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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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Times Talk

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Apr. 23


Problems facing the elderly are in the spotlight at Senior Generation 2014, an international forum at LenExpo beginning today that focuses on drawing attention to and providing information about some of society’s most vulnerable members. An exhibition combined with a trade fair will help those interested be better equipped to help this demographic.



Thursday, Apr. 24


Learn more about Denmark during the Danish Business Delegation’s visit to SPIBA this evening starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Danish Culture Institute. Danish Consul general Klaus Sorensen will be in attendance and the buffet following a presentation on Danish companies in Russia will be the perfect opportunity to network with the assembled businessmen.


AmCham’s Human Resources Committee Meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. this morning in their St. Petersburg office. Check their website for more details.



Friday, Apr. 25


Light Music presents the main events for their Cultural Kitchen project at Loft-Project Etagi today. A B2B event that focuses on Finnish food, arts, travel, music and design, the evening will conclude with a dinner by chef Jyrki Tsutsunen and dancing to music by Aino Venna. The event, which began yesterday with presentations by tourism and cultural institutions, concludes today with a preview of Finland’s Flow festival and other musical events. Invitations are available from www.culturalkitchen.fi.



Saturday, Apr. 26


At 6 p.m. this evening, stylist Liliana Modigliani offers 50 simple ways to up your style quotient with beauty tips at the Galeria shopping center on Ligovsky Prospekt. The event is part of the final day of the shopping mall’s Fashion Saturday sales event, this week focusing on top brands located on the ground floor as well as presentation from fashion experts on sprucing up your spring look.



Sunday, Apr. 27


Families shouldn’t miss Childhood Planet 2014, the trade fair that started yesterday and concludes today at LenExpo. Not only will goods and services be provided for children and families but the event hopes to promote Russian brands and eco-friendly products using the latest technology available in the childcare industry.



Monday, Apr. 28


The Hotel Indigo will be the site of SPIBA’s Acting Skills for HR and Other Managers master class this morning starting at 9 a.m. The event will begin with coffee before moving on to the class itself and conclude with a tour of the recently opened hotel. Confirm attendance by Apr. 24.



Tuesday, Apr. 29


Improve your English at the British Book Center’s Interactive English Lesson tonight at 6 p.m. Students at pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are welcome discuss topics that are selected to help learners master the more difficult aspects of English grammar and vocabulary.