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)
“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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