fully respected here, and I long to be one of those artists! Often on the street I am stopped by someone who will notice that I walk turned-out or just recognize the attitude and poise of a ballerina. The first question is usually get is where do I dance, and after hearing the answer, this is followed by praise and admiration! Not only do I sometimes get people praising me for being a dancer here, but I have also had a handful of times where someone has approached who actually RECOGNIZES me! The first time this happened was on the city bus last year when an older Russian woman tapped me on the shoulder and claimed she recognized me as the "American Vaganova girl!" She had heard about me, come to watch me in the performances at Mariinsky and Hermitage, and now was meeting me on a bus! Still in shock, she wished me all of the best of luck, and we parted ways. Since then, this kind of event has happened a few more times; the last time being just about a month ago at Mariinsky! I had an older man approach me and actually call me out by name. He said that he was a huge fan; he loved to watch me in performance and had been following my progress in the academy since 2011! He was an admirer of my technique and dancing, as well as that of my friends Olga and Renata (Makarova and Shakirova)! I was put back by his kind words and by how much he really knew about the academy, ballet, and ME! He bought me a small "подарок", wished me the best for the future, and asked me to also pass along wishes to other "favorites".  I have to say that although I dance for myself and because I love it, having "fans" and people who deep in their hearts are wishing for you to succeed is one of the greatest feelings! It is the best compliment in the world to me when I can touch someone and make them feel through my dancing! THAT is why I want to work here. I want to be loved by the audience. I love them, and they love me back with not only amazement, but with a real knowledge of the art and of my past!

That being said, there are quite a few flaws in my plan to stay here forever! Being that I am not ACTUALLYYY (legally) a Russian, a work Visa seems to be an ever-present problem. Getting a student visa, alone, was a nightmare, and a work Visa seems nearly impossible without getting married or waiting on it for a few years! A month or so ago I was asked to a prosmotr in Yakobson Theatre of St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербургский государственный театр балета имени Л. Якобсона).After a class in front of the director, Fadeev, I was called into his office to speak about possibilities; I was thrilled. Although he wished to offer me a job beginning as usual with the start of the season, he was not sure how to obtain a Visa in that amount of time. If I choose to accept this position and all is worked out, I will begin, at the earliest, in January 2014. But Visas can be really tricky business. That same week, I was also asked (upon the reccommendations of my previous partner/friend, Ivan Putrov (Royal Ballet) and German Zamuel) to an audition for Mikhailovsky Theatre; one of the most prestigious ballet companies in Russia and the ballet world. I was thrilled to be contacted by Mr. Mischa Messerer, and immediately set up a date in which to do a prosmotr. The company class was incredible; I felt that the dancers were a real "community" and family; Sarafanov and Batalov were constantly challenging each other, betting and egging each other on to find whom was "best" (which is impossible to say, as they are both FLAWLESS dancers)! Being in class with them, Novikova, Bondareva, Shemiunov, and Borchenko, I felt like a real "newbie"; joining the ballet world where these people had already established themselves and made history. By the middle of barre, I was feeling far more confident and solid, and by the end of class (which ended up only being a few guy dancers, Bondareva, Batalov, Sarafanov and myself remaining), I was proud and happy, and felt like I could be a real part of the company. Messerer spoke with me after the lesson, hopefully expressing interest in me and my dancing. Because the company was going on tour the next day, he said that he would like to see me once more when they return! The date of my second prosmotr is fast approaching, and I am getting quite anxious and excited. Of course, even after this, the next problem would still be obtaining the Visa; the unavoidable.
It seems this problem is never an easy fix, as it has been the first part of just about every conversation I have had with directors in Russia (Europe, too), my teachers, and even friends! Luckily, I have an amazing group of supporters and mentors! Whenever I'm able to talk about this with my pedagog and teacher, Tatiana Alexandrovna, I am calmed, and usually way more optimistic about my future and the options I have now! I know that with her, and all of the other strong voices in my life, I will be able to find my path and the right way for me! As it is for everyone, searching for a job is the most stressful time of a persons life, and even more so when your career and passion join as one! However, this is also a beautiful thing!

It's exam time, once again!
Vaganova Ballet exams mean months of nonstop, no-mercy work and preparation! Upon my return to Russia, I was enthusiastic and ready to start the preparations, but it hasn't been easy! For those of you who have only recently joined me on this blog and aren't aware of what our exams consist of, to put it shortly, they are the most difficult, stressful part of the year. Each class presents a "normal" technique class to a panel of over 20 or 30 of the world's most influential and important teachers and company directors; the panel. This class is usually around one and a half to two hours long. We start at barre, as usual, and continue to the end of pointe work without stop in between combinations; one long, continuous "performance" of class work! We are rated here on a scale of 1-5, with a 5+ being the absolute highest, and virtually unattainable score; perfection, which all dancers long for and thrive towards.
Having already experienced Vaganova exam season, I knew and looked forward to what was to come, although I knew it would be the hardest time of year on my body! No matter how much we ice our muscles, eat well, sleep well, etc., there is not much you can do to avoid the wear of exams. Since day one of being back, our exam has been building as we learned new combinations every day, tested out different variations of steps, etc. It is exciting and interesting to see how the whole thing comes together for your own class, as well as the other classes!
Udalenkova's exam is always beautiful and together; absolutely clean and sparkling! You can see her style and see HER in each of her students, which is something quite special, and special to be a part of! This year has been especially well put together, as it is our graduation year, and one of the most important examination years. In the second course (7th class), it is the last cut of the academy; we (the Russian students and myself) receive diplomas at the end of June, and graduate from Vaganova Ballet Academy with the option (if invited back) to return for an additional two years to finish university level courses. On these diplomas, all of our marks from all exams in the past 2 years will be written, making it extremely important to make this classical exam as flawless and solid as possible!
Since learning our whole exam, we have been having progons/run-throughs almost everyday; a killer on the body! Although my classical ballet exam is not until April 19, the other classes have begun their exams already, making the pressure and the tension even higher than it already was. My teacher is on the head/top commission of the panel of judges (since she is one, if not the most, respected teachers in the academy having been here since most of the other teachers were only students!).  Having to grade all of the exams, our schedules have been off for classes, meaning long days. Luckily, this has allowed me to go watch and support my friends in their exams, which they all have nailed! The technique that the Vaganova dancer possesses is unreal; the cleanliness of the school and the dancers produced here is astonishing, and something you can NOT get anywhere else in the world! How blessed I am to be a part of this; the history and culture of Vaganova!
As my exam date approaches, I can't say that my nerves aren't getting to me! I keep trying to picture the panel in front me during our run-throughs in Rep. Zal, and imagine the butterflies that Ill get when I glance up at my friends and future Mariinsky stars watching form the balcony above, and some of the ballet world's most influential and historical people such as Altynai Asylmuratova, Y. Fatayev (director of Mariinsky) and Zaklinskiy sitting below!! The plan is to get used to all of the jitters and shakiness that I know will be unstoppable during the real thing, and transfer that into that good nervousness I always seem to have.
I am not one to whine and moan about how stressful the exams are. Having positivity and and optimistic-outlook definitely sets people like me apart from those who loath exam season. Instead, I find  that taking my nervousness and putting all of that energy into my actual dancing is the best way to make sure that I do my best! (Ill let you all know how that goes; wish me luck for this next week)!
With some of the most important and defining days are approaching in the weeks to come, I feel excitement and anticipation to find how it will all unfold! It is all such a thrill, and brings heavy butterflies to my stomach just thinking about it! That is not to say that there haven't been tears;  I am already beginning to feel nostalgic of my "school" years here! I miss each day as it passes, because I know that a new one begins tomorrow, and a previous one will never be given back. Each minute that passes I feel closer to what I have been working so long and hard for, but farther from the person I was yesterday. My heart never wanders; it is set on what I want...точно! But I can feel that with each day, I am growing inside, and it only wants these things more. For all of the sweat and for all of the happy, passionate, (rarely) sad, wonderful, and always beautiful tears; I owe it to this Russian life and to the art that brings them to me each day! I hope to use them to bring YOU and all of my supporters/"fans" feeling in your stomaches and your hearts, and tears to your eyes!
Continuing to live the dream,



  1. OMG I love you! And I love ballet! I keep my fingers crossed for you and your classmates. I graduated from a ballet school myslef so I can imagine what you've been going trough the last weeks. Good luck Sweetie!


  2. I hate you and I want your life!!! I love ballet too! how did you pass from the bolshoi school to Vaganova?
    Cause I'm going to bolshoi next year, but i would really love to go to vaganova!!

  3. Great job, Tate. You an awesome ballerina. Would love to come and see you dance in St. Petersburg. So excited for you!


  4. Hi Tatum,
    You always express yourself so beautifully in your words here. I love the passion you have for your craft. I aodre you as a person, I think you are simply a beautiful person inside & out. Do not worry about the Russian Work Visa, the one thing they do appreciate is your art. I am sure if you have a Russian Ballet Company who considers you to be an important talent to have, they will move heaven & earth to ensure the authorities grant you a work permit. Heck, there are enough of them getting visas to live & work here in the UK I can tell you that, so they should have room for one little ole American Beauty.
    Loved your stories of recognition on the streets. You know, passion, grace, poise, ellegance, have these in abundance, it is no surprise to me that your individual performances stand out from the crowd. When someone has that certain something, that magic that differentiates them from others, it REALLY shines and people DO notice. I have been following your career & life for some time now, 2 years I think? maybe longer...and absolutely everything about you screams SUPERSTAR IN THE MAKING. Everyone needs a break, but it is amazing that those that work the hardest, have the greatest passion for their craft, are in it from the heart, that live breathe & sleep it...seem to get the breaks...funny how that works isnt it?...My point is this, You will get your breaks, because you are a Star already young lady! As for fans, well, one day I would love to attend a performance and watch you in person lead the cast. I will be filled with tears, I will dedicate them all to you, they will fall freely to see such grace and beauty perform on stage, but they will also be from a sense of pride for you, knowing your journey, knowing the price you paid, the sweat, the aches, the pains, the passion & sacrifices YOU made to reach the top. I will leave the theatre, I will probably never get to meet you in person but I will come away feeling that I have known you forever, and that simply being there to watch you meant I was part of something special. THAT is what Superstars do for people. they touch them spiritually, have a profound impact on them from the moment they first experience you. FANS TATUM...YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE LEGIONS OF THEM! AND EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US WILL KNOW THAT WHEN YOU PERFORM YOU ARE GIVING YOUR ALL TO US...BECAUSE THAT IS WHO YOU ARE 100% GENUINE 100% COMMITTED 100% SUPERSTAR...I'll stop now before I get carried away ;-)
    Big Hugs
    Wayne x

  5. So inspiring! I love when dancers talk about their personal experiences. It makes their lives seem so much more relatable and gives us dancers something to strive for and aspire towards.

  6. Tatum,
    From one dancer to another, exams are stressful. I did them all in RAD and Solo Seal and went on to be a professional dancer. My teacher's teacher trained with Vaganova herself. Remember, Vaganova designed the technique for the dancer to excel not to strain. Work the technique that you have learned it will not fail you. Dance with confidence as only a dancer knows how to. ;)

    If you have the chance to dance in Russia take it. Follow your heart and in the footsteps of the great dancers.

  7. Jealous as f*ck.