Monday, July 8, 2013

The Countdown; The Best Days of My Life

Since exam season began back in April, it started to seem like each day was part of countdown to SOMEthing ending; 10 days until "this" and then another 7 days until the next thing! Our classical exam was fast approaching, but we had already been counting down to it since the first day we walked into the studio at the beginning of the school year!
As I explained, previously, the classical exam this year is one of the most important examinations! Because we were to receive our diplomas in June, we were all working to try and achieve the very highest mark on this exam. Each day we were running-through our (almost) 2 hour long examination; barre, center, jumps, pointe... there was no time to breath! We were whipped into shape; our technique polished, our musicality corrected until perfectly together, and our stamina built until we could finally make it through 2 hours of non-stop ballet (absolutely no resting!!!) After much MUCH hard-work with Udalenkova, a lot of prayers, and a few trips to physio-therapy, our graduation exam was complete and done with! It's hard to describe what that shared, blissful moment felt like when we took our final bows in front of the panel, but let me tell you; it felt pretty good! For some amazing reason, when we looked around at those people and at each other, a wave of pure bliss showered over my girls and me! In that moment, we were all one; we had completed one of the hardest tests of our artistic and academic careers, together. We had done it well, and had done it with sensitivity and support for one another; a true class! I've never been more proud to be a part of this group of girls! It was a day of celebration for each of us, for each other and all of our hard work, and so, of course, after receiving the оценки (our scores), we withheld our tradition by taking a trip to MakDak (McDonalds), and inhaling all of the food we wanted! A pretty good way to celebrate, if you ask me!

After our classical exam, we had only a few days until the next one; duet! As I have said before, duet is one of my FAVORITE classes, especially with Zaklinsky; our giant, funny, sweet teddy-bear! I was always looking forward to duet class, and during this exam season, I was enjoying having duet class and run-through every day! Not only was I able to work with a teacher that I adored as an instructor and as a person, but also with his lovely wife, Altynai Asylmuratova (our director)! It was absolutely an incredible opportunity to be able to have her in duet class helping/watching us throughout the whole year, and even more so during exams preparation! Both her and Zaklinsky have enormous amounts of talent, and combined, I had what is probably the BEST, most legendary duet classes!
So after working with them multiple times on our exam, there was nothing but excitement left by exam day, and I enjoyed every moment out there in front of the panel, and would do it again in a second!

One after another, the examinations and rehearsals for the Hermitage performances continued! Each day was longer and longer, and not just because White Nights were slowly approaching! Classical, Duet, Character... each had an unbelievable amount of time and preparation put into them, and the hard work never seemed to let up! Alongside this, we were having run-throughs and rehearsals for La Bayadere every single night with our repititeurs, our teachers, and pedagogs that were interested or asked to help perfect it; completely exhausting! So after our character exam was complete at the end of April, it was time to really focus and crank-out a "perfect" and solid Баядерка. My mind, body, and heart were set on making it as spectacular and moving, technically and artistically, as possible! I wanted to be the best I could be, and so did all of the teachers I was working with in the academy; there are so many who believed in me, and to whom I owe big 'thank you's!

The seven days that we had from my character exam until the Prosmotr passed so fast! Each one, I came home ready to collapse from exhaustion, but trying to hold on for another few days! After making it through the first cut of the Prosmotrs, it was all about surviving each day at a time. With each following day leading up to the performance, more changes and cuts were made. Luckily, we made it through each one, and not only by a little; I was ecstatic to see and hear that the teachers and other students found Bayadere to be one of the favorites of the performances!
With all of this craziness going on, I was so blessed to have my momma and Aunt Suzy come out; I honestly do not know how I would have done it without them! They were able to arrive in St. Petes just 2 days before the performance on День Победы (Victory day), May 9th, and after helping the Russian Babushka of the dorms take the little kids to the big parades on Nevsky Prospekt, I was able to meet up with them, and enjoy a relaxing dinner on the street! The next day would be the final Prosmotr for the performance, and my nerves were immediately put to rest seeing my family!
The final run-through went great, and I was completely prepared for the next day! The morning of the performance at Hermitage was hectic. We started off with a warm-up class in the academy, 2 of us ran onto the street to grab coffee and bouquets for the repititeurs and Altynai, and then we headed to the theatre early. We had one last run-through on stage with less than 10 teachers and Altynai on the intercom. My nerves after the run-through were at an all time high! This was it; I was going to dance the lead, and not only that, in a Vaganova performance... somebody pinch me! I had been dreaming of this for so long, but now it was my reality!
After the run-through, Altynai worked with me on the stage, and ran through all of the little details! Badaeva joined us, and after working alone with them for awhile, I felt so much more relaxed and confident in myself and my dancing! I was 110% ready for this, and they felt it, too! Of course, I had a few touch-ups to make, first. I felt so "prima" because after Altynai told me how to do my hair special for Bayadere, Badaeva came down to help make me perfect for the show. We must have redone my hair 3 times before she gave up and told me to show it to Asylmuratova, who still didnt think it was quite enough. Lucky me (no sarcasm), Altynai Abdahimovna redid my hair and crown, made sure my costume and make-up was up to par, and then wished me one final good luck; NOW I was completely ready to kill it,... but after the performance, it was ME who was dead!
Everything went wonderful! I had Altynai on one side in the wings, Udalenkova out front, and Desnitsky on the other, all making comments, corrections, and cheering me on "davai! molodets!"! It was one of the most enjoyable performances of my life! I felt like a different dancer, and in a good way! The growth and progress I had made this year were apparent (even to myself) on stage! I had the technique and rehearsals in my muscles, the corrections in my mind, and an unreal passion, love and enjoyment in my heart and body! As always, each movement was done with love and feeling, and by the end, I had no feeling in my body! La Bayadere is hands-down, the most difficult thing I have ever had to dance, and all of the teachers, and anyone who has danced the ballet, knows it; Badaeva's said numerous times that this variation is harder than any other female solo, and then combined with everything else before and after... NO. AIR!
Even though I was seeing stars and panting heavily for breathe, I felt amazing when that curtain closed! It was all quite surreal; a blur of faces of friends and teachers kissing me and hugging me; congratulating me with their praises and their sweet words! I was overjoyed, and still am whenever I think about it! It was an incredible day that I was blessed to have been able to share with those that I love and who love me; especially my family who came all the way out from the States! The support that I received was absolutely touching, and so was the proudness I saw from my teacher! I have got to be one of the luckiest people in the world, and definitely one of the happiest after that performance!

After the performance, I was able to spend some quality time with my family! We went out to celebrate my successes and to celebrate being together! The next day was an off day for me, so I was able to spend the full day with them! We had a short, Russian breakfast, and then made our way to Mariinsky to see "Барышня и Хулиган" ("The Young Lady and the Hooligan")! After the ballet, we headed up St. Isaac's Cathedral! It was one of the best, most beautiful things Ive seen! From the top, you are able to walk all the way around, and can literally see every part of the city! It was so nice to watch the sun set (part way because of White Nights) over the buildings and my lovely city! Definitely something I will never forget, and hope to see again, soon!

The next days went too fast for me. Every moment I wasnt in class, I was with my mom and Aunt Suz, walking, exploring, and enjoying SPB! I am so happy that they were able to see so much, because in a city as beautiful and rich as Petersburg, it is hard to fit everything into just one visit (or even one year)!

After their return to the US, I found that I had more free time than I have ever had here in SPB; I had finished my semester for my university, I had no more Bayadere rehearsals, I completed all of my exams, and all there was left to do was enjoy the rest of the year (and figure out what I would do next year)! Even more, the days were getting longer and longer with the arrival of summer and White Nights. I spent almost every day out in the courtyard with friends or just enjoying the weather! This last month has been all about trying to pack in everything we have been wanting and planning to do! We've spent our afternoons doing water fights, museums, visiting tourist sights like Pushkin's Palace, visiting the theatre, trying new restaurants, simply walking to my favorite spots in the city, and tons more, of course, all filled with tons of laughter and fun!

One of the most special days for me was, of course, my birthday! I was showered with warm wishes for the  future; endless kisses, hugs, and "поздравляю's"! The weather was absolutely beautiful; warm and sunny, and we were able to eat dinner at my favorite restaurant (which my Momma showed me) on the patio outside, talking, laughing, playing games, and enjoying each others company! I was also presented with my very own song, written and performed on the spot by my friend, Bair! I listened to my own private concert of songs until late into the evening, and came home happy having spent my first day as a 19 year old with people I love, and whom love me right back! :)

My dad always spoils me on my birthday!! Usually, it's not even only a birth-DAY, but "happy birth month" & "birth week" (which I will always love! He really is the best!) That being said, he likes to remind me everyday that there's reason to celebrate, and the weeks after my birthday were definitely giving me reasons to celebrate!

A few days after my special day, Mikhailovsky was going to have the premiere for Nacho Duato's new piece "Invisible"! The general rehearsal was a closed rehearsal on stage, and the first viewing of the piece in the world! Nacho, being a good friend and partner of our academy, invited Altynai, our teachers, and about 25 or 30 students, me being one of them, to come to this premiere, which would also include "Na Floresta"(the piece we'd been performing this year in the academy)! It was all very exciting, and so cool to be a part of something like that, especially because I really enjoy Duato's choreographies! I love getting to be a part of such important and awesome things like this; it's one of the millions of things I love about being a real Vaganova girl!
The next few days were pretty usual, and after ballet classika we were free to roam the city and do what we wanted. We were all tiring outselves out; working hard and pushing ourselves in class, and then staying up late on the street and hanging, playing futbol in the yard, only to repeat the same thing the next day. Although we were dragging, let me tell you how completely worth it it was. We were taking in every moment together as a Vaganova family, and making memories. We were bonding and growing closer and closer, even after being together every day for 2 years! I was surrounded by joy, and it was hard to imagine it getting any better than it already was, until I received what could be possibly the very best news of my life.

Just as my birth-month was ending, I received the absolute best gift, ever; a dream job! Since I began ballet, I have dreamt about dancing in a company in Europe, and ALL of my extreme, hard-work that stems from my strong passion... it has finally paid off!!! Sooo... expect blog posts coming from SLOVAK NATIONAL BALLET, Bratislava (Slovakia), soon! :)) It was quite a journey getting here, but the day that I was offered this job was by far one of the GREATEST I've ever had!
Back in April, we had the director and a ballet master from Slovak National Theatre visit. They were brought to my class to view, and without knowing where they were from, I was promoted for a position there by Udalenkova. After the class, the ballet master wanted to speak to me about my dancing and a possible position. He really enjoyed me as a dancer, and wished, personally, to give me a contract right then, however, there were a few steps that needed to be taken before that. After he spoke to both myself and my lovely teacher, I was told that they would be coming to watch La Bayadere rehearsal with Badaeva, who happened to be an old friend and colleague to the director, Mr. Dolinsky. I was excited and looking forward to having them there; being able to show them WHY I deserved a contract with the company! I wont bore you with the details, but for many reasons, they were not able to come to the rehearsal. I was deeply disappointed, but in the morning of the next day, Mr. Dolinsky showed up at the door to personally apologize and exchange contact information. There are not many directors, let alone people, that would do that, and I only hoped that meant that they wanted to hire me even more than they expressed!
For the next month, Udalenkova, Badaeva, and myself were all hopeful that I would hear back from him with positive news. Almost everyday I was talking with Udalenkova and Irina Ivanovna about what I would need to do, and it looked as if I would have to fly out to Slovakia for a live prosmotr (watch). Alongside what I was doing, they were also making phone calls to the company every other day, and checking to make sure he received my information. They were trying to get videos of my performances copied and sent out to him. They were checking up on me and making sure that I was planning the trip out there. There was so much they were doing behind the scenes that I did not even know about, but am forever grateful for! It was a busy and stressful time, but I was just thankful to be being given help and assistance!
The morning of May 28, just as the month was coming to a close, I woke up with a To-Do list. At the top of this was to buy a ticket to Bratislava, and start making the itinerary for the prosmotr in Slovakia. Life is all about timing, and the news I received that morning could not have come at a better time; it was an offer for a position in Slovak National Theatre! I was completely  overwhelmed with happiness and joy! I was shocked, and immediately drawn to tears! We work every day to become better and better as dancers. We perfect our technique and we learn more about who we are as artists. We kill our muscles and our joints and, sometimes, our minds, trying to become the best we can possibly be; seeking perfection, but never accomplishing it. I do it because I love it, and I want to dance the rest of my life; to be a ballerina. When I received this news, it was one of the biggest, most incredible moments of my ballet career, and of my life! I had done it.

For the next week, I was living in a dream world! I was non-stop smiling (not so unusual, anyway), and my whole life seemed rather surreal...almost perfect! I was in the world's best ballet academy with the world's best teachers. I had gotten a dream job, and been blessed with a wonderful family, both by blood and heart. Until now, I have kept it rather quiet, and besides my teachers and family, I told only a few of my closest friends; those who have known for a long time just HOW MUCH I have wanted it, and how much I have worked to make my passion my career! It was hard for me to decide, at first, who would be the first person I would tell the exciting news! Badaeva had been the first to tell me about this incredible news, and I was so happy to have shared this moment with the woman who helped make it possible! It was a pretty special feeling for me, and for her, as well! It was hard to contain smiles and hugs. After that, I decided that the person I wanted to tell first would be Udalenkova; another major player in the whole thing! Just as I had thought and hoped, it was a wonderful moment for both of us! She was even more sweet, happy, proud and kind than usual...she was THRILLED for me! Telling Udalenkova was one of the proudest moments of my life; I owe so much to this woman! She is my family, my teacher, my mentor, and the person I credit more than anyone in making me the dancer that I am! I am so blessed to have both of these women as my mentors and pedagogs; they are the best with absolutely NO competition.

Knowing 100% where I would be after graduation only made my last weeks that much more enjoyable! The countdown to summer holiday was going WAY too fast,  but I was determined to drag it out as long as possible. With the Выпускной Концерт approaching, we were at Mariinsky for many days each week. The morning classes there were my favorite, and for the first time, they were with other teachers rather than my own, which was definitely interesting! The rehearsals for Gayane were some of the best parts of my days. With each one, I have become more and more fond of the ballet, but perhaps I am just being biased because I love watching my friends perform these roles; the ballet is so strong and manly, and never get boring! There is so much power! With each graduates futures unfolding as mine was, it was the most joyful, bright time of the year that we were experiencing together! The courtyard was filled with music and laughter until early morning hours, and we were living in the present; together and in pure, carefree happiness!

As the countdown continues, I find my classes growing shorter, my emotions heightening, my friends drawing closer, and the nights getting hotter. Each second has become more and more precious, and it is hard for me to imagine leaving this place; leaving my home and my loved ones. With each graduation gala; each time I watch Венецианского Kарнавала, Freski, or the Sable dance from "Гаяне" one more time, it becomes one of the LAST times Ill see it. I try to keep from doing that; from making everything the "last", but it's been a real challenge! I keep questioning whether Ill ever see "this" again, or if I will ever be able to feel like I do right now. On this emotional rollercoaster I am riding, I have come to finally accept that things will never be the same after graduation. With each day ticking by, things are changing. We are growing closer to each other and to taking the next steps into our futures, but soon, we'll get farther from this life; from the academy life, and from the children we are now. We cant help it; all we can do is change with it, but hold on to what we have now. Hold on to what we have learned here, our memories, and to the relationships we have created! So instead of a countdown, it will become the end of a chapter; adding to the big plot of our individual stories that have all, somehow, in a wonderful blessing, become intertwined, and changed the others'. Here's to our futures!
With much left unwritten,


  1. You are awesome tatum! You have such a great voice in your writing style. I love reading your posts and you have inspired me to love Russian Ballet. I would love that you would regularly continue to write even when you are a professional. I would be so sad if you stopped writing. Even if it means a blog posts once every few months that would be fine. I love reading about behind the scenes as a ballet dancer. I hope to be like you one day.

  2. SO inspiring and delightful, what a joyous comitted life.

  3. Your story is really inspiring, :) can I ask you some questions about Vaganova Academy application? How old were you when you started to study there and from which grade? And do I have to send an original choreographied video, or is it okay to send somewhere else's coreography too?