American Dancer Soars at Mariinsky
Keenan Kampa, the first American to join the legendary Russian company, has just wrapped up the summer season.
Published: August 28, 2013 (Issue # 1775)
“I thought I was done with that variation. It makes me so nervous! Everyone dreads it.”
Keenan Kampa, a 24-year-old Mariinsky Ballet dancer, was talking about the Queen of the Dryads role in Don Quixote that she recently danced at the theater. The Italian fouette series at the very end of the difficult variation makes for a tough finish, especially when dancing in a heavy tutu on the raked, or slanted, stage of the Mariinsky Theater.
You wouldn’t know it, though, judging from the effortless performance Kampa pulled off — and the crowd’s enthusiastic response when she flitted off stage.
Speaking to The St. Petersburg Times on a bench in Teatralnaya Ploshchad last week at the end of a hectic season, and with the Mariinsky’s classic green façade in full view, Keenan described her path to becoming the first American to join the Mariinsky Ballet one year ago.
As a talented pre-professional ballet dancer who was finishing a home-schooled education in the Washington, D.C. area in 2007, Kampa wasn’t sure what her next move would be.
“I wasn’t sure where I was going to go the next year. I thought maybe college, or trying to pursue dancing.”
Then, while participating in a Kennedy Center program for young ballet dancers in the area, Kampa’s path became clear.
“Once a month, visiting companies gave a master class and I just got really lucky. There was someone from the Mariinsky there on tour, and they saw me in a class. At the end they just invited me. It was so unexpected.”
A few months later, Kampa was on a plane bound for a country she had never set foot in to begin studying at the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy of the Mariinsky, formerly the Kirov.
“It was a complete shock. It’s a culture shock, everything was different, especially back in 2007,” Kampa said of first arriving in St. Petersburg.
While Kampa may describe her discovery as luck, it was certainly much more that got her through the academy’s grueling program. Out of the 11 female Russian dancers who were part of her class, Kampa said, only four remained by the end of the two years, along with a few other foreign students, the others having been cut from the academy’s end-of-year exams.
Linguistic and cultural barriers added to the physical challenge, with Kampa thrown into the all-Russian environment with no time to get her bearings.
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