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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 Russias 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 didnt 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 Shchelkanovas 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

Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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