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Arts & Culture 07 March 2016 52 4773

Dance of the Little Swans

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Being a professional ballet dancer is an exhausting job. To live a fairy-tale on stage, ballet dancers have to suffer for their art behind the scenes: they follow a gruelling training schedule and stick to a strict diet. From an early age, they live in the ballet academy so that they can dedicate the most time possible to their training. As a consequence they are separated from their families. They leave their friends and their schools behind, and enter a new, very competitive environment, where it’s difficult to form friendships as their classmates are also their rivals.

However, young hopefuls who make these sacrifices may find they are not enough to achieve their dreams. On top of all their hard work, professional ballerinas must have the right physique and be good looking. Besides, the challenging training regime may lead to injuries that can potentially put an end to their careers.

Still, none of this deters young girls who are in love with dance and are determined to make it their career. They travel from across Russia to St. Petersburg, where they audition to enter the world-renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy. They are ready to trade a carefree childhood for a chance to become ballerinas and shine on stage. However, very few of them will be accepted to study in the famous academy since it has very high standards. As many of its past graduates have become international ballet stars, it has a rich heritage and a reputation that must be maintained.

Vaganova Ballet Academy was founded in 1738 by Imperial Decree of Empress Anna in the then-capital of Russia, St. Petersburg. Initially it was named the Imperial Ballet School, but as times and the country’s political systems changed, so did its titles. In 1957, the school was renamed in honour of its teacher, Agrippina Vaganova, who became famous for developing the method of classical ballet training that is still taught there.

Head of Vaganova Ballet Academy is Nikolay Tsiskaridze, former Principle Dancer of The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He holds the title of People's Artist of Russia and has received numerous other honours and accolades. Over his career, Nikolai Tsiskaridze has performed over 70 roles in major classical and contemporary ballets. Prior to joining the Vaganova Ballet School, he taught at the Bolshoi Theatre as well as at the Moscow Ballet Academy. He has been a member of the President's Council for Culture and Arts since 2011.

Today, the Academy has 340 students, and competition for a place here is extremely tough. Each year, thousands of children audition, but only around 70 are accepted.  In total, only about half of each year's intake will complete the eight year curriculum and graduate. Those who persevere are rewarded with contracts with the leading ballet companies in Russia and abroad.

RT Doc meets some of the young hopefuls storming the doors of the famous Academy to find out more about the dream they share, and to follow them on their first steps towards achieving it. 

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