Bourrée Girl

Bolshoi Day

Posted in American Ballet Theatre, Bolshoi Ballet, Classical ballet, Youth ballet by bourreegirl on June 2, 2010

Ecole du Bolchoï, by Cornell Capa, 1958

Working where I work means sometimes you’re lucky enough to be in the theater when great things happen. Sometimes you even get to watch. Other times you’re stuck outside reading the Atlantic’s special fiction issue or opening doors for Kevin McKenzie.

The luckiest last night saw Natalia Osipova dance Kitri with Jose Manuel Carreño as Basilio and Daniil Simkin as the Gypsy. The others only heard the music, and the audience response. The former indicated that Osipova’s jumps were extremely high and her turns were extremely fast. The latter was long, loud, and pretty much overjoyed. Osipova and Carreño are performing the third act of the same ballet Thursday evening at Alicia Alonso’s ninetieth birthday celebration, sharing the bill with Herrera (must we? I know, the feet are lovely, but the truth is that’s not everything) and Gomes (dancing the same roles in Act I) and Reyes and Cornejo (thrills! Act II).

Balletgoers at the Met last night were heard to observe that there was nothing about Osipova in the program (there was nothing about anyone, really, though the company’s principal dancers got head shots; guest artists must be as magical sylphs flitting through the season who cannot be captured on film); to vow to Google her; and to speculate, correctly, that she had come from the Bolshoi.

The Googlers have some inspiring YouTube sessions ahead of them (I like, for starters, this competition clip from her teenage years). But, as long as we’re thinking about the Bolshoi, I’d also like to share another video I watched yesterday, about Joy Womack, an American student at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (i.e., the Bolshoi school).

Womack herself supposedly found the Bolshoi on YouTube and fell in love with their unmistakable style. (Bolshoi means “big”; the company is big and its dancers (though not to my knowledge bigger than ballet dancers generally) dance big: bold, brilliant, and dramatic.) Through a summer program in America (that of course has the advantage of attracting paying students to the school; Russians attend for free), Joy won an invitation to continue her studies in Moscow and left Texas, at fifteen, to enroll.

Poor girl, it’s been rough. Seriously. We all liked to think we were living a tough life going through our training, and even loved the idea of it getting tougher—challenge me! push me! believe I’m worth the effort! just give me a shot at some glory! just like A Chorus Line! But that doesn’t mean we were all equipped to stand up to the pressure. This girl, who has left her entire support system behind her to drive herself mercilessly and, of course, learn Russian, in what is basically the biggest shark pool you can possibly imagine—over seven hundred ballet students—seems to be among the strongest—that is, if her foot isn’t permanently damaged from the injury she was forced to dance on in the school performance.

Her parents must be going crazy. It’s hard enough, I would think, watching your child go through something like this and wondering when it’s too much, when to step in and set some boundaries for what can be done to her and what she can do to herself for the sake of a passion that seems all-powerful. To do it over Skype, and at apparently crushing expense (Joy’s family had to tell her mid year that they couldn’t pay to keep her at school through the term, or even pay for the surgery she needed), is surely more painful still. And to be the girl in the middle of all this, who is doing her best and just wants to be Russian, and an artist . . . you have to be impressed with her for holding it together. Tunnel vision helps, but I promise you it can only do so much.

Check out the video; Joy has had her surgery thanks to a benefactor in Russia and is back in class, a beautiful dancer and full of hope. I hope her body proves as strong as  her will. But she has my admiration no matter what she ends up doing with her life.