Listening to: Homecoming by Kanye West. (ironically, this wasn’t planned…my ITunes is on shuffle haha)
So, after a long, exciting year, I’ve finally arrived home. Last week I finished my first year at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was a very different experience for me, between the culture shock and the intensity of the training, but I made it through with a big “american smile” on my face (which I’ve come to be known for at school).
The beginning of the year was difficult for me – to say the least. I came as a 16-year-old girl, not only from 5,000 miles away, but from Michigan…not the most popular state of our 50. For the past 4 years of my life I studied at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. It was a tough transition from the comfortable atmosphere of KAB, which wasmore than a home away from home – the students and staff were more like extended family. Coming from that into a much more rigorous and competitive school, let alone a foreign country where I knew only a few phrases of the language, was one hurdle in life that was strenuous to overcome. Luckily, I found a few russian friends in my class that helped me around, and other foreign students to speak english with. (Keenan from America as well, Isabella from England, Soraya from Germany, and Willem from Belgium)
As soon as we got settled into our classes and such, things got better. I realized how fast I was learning, and how much. They’re really what got me through the day, just reminding myself that I was there to learn, and for things great, there must be a sacrifice. After a while, I started to see that my hard work and enthusiasm was not going unnoticed … which only motivated me. I was ecstatic when I found that I had been cast in the school’s production of Nutcracker – as a snowflake. It’s a small part, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? It made me happy – I had rehearsals at Mariinsky as performance time came close, and watch future big names of the dance world dance the prestigious role of Masha – which was more than enough to get me through my first Christmas and New Years away from home.
After a full winter of performing Nutcracker, I packed my bags full of souveniers, said goodbye to my new friends, and headed off to America. It seemed like a very odd time of year to be going home for my “winter break” as it was the middle of January, but it oddly felt like perfect timing. I nearly kissed the ground when I arrived in the airport, but I held myself back to avoid a scene. My parents did an amazing job of making home feel like I hadn’t missed anything – they’d kept all of the Christmas tree and decorations up. The day after I got in, we celebrated “Christmas” … my dad made his famous December 25th breakfast of quiche, which makes me weak at my knees. mmmmmm My grandma came and we all opened our presents around the tree and had a movie marathon. The rest of break I relaxed, took classes at my old studio and spent time with friends.
At the beginning of February, it was back to work… We slaved away towards a whole month of exams in April, performances in the Hermitage Theater in May, and the graduation performances at the end of June. Once a year we have an exam for every artistic class we take – ballet, character, pas de duex, acting, and modern. They were stressful, but the feeling of getting through them was pure satisfaction. Almost immediately subsequent to our exams, we had two performances in the Hermitage Theater. It was a beautiful theater right along the Neva River and I had a great time performing. Without more than a day off, we began rehearsals for the graduation performance in the Mariinsky Theater which was a little more than a month away. A few weeks before I had been told by my teacher that I had been chosen from my class to dance a fairy variation in our performance of the prologue from Sleeping Beauty. At that point, nothing was set in stone, because for every performance you do with the school, you must first make it through an audition process. The other girls rehearsing the same part as I was were all in the level above me, so the chances were slim. So, I worked my butt off – well aware that I was the underdog. Fortunately (and frankly, to my suprise), I made it through the audition and was cast to dance in two of the three shows. From then until the end of the year, we had run-through after run-through, were in the theater practically every day, and I loved every minute of it. Before I knew it, it was time to go home for summer, and I couldn’t help being more motivated than ever. If it weren’t for my body being jello after a straight 5 months of non-stop work, I probably wouldn’t be taking this time off that I need to recuperate. So, here I am, sitting at my computer in my cozy living room of my house, finally writing of my first year in St. Petes.
I’m unable to find words to explain how fortunate I am to study at a school such as the Vaganova Academy, under direction of some of the best teachers in the world. I’ve met so many amazing people, and had so many out-of-this-world opportunities, I still have to pinch myself now and again to make sure I’m not dreaming this. I owe so much to Sergey and Jessica Rayevskiy of the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet in Novi, MI for all they’ve done for me. I’ve studied with on my breaks and known them for about 7 years now, and they’ve been excellent teachers and mentors.
Until next time!