Figure 1.--The children appying for admissiion to the Vaganova Ballet School in Lenigrad do not need prior ballet training and do not have to come in ballet costumes to perform.
Studying ballet in a Russian or Soviet-era ballet school was an amzing experience. The schools were highly competitive as ballet was so highly regarded and the potential benefits of acceptance so alluring. For all of the innocent seriousness and grace of Wednesday's eager oy young auditioners, only a handful of them--no more than 10 of
of hundreds of applicats are usually accepted. The youngest childrenat majpr schools an 8-year regimen of rigorous and at times heartbreakingly tough dance training on top of a full scholastic curriculum. But at the end of that struggle lies the chance to shine on the world's stages. Of the pupils taken each year by major schools, only about half may be selected for aimportant company, and a handful of those will one day take Ruzimatov or Ayupova's place as lead ballet
dancers with the dance troupe acknowledged as one of the best in the
The Vaganova Ballet Academy is the most prstigious in Russia. It has been the main source for the nenowed Kirov Ballet, now renamed Ballet St. Petersburg.
Even small children can sence the importance of their auditions. The anxious children, girls and boys, accompanied by their equally anxious parents, can be found twice a year sitting at
simple wooden desks in a neatly kept back alley filling out forms as in schools around the world. This school is, however, very special. The children and parents waiting for their turn. In a few fleeting moments, the children's dreams of glory will live or die under
whitering and discerning glare of the expert instructors.
Twice a year, a group of about 150 9-10-year-olds gather to audition for the Vaganova--knowing that it might lead to a fabulous career with the Kirov or other dance company. The form-filling ingenues
congregated outside the side entrance of St. Petersburg's world famous
Vaganova Ballet Academy on Wednesday for the school's second series
of auditions. The school conducts two auditions a year, one
starting in June and the other toward the end of August. The August
audition is mostly for children from outside the St. Petersburg area.
Some of the children cling to their parents, bemused, seemingly unaware of why they were there, while other children stood tall with delightful innocence and confidence, showing an elegance and poise sure to impress the instructors who awaited them within the hallowed halls of Russia's oldest and most prestigious ballet school. The scene's very simplicity might seem irrelevant, were it not for the implicit message it conveyed--authentic, raw natural talent is the only ticket
that will gain a child admission to the Vaganova.
Competition for entry into the academy is fierce, and at least 90 percent of today's hopefuls will be refused. HBC is unsure how fierce te competition is amonh the boys. The school receives hundreds of applications each year, taking in 18 to 20 children. The only sure outcome is that the children selected will be half boys, half girls. HBC is unsure what proportion of the original applicants are boys. If it had been America, it would have been a small proprtion. But it is likely that a larger proprtion of Russian boys might be interested.
The young applicants are put through a three-stage auditioning process, starting with an assessment of physical aptitude, then a full medical examination before a final assessment of the child's musical, rhythmical and artistic aptitude. For the first examination, the child is presented, standing, for the astute eye of one of the academy's teachers to inspect and--almost instantly--decide on the basis of the child's basic poise (or lack of it) whether or not they are made of the right stuff to join the school's long line of stars.
The renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy was founded in 1738 by Empress Anna as the Imperial Theater. It has produced almost every major Russian and Soviet ballet star, from Baryshnikov and Nureyev to contemporary geniuses like Zhanna Ayupova, Farouk Ruzimatov and Anastasia Volochkova. The Vaganova staff does not have a perfect record in assessing talent which is at best an inprecise science. Volochkova, currently a ballerina with the Mariinsky's Kirov ballet company, was actually rejected by the Vaganova the first two times she auditioned, winning acceptance only the third time.
There is no specific preparation for the auditions The children must be between 9 and 10, but no ballet training is needed. Russia does not have a large network of private ballet schools. Many Russian children could not actually aford private instruction. Despite its glorious reputation for ballet, many more American children receive ballet training than is the case in Russia. Almost all of the American children, however, are girls. At the auditions not only is no previous ballet training required, but the children do not need to come attired in ballet costumes. All that is needed is just a 10,000-ruble ($1.75) fee and the naturally slim, graceful and strong body needed for the vigorous training ahead.
One observer having watched many auditions in both America and Canada, noticed that the Russian children auditioning had a distinctly authentic and beautiful simplicity about them. In North American auditions, most of the children have been pumped through some sort of ballet classes since age 5 or 6 and at 10 already seem like teen-agers in their appearance and speech. The Russians believe that such preliminary training does not necessarily help a child on the road to becoming a great ballerina. No professional ballet school in the world begins training before the age of 9, and most actually discourage it as it can dampen the natural delight in movement. For all of the innocent seriousness and grace of the eager young auditioners, only a handful of them--no more than 10 at each auditiin will be accepted into the Vaganova to start an 8-year regimen of rigorous and at times heartbreakingly tough dance training on top of a full scholastic curriculum.
But at the end of that struggle lies the chance to shine on the world's stages. Of the 20 pupils or so taken each year by the Vaganova, some eight to 10 usually get selected for the Kirov Ballet, and a handful of those will one day take Ruzimatov or Ayupova's place as lead ballet dancers with the dance troupe acknowledged as one of the best in the world.
Michelle Welton, "Vaganova Hopefuls Out in Droves," 1997
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