A Window Into the Soulfulness of Russia

March 24, 2010





What a thrill to be in a studio watching Vladimir Vasiliev working with dancers! Last evening he was rehearsing David Hallberg and Polina Semionova in his Romeo and Juliet in preparation for Youth America Grand Prix’s tribute to him this Saturday. Such readiness in his 70-year-old body! Ready to move and coach and be involved. He demonstrated the hands hovering near the face, sensing one’s own feeling after the realization of a first love. And he corrected David in the small side-to-side knee moves (“choot-choot,” which means “very little” in Russian). He breathed along with the dancers. His main concern was to show emotion—and he showed his own emotion as he demonstrated. The choreography was wonderful, with daredevil lifts and space-devouring runs.


When David and Polina were working things out on their own, Vasiliev danced with 18-year-old Daria Khokhlova. He partnered her deftly, turned on a dime, and paying her full attention, explaining this and that. She hung on his every word. I thought he was just filling in for her partner, but I learned that no, they were actually rehearsing a duet he had made for the two of them. You could see the passing down of tradition.


I was so moved. Partly because Vasiliev was a world-famous dancer who is now willing to give passionately to the younger generation. And partly because I remember seeing him in a studio 48 years ago, when his virtuosity was a revelation to me. Here is how that happened:


The Bolshoi came to NYC in 1962, bringing their big Spartacus. They were looking for American teenagers for the crowd scenes, and contacted ballet studios in the metropolitan area. My ballet teacher in NJ told us about the auditions, and a bunch of us trooped over the GW Bridge and came to try out. So…..I was one of the lucky ones chosen. As we walked single-file into the rehearsal hall (the basement level of the old Met), one blond man, looking like a Greek god, was gyrating fast and evenly mid-pirouette. He kept going and going—I must’ve counted 8 or 10 turns. My jaw dropped. This was Vladimir Vasiliev, who was starring in Jacobsen’s Spartacus. (Later he also starred in Grigorovich’s version, which was way more successful.) Years later, I saw his last Giselle with his late wife, the beautiful Ekaterina Maximova.


Last night, when I told him I had been a super in that old Spartacus, he showed me some of those heroic posing moves, and said Jacobsen’s problem was that he couldn’t decide on an ending.


I am very happy he’s here this week, and I look forward to the Youth American Grand Prix tribute to him on Saturday.



Photo from the DM Archives, 1960s or ’70s