Teacher's Wisdom: Valentina Kozlova
On a Monday evening at Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York, 15 teenagers chatter and stretch before their advanced ballet class. When Kozlova enters the room, the students snap to attention, standing elegantly, awaiting the first exercise. This atmosphere of discipline is integral to developing the artistically and technically mature dancers that go from Kozlova’s school to companies such as Boston Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and win honors at international competitions like Varna and Youth America Grand Prix.
Kozlova trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School, entering the Bolshoi Ballet in 1973. While on tour in the U.S. in 1979, she defected and went on to join New York City Ballet as a principal in 1983. An exquisite dancer, she performed a wide variety of roles during her 12 years with NYCB. With Margo Sappington, she co-founded the Daring Project, a chamber company for new ballet works that toured from 1995 to 1999. In 2003, she opened the Dance Conservatory of New York, where she passes down the grand traditions of Russian ballet. Charlotte Stabenau, a former student of Kozlova’s, observed her class and spoke with her afterward.
Has Balanchine technique influenced your teaching of the Vaganova style? Definitely. The classics you dance by phrase; Balanchine you dance on every beat, so it has to be completely precise. As hard as it was at first, I learned that this sort of technique was very good for speedy stuff—fast jumps and fast tendus. Since I’m teaching the Vaganova method, it’s very classical. But I like to give a combination of slow and fast exercises. With jumps, for example, I like to make them fast, but I also give them at a slow tempo because in order to have a high jump, you have to deepen your plié and stretch your Achilles.
Which of your own teachers made the greatest impression on you? I had many great teachers. But my last coach at the Bolshoi, Raissa Struchkova, probably had the most influence on me. We didn’t work on the actual technique anymore—how to do jumps or turns. We were working on why I should do something one way and not another. She was able to draw out of me things that I did not know were in me because I was young at the time. She opened me up emotionally, and increased my depth. You always need an eye—a coach, not a teacher. They are two different things.
How does the ballet tradition get handed down at the Bolshoi? It goes from one generation to the next through an older star passing on her knowledge and working with you. My coach would say, “This is the way it should be.” I would try it, and she would say, “It doesn’t suit you; let’s do it the other way.” If it suited me, it opened up my personality more. When you become a principal dancer yourself, you gain your own knowledge and experience to pass to a new generation.
How do you prepare your students for performances and competitions? They come and take class every day in a very serious atmosphere and yet they laugh, which is also important. When we go on to variations, I usually try a few and find the one that works best for the dancer. I coach her from A to Z: how she comes onstage, how she leaves the stage, her arms, her épaulement, her neck, her eyelashes and where she looks—exactly the same way I was taught.
How does competing benefit students? Competitions don’t make dancers, but they help students to understand a most serious and professional way of preparing yourself. They are a great way of gaining stage experience, and they give you a deadline. There’s no such thing as “OK, I’ll do this tomorrow.” Interestingly enough, you also make progress after the competition, even those people who did not place. The fact that you went through this difficult process helps you improve.
What do you emphasize in teaching port de bras and épaulement? Your spine, your back, and your neck are like the trunk of a tree, the stem of a flower. Your back and arms are supporting you, carrying you, and they should be round and elegant, not tense. The way it was explained to us in Russia was that port de bras are like rose petals; every single finger has its special placement. You dance from the tip of your fingers through to the tip of your toes, and that’s what gives you line. Line is everything: It’s the position of your neck, your épaulement, your eyes, your chin.
Why do you incorporate pirouettes into so many of your barre exercises? When you use the barre to do pirouettes, you consider it to be your partner. You don’t release it before the turn—just like you wouldn’t release your partner’s hand—and you push off with the edge of your palm. Barre isn’t just for getting warm; it’s already practice for center. That’s why mine has a lot of fouettés, and sometimes jumps and cabrioles.
You also include gymnastics in the students’ schedule. Why? We had this at the Bolshoi Ballet School. It’s Russian rhythmic gymnastics, and it’s necessary because it builds strength, extensions, and incredible flexibility. Everything helps to create the dancer.
Kozlova corrects a port de bras during her advanced class at the Dance Conservatory of New York. Photo by Boz Swope, courtesy VKDCNY
What if there was a way to get your dancing in front of the likes of Desmond Richardson, d. Sabela grimes and Vincent Paterson all at once? Just in case you needed another excuse to break out your best moves this week, the Dare to Dance in Public Film Festival is back, and Richardson, grimes and Paterson are among this year's judges.
Dancers and non-dancers alike are invited to submit short dance films to the international online festival, with one caveat: The dancing has to take place in a public space.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
When we're talking about the history of black dancers in ballet, three names typically pop up: Raven Wilkinson at Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Janet Collins at New York's Metropolitan Opera and Arthur Mitchell at New York City Ballet.
But in the 1930s through 50s, there was a largely overlooked hot spot for black ballet dancers: Philadelphia. What was going on in that city that made it such an incubator? To answer that question, we caught up with Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet founder (and frequent Dance Magazine contributor) Theresa Ruth Howard, who yesterday released her latest project, a video series called And Still They Rose: The Legacy of Black Philadelphians in Ballet.
Janie Taylor didn't know if she'd ever return to the stage. But that's exactly where the former New York City Ballet principal has found herself: Nearly three years after retiring, she is performing again, as a member of L.A. Dance Project.
Taylor officially debuted with the company at its December 2016 gala in Los Angeles, then performed in Boston, via live stream from Marfa, Texas, and at New York's Joyce Theater before heading off on tour dates in France, Singapore, Dubai and beyond.
"She is wildly interesting to watch—and not conventional," says LADP artistic director Benjamin Millepied. "There are films of Suzanne Farrell dancing, where you feel like the music is coming out of her body," he says. "I think Janie has that same kind of quality."
Last night was not your average Thursday at Bay Ridge Ballet in Brooklyn, New York. Studio owner and teacher Patty Foster Grado—a former Parsons Dance Company dancer—was teaching a boys class, when with only five minutes left, she heard commotion in the waiting area and someone yelled, "There's a lady giving birth in the bathroom!"
Where can you watch Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, Coppélia and Le Corsaire all in one place? Hint: It also has extra-buttery popcorn.
Yep, it's your local movie theater. Starting this weekend, theaters across the country will be showing Bolshoi Ballet productions of classical and contemporary story ballets.
When commercial dancer Danielle Peazer took on an ambassadorial role with Reebok in early 2016, she didn't realize the gig would also lead to a career shift. But while traveling with and teaching workshops for the brand, the idea for DDM (Danielle's Dance Method) Collective started to take shape.