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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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Wednesday, Apr. 16


Learn more about AmChams efforts during the Joint Manufacturing, and Investment and Legal Committees Meeting today at 9 a.m. Check their website for more information about the event.


Today marks the beginning of IPhEB and CPhI Russia 2014, an international forum for the pharmaceutical industry and biotechnology that will be at LenExpo today and tomorrow. Those both already established in the industries and hoping to start a career are encouraged to attend and network with their colleagues.


Thursday, Apr. 17


Expocenter Eurasia at 13 Ulitsa Kapitan Voronin is the sight of Goods on the Way, a five-day event starting today showcasing the latest in the industrial products industry. Bags, backpacks, swimsuits and much, much more will be available to attendees hoping to update not only their style but their accessories for the upcoming summer.


Friday, Apr. 18


Teachers and students alike shouldnt miss the opportunity to establish lasting contacts with Russian and foreign institutions during the 21st Education and Career Fair at LenExpo, beginning today and finishing tomorrow. Learn more about education in Russia and connect with your fellow scholars.


The Tromso International Film Festival, Norways largest, brings a short festival to St. Petersburg for one day only during Scandinavian Oddities, starting at 7 p.m. today at Rodina Cinema Center. Tickets for the event are 100 rubles ($2.80).


Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianitys holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the deserts most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDAs Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBAs Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.