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The Gift of St. Petersburg Ballet

Aspiring dancers from around the world have gathered in the city for two weeks of tuition by Russia’s best.

Published: August 1, 2013 (Issue # 1771)



  • An American dancer seen here in Elena Shertsneva's character class.
    Photo: Open World Dance Foundation / for SPT

“The soul needs to shine through – during the whole class,” said Ludmila Safronova, former student of Agrippina Vaganova and renowned teacher from the Vaganova Academy. In a Jacobson Ballet Theatre studio on Ulitsa Mayakovskogo, two dozen students from around the world looked on in awe as she demonstrated an exercise. Petite and seemingly frail at 84, at the barre she becomes the embodiment of the St. Petersburg ballet tradition, her feet tightly crossed in a textbook fifth position.

The class was part of the very first international summer program for ballet students to be held in St. Petersburg. The two-week “intensive,” which runs through August 4, is the brainchild of former dancers Ekaterina Shchelkanova and Anton Boytsov, the couple behind the Open World Dance Foundation. Since July 22, young dancers aged 10 to 23 have been dancing up to seven hours a day, with technique, repertoire and character dance classes taught by an impressive roster of teachers steeped in the Vaganova style, the school of training that advocates flowing, lyrical arms and a refined expressiveness that has set the Mariinsky Ballet apart for decades.

Companies and schools across the USA and Europe have long held such short programs, which meet a basic need for young pre-professional dancers: To keep exercising during the summer when most year-round programs are closed for business. “Our school didn’t have anything like this, sadly,” said Shchelkanova. “I was born and grew up here so I wanted to share not only the city and its history with people, but also my teachers, like Safronova.”

Safronova oversaw Shchelkanova’s training at the Vaganova Academy in the 1980s, and the former pupil went on to an illustrious career: Upon graduation, she was hired as a soloist by the Mariinsky Ballet and later joined American Ballet Theatre in New York, dancing in the film Chicago as well as on Broadway in the early 2000s.

For Shchelkanova, the Open World Dance Foundation has been a labor of love. International projects such as the intensive are a continuation of her first and most pressing goal: To help Russian orphans through contact with dance and the arts. Several million children are estimated to live in orphanages in Russia, and more than 120,000 in St. Petersburg alone, a record for a city. The idea came about when Shchelkanova visited a local orphanage in 2010 and realized that in that environment, even talented children were denied the opportunity to pursue an artistic education.

Three years later, the results speak for themselves. The Foundation has provided training for local dance instructors who teach in orphanages, held master classes and a benefit in New York and, most importantly, helped a few talented children on the path to realize their dreams by providing training and mentoring.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Sept. 20


Starting on Sept. 18 and ending tomorrow is the Extreme Fantasy Wakeboarding Festival in Sunpark by Sredny Suzdalskoye lake in the Ozerki region of the city.


Those after something more laid back can instead head to Jazz and Wine night at TerraVino with legendary jazz guitarist Ildar Kazahanov. 12/14 Admiralteyskaya Emb.



Sunday, Sept. 21


Learn more about African culture and get some exercise during today’s “Djembe and Vuvuzela,” a bike ride starting in Palace Square that includes several stops where riders can listen to the music of Africa or watch short films about the continent. The riders plan to set off at 4 p.m. and all you need to join is a set of wheels.



Monday, Sept. 22


Do you love puppetry? If so, then be sure to go to BTK-Fest, a five-day festival that starts on Sept. 19 celebrating the art. Contemporaries from France, Belgium, the U.K. and other countries will join Russian artists to put on theatrical performances involving a variety of themes, materials and eras. Workshops and meetings are also scheduled for a chance to discuss the artistic medium in further depth.



Tuesday, Sept. 23


Marina Suhih, Director of the External Communications Department at Rostelecom North-West, and Yana Donskaya, HR Director for Northern Capital Gateway are just some of the confirmed participants of today’s round table discussion on “Interaction with Trade Unions” being hosted by SPIBA. Confirm your attendance with SPIBA by Sept. 22.


Kino Expo 2014, an international film industry convention, will be at LenExpo from today until Sept. 26. The third largest exhibition of film equipment in the world, the expo focuses on not only Russia but former Soviet republics as well.



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