To Dance in Russia
For three weeks this summer, students from Edmond’s Academy of Ballet and Theatre Arts trained at one of the most prestigious ballet training programs in the world, as the first Oklahoma residents to be accepted into the Ballet Heritage Summer Intensive program in St. Petersburg, Russia. The program teaches the Vaganova Method, which was developed in Russia and incorporates elements of Russian, French and Italian ballet.
“The Vaganova academy is the mothership of classical ballet,” said Lisa Webb, director of Ballet and Theatre Arts. For Webb, the trip was the fulfillment of a childhood wish. “To sit at the feet of these master teachers from the Vaganova Academy was humbling and awe-inspiring,” Webb said.
The students trained from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week, while Webb observed classes and participated in teacher training. Each class had one teacher speaking Russian and several others working as interpreters for the many participants from around the world. “You really had to train your ear in order to be able to hear your language,” Webb said. Webb described the program as an intense experience that not only helped strengthen the girls’ dancing ability, but also their emotional and physical resolve. “Not just dancing but doing strength building for that many hours a day, having to dig into their own desire and motivation,” Webb said. “It’s on them to be in class, to be attentive, to try every correction and then do it again in the next class.”
Webb’s student Lillian Savage said the experience taught her to not get discouraged. “You go to an intensive, and there are so many people there who are better than you, and you have to learn not to let it get you down, you just have to learn how to be inspired by them,” Savage said. She also cited the teachers’ patience and understanding, and said the experience helped her strengthen her technique, something crucial when auditioning for ballet schools and companies.
For fellow student Adelya Gosmanava, the variety of instruction helped hone her technical and artistic skills and made her a stronger dancer. The group studied everything from modern and character styles of ballet, as well as taking an acting class. “I got the opportunity to improve my technique in ballet a lot, because the teachers there were so particular about everything,” Gosmanava said.
Gosmanava had been to other ballet intensives, but Ballet Heritage stood out not only for its variety of instruction, but also the teachers’ depth of knowledge, all of which she feels helped strengthen her technique and better prepare her if she decides to pursue dance professionally.
While the program was a demanding experience, Webb and her students also had the chance to see historical and artistic sights around St. Petersburg, and she hopes that the exposure to other ways of life will stick with her students for years to come.
“I was touched when several of the girls said they didn’t want to leave,” Webb said. “They wanted to see their parents, but I think they also realized the world is so much bigger, and there are so many ancient structures and works of art in Europe. I hope it ignited in them a wanderlust to explore and to not be afraid of a new situation.